Just a few more highlights from El Paso before continuing our New Mexico story: Cindy Harrington hosted Jane on the morning of April 2 on a "Zip Tour" of El Paso. Highlights included the Desert Botanical Garden, the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) campus, and the family home of the Magoffin family. The Botanical garden was ours alone thanks to Cindy's docent status. We startled a pair of mallards who were trying to set up housekeeping in this private sanctuary. We saw a rabbit and a pool containing Japanese koi who were having issues avoiding a visiting crane. Nearby, protected wetlands (yes, they were wet, even in drought stricken El Paso!) were overseen by the local Audubon group. Next we visited the beautiful UTEP campus, a Bhutan mountain kingdom architectural mimic, and enjoyed the Buddhist prayer flags and prayer wheel set among spectacular Bhutan-like architecture. The campus contains another wonderful desert garden on the UTEP Museum grounds. To cap off the El Paso Zip Tour we stopped at the restoration in-progress of the Magoffin Home, a State Historic Site. This home is a striking adobe ranch home in the territorial style dating from 1881, with Victorian decorating and furnishings. The Magoffins were a leading El Paso family involved in Mexican/American trade, banking, and local government (a Magoffin was the Mayor of El Paso in 1895). Cindy sent us off on our windy ride to Las Cruces, New Mexico, after a delicious lunch to fuel the ride, Jane, who strongly preferred duty as the afternoon driver, due to her wind and sandstorm aversion, was able to appreciate the miles of pecan orchards along the route. Many groves were getting an early spring watering by means of a flooding system of irrigation- covering the grounds every few weeks to months, as the water becomes available.
We stayed in Las Cruces with Marisa and Andy Potter, our wonderful hosts who treated us to homemade pizza and homegrown salad followed by a visit to Caliche's Frozen Custard- ice cream sundaes for dessert! We loved getting to know the Potters and their animals: dogs Jelly and Bean, and outspoken, longhair grey cat, Christine, and the four young chickens.
Tuesday morning at 730 we met the Mesilla Elementary School bike train of 19 students and 4 adult leaders- the most impressive bike train of our trip so far. Ashleigh Curry was the energetic parent coordinator and leader who made sure to review all safety checks with the students before starting the ride, including bike ABC's (Air in tires, Brakes working, Chain OK), hand signals, helmets on, and we were off on about a mile-long ride to school. The student riders were very enthusiastic and happy to ride and to receive their souvenir cycle charms. Later they had their bike train cards punched, which helps Ashleigh track how often they join the ride. Jeanie was interviewed by a local newspaper before the ride. After arriving at school, we were introduced on the intraschool morning news show, run by students who led the Pledge of Allegience, pledge to the New Mexico flag, gave the weather, school news, menu, and then had a report of the bike train given by a student who made his first ride today.
We next met for second breakfast (our tradition) at a wonderful coffee shop in Mesilla, The Bean, and discussed the successes and challenges of Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs. Some of the issues are how to improve the evaluation format to accurately capture participation (if students walk/bike two days per week but are driven to school 3 days they are counted as being driven). Another concern is how to increase ridership after the "early adopters" are regular riders but total numbers have plateaued. Finally, a major challenge remains how to insure SRTS can become sustainable after key initial volunteers need to move on. Tammy Schurr and George Pearson, both League of American Bicyclist Certified Instructors, supported the bike train as additional adult leaders and then met us later at The Bean. Tammy is also a tour leader and event director for the Adventure Cycling Association, the producers of the wonderful bike maps used by us and the majority of cross country and touring cyclists in the US. Tammy had been the bicycling education director for New Mexico last year. Tammy, George, and Ashleigh shared with us some of their wealth of insights regarding how to build support for improved bike safety, how to increase ridership, and provide excellent bike education.
Tuesday morning, after our weekly bike cleaning and tune-ups and van clean-out and reorganizing, we headed to Habanero's in Las Cruces for delicious Mexican lunches and then drove east to the White Sands National Monument, the largest gypsum sand dunes in the world. We enjoyed the wonderful displays at the visitor center and then headed out to the nature walk on the boardwalk through the dunes. Further out into the dunes, near the outdoor amphitheater, we climbed and played on the dunes where "free play" was allowed. See our photos for some of the fun we had in the sand. The views were magnificent and sand cool and bright white. We plan to return someday for the full moon hikes or bike rides which are scheduled regularly throughout the summer season. On the drive back to Las Cruces we detoured into the Aguirre Recreation area and admired the fields of glowing Mexican poppies, a few white primroses, and watched a very bold coyote chewing on an afternoon snack not far from the road.
Wednesday, today, we headed out on a leisurely schedule north from Las Cruces along the Rio Grande River- now a river containing water! This was one of the best riding days so far- perfect weather with a blue sky, about 70 degrees, minimal light headwind and smooth pavement with light traffic. We passed many pecan groves and chili and vegetable fields and packing plants. Despite the dry and desert-like mountains surrounding this valley, there seems to be enough water from the Rio Grande to support crops along the road. We completed the 60 miles to Caballo State Park campground before 3 pm- one of our earliest finishes yet. Good to have a light day before a major climb tomorrow through Emory Pass at 8228 feet before arriving at Hanover, NM. We have a wonderful near full moon to enjoy before a great night's sleep in the open air.
|Our gracious hostess Cindy Harrington and Jane|
|UTEP bike rack|
|Mesilla Elementary bike train assembling|
|Bike train pulling out of the station plaza|
|METV featuring RASR|
|White Sands National Monument|
|Manatee chilling on the dunes|
|A new animal sighting - coyote|
|The Rio Grande, a bit mightier|
|Do or die up ahead...|