Bisbeee, AZ to Deming, NM (and some road reports)
After several wonderful days of exploring Bisbee and all it’s hidden gems (while also taking shelter from the series of wind, rain and snow storms that blew through), we pushed off again. We were rested and ready to conquer the Continental Divide!
From Bisbee, we rolled downhill to Douglas, which sits right on the border with Agua Prieta, Mexico. Literally. The numbered streets of downtown count down to 1 and then… voila… there’s a big fence… and another country on the other side. A little bit strange, but fun to see. In Douglas, we stayed with Glenda, whose husband had toured with Ken (of the Bicycle Brothel) last summer. She took us to Safeway and gave us great tips on where to go in the South.
From Douglas, we headed North-East to Rodeo, NM. From Bisbee to Douglas to Rodeo is all along Highway 80. It’s an older highway, and not heavily-traveled, as folks prefer to take the more direct I-10. On a bike, Highway 80 is wonderful. The shoulder comes and goes, but the traffic volumes are delightfully low. From Douglas, Highway 80 follows an abandoned railroad line, meaning that the grades are shallow and even, and you wind through beautifully-scenic valleys. The only unfortunate part, for us, is that the wind had decided to blow straight at us (and being in a valley means there’s nothing to block to wind).
Rodeo is a tiny blip of a town, with only a few small stores. Yet, we hear from Rusty (who owns the RV park we stayed at that night) that the area is growing, slowly, as a tourist destination. If you should ever pass through Rodeo and need a place to camp, we highly recommend Rusty’s RV Resort. Clean and lots of space, with a grassy area for tents. Rusty even put her space heater in the bathroom for us so that we could shower in a warm room.
From Rodeo, we headed East on Highway 9. Highway 80 is a good cycling road, but Highway 9 is even better. You continue to follow the old rail line (which has long been removed, but you can still see evidence of its path), on a slow ascent through more valleys, up and over the Continental Divide. I think the road probably finds the lowest spot to cross the Divide, which made it extremely pleasant. From Rodeo, you climb a few hundred feet in elevation, then ride along over small hills and valleys, feeling as if you’re crossing a plain at the top of the world. Highway 9 has exactly one town between Rodeo and Columbus (approx 90 miles). There are a few other communities, but Animas is the only town with any services. We had been fore-warned, so we planned well before leaving Douglas, and we were able to enjoy the nothingness and the surprise communities along the way.
Leaving Rodeo, our goal was to reach Hachita, where we had heard there is a man who lets thru-hikers and cyclists (especially those following the Continental Divide trail) camp on his lawn. We saw the town of Hachita for miles before we actually reached it. And, from far away, you see lots of houses and a church steeple, and you think that it looks like a thriving small town. Upon arriving, however, we discovered that Hachita is a ghost town in the making. Along the highway, there are several boarded-up storefronts: an old market, gas station, community center, tourist shops, RV park. The only thing open is the post office.
We asked the first residents we saw about the man who hosts travelers and they knew immediately who we were talking about: Sam. And they led us straight to his house. Sam is a character of an old man, warm and inviting and eager for the company, full of stories, with a house full of mementos, a sweet small dog, and a penchant for making jewelry out of the rocks he finds in the hills and polishes in his shed. Eleven or so years ago, someone had stumbled into him after hiking the Divide trail and offered to pay him to take him to the airport. After that, Sam started helping all sorts of hikers and cyclists, and is now an official Trail Guide.
From Hachita, we continued down Highway 9 to Columbus, to Pancho Villa State Park. The State Park is actually kitty-corner from town, set on the site of the military camp that was built up after Pancho Villa raided the town of Columbus back in 1915. We took advantage of the State Park’s “primitive” tent spot (for $8 per night), and then rode into town to pick up food. That evening and into the next day, we learned all sorts of interesting things about Columbus. It’s only 2 miles from the Mexican border (Palomas is the town on the other side), and it (supposedly) has one of the easiest border crossings. Because of this, various drug cartels have been fighting it out in Palomas, in order to have control, and there have been dozens of shootings. All this and… Columbus’ police force was disbanded a few years ago. Hmmm… But, we spent two nights in the state park and wandered around town, and never felt in danger.
The first night in Columbus, it rained. It rained into the morning and all throughout the day. We huddled in the tent, then we huddled in the visitor center, then we went into town for lunch (Patio Cafe has AMAZING hamburgers!) and then to the library for internet access (wireless!), and then we huddled in the tent again. We woke up the next morning to snow on the tent and on the ground and on the hundreds of cactus. Brrrrrr….
From Columbus, we headed North along Highway 11 to Deming. With a low traffic volume and shallow grades, Highway 11 rolls between a couple of rugged mountain ranges (dotted with snow). Now we are enjoying the warmth and comfort of a Days Inn, as the weather report says lows of 25 tonight. When we checked in, the woman at the front desk asked if we were crazy, telling me that this has been their coldest winter here in New Mexico. Um, yes, I guess we are, in a sense. But, you have to do something crazy every so often, right?!
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