I really enjoyed Salida, but it was time to move on. All the riding from this point on would be on pavement, so I pumped up my tyres as hard as I could, braced myself for traffic, and set off. A cyclist I met in Salida suggested I stay in a hot springs just 30 miles or so, over the Poncho Pass, the one big obstacle between Salida and New Mexico.
The road out from Salida was mostly a gentle incline, with the last of the Fall leaves blowing over the road. I passed what I think was someones animal graveyard – at least I hope thats what it is!
The road grew steeper, up and over the 2,000 foot Poncha Pass. It was bitterly cold. At just over 1,000 foot up there was a turn off to the Marshall Pass. This is where I would turn if I was to continue on the Great Divide trail. The track here leads to the monster Marshall Pass, another 3,000 foot up, now under a thin layer of snow, with the even bigger Indiana pass beyond it. For a moment, I was tempted to take that track and keep going. Funny how a few days rest makes me forget all the hardships of the trail. Its hard not to feel like I’m just giving up, when I take the ‘easy’ paved Poncho Pass instead. Maybe one day I’ll come back and complete the route, but not for this year.
I got to the pass at midday. It was bitterly cold up there, but no snow as I’d feared. I set off on a long descent down to the wide open valley.
The San Luis valley is wide, arid and desolate, with few towns or ranches, just wide open spaces hemmed in to the east and west by some of the highest mountains in Colorado.
After just 35 miles or so, I found the hot springs i’d been recommended, called Joyful Journey Hot Springs. The name, and the fact that they hire out teepees and yurts, made it pretty clear this was new age territory. I went for the cheapest option, the teepee (I was happily oblivious at the time that the site had a population of Bull Snakes). The lithium rich springs are great for easing tired legs, I had nothing much else to do for the rest of the day but soak and take some photographs.
It was a beautiful night with a bright full moon. Perfect for trying out how good the low light sensor is on my camera.
I was woken up about 3am by what seemed like someone shining a bright light into my face. It was, in fact, the moon shining through the teepee smokehole.
The next day I set off, with 50 miles of very little between the springs and the next town, Alamosa.
Well, there was a tiny village (except they don’t call them villages here) which proudly boasted its own zoning plan.
Moffat consists of about 6 buildings over half a mile, so I guess it needs its zoning. I stopped for coffee at the nice little art gallery and cafe that is its only shop. The lady said the area is overwhelmed with applications for large scale solar plants, including solar towers and concentrated solar power plants. Apparently the San Luis Valley is one of the sunniest spots in the US. I just happened to catch it on a cloudy, gloomy day.
It also has lots of UFO’s, apparently.
A few miles on, I found that the lady in Moffat wasn’t exaggerating. Right by the road was a massive array of photovoltaics.
I made it to Alamosa by about 3pm. It seemed a nice town, but I decided to take a chunk off my trip by going for the next town, Antonito, just under 30 miles south. I would have made it easily except that a strong wind blew up slowing me down to a crawl. I made it after nightfall to find a very run down place, a former mining and railroad town, now fallen on hard times. The one motel was closed because, I found out later, of a bed bug infestation. Luckily, the tiny Steam Train Hotel was open. Its a lovely place, lovingly restored as an old style hotel. The owner is a retired carpenter, hoping to profit by the association with Indiana Jones (some of the original movie was shot around here), and the restored narrow guage steam train (The Cumbres & Toltec Line) that runs from here into New Mexico in the summer.
I was due to set off the next morning, but as i stepped out for breakfast, I was nearly blown over by a huge gust of wind. I found myself helping the owner take down his flags which were threatening to achieve lift off in the high winds. There was a major storm brewing, with 50 mph gusts and snow and sleet predicted for the day. I didn’t have much choice but to wait it out in the hotel.
So, a day late, I set off. There was a very strong and bitterly cold wind, but it was from the south west, and I was going south at first, then going south-east, so it was just about cyclable. After about 10 miles, I hit the border with New Mexico.
Some borders are dramatic, you really feel you are crossing over into to a new land. Crossing the Divide from Alberta to British Columbia was a little like that, and the border crossing into the USA, from the timberlands of the Elk Valley immediately into the wide open spaces of the Big Sky State was a perfect transition. From Montana to Idaho was incredibly dramatic – one moment in a pine clad canyon, the next in a classic open wheat growing landscape with seemingly endless vistas. But this crossing was a bit mundane, just a sign in the featureless desert where someone back in history drew an apparently random line on a map.