We started today not knowing where it would end up but have stopped in a nice little campsite in Hillsboro, a small town on the other side of the mountain. Alls well that ends well – and a very happy birthday to my sister, Tricia.
The day started with breakfast at the Palace Hotel – pretty mediocre to be honest but we cobbled together porridge and fruit – whilst the electric kept tripping because the system could not take the coffee machine, the kettle and the microwave all working at the same time. Memories of our house in France where the same thing happened if we put a heater on! The manager was relaxed about it – just resetting the trip switch from time to time, but not seemingly worried about the impression this dodgy electricity supply sent to his guests. We rather enjoyed the faded Victorian splendour of this place, with memories of pioneer days in the past. I am sure as bookings increase some improvements will be made, but we just hope that do not detract its unique character – that is both the hotel and the manager!
We met a retired chap from Santa Fe at breakfast who was less enamoured of the hotel and the town generally than us, but out contact point was tyhat he had previously raced bikes. He gave our bikes the once over in an informed and interested sort of way. He had cycled all over Europe – partly racing and partly supported touring. He had clearly had experienced a life in the saddle, albeit not carrying his own gear, even though he now had let age retire him from cycling. He was particularly taken with my gear arrangement – bar end shifters – and gave the impression that no one had that type of arrangement for decades. True, I conceded, but it works for me and I can mend it if it goes wrong, so there is something to be said for a simple approach.
We got away about 7.30am, late for us, and cycled through the historic part of Silver City. The rest of the town sprawled to the North and looked like many other US towns – wide roads and low rise, modern developments indicative of land being a low cost and a lack of planning restrictions to constrain edge of town (or even out of town) development. But the population density is so different to the UK that planning is inevitably very different.
The road was a wide dual carriageway to Santa Clara, but we left the main road when we turned off onto the 152. We struck off into the mountains on a road that stayed wonderfully quiet all day. We climbed gently for a few miles then came across the Chino Copper Mine, which extends over about 5 miles in area. It was one of the largest open cast mines in the country and produced vast quantities of copper. The environment paid the price because the hillside was stripped away, with vast parts of the mountains being cut away in segments. The effect was both impressive and depressing at the same time. The copper mine has been working since about 1870 and continues on a vast scale today but it seems to be run with very few jobs being created. I am not an expert on the environmental degradation caused but doubt that it would meet EU standards! The claimed reclamation project just said the site would be reseeded – difficult when all the topsoil has been stripped.
After the copper mine the road wound up and then descended to the San Lorenzo valley – down from 7450ft to below 5800ft. The valley was occupied but arid. This area is suffering historic low levels of rainfall as climate change plays havoc with traditional weather patterns.
We took the 152 road towards Emory Pass, climbing up to 8,300 ft – the highest point in the whole route from San Diego to Florida. This was a long, slow climb through a beautiful gorge – known as the black ranges. We were not sure if we would have the energy to get to the top of would camp half way up. As it was, the Forest Service campsites were all closed (for no clear reason) and we were both climbing pretty well, our day off had no doubt helped. So we pressed on and reached the pass by about 3pm. The view looking East was spectacular. we could see wilderness for as far as we could see – and that seemed to be hundreds of miles. It was slightly hazy and so the photos may not do this amazing view justice but it was awesome.
We met a retired couple from Northern California at the top who were doing a National Park tour in their (sensibly sized and hence very modest by US standards) campervan. He was a cyclist and did 120 miles day when in training, but made it quite clear that riding fully loaded was something he had never done (and probably would never do). We have met lots of people in cars who say they are cyclists – strange thing is that they are never on cycles. We have also met virtually no touring cyclists even though we are following one of the classic cycle touring routes. It seems that Covid put people off and many have not regained their confidence yet. They will come back but maybe not until next year.
The descent from Emory Pass will live long in our memories. A good descent has three things. First, it must not be too steep or we just spend the whole time on the brakes and end up with numb fingers. A descent is better if it has turns and curves, to swing the bike around and get a constantly changing view. And lastly a classic descent needs unforgettable views around every corner. This one had it all – not too steep, plenty of bends and great views.
We stopped at the depressed hamlet of Kingston – once the largest town in New Mexico but now an almost ghost town, but pressed on to the little hamlet of Hillsboro because it was 1000 feet lower and thus warmer. We found the owner of the RV park who asked us to camp in her garden, treated us like honored guests and would not take any payment! We have done nothing to deserve such largesse but are happy to accept it.
The sky has been cloudless for days and it is getting warmer. Next we have to tackle the flatter sections towards El Paso. But for today we feel pretty proud that our fitness has improved enough for us to enjoy a mega day over the mountain.