Day 7: Tres Piedras to Ojo Caliente, backcountry adventure - Passes Around the San Luis Valley 2019 - CycleBlaze

June 4, 2019

Day 7: Tres Piedras to Ojo Caliente, backcountry adventure

Today promises to be a great day. I rested yesterday afternoon. Today's weather is much warmer and sunnier.

The day started well with a freshly made breakfast burrito at Chili Line Depot. They told me about a gravel short cut that goes straight west to avoid a detour south to the highway intersection. The gravel road connects to US 64 at the ranger station which is on the edge of the forest.

I could have stayed on US 285 all the way to Ojo Caliente but I opted for the road less traveled. Today's route is a back country mountain climb followed by a huge descent to an excellent destination.

US 64 promptly enters pine forest west of Tres Piedras.
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I pedaled only 5 miles west on US 64 but that includes a 700 foot climb and 600 foot descent to Rio Tusas. Probably the water supply for Tres Piedras.

Rio Tusas, west of Tres Piedras.
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Not far past the river I turned left, south, onto Carson National Forest road 42. I knew it was gravel but was surprised to see that it's only one lane. 11 mountainous miles of one lane gravel between US 64 and the start of paved NM 111.

I pedaled 11 miles on Forest Road 42.
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Forest Road 42 starts in fenced high desert but after about a mile it climbs into unfenced pine forest.

Most of the Forest Road is in pine forest.
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The road climbs to 3 summits above 8500 feet elevation. The road isn't really gravel. It's dirt with large embedded rocks. There are very few loose rocks. I never needed to lower tire pressure, even on the rare 8% grade. The dirt was slightly damp from recent rains. Damp enough to eliminate dust but not wet enough to be soft and slow.

View from the first summit of the Forest Road.
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Between the summits the road is often on ledges on rocky slopes too steep to have many trees. The road grade wasn't steep. My own private mountain road.

Forest Road 42 between the summits.
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One part of the Forest Road is close to a seasonal creek.
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The forest is mostly pines but there are a few small aspen groves.

I saw only a few aspen groves.
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Just past the third summit is a good view looking south at a remote valley farmed by descendants of Spanish settlers. On the descent to Ojo Caliente I will pass several centuries-old Rancho communities.

View just past the third summit of the Forest Road. Below is a Rancho community named Canon Plaza.
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I have a big descent ahead. The third summit is 8805 feet (2685 m) elevation. Ojo Caliente is 6230 feet (1900 m) elevation, the lowest point of the tour.

The first third of the descent is on gravel. Pavement resumes when the road enters the valley at the first Rancho community called Canon Plaza. I was on the gravel road for more than 2 hours and saw one car. Carson Forest Road 42 is an awesome back country adventure.

The miles go by much more quickly on paved NM 111.
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NM 111 has "heavier" traffic, probably a car every 5 minutes. Still delightful. NM 111 follows Rio Ojo Caliente down to US 285 but it's rolling downhill. Still a few small hills to climb. I enjoyed the views and the sound of Rio Ojo Caliente.

NM 111 descending alongside Rio Ojo Caliente.
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Rio Ojo Caliente up close.
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I saw many adobe ruins in and around the Rancho communities. They're isolated now. It's hard to imagine how isolated they were 200 years ago. I only took one picture at a Rancho, at La Madera. This large building was once a mercantile but is now a residence.

Former mercantile in La Madera. Now a residence.
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I took few photo stops because clouds were building and it started to rain a little bit. I was in a hurry to get to Ojo Caliente. I arrived at 2:50 PM and got my room key at 3. My room is in the historic lodge built in 1917. Ojo Caliente is upscale and very expensive. My room cost $190 and only has a toilet and sink. I have to shower at the bath house. At least it has historic charm. I should have taken a photo of the room before I messed it up.

1917 historic lodge at Ojo Caliente. My room is the right-most window.
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Ojo Caliente was founded in 1868 and is renowned for having four types of mineral water sources: iron, lithium, soda, and arsenic. I mostly soaked in the lithium pool. They have 9 public outdoor pools and 3 private outdoor pools. Plus indoor private soaking tubs in the gender segregated bath houses. The total flow of hot water is huge.

I'm not a resort or spa person. Everything was kind of disorienting to me. I didn't know the entry procedure, where to get a towel, where to get a robe (hanging in my room), or where to put my stuff. Places like this are very couples-oriented so I feel a bit out of place. A few groups of women but no groups of men and very few children. Spas tend to be a woman thing.

Cliffside pools at Ojo Caliente. 3 private outdoor pools are behind the tall wall.
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Lithium pool at Ojo Caliente.
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Arsenic pool in the foreground.
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Mud pool at Ojo Caliente.
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Ojo Caliente is quite remote and isolated. An unincorporated town with 523 people. The nearest real town is Taos, nearly a 1 hour drive away. It's surely difficult to recruit the army of employees who work at Ojo Caliente resort.

It's Tuesday night and the resort is fully booked. There is only one restaurant. I didn't have lunch, so I went to the restaurant at 4:45 and had dinner at the bar. The restaurant was packed by the time I finished. I spent $60 for dinner, beer, tax, and tip. Resort prices. After dinner I soaked until almost dark, then went to bed.

Today's weather followed the familiar pattern. Sunny and 70F (21C) in late morning. Cloudy and 65F (18C) in the late afternoon at much lower elevation. Southwest headwind in the afternoon.

It was a great day. An awesome bike ride, then living the high life at Ojo Caliente resort.

Distance: 40.5 mi. (65 km), 11 miles unpaved
Ascent/Descent: +2121/-3809 ft. (+647/-1161 m)
Average Speed: 9.4 mph (15 km/h)

Today's ride: 41 miles (66 km)
Total: 277 miles (446 km)

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