After spending Friday riding in Albuquerque, Saturday September 28 seemed like a good day to explore the countryside. I had been curious about a road on the map to Capilla Peak in the Manzano Mountains. It appeared to go all the way to the crest of the Manzanos, which is unique because most of the high country is designated wilderness. But the road to Capilla Peak was not, which meant I could ride my bike there. I headed east out of town through Tijeras Canyon, crossing over to the eastern flank of the Manzano range and headed South towards the town of Manzano.
(This song is named Albaycin, which is a district in Granda, Spain. Since the Manzanos were named after the Spanish word for apples, it makes a good match for this ride. It lends a sense of motion.)
I figured this ride would be over a 100 miles so I stopped at the Ten Points General Store at the top of the climb up South 14 above Tijeras. Country neighbors were touching base there as they picked up supplies for their weekends. The US Forest Service had just suspended firewood permit sales a few days earlier in five national forests in New Mexico, including Cibola. This was a big deal since many people heat their homes with local forest wood. While I was fueling my own engine with assorted snacks and beverages I purchased at Ten Points, another customer was saying how thankful he was for he wood he already had stored away. He was already getting offers from others to purchase his wood, but he said he wasn’t selling any of it. A week or so later the Forest Service modified their rule to allow personal firewood cutting and gathering, again. I pedaled on enjoying the day with anticipation of the unknown journey unspooling down the road ahead.
In Manzano I turned right on Forest Road 245. The pavement ended. I felt like the ride was just beginning. I was heading up the mountain and would climb all the way to about 9,200 feet above sea level. A beautiful road with very light traffic. I passed through New Canyon Spring campground and one lone traveler was packing up his tent. We waved at each other. I climbed higher and higher through burn scars and into the clear blue mountain light. The scrub oak was turning bright colors.
At the very top the road intersects with the Manzano Crest trail, and there is a trail leading to a raptor viewing area staffed by HawkWatch International. Since 1985 every late summer and Fall HawkWatch does a raptor count and studies the migrations through the southern Rocky Mountain Flyway. The raptors catch the thermals rising over the mountain ridges. There is also a campground at the top where the HawkWatch crew stays during the migratory season.
I felt like I was on top of the world. The viewshed was open in every direction, and the clear dry air was transparent. To the east the sparsely populated Estancia Valley stretched out to the white salt basins and plains beyond. To the west I could see the green ribbon of the Rio Grande. There is something magical about seeing the beauty with our own eyes what for so long had been unknown or just a line on a map. The joy of accomplishment and discovery bubbled up inside me as it felt so good to be present in this unique moment time, enfolded by the landscape.
I couldn’t stand around for long, however, as I still had to get home. I was careful on the dirt road descent, but that road really flows. I hit some washboard sections pretty fast but managed to hang on and use the gravity to soar downhill. By the time I came into Tajique I was almost out of liquids but Rays One Stop Store was open and I bought three cans of soda. He might have been selling gold as far as I was concerned, and it was enough calories to get me home. I can see the Manzano Mountains from our kitchen windows. Even though I have been looking at them for five years since we moved here, after this ride, my feeling of connection changed. There is something intimate and comforting realizing more about the nature and the beauty of the land that enfolds us, especially the quiet, unheralded, but still awesome Manzanos.
HawkWatch Manzano Mountains, NM https://hawkwatch.org/manzanos
Ten Points General Store in Tijeras (or Escabosa) https://www.facebook.com/TenPointsTijeras/
Buy apples in season at the Manzano Mountain Retreat https://www.manzanomountainretreat.com
A nice story about a fifth grader in McIntosh, NM at the base of the Manzanos saving two barn owls when their family barn collapsed in high winds https://edgewood.news/hawks-aloft-and-carson-dismuke-release-rescued-owls/