Cloudcroft 2004 — substitute for Falling Leaf rally

OK, we were chicken. Robert Voglino and I were headed to the Falling Leaf Rally in Potosi, MO. That is until we checked the weather forecasts and when everything from Arkansas to there and back again was 80% chance of rain, at which point we did the only sensible thing. Potosi is in far Eastern Missouri, just Southwest of St. Louis and the weather had been very wet there and was forecast to remain so.

We turned away from the weather and went to Cloudcroft, NM instead. The trip is chronicled here in a gallery of photos, many of which are linked in the text.

Robert, riding his Kawasaki 1500 Vulcan, and I, on the venerable BMW R1100RT, got away on Thursday Oct. 7 after taking a last look at all of the weather possibilities and making a decision to west. After a hearty breakfast at the Hungry Hunter in Llano we headed straight west on Texas 29 to Menard, then up to Eden and west to end up through Andrews, eaded for Artesia, NM which is the jumping off point for Cloudcroft. That trip is always pretty uneventful until Artesia. Very little socially redeeming value. Just outside of Eden and all the way to San Angelo we were in the heavy rain that we had observed on the radar earlier that morning. It proved that our new frogg toggs would work! After that we had nothing but perfect weather.

Suddenly the trip was already worth it. It’s 90 miles from Artesia to Cloudcroft and the last 60 miles on U.S. 82 is a gently curving road with a nice mixture of high speed sweepers and 25 mph tighter turns. The valley is carved by the Penasco River and is dotted with narrow farms where the valley floor allows. The steep mountainside along the roadway will occasionaly have a mule deer scurrying up the almost vertical walls. A benefit of travelling by motorcycle is yielded in the harvest season when the mildly sweet fragrance of tree-ripened apples fills the air.

On the way up the mountain to Cloudcroft we stopped at the apple and apple cider stand that I’ve seen for years and never stopped at. We bought apples (that were delicious) and pistachios. Turns out they grow both in the area and we were the better off for it. Just before reaching Cloudcroft we made the turn on 244, the road that goes through the forest and Mescalaro Apache reservation to Ruidoso. We knew the campground we wanted to try for and sure enough there was room. The campground is one of many U.S. Forest Service campgrounds in the area run by Recreation Resource Management. We stayed in Silver Saddle which is only about 2 miles down 244 just Northeast of Cloudcroft.

We found a spacious site that would hold both tents. It was dark before we finished setting up our site and then headed for town to eat. Robert knew about the restaurant at the Aspen Motel and we were not disappointed with the results. We each had the chicken-fried steak and really should have just split one. Lots of cream gravy, green peas, mashed potatoes (skin on) … delicious! Met a couple of guys on Honda VTX 1800’s. Larry is a banker in Childress and was travelling with his son (a city cop) and they were headed to Tuscon to visit another son who is in the Air Force out there. Turns out we knew a lot of people (or just knew OF some) in various places so it was a fun visit. Larry also happens to be a Rotarian so with the three of us we created an impromptu make-up meeting.

Sleeping that night was wonderful. There was not a hint of cloud in the skies and the stars looked as if they had enveloped us. The first day had been 565 miles long and we were ready when it was time to turn in. The temperature dropped to about 42-44 degrees that night but it was clear and dry. Dry is the key word there!

The next day was set aside for local touring. After another trip to the Aspen for breakfast we struck out for Sunspot, home of the National Solar Observatory. It has some great exhibits such as this Martian composite photo and a number of hands-on experiment style demonstrations such as showing how refraction occurs of the sun’s rays, a miniature mirror telescope, and explanation of different wavelengths of light and an infrared camera showing the results of photography in the infrared spectrum. Here’s Gil at infrared. At the high point of the observatory grounds we could look westward to White Sands with its huge expanse of rolling white sand dunes with another mountain range in the background. If you are not yet fascinated by the idea of an entire National Monument to sand, these photos will open your eyes.

We continued the day’s trek down the Sacramento Canyon Road toward Timburon but eventually had to turn back because the road was closed due to construction. Backtracking just a short way we then took a side road, the Upper Rio Penasco Road, for a few miles down another picturesque canyon until the pavement ran out. Undaunted by that, Robert took a side road, sans pavement, where we discovered some really close-up views of aspen stands. After following that canyon road for probably a couple of miles and taking a number of photos of aspens in a full turn of color. The Rio Penasco and the Upper Penasco area have an extensive history in pioneering and logging, some of which is recounted here.

After lunch (some great Mexican food at the Aspen) we then took route 130 which loops around to the South of Cloudcroft around to Mayhill and back to Cloudcroft. Having overeaten at lunchtime, we went by the grocery store and picked up some fruit, cheese and crackers. Oh yeah, and some awesome blueberry streusel cake! What started out to be a healthy meal went downhill in a hurry. Back at camp, after picking up some firewood for the cool evening we enjoyed our impromptu dining under the canopy of stars blended with the towering pines. A family had moved in “next door” with some small children and we enjoyed hearing them giggle while playing, occasionally punctuated by a parent reigning them in slightly. I enjoyed staring at the fire for a long while, a fact which Robert commented upon. I think he was afraid I had gone into a trance! We turned in fairly early in anticipation of a long ride the next day. Surrounded by the pines and endless sky and the gentle sounds of pines rustling in a light evening breeze, I snuggled into the sleeping bag and quickly drifted off to sleep. We only rode 130 miles on this day but it was a full day of activity.

Suddenly the night was punctuated with a group pulling into the site next to us, at about midnight, whereupon they commenced to clank and bang and rattle everything in, on and around their truck and pop-up camper and to talk and laugh as if it was the middle of the day. My thoughts varied from asking them to quiet down, to getting the camp host to do so, to screaming obscenities, to shooting out their camper tires! Instead, I put in my ear plugs and made the best of it. I do have to admit that after we arose fairly early we didn’t bother to keep our voices down. The devil made me do it.

It’s now Saturday and we decided to have a night at the Big Bend National Park up in the Basin. There is a lot to do in the Big Bend but all we planned to do was to camp up in the Chisos Basin but the campground was full when we got there. Ugh! Now what to do? Back down the mountain, now racing dark, and then 23 miles toward Boquillas Canyon to the Rio Grande Village Campground that I was fairly sure would not be full. Even with the aborted run up to the Basin that part of the trip was also memorable. I’ve read that the trek from the desert floor to the Basis has several different ecosystems. It’s a magnificent vista of rugged mountains all the way up the approximately 5-mile drive.

We got in and had a great night’s sleep at a site with thick, deep grass. Almost like your mattress at home! Robert, as is his occasional custom, just tossed out his air mattress and sleeping bag and slept under the stars without benefit of tent. Little did we know that in this dry desert there would be a heavy dew. He was a bit soggy the next morning as was my tent which I had pitched without the rain fly, again depending on the dry weather. That night I had been able to open the top of the tent with only mosquito netting (necessary) between me and the open sky where we could see the Milky Way almost from horizon to horizon. We slept well that night with 432 miles under our belts for the day.

The desert was flourishing. Rains had been good last spring and through the summer and the desert floor was as lush as I’ve ever seen it. For anyone who has not been to the Big Bend National Park, it’s a “must-see” kind of place. The contrasts afforded between the desert and the mountains, all punctuated by the Rio Grande River with the canyons it has carved over the eons is unique and beautiful in many different ways.

Sunday the 10th was just “get home” day. We took the fast route out of the park up U.S. 385 to Fort Stockton where we jumped on the super slab to Junction and then 377 to Mason, Llano and home. That day yielded 452 miles, 1622 total miles for the trip. Our total travel time was 35 hours, 22 minutes for an average speed of 45.8 mph which included all of our stops along the way for sightseeing, photos, rest stops and meals. Total cost for gas on the trip (have not yet refilled) was $89.30. All fuel was over $2.00 per gallon for premium. Total gallons 47. Total cost for meals, snacks, camping fees and gifts was $115.55 for a grand total cost for four days of $204.85. Not bad for the amount of miles travelling.

A short trip, but another good one and it was dry. As of this writing I’ve not checked the reports, if any yet, on the “Big List” of Beemer riders to see how the weather turned out to be in Potosi but I’m sure we had the better of it.

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About Gil Jones

CPA/Attorney/Judge by training and trade. Hobby nut at heart with BMW m/c, computers, ham radio, kayak fishing, photography, hiking and, starting in 2010 some semi-serious running and bicycling (road and mountain bikes). Retired after 16 years on a Texas District Court bench and since 2013 have been mediating cases. I am a Credentialed Distinguished mediator (TMCA).
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