We dawdled up in the morning because 1) we wanted to wait until the sun was right up and it was a bit warmer before starting with a descent 2) the first 15 miles were downhill and then it was flat so although we had over 60 miles to do we thought it would be easy. It didn’t quite work out that way; but not knowing the future at that point we enjoyed our first cup of coffee in our sleeping bags and packed up gradually and were off at about 9.
After a small climb we probably had the easiest start to a day so far as the first 15 miles were indeed downhill – fairly steep at first then a gradual downhill across a wide plain to Caballo Reservoir – a reservoir on the Rio Grande.
The lake was not particularly picturesque; the water was some way away from the road and we wondered if the water level was particularly low (as it turned out, we were correct). We made our way south on a quiet road (the main traffic being on a parallel interstate). There were lots of RV parks and boat parks, but it all looked a bit scruffy and untidy – as if this was a dying area for tourism and permanent trailer residents were taking over. One of the things that has repeatedly struck us since starting this trip is just how many people in the USA end up living full time in trailers. We knew that this was the bottom end of the American housing market but, until this trip, had not realised quite how massive that section of market is occupied by trailer-dwellers.
Passing numerous parks, all was still going well when we stopped at a nice Mexican cafe in Array and had burritos and apple pie. Every sign we passed was for a chilli farm and the burrito made our lips tingle with local chillies. Soon after we set off again the road crossed the Rio Grande – and we were astonished that it was virtually dry – just a small trickle. There is water further up but it all seems to have been diverted for irrigation – growing more chillies!
Things had now suddenly changed – a brisk wind against us had sprung up while we were eating. The next 20 miles to the town of Hatch was therefore a battle against the wind. It felt far worse than the climb from yesterday as the gusts pummeled us relentlessly. In fact the gusts seemed to last longer than the brief lulls between. By the time we reached Hatch, we were pretty exhausted and sat inside a supermarket cafe to recover and then stock up on provisions.
When we set off again the wind direction had changed a bit and was mostly a side wind and at times even slightly in our favour. We felt better but now we were dealing with heat, sun and lack of shade. This was the first hot day we have had so we are not acclimatised to cycling in 30 degree heat yet. The road started to twist and turn alongside the Rio Grande – now completely dry. The wind got even stronger. As the road turned sometimes it was slightly in our favour, at other times against us. The side gusts were also tricky to deal with, knocking us about on our bikes.
At last we reached the rather worryingly named town of “Radium Springs”. It wasn’t obviously glowing as we approached and it was home to Leasburg Dam State park. We gratefully turned into the state park, where camping is usually not an issue. We found the campground host to ask where we could pitch our tent and he told us all the pitches were full. We must have looked extremely crestfallen as he said he would take us to the group site, as long as we paid our 14 dollar campground fee, which of course we did.
The site was ideal with a covered eating area, a pit toilet and a water tap and a flat sandy spot for our tent. It overlooked the river and the dam – unfortunately completely dry. The campground host told us that there would usually be water at this time of year but there had been little snow in Colorado so little was coming down to fill the river and what little water there was being held further upstream in the reservoirs (as we had seen in Caballo). If there wasn’t significant snow fall in the next month or lots of rain in June/July they would be in trouble. It was a sad, sad sight and one likely to continue with climate change. Although one place and one year is not evidence this is one example among many. Who on earth could argue against the need for action with this in front of our eyes.
We revived ourselves with a ‘bucket shower’ under the tap and a brew and rested our legs while the sun got lower. Next to our camping area was a large RV and the occupant arrived just after our dinner so we went over to explain why we were in the group area. Sorry can’t remember his name but he kindly invited us in for coffee. It was interesting to be in one of these huge RV’s – a real home from home – but more importantly it was great to meet someone and have an interesting conversation. He was an Army Veteran and had spent a long time in Europe, and had interesting and thoughtful observations about the differences between life here and in Italy. After retiring from the military he was in the final stages of training to be a police officer with the Department responsible for Fish and Game Regulation. However, as a law enforcement officer, he also got summoned to cover anything else from vehicle accidents to domestic violence.
He was a generous, interesting and interested man who we warmed to despite very clear differences of perspective. Indeed, coming across well thought out differences of perspective is one of the things that makes this trip so fascinating.
We bid goodnight to a new friend and went back to our tent. The most notable feature of the night was that David’s airbed developed a puncture (not that he told Bernie about this until the morning) and so he woke feeling like he had slept badly on a bed of concrete. Another thing to try to fix on our day off in El Paso.