Day 21 – Shadow Of The Rockies, Part 1

El Paso, TX – Capitan, NM

216 miles

WOW!! Today was an adrenaline filled day that had me laughing out loud and smiling for hours. Holy crap is going off road beautiful!!


As some of you know, one of the highlights of this trip was going to be riding the Shadow of the Rockies Trail which is an off road route that takes you from the bottom of New Mexico to Wyoming staying primarily on dirt roads. My goal is to complete the New Mexico portion from south to north. My motorcycle trip to Baja earlier this year was a warm-up to help develop my anemic off road riding skills. Going to BMW School was another step toward building my confidence up. This was going to be the big test.


The trailhead to the Shadow Of The Rockies trail begins 26 miles due east of El Paso. Even driving there, I started getting butterflies as the road morphed from suburban commercial to a two lane highway until it went down to a one-lane highway. I was pretty anxious because I really had no idea what to expect from the terrain. Quite frankly, I was a little worried it was going to be singletrack which would have been difficult to manage with a 700-pound bike and traveling by myself.


And that’s really the big concern. If anything happens out in the desert, I’m all alone. A flat tire is my biggest concern. I have a tire plug kit, but I’ve seen mixed results regarding their effectiveness off road. It will be hard for a tow truck or any support vehicle to get to me given the condition of some of the roads.

But I have to say, the moment my bike got off the highway and touched the dirt, my heart started soaring. My God, its stunning out here. I’m constantly reminded of a really great little indie flick called Off The Map (Rent it! See it!) with Sam Elliot and the gorgeous Joan Allen where she says, “New Mexico is a pretty powerful place. It takes most people a few years to get used to it.”


The first 70 miles were just straight though the desert approaching White Sands National Monument. I thought about all those tiny remote roads you see from an airplane in the middle of nowhere and think, “I wonder who the hell ever drives on that road”. Well, today it was me and was fantastically cool.


The sky seemed to just open up and pull these dusty roads out into the horizon. While I passed the occasional entrance to a ranch, I never once passed another car while offroad. I was completely alone and it felt tremendous.


Not to say, I didn’t hit the occasional traffic jam.


And I thought this was a nice touch.


The views kept getting better and better.


Before I knew it, the long dusty road began to wind into the mountains of Lincoln National Forest and soon the smell of pine and fir permeated through the vents in my helmet. The wide road became less sandy and more rocky causing me to drop me to drop my speed to 25 mph. I could have pushed a bit faster but I wanted to play it safe given that I’m solo and the scenery was so beautiful, so why would I rush?




After winding though some of the fir forests, I stumbled upon my first major rest stop, Cloudcroft, NM. I just like the sound of it. The look of it however, is very much more akin to Frontierland in Disneyworld. It was a kitchy Western styled town, but seemed popular with other bikers. The New York license plate is always a conversation starter as even some Harley guys wanted to hear about the trip. Cloudcroft was a welcome stop to refuel and grab some lunch. Yes, I actually ate here.


At one point, it seemed like I might have entered land belonging to the Apache Reservation but I wasn’t sure. Then I saw this.


The route took me through Riodoso which reminded me a little bit of Lake Placid, NY. There were more than a few bars advertising live bands, and lots of restaurants with tiny flower boxes outside. Pretty town, looked like a lot of fun and I would have liked to have stayed for a night.

I ended the day pulling into Capitan, New Mexico which I learned was the birth place (and apparently final resting place) of Smokey The Bear. My trail led me just outside the town to a fork in a dirt road. One road led into a National Forest which was closed due to the heat and drought. I followed the other road which led me to Pine Ridge Ranch. Great, I figured! Most of these ranches offer rooms for the evening. This will be my chance to live out my inner cowboy fantasies for an evening. Turns out, the ranch is a teen bible summer camp occupied by the stunt doubles from Children Of The Corn. When I rode in looking like one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse and asked for a room for the night, they seemed very confused but polite. I turned back to Capitan and figured I ridden enough miles for one day and it might be good to chill with my old pal Smokey.

What an fantastic, soul stirring day. I feel incredibly lucky.


WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY: Going out in the wild blue yonder alone is scary but enthralling. I haven’t felt this sense of adventure in years. I’m so excited about what I’ll find next. Also, bible school kids like BMW bikes (at least, they said they’d pray for me).


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