Saying goodbye to Duncan, Arizona we headed to Lordsburg, New Mexico. It was steadily uphill to the high desert which was filled with mesquite and yucca within the grasslands. In Lordsburg we stopped at a pizza shop for cup of coffee and ended up ordering a pizza as well. We weren’t really hungry but we didn’t have a plan for our next step and the pizza shop was a warm place to sit and work things out. A young man told us about a shortcut down to Rte. 9 which would allow us to avoid riding on Interstate 10 and hopefully bring us into some warmer weather. Rte. 9 runs along the Mexican border and it became our chosen route through New Mexico. The road to connect us with rte. 9 was dirt and we were excited because this meant that there would be very little traffic. A woman had come in to the pizza shop as we were figuring out our route and we had a brief conversation as we were leaving to go find a motel, a grocery store, and a laundromat. On our walk to do our laundry we witnessed another economically depressed town with empty, ramshackle buildings, a sight we were becoming more and more familiar with.
The next morning we ate at the local diner and the woman in whom we met at the pizza shop was also there eating her breakfast. Jerry had moved to Lordsburg, had bought a piece of property and was just starting her homestead and looking for community in the area. She was a former engineer and had been involved in the nuclear industry and had the opportunity to witness huge reserves of nuclear materials and waste in Russia in the years following the Soviet Union break-up. Jerry was looking for a new direction and is now determined to live off the land and create a diversified farm using Permaculture techniques. She overheard our plans to ride the shortcut to rte. 9 and had taken some time overnight to think about our plans. It had rained during the evening and she was sure that the road would be extremely muddy making it impassible by bicycle. Jerry offered to load our bikes in her pick-up and drive us on the interstate to an exit where we could continue our trip. A few days earlier, she had seen Daiki on his bicycle exiting the interstate. Conversation was lively during the ride and even after we unloaded the bikes. Sustainable living is an exciting topic and people like Jerry are creating a new future. Our conversation also touched upon how the economy affects culture.
Good luck Jerry.
If dollars represent access to resources, it may be helpful to take a look at how resources undergo diminishing returns and how this affects culture. Consider the steel bicycles we rode on this trip. If these bicycles had been made fifty years ago it would have taken a certain amount of energy to access the needed steel. We have to take into account the amount of steel needed to make the machinery required to extract the ore, in addition to the amount of steel used in the processing plant which produces the usable steel to manufacture the bicycles. Fifty years later, the easier obtainable ore has been mined and now the ore has to be extracted from deeper mines requiring larger equipment increasing the total amount of steel needed to make the bike. When extracting any resource rich veins are mined first to optimize profits. After fifty years the rich ore is not as readily available and requires more processing equipment for processing, therefore requiring more steel for the equipment used to mining and processing the ore. Thus the manufacturing of the bikes we ride today requires more steel than it would have 50 years ago. This concept is true for every resource, including the rare elements needed for our present day technology. I feel this concept must be fully internalized before we can actually heal the Earth and truly address the issue of poverty. These ideas relate to Hal’s and Jay’s tour into the backcountry of Arizona. Environmental and social concepts are like the stops we made with Hal and Jay. Only after several stops did we see the whole picture of the payroll robbery.
After riding about 20 miles along a quiet and scenic farm road we met up with Rte. 9 and talked to two border patrol agents that were sitting in a parking area. We asked them where to camp and they said anywhere, but not to go over the barbed wire fence towards Mexico. Down the road we came to the Continental Divide Trail where we set up camp. It was another cold frosty night and as we were as south as we could go, we wondered, what is going on? Packing up in the morning went slow. The next town, Hachita, was only 8 miles away and even though we started late we entered the town by 10:00 AM. As we pulled into town, Dan, one of the few residents, came out of his house to meet us. Hachita is a ghost town and visitors are rare. Because the town is on the Adventure Cycling maps residents were welcoming and opened their community building to bicyclist. Dan called a neighbor who then drove up in his ATV with the key to the building and we got out of the cold, made lunch and filled our depleted water bottles. Hachita, once thriving copper mining town, is now inhabited by about 40 mostly retired inhabitants. Most of the buildings are deserted though the town still has an operating post office serving the greater area.
On our way out of Hachita we once again connected with a border patrol agent. We asked him if there were many immigrants passing over the border. He said that there were a few but the media over blows the extent. I also asked if they used satellites and helicopters to find immigrants and his answer was surprising. He said that they look for tracks in the desert and in fact that they had seen our tracks. He then asked if we had walked on the other side of the road in Hachita, which we had not. It was obvious that the border patrol was keeping an eye on us as we traveled rte.9 and knew where we were all the time. The people who worked for the border patrol were polite and helpful during our travels. Leaving the ghost town with a strong wind pushing us along, we covered 50 miles, a big riding day for us old folks!
We slept that night outside of Columbus, another top 10 spot. There was a beautiful sunset and hundreds of birds in the trees, making this site quite special. For the first time we saw a roadrunner racing by.
In the morning as we drank our coffee we watched the sunrise before heading into Columbus for breakfast number two. Poncho Villa was the central figure in this town’s history. When talking to locals about the history of an area there are generally slightly different accounts. This was the case in Columbus yet the main thread was that the local banker-businessman sold defective ammunition to Poncho Villa which ended up killing Mexican soldiers. Poncho Villa retaliated by attacking the town. A local historian we met on the street told us that Woodrow Wilson actually used this Mexican skirmish to train troops and test new military technology such as machineguns, tanks, and various vehicles that had to now function in the desert. This period had an unintended test, to determine how fragile desert vegetation is. One hundred years later the area that the troops trained in is still bare, devoid of vegetation yet surrounded by desert vegetation where the tests did not occur. After the desert is destroyed it takes many, many years to regenerate. You find these little nuances in history by meeting local people and passing through at a slow pace. We found that being on a bike tour interests people and they feel free to walk up to you and begin conversations, offering details about social issues, environmental issues and the history of an area.
We ended the day early on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, and enjoyed another great campsite. We set up our tent and walked to a high point to look around at the surrounding area. As we climbed the hill we noticed the land was strewn with pieces of volcanic rock. At the top, the view included the mountains of Mexico to the south, the mountains of New Mexico to the north, and the mountains of Texas to the east. This would be our last night in New Mexico.
Traveling through New Mexico was different than we expected. Due to the cold weather we traveled as south as we could avoiding the mountains. Mary and I had trepidation about camping along the Mexican border because we were unsure what to expect. Riding towards El Paso, Texas we stopped at a border patrol station to ask for directions. As we rode into the parking lot there was a sign that read – “Heightened Threat”. We went up to a border patrolman eating lunch in his truck, he told us the way and before we left I asked him about the heightened threat. He smiled and replied, “The only heightened threat here is you two riding your bicycles through the streets of El Paso, be safe”. After traveling only a few miles down rte. 9 there was a calmness that came over us. Mary and I never felt afraid on our journey through New Mexico, in fact it remains one of the most beautiful and interesting parts of our trip. It is a shame that out of fear a person might avoid traveling through this incredible area. New Mexico truly is the Land of Enchantment.