Monthly Archives: March 2015

White Mesa

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Usually when I take a day off the bike moments arise when I’m haunted by a “no bike no life” longing reverberating in my chest.  But a trip out to White Mesa put my heart to total rest.  It’s an engaging place and so unconventional all my senses were drawn towards seeking awareness of what I was experiencing while walking around underneath the shimmering dome of New Mexican blue sky in this utterly vast and intriguing land.  How can landscapes form so differently?   White Mesa is about thirty minutes northwest of Albuquerque.  In every direction we’ve explored we’ve discovered amazing and distinct places and every trip we take is helping us become more native to this place.

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Stories tumble down from these lands.  Every piece is animated by human imagining.  It is said the Navajos mythologize the origins of Cabezon from a giant slayed on the banks of the San Mateo Mountains or Tsoodził, Turquoise Mountain. Take a few steps out onto white mesa country and feel what it means to progressively loosen your sense of styles that emanate from Paris, New York or Los Angeles.  Keep walking and those myths fall away all together.  Customs break down to functionality.  The only thing that matters out here is you have comfortable sturdy shoes to walk in and protection from the wind and sun.   Carry with you only what you need.  Water.  An orange.  Excess makes no sense here.  Paying full attention to the landscape and light is the most rewarding investment you can make.  From this blank starting point you can begin to form your own take on things.  Landscapes like this spark originality and develop appreciation.  Walking around out here for a while under the sun makes a sip of cool water taste like a $100 bottle of vintage champagne.

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People reach out to each other here.  We walked a route that included a segment of Cabezon road to make a loop.  A gentlemen in a passing truck leaned out the window to check on us to be sure all was OK.  I appreciate when people make gestures to look after each other.   Those are healthy habits, manners that get us oriented in a supportive way.  This is grade A culture from a country that knows no strangers.   Fearing togetherness is strange indeed.

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This place is a convergence of the many places I’ve spent time in in the western U.S.A.  Our Nevada friends would love it here given the luxury of open spaces unencumbered by even moisture in the atmosphere.   Our northern Arizona friends would appreciate the palate of colors very similar to the collages of southern Utah.  One of the reasons to be in Flagstaff is to be proximate to southern Utah and the lands north of the Grand Canyon, and still have something like a city to live in.  So New Mexico is like Nevada and Utah with a little Colorado, Arizona, and Mexico fusion.  I am a happy resident. The profusion of colors flowing in waves and appearing in layers looks mighty brilliant against the yellow sun, glowing blue sky and grounding essence of piñon and juniper boughs.  The plant and soil communities here exude character.  The delicate crust of the crypto biotic soil holds everything together and probably keeps the blowing dust down as the Spring winds sweep over these vast mesas toward the budding cities along the Rio Grande.  I have great admiration for the living things that make this their home.

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Take a few steps out onto white mesa country and feel what it means to progressively loosen your sense of styles that emanate from Paris, New York or Los Angeles.  Keep walking and those myths fall away all together.  Customs break down to functionality.  The only thing that matters out here is you have comfortable sturdy shoes to walk in and protection from the sun.   Carry with you only what you need.  Water.  An orange.  Excess makes no sense here.  Paying full attention to the landscape and light is the most rewarding investment you can make.  From this blank starting point you can begin to form your own take on things.  Landscapes like this spark originality.

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If you plan to come to White Mesa spend some time.  Landscapes are like books.  You can glance at it and form an opinion, but you don’t know what is in the story until you immerse yourself in it.  The key to understanding is building an integrated perspective.  The more you can learn about geology, biology, ecology, geography, climate, the intersection of human cultures and narratives, and synthesize them into coherent threads, the more you can shape this great space into a place that you know in your imagination.  And through personal experience, it begins to become part of your story.  Make it a peaceful one.

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Quantum Spring on the Northern Training Circuit

soundtrack: Antonella’s Birthday
During the winter time the ride north to Algodones with a turn east up to Placitas is a fun one and very popular.  Sometimes bicyclists finish it off with a trip up Tramway and La Luz.  On Sunday after two days off the bike watching the snow fall and then melt I headed on this northern training circuit and saw a lot of friendly cyclists out.  Here’s a map of my ride.

2015.3.1 Training Circuit North 072Placitas is famous for its views, art life, open air and wildlife.  There’s a labyrinth of residential roads to explore but the main road, Hwy 165, is the most popular for bicycling because of its continuous flow, steady climb, smooth pavement and during the summer time, access to the forest road that connects to the Sandia Crest road.  Every place I ride I wonder what it would be like to live there and experience full days and seasons.  Placitas is an attractive area.

2015.3.1 Training Circuit North 099If you lived way out in rural Placitas you could end up spending a lot of time in a car.  Or you could live in Placitas and commute by bike to the Rail Runner station in Bernalillo and park your bike in a bike locker at the station, or take it with you on the train to help you get to your final destination.  Or just ride your bike all the way.  I am happy living in ABQ close to everything I need.  It’s efficient and quite a pretty high desert city with huge vistas stretching from the Sandias to beyond the open western mesa and up and down the river valley which threads us together.  Plus in the ABQ metro area you can ride in any direction and get out into the countryside.  I enjoy the geographic contrasts and transitions.  Propinquity to people and culture in the denser city is important to me.  The nearness to the countryside, cultural breadth, and sense of being enfolded by diverse landscape are treasures.  The more I bicycle here the more it feels like a world heritage place, balanced, unique, distguished.

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New greens were showing as the snow ebbed on the northern ridgelines and at the edges of the fields.  March is transition season.  I spotted cranes in these fields into February but a new season is upon us.  This scene reminds me of riding the Shinkansen in Japan to Tokyo and seeing the leaves of green tea fields unfolding in front of the snow covered giant Mt. Fuji.  New Mexico and Japan both have startling combinations of white green blue tri tone color bands in their enchanting landscapes.   The Amtrak and Rail Runner trains whipped by me while I was riding Hwy 313.  Western history is intertwined with the people and market connections that followed the first transcontinental rail line in 1869.  It is mind boggling to think how the relative importance of trains has changed through time though they are still more important than we often think, hauling much of our oil from the production zones to the refineries and for distribution, as they do for many goods.  Perhaps we’ll see a passenger rail investment that brings us back to the forefront in the development and innovation with this technology.

Here's one from my January 2011 Japan trip.  In New Mexico the browns, yellows, and reds come from the earth

Here’s one from my January 2011 Japan trip. In New Mexico the browns, yellows, and reds come from the earth

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The clouds that had been around for the last few days peeled off of the Sandias to reveal a stunning scene.  The snow was melting quickly on the ground and the pavement was wet.  Water pooled and was running by gravity washing the streets clean.  The sun beams touching the snow made it liquid again and when it wasn’t tumbling down the arroyos or soaking deeper into the soils it evaporated back into the sky ocean.

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These horses were galloping across the field before they stopped to chomp grass.  I think they feel the Spring renewal coming as they absorb strength from the land.  And their spirit seems responsive to the lifting of the weather, just like all the cyclists back out today galloping around.  I saw a couple riders sprinting for a road sign up on Tramway towards the end of my ride.  We all sense the fabric of Spring time curving round.

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Jemez Dam Ride

Jemez river just above the dam site, a few miles west of confluence with the Rio Grande

Jemez river just above the dam site, a few miles west of the confluence with the Rio Grande

There’s a beautiful ride on the far side of Rio Ranch heading north towards the Jemez Mountains.  A six mile road winds north from Hwy 550 past the Santa Ana Star, the Tanaya Resort and the soccer fields complex all the way out through the wilderness to the Jemez Dam.  You get a great overlook of the river canyon and opposite chalk and mauve colored mesa bluffs after a quiet ride across vast open country sprinkled with juniper, cholla and sandy arroyos.

the road

the road

Here’s a map of the ride on Strava.  From my neighborhood in Albuquerque I utilized some bike routes on residential streets and linked in the very important Diversion Trail, which is a great north south running spine for bicyclists that goes underneath most of the busy arterial cross streets using a technique called notching, which involves routing the trail underneath the busy streets by carving it out of the cement sides of the huge drainage structure–the North Diversion Channel–the trail runs along.  It gets bikes across town with a high level of service and smooth flow.  The Diversion Trail is a super positive asset for cycling in Albuquerque.

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I meandered through Corrales.  The riding is so good there one of these days I want to just take my time and explore more.  But for today the goal was to check out a more distant place.  So I passed through Corrales to Hwy 528.  528 is a busy road serving varied purposes from moving through traffic, providing access to businesses and shopping, and linking to collector streets that go to important places like UNM Rio Rancho and the city government center.  Because of the many intersections and busier higher speed traffic I use extra caution with lots of shoulder checks to maintain a strong reference to traffic around me and plenty of scanning up the road to anticipate positioning needs in advance.  This road reminds me a lot of Tramway Road.  Both are important arterials for bicyclists but also have some freeway type features and big intersections that call for every road user’s full attention and cooperation.   There is either a big shoulder or bike lane the entire way.  I thought the stressful parts came when there were long right hand turn lanes, such as the one southbound for Idalia Rd., with no bike lane and limited shoulder.  It seems to work best if there is a bike lane in this situation to clarify optimal positioning and if the turn lanes are shortened to reduce speeds and the length of exposure for bicyclists between lanes of traffic.  It worked OK and I think the NMDOT has made a fine start in better integrating bicycle flow into the developing models for balancing different modes of traffic empowering all users.  I see they have an ongoing project for improvements on 528.  These roads are as important for bike travel for all the same reasons they are important for car travel.

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Once you cross 550 it is a quick transition to rural splendor.  There seem to be a few gravel mining operations out on Jemez Dam road but they are low key and I saw only one truck.  Car traffic is next to nothing and as often happens in rural New Mexico the first driver I saw extended a greeting with his hand motioning up with an easy wave from the steering wheel.  You could also sense the ease and contentment in the driver’s relaxed body posture.  These brief moments of acknowledgment convey so much including a mutual recognition of how lucky we are to be here in the landscape on this unfolding day.  The land is part of the Santa Ana Pueblo and is one of many growth boundaries that ring the city.  I see these limitations acting like periods punctuate a sentence.  There is nothing more depressing or discombobulating than a run on city with no end.  Here in Albuquerque we have much to focus in on including redevelopment, reinvesting in schools, improving the quality of the economy, doing the developments we’ve got going right including Mesa del Sol, and plus everyone I know enjoys the berth of open space surrounding the city, even if we sometimes take it for granted.  It is great to get out of town on a bicycle and take in the fresh air and vibrant scenes of landscape and culture.  Take in a string of great places like beads on a necklace–Albuquerque, Corrales, Rio Rancho, Santa Ana–on the Jemez Dam ride.  New Mexico is a great place with many distinctions.  I love to ride here.

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