Today, day three, we rode nearly 200 miles, much of it on rough, poorly-marked dirt roads that wound through the middle of the high, dry desert of the San Luis Valley.This map shows our route. We left our camp on the Rio Grande’s headwaters, just below the Continental Divide, at around 9:30 in the morning, and finally reached Cebolla Mesa Campground, which is in Northern New Mexico, as the sun was setting. Check out Tim Romano’s photos of the day by clicking through this slide show. You can also read excerpts from our journal entries for the day by clicking here.
We woke up early today, hoping to get a head start on what was a very long ride, but ended up waiting until the sun melted the ice off the rain flies of our tents before leaving. That was our official story, anyway. Our late start had nothing to do with the fact that we were sore from the last two days of riding, or that we didn’t want to be rolling down the highway before the air warmed up a bit. Right. It gets cold in the mountains of Southern Colorado in late September.
As we’re packing to leave, Dad shows off the long johns he was wearing yesterday. Those are blood stains from the spill he took in the afternoon. He dumped his bike pretty hard as we were riding deep into the backcountry. I wish I were speaking less literally when I call the trip so far a true crash course for the old man. Here’s hoping he stays in one piece today.
On the way out of the highlands we kept stopping to shoot scenics at spots like this one. Those little black dots are free-range cattle in the Upper Rio Grande Valley, near where the river is joined by Ute Creek, just above the Rio Grande Reservoir.
More scenics with cows. There were cattle everywhere in the headwaters area. Almost too many for comfort. I was a little worried that our bikes would spook the ones we saw bedded down by the side of the road. I did not want anybody colliding with a bolting heifer. At one point we passed a big bull standing guard over a cattle grate, not five yards away, giving us the hairy eyeball. He looked pissed. I don’t think he liked the sound of our engines. I slowed way down, then gunned my bike past him, all the while wishing I hadn’t picked the red motorcycle.
Here’s a shot of the river just outside of Creede. Tim took it after we’d ridden out of the highlands, just after we got back on the main highway. It was gorgeous water, but totally private. All of us were itching to fish, and I wished I’d done a little more research to see if we could have gotten permission to access the stretch. We promised ourselves we’d make it back someday, then moved on.
We reached the town of Alamosa around midday. Alamosa is where the river turns and heads due south toward the New Mexico border. It’s also home to a Wal Mart. Since we plan to camp for the next three days, we stocked up with the food and supplies we’ll need. The egg box is to hold stuff. Where we’re going we do not want anything fragile in the back of the chase truck.
There’s not much but sagebrush south of Alamosa. Everything is dry and dusty, except for …
… the river! We rode as close to it as the roads allowed, sacrificing some speed for the chance to get a better feel for how the river fit in to the big desert country surrounding it. We were rewarded here by the site of a herd of wild horses coming down to the water for a drink. The low cliffs you can see the water flowing into in the background of this picture mark the top of the Rio Grande Gorge, a deep rift valley canyon system that cuts deeply into the landscape (up to 800 feet in places) and runs south from here for more than 150 miles. We plan to camp on the cliffs overlooking this gorge tonight, and fish down in it tomorrow.
After winding through the desert on back roads for hours and hours we finally reached pavement again! This is Colorado Route 159, which runs due north/south. Getting back on the pavement felt good, not least because ….
… the sun was starting to get pretty low in the sky, and we still had a long way to go.
Dad and I pulled over to let Tim catch up and shoot this sign on the Colorado/New Mexico border, and Dad told me that when we crossed over he’d have bagged his 49th state. “Only Hawaii left,” he said.
We finally reached our campground at Cebolla Mesa as the last bit of light was leaving the sky. Here I’m setting up my tent on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Rio Grande Gorge.
Tim, bloiling water by the light of the moon.
Reading in the tent before bed. Tomorrow we fish all day, finally! I can’t wait.
Last fall, Field & Stream Online Editor Nate Matthews and his father, Bruce, spent 15 days fishing the Rio Grande River from its headwaters in Colorado’s Continental Divide all the way to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico. These excerpts from their journals tell the story of their 2500-mile motorcycle ride along the historic river, taken during momentous times in the lives of both father and son. Photographer/vidographer Tim Romano documented the excursion. Look for the print feature in June 2011.