We’ve been camped in the vicinity of the world’s fastest vanishing lake, Elephant Butte Lake, near Truth or Consequences, NM, since last Wednesday. It’s hard to comprehend the level of drought this state has experienced in the last twenty years, but the flashy picture (at right) might give you some idea. The Big Blue version was a satellite photo from 1994, when the lake was 89% full. The smaller photo was taken this September. According to the Corp of Engineers, the lake is currently at 3% of capacity.
It is a sad thing that southern New Mexico is experiencing this “exceptional drought” condition, but for me there is an upside. When I said we are “in the vicinity” of the lake, I mean that it is more than a 1/2 mile away from us when our campground was designed to be near lakeshore. That means that I am parked right above a wonderful desert off-road park.
And so, when it warmed up to 50oF Saturday, I decided to see if I could excise a fairly new phobia of mine: riding in deep sand. Ever since I busted myself up practicing for a cross country in Nebraska way back in 1978, did it again on the Dempster Highway in 2007 and bought a $100,000 ass-cheek in 2011, I have been downright timid in sand. There is a good reason to be nervous about the stuff. When you go down in sand, if you are riding it right, you go down hard. I mean “SPLAT!” If you’re lucky, you slide and tumble along harmlessly. If you’re me, you dig a small hole in the shit and stick like a bug on a windshield, spreading bits of yourself all over the terrain.
Also, if you’re like me, you hate being afraid of stuff; anything, no matter how rational that fear may be. I’ve wanted an excuse for getting back on top of the shifting sands for six years. I haven’t wanted it all that badly, because crashing when you’re old hurts for a long time and it’s a long ways from my house to any decent sand pit or river bed and riding back a long ways with busted body parts is less fun than it sounds. Right now, I could crawl back to the RV if I had to, so that excuse was gone.
A little before noon, Saturday, I geared up and hit the trails below our campsite. At first, I just practiced technique; standing up and back on the pegs, keeping the bars loose in my hands and letting the steering wander, steering with my feet and the throttle, and staying on the gas when all of me was screaming “Slow down, you fuckin’ moron!”
My target was a sandbar and island all the way across the beach from our campground. Some of the path is graded by the state for cars and pickups and lots of it is blown over every day when the wind tosses their hard work back in their faces. When I got to the beach, a 4x4 was stuck on one of the “roads” and three big, young guys were trying to wedge rocks and driftwood under the tires to unstick it. I looped around them and went back up the hill they’d been aimed at to get a better view of the route I wanted to take. More deep stuff with a rocks that looked like petrified wood tossed in to make it interesting.
After a couple of near flying-over-weight-object-incidents, I got back into the swing of riding in sand. With my serious tools about 1800 miles away, there is only so much of this that I can do without permanently disabling my WR, sand is not a chain’s best friend, and I haven’t ridden hard off-road in a few years (since the new hip), so a couple of hours was all I could pull off.
In all, getting to play dirt biker made my week. I ended the outward bound portion of the trip by getting myself dead-headed into a blind canyon that, for me, was impassable. I walked up to the top and saw that at least a few motorcyclists and ATV’ers had pulled it off and the other side was an easy ride around the butte, but I chickened-out. It has been too long since I seriously took on anything resembling trials hill climbing and I was about beat. It could be days before someone stumbled on my busted or dead body and my wife would be really pissed off if I left her stranded in New Mexico.
With that altruistic motive, I scrambled back out of the canyon, took some shots of the view, and headed back across the sand dunes. Tonight will require a substantial dose of naproxen and I should sleep like a baby. In the morning, I’ll move like a 65 year-old, but today I feel like a kid.
With those ya-yas out of my system, I went arts-and-crafts shopping with Robbye, had a great night enjoying the incredible “Elephant Butte Luminary Beachwalk 2013,” lots of free food and cider, and a town spirit like I haven’t seen since we lived in Nebraska in the 70’s. This part of New Mexico is hard-hit, economically, dry and cold in the winter, hot and dry in the summer, and it has really grown on us.