We left Gallup at 9 am with temperatures hovering at 40 degrees and overcast skies. Instead of taking the direct route, we zig-zagged our way across northern New Mexico, traveling on little-used, 2-lane paved roads through the Navajo Nation and into the Santa Fe National Forest. I watched the storm clouds build to the east, and a couple of times we even saw patches of bright-blue sky.
We rode for 2 1/2 hours before we came to the first gas station, and then a few miles down the road stopped in Cuba for lunch. Cuba is the gateway for the San Pedro Parks wilderness area, and the landscape changed from flat desert to the changing colors of fall foliage.
From Cuba we turned onto Route 126, the Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway. All morning the road stretched straight out to the horizon, and now we found ourselves on a winding, curving, twisting road bordered by rocky peaks and pine forests.
We rode in and out of rain, and several times crossed muddy red water flowing across the road.
We stopped at Soda Dam, a natural dam made from calcium carbonate deposits from the groundwater. The warm springs in the area reach a maximum of 118 degrees, and the swiftly flowing water shaped the surrounding rocks.
Most of the day we were at 6,000-6,500' elevation, and soon after we left Soda Dam the road started climbing as we headed toward the Valles Caldera National Preserve, a 13.7 mile wide meadow formed over 1.15 million years ago by a volcanic crater in the Jemez Mountains. We rode into heavy fog at 8,000', and then found ourselves above the fog as the road continued curving and climbing to 9,200'.
We wound through hairpin turns as we started descending toward Los Alamos, site of the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb in WWII. We didn't realize that Los Alamos continues as a government research center until we stopped to pass through security on our way into town. We visited the Bradbury Science Museum to learn about the history of the area, the work that went into the top-secret Manhattan Project, and the scientific research that continues today.
Route 285 falls steeply from the Parajito Plateau toward Santa Fe with amazing rock cliffs and steep canyons along the highway.
As we rode into Santa Fe, many of the homes use a unique, tree branch type of fence known as coyote fencing because they were originally designed to keep out coyotes.
Riding the motorcycle is all about the journey, even with rainy and cold weather. Taking the straight route may be faster, but it's not nearly as much fun.