Thursday, March 23, 2006

Santa Fe, New Mexico to Durango, Colorado, and a visit to the Earthships

In the high desert just west of Taos, New Mexico, I came to a community of "Earthships" comprising the Greater World Community. These homes operate completely off the energy grid, relying on sun and wind for energy, and collected rainwater.


At breakfast in Santa Fe, I shared the table with Claudia and Bob Thomas. They’re the couple, formerly of San Diego, Manhattan Beach, Colorado and Santa Fe, now residing in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, along with 7,000 other Americans.

Quite by accident, I learned we have something in common: daughters with severe hearing losses. Their daughter, Shannon, is in her mid-30s with two young daughters. She's a teacher. It sounds like she shares my daughter's independence and resourcefulness. We exchanged contact information. I'd love for our daughters to get together and compare their experiences.

Another outstanding breakfast. Obviously, they take pride in what they serve here. The hotel has been expensive, $97.38 a night with all the taxes. But considering other hotels I've stayed in for the same or more, I’m happy to pay the price for this particular establishment.

Outside, the happy chatter of birds and a clear, bright blue sky. Jets streaked overhead. Santa Fe lies beneath one of the main east-west air traffic corridors. After loading up and rolling out onto the street, I immediately noticed my front tire pressure was very low, the bike handling poorly. My first stop would be a gas station. Started towards the north side of town. Passed one that was a mini-market station, with no apparent air pump (like so many these days. They don’t dare call them “service stations” anymore.)

Continued on, but suddenly found no more businesses. Turned off onto the Santa Fe "Relief Route", apparently some kind of a city by-pass. Surely there would be gas stations out here. I was now going south, but there were no stations. Nothing. “This is ridiculous!” Ten miles south, I finally turned off to the east again and soon found a station.

They offered free air. The tire pressure was down to about ten pounds (normally about 35). Inspected the tire for quite a while but found no obvious problem. It was in the 20s last night. If the tire were already low, could the temperature result in the seal between tire and rim weakening and allowing further loss? I'll have to keep an eye on it.

Turned northward once again. Riding up the Rio Grande Canyon toward Taos, the hills were dusted with snow, and in the morning shadows, the air was bitterly cold. In Taos, I saw a billboard for "The Bean", an award-winning coffee shop. Found the southside store, but was told only the northside store has wi-fi.

Taos is not at all like I remember it from 30 years ago. But that memory is vague at best. The galleries didn't look up to the level of Santa Fe's, so I didn't even bother to stop and browse. At The (northside) Bean, had some coffee and a croissant, and posted a few photos, however I had difficulty writing anything.

Heading west on highway 64, I soon came to a barren landscape populated with bunker-like structures, "Earthships", a vision straight out of "The Hobbit". Bizarre and cultish. There was an "Earthship Visitors Center" which I decided to check out. Michael Reynolds is apparently the person who inspired this development.

These homes are completely off the electrical and water grid, relying on sun and wind for power, and rain for water. They are built from low-tech components such as mud, tires, bottles and cans, plus some higher-tech components: solar panels, wind generators, electrical panels, batteries and special plastics.

This particular development is called the Greater World Community, with up to 130 lots for Earthships. Construction costs begin at about $165/square foot.

The inner recesses of an Earthship. I don't know if I'd want to see a "Budweiser" can every time I went into the closet.

Looking a little rough around the edges. The community's "biodiesel" experiment is in the foreground.

Earthship visitors center, left, and "Biotecture" office, right

The Earthships utilize old tires, cans and bottles among their building materials

An Earthship wall (including aluminum cans and glass bottles)

The Greater World Community. Eventually, they hope to have 130 Earthships on this property.

Bottles and cans are cut, then taped together to form building blocks

They say you can grow banana trees at 9,000 feet in an Earthship, though these trees don't look particularly healthy

From Tres Piedras over to Tierra Amarilla, the ride is beautiful, climbing into the mountains and Carson National Forest. It reminds me of the High Sierra valleys north of Lake Tahoe, but with far fewer people.

With quite a bit of snow on the ground, and altitudes in the 9 to 10,000-foot range, the air stung my skin, especially traveling at 60 to 70 mph. The roads were mostly dry, but had been sanded after a recent snow, so I had to be careful on curves (and there were many).

The drive along highway 64 from Tres Piedras to Tierra Amarilla takes you through some beautiful high country and across a 10,000-foot pass

I was anxious to reach a lower elevation and some warmer air (it was in the 30s up top) but even dropping down to Tierra Amarilla, I was still in high mesa country. Asked a gas station owner what time the sun sets here. He said 5:30 or 5:45. It was 5:00, and it was still 120 miles to Durango. The temperature would drop rapidly after sunset.

While the posted limit is a "ridiculous" 55 mph, I pushed my speed as high as I dare, driving 80 on clear straightaways. With evening would come the danger of deer and the antelope playing in the roadway.

Crossed the border into Colorado and the speed limit immediately changed to 65. Same roads. There's something odd about New Mexico!

Pagosa Springs is a town experiencing a development boom. A desirable place to retire, with all the conveniences, scenic lots and custom homes popping up. And such big pick-ups and SUVs. The “Big 3” auto makers must absolutely love this place! Of course, you "need" these vehicles to get around in this challenging terrain. Which begs the question, should we be encouraging growth in areas that require going to such extremes to achieve a level of comfort?

I know Americans are not to be denied. (The pristine meadows of the Carson National Forest were marked by animal tracks and snow mobile tracks. One was a delight to see, the other appalling.) But try to deny an American their God-given right to go anywhere and do anything they please! All in the name of "having fun". What we call recreation ("re-creation") almost always involves an element of destruction. (Sorry, it takes very little to get me started…)

I took some delight in being the only motorcycle out in this country. When riding is recreation, you'd be crazy to be out on a day such as this. When you're a traveler, you just keep going.

The sun set when I was west of Pagosa Springs, but it was well after 6:00. I would have little, if any, riding to do in the dark. The deer were on the move though, and I had to brake hard to avoid a whole family of deer crossing the road. At least a dozen, including several very young.

The cold was becoming painful. Without the electric vest and heated grips, I wouldn't even think of riding in these conditions. So upon reaching Durango, I took the first hotel option (because I could): Quality Inn. $71 plus taxes. After unloading the bike and rolling everything into the room, took a long hot shower. Ah, the luxury!

When I inquired about Mexican restaurants in Durango, the young lady at the front desk recommended Tequila's, downtown on Main Street. It is an excellent restaurant with great service. I thoroughly enjoyed the food. Fajitas, very good salsa, and good margaritas. In the 20s tonight. The three-mile ride to and from the restaurant was "bracing".

This is the coldest I've been since Prudhoe Bay; maybe even colder today, after spending more hours in the saddle.

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