Category Archives: exploring by bike

Cycling in rural Southeastern Arizona

One of my favorite things about living on the farm is that I can ride my bike to my cousin’s house and play.  –Greta, daughter of Tedd Haas, a farmer from Bonita, Arizona.  From the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) story: “Arizona Farmer puts conservation in action”

On our recent birding trip to McNeal, Arizona, I fell in love with the landscape.   I think my wife is used to this by now.  After every trip we take I want to move there.  This is probably what makes me a  geographer, that I throw my heart and imagination into the uniqueness of every place. Even though we left after four days as planned and returned to our lives and love at our home in Albuquerque, my imagination and dreams take me back to this location all the time.

After the six hour drive down the Rio Grande valley and then over the continental divide on Interstate 10, we spent the first night recovering in Willcox, Arizona at the Days Inn, where we picked up the local literature including the Wings Over Willcox guide.  The next morning I set out on bicycle to meet Mai at our destination, the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, where we would camp for two nights.  You miss most of the landscape traveling at 65-75 miles per hour in an automobile, but cycling is slower, gentler, and immersive.  A recent storm left white snows on the high peaks of the Sky Islands–the high mountain ranges prominent above the spacious desert basins.  The air was crips and clear under Arizona’s astringent light.  Though I had arrived the day before, being on my bike made me feel like I was present, definitely here.  As I pedaled and tuned in, I heard cranes and then saw their graceful silhouettes gliding in the sky.

The Sulpher Springs Valley reminds me of the San Luis Valley up in Colorado.  With center-pivot irrigation technology, farmers bring ground water to the surface and distribute it to crops in the fields. It’s startling to see such a diversity of agriculture, from grapes and pecans to corn, beans, and tomatoes. Because water and soil is precious, farmers practice conservation.  The native grasslands and wetlands are also increasingly being recognized as vital and protected in public lands and through partnerships using conservation easements, like the one at Cienega Ranch.

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The cycling here is gorgeous.  I pedaled down Hwy 191 from Willcox towards the Chiricahua Mountains, and then south on Kansas Settlement Road, where I passed the Bonita Bean Company.  The valley feels huge, but the roads, energy and water infrastructure, and buildings serve as a mesh of civilization between the wild reaches of the Sky Island ranges dominating the horizons.  Pedaling circles and streaming down the road, I watched the landscape slowly unfold.

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Somehow it ws the landscape and not the beautiful campus or the textbooks or even the library that made me feel smarter…  –Heather Sellers, “Pedal, Pedal, Pedal”, from The Sun Magazine

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We came for the cranes, but the raptors are abundant and also incredible.  They like the high perches of trees and telephone poles by the road.  It’s beautiful to watch them fly.

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The second day I cycled through Gleeson, taking the long way from our campsite to meet Mai at the Douglas swimming pool.  The Gleeson road to Tombstone is a delight.  From Tombstone to Douglas I went through Bisbee, which has to be one of the best cycling places anywhere, tucked into the Mule Mountains.  Cycling by day, watching the starry skies at night, and observing the cranes fly in and out from their roost at dusk and dawn was great living.  Returning to city life, I feel ambitious.  We can boldly envision a night sky above our cities that is dark and allows people to connect with the stars–this is a good point of departure for equating progress with pollution, even light pollution.  We are already paying closer attention to restoring wildlife habitat, clean air and water, and making transportation safer and a way for people to connect better with our communities.  Cycling has a role to play in every place around the world. It certainly fits well in Southeastern Arizona, making us envoys of beauty like the birds and stars.

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Area Rides and Cycling Culture:

Every October there is a big cycling event out of Douglas, AZ
http://www.perimeterbicycling.com/cochise-cycling-classic/

The Willcox Flyer takes cyclists towards the Dos Cabezas and back to Willcox
https://www.facebook.com/WillcoxFlyer

The Bisbee Bicycle Brothel is pretty amazing
http://bisbeebicyclebrothel.com

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Year of the Bird

Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

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I awoke before dawn in our tent listening to the music of the birds.  Owls were hooting in the dark, and coyotes yipped and howled.  The cranes roosting in the playa waters were noisy most of night. I bundled up and opened the tent flap.  It was freezing outside.  Stars were shining across the sky and a faint band of white light was glowing on the eastern horizon.  I lit the stove and heated water.  I looked around.  The backbone of the milky way arched overhead, the dark shapes of the mountains skylighted by dawn.  I poured the water over the coffee, cradled the cup, and sipped.  It was a great day for birding at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area in Arizona.

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Whitewater Draw is a playa and wetlands in the Sulphur Springs Valley.  It was purchased by Arizona in 1997 to provide habitat for the cranes and other wildlife.  The cranes like to rest in the shallow waters at night, protected from bobcats and coyotes.  They fly out every morning to feed in the fields on bits of grain and corn that were left over from harvest season.

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Whitewater Draw has camping, which makes it easy to be out at the edges of the day when the birds are flying in and out.  Every morning and evening we walked on the pathways and decks with views of the playa.  At nighttime the stars reflected in the calm waters.  We met some great people.  One retired couple joked they had run away from their home in Alabama, and were taking their sweet time exploring the Southwest U.S.  Their plan was to not have a plan, just explore.  Another couple was younger and were taking a year off to travel.  Conversation flowed cheerily as we watched the birds glide, overlooking the watery playa and expansive valley and mountains beyond.  The small crowd of people Whitewater attracts is friendly and easy going.  Everyone was attuned to the language of the landscape, the beauty of the surroundings.

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I came home with questions to research.  I was excited to learn that 2018 is being celebrated as “the year of the bird” by the National Audubon Society, National Geographic, BirdLife International, and Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  It’s the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which has played a critical role in conservation of biodiversity.  The Sulphur Springs Valley is a good example of balancing human activities such as agriculture and conservation, and ecological stewardship, partnerships made to last.  It was good to see these birds considered, admired, and cared for.  I certainly learned a lot from them while I was there.

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If you take care of birds, you take care of most of the environmental problems in the world.  –Thomas Lovejoy, Biologist and Godfather of Biodiversity

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Resources and Credits (and cycling info.):
Thank you Mai at Sansai Studio for these wonderful photographs!  You can check out more of Mai’s work at her Instagram site:  https://sansai.photoshelter.com/instagram

The Whitewater Draw live, streaming crane cam!  https://www.azgfd.com/wildlife/viewing/webcamlist/sandhillcrane/cranecam/

The Year of the Bird website:  https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/year-of-the-bird/

We brought our bicycles with us.  What a way to experience the landscape! I plan on blogging about the riding there, but for now, here are maps, data, and pics from those rides, via Strava.
https://www.strava.com/activities/1353895700
https://www.strava.com/activities/1352328961

Sunset with the cranes

Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a Love like that!  It lights the whole sky.  –Hafez (1315-1390), Sufi Poet

Mai and I spent Christmas Eve in a wildlife refuge about an hour south of Albuquerque.  Mai brought her tripod and used her Nikon camera to take video.  It turned out pretty good.  Here is  a clip below.  In case you like it, I’ve included links to more of her videos from yesterday.  Each one is different with the changing light and happy music from the sonorous birds.  Enjoy!

More crane videos from Mai at Sansai Studio:

https://youtu.be/hUV9ZnVP21w

https://youtu.be/hUV9ZnVP21w

https://youtu.be/WataIBJ2sSY

https://youtu.be/RDCtVV0AQDE

Mai’s website is here:  https://sansai.photoshelter.com

Finding peace on the bike

Everyday when I get on my bike I learn something new about the transformative powers of cycling.  Creative thoughts flow.  If I’m angry or hurting, somehow cycling helps me work through those feelings, and turn that energy to the positive.  Cycling is constructive.  Cycling and sport in general helps us focus our energies, overcome fear and use our life for the good.

When I watched a story on New Mexico’s opioid crisis, it made me think of how cycling can change our course.  Then my friend sent a link to a video of Juanjo Mendez’s story.  Juanjo was injured in a motorbike crash, and felt depressed afterwards.  But cycling brought him back.

Dr. Leslie Hayes in Rio Arriba County suggests the real solution to drugs is to get meaningful things in peoples’ lives.  We are not going to arrest or medically treat our way out of the opioid crisis.  We need love.  Stories like Juanjo Mendez’s are proof cycling adds meaning and hope.

Cycling helps us cope with pain and trauma.  If addiction is an effort to avoid pain, as Dr. Gina Perez-Baron suggests, cycling and sport in general may be a constructive outlet to deal with our hurts in a healthier way, even focusing our energy to propel us towards our goals in sport and life.  To get super proactive building healthier lives,  we can promote cycling and healthy sport.

Sport has the power to change the world.  It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.  —Nelson Mandela

References:
“New Mexico deploys best practices to avoid the worst outcomes in the opioid crisis”
https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/new-mexico-deploys-best-practices-avoid-worst-outcomes-opioid-crisis
Photos are from Saturday’s ride  https://www.strava.com/activities/1251054152

Bike culture

The thing you learn from being a cyclist is you don’t give up, you keep fighting and it’s funny how that transitions over into other things in life.  John Tomac, rancher and mountain biker

From the simple form of the bicycle springs a variety of culture.  Cycling, like music, fosters vital expression of the human spirit.  It allows us to move abreast with our days, creates meaning and helps us make sense of our lives.  The experience of cycling brings us together with place through the application of our skills with an elegant, purposeful, and artful technology.  We can trace all the variety in cycling back to this original experience, the exquisite freedom and sensations of cycling reverberating contagiously deep in the inner oceans of our unconscious.

A bike ride always feels worthwhile.  Somehow it unlocks our perceptions and gives wings to the art of becoming.  It’s a creative act, bringing us into a powerful state of joyful relations.

The preamble of thought, the transition through which it passes from the unconscious to the conscious, is action.  —Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar”

Cycling puts our ambitions in check with our practical abilities.  There is no shame in living cycling.  It’s a way of reading the land, celebrating with nature.  In a world of pop culture and groupthink, cycling is a way of living directly.  An unmediated way of caring for yourself.

All things real are so by so much virtue as they contain…I see the same law working in nature for conservation and growth.  Power is in nature the essential measure of right  Nature suffers nothing to remain in her kingdoms which cannot help itself.  –Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self Reliance”

Cycling is really something wonderful to celebrate!  It’s a discipline that is dictated by our nature and follows truth.  The truth is our body’s health is integral to our mind and wellbeing, and we must take care of it.  By developing cycling skills, we are enacting an understanding of the value of our health, and practicing responsibility to all life.  Cycling is a beautiful gift, a part of our heritage.  Cycling extends our powers and lives in a joyful way.  The variety cycling is generating is amazing.  John Tomac’s example in the video below shows how cycling is part of the fabric of a larger American culture, something that is fixing itself in the soil for good.  We are seeing the love of cycling connecting vital elements of sustainable culture around the globe.  Cycling runs deep, through our legs, hearts, and lungs, through our hard work, through generations across time.  It’s simple really, oxygenated blood pumping through our bodies is good for us.  And rolling on wheels with our family, friends and whole communities is unabashed fun!

American mountain biking is fun-based and grassroots, and it’s always been that way.  —J. Tomac

Time expansion

Time expands when I’m cycling.  I don’t know how it works, but riding is like a glimpse into the mystery of the universe.  And when I get home I have more of everything.  More time, more energy, more joy, relaxation.  Cycling is so satisfying.  I feel younger.

I think part of it is the magic of cycling.  We are born with legs that want to make us go.  It’s natural.  Then we designed an elegantly simple vehicle that uses our legs and makes us more efficient with two wheels.  We glide over the surface of the earth, flowing with the contours, wielding our own power.  On the bicycle even our leg motion becomes circular.  For most of our biological history, our ancestors had no access to this special experience.  Super-mobility.

That gliding motion, how sensational!  We are the pilot and passenger all at once.  Our thoughts and capabilities so perfectly expressed through this machine.  We can go 50 miles on a burrito with a side of blue corn chips.  How’s that for efficiency and fun?  Take time for paradise today.

A quote from Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of the Pooh inspired this post along with a book my father gave me (but he doesn’t remember) called Take Time For Paradise: Americans and Their Games, by A. Bartlett Giamatti.  Cycling has a way of making our everyday experiences extraordinary.

“If time saving devices really saved time, there would be more time available to us than ever before in history.  But, strangely enough, we seem to have less time than even a few years ago.  It’s really great fun to go somewhere where there are no time saving devices because, when you do, you find that you have lots of time.  Elsewhere, you’re too busy working to pay for machines to save you time so you don’t have to work so hard.”  –Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of the Pooh

The photos are from rides this week under New Mexico’s captivating and vivid light.  A perfect place to cycle.  Unlike baseball, which separates out leisure from work, cycling is an integrative activity, the perfect work-play-live-learn-love thing to do.  We can generate more of it.

Cycling in beauty

“This is the most beautiful place on earth.  There are many such places.”
–Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Here are a few photos from places I’ve cycled the last few months in New Mexico.  One of the great pleasures of cycling is the sense of appreciation it builds for the places we live in.  Every ride the splash of wind, the lay of the light on the land, the wildlife I see gives exquisite pleasure and imbues me with a sense I am in the most beautiful place on earth in this moment.

Highway 64 takes you high into the Brazos Mountains above Tierra Amarilla with views of the Brazos Cliffs

The Sandia Crest road about halfway up. Those green patches are the ski slopes

Cycling is special like music.  It gives us a chance to express ourselves and sprinkles a little magic into our lives.  Every ride is a chance to be creative, explore our abilities, increase our capabilities, develop leadership skills, improve results and build up our trust and confidence.

When I go outside I experience the great mystery.  It’s like walking into an art gallery or concert hall.  The road is the pathway in, and the best ones are aligned in subtle ways to fit to place. Traveling there gives us an expansive feeling, like we are part of something greater than ourselves.  As much as we recognize this beauty, we can assimilate it into our understanding.  Cycling is a living communion, a humble conversation, touching infinity.  A way of learning.

Our effort, our sweat and breathing, is the sacrifice, the price of admission.  Suffering on a bike is not that bad, actually beneficial, when we realize we get way more than we give.  It’s a small fee to enter a much larger world.  It’s cathartic, cleansing, and happily satisfying.

“Every place, like every person, is elevated by the love and respect shown toward it, and by the way in which its bounty is received.” –Richard Nelson, The Island Within
I am grateful for cycling!