At the time of this writing, I have finished the GDMBR. So I can recount my New Mexico experiences in their entirety.
Listen, New Mexico was all the hard things about every other state rolled into one.
I think that I sort of dismissed New Mexico... as if I would breeze through the final state with all the power and prowess I'd acquired in the first five states. It was anything but a breeze. Also, the funny/not funny thing is that the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) seems to also assume you are a pro at the GDMBR by now, and their route descriptions in this state is VERY POOR IN MY OPINION. If you are planning to section-ride New Mexico, don't. Or at least train beforehand.
Here's the overview on why it was so hard. (And yes I'll give some positive notes at the end.)
You don't really start to descend below 6,000' for good until after Silver City, which is a scant 120 miles from the border. We all think of Colordao as the high state, but the route in northern and middle NM was consistently between 7-10,000'. If you've done the whole GDMBR, this is not a problem, but if you haven't, make sure you have time to adjust to altitude.
Hills for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
To my knowledge, Colordao and Montana have a reptuation for some of the longest and higest passes. New Mexcio was equally as hard from a hills perspective.
The ACA maps tend to not have the detail in the elevation profile to show the shorter hills, which abound in NM. There are also many climbs that end with a short descent only to climb again within a mile or two. Most towns (like the rest of the GDMBR) are at lower elevation, and so you climb out of them. However, the road quality is (overall) not as good as the other states, which make these climbs more difficult.
For those of you who want to know more, there's some fine print at the bottom of this post.
Poor Road Quality
Let's just say that New Mexico doesn't appear to have as many funds available for road maintenance as Colorado. Immediately when you cross the border, the road becomes rutted and speckled with fist-sized loose rocks. While climbing out of Abiquiu, you'll curse the sand pits mixed with lava rock and loose boulders, and have to take a time out to laugh at the trail to blow off steam. It runs the gamut in New Mexico. You'll encounter deep sand, climbs and descents of loose, large rocks, sharp lava rock, and dirt roads that are impassible when wet. (In most cases, there is a paved alternative for these impassible sections; they are also scenic so have no FOMO if you want to take them.)
Goatheads are little thorny seeds that grown on plants near the side of the road that will puncture your tires. DO NOT PUSH YOUR BIKE INTO THE GRASS WHILE TAKING A BREAK. Better to lay it down in the road than risk puncturing your tires. Also, better to have tubeless tires with a sealant inside... I imgaine this saved me from a few flats.
Lack of Water
I think it totally depends on the time of year you tackle NM. They do have a summer monsoon season anywhere from roughly from June-early September. Arizona and New Mexico receive up to half of their annual precipitation during the monsoon season. So I'd imagine there was plenty of water then. When I biked it in late September/early October, everything was dry like toast. It became necessary to carry water between areas of civilization, becuase you could not rely on reservoirs, creeks, or cattle water tanks. After Abiquiu, I started to carry 6 liters as I left a town. It was a pain in the ass, but better than the alternative. The ACA map will often inidcate water windmills, reserviors, and cattle tanks. However, it's not safe to rely on these landmarks for water due to weather conditions and activities of ranchers. Some times the reservior would be dry, but another, unmentioned reservior would have some mucky water. Other times I would find an indicated cattle tank dry, but another one farther down the road filled with good water. The windmills were also not always there.
Ways to find water in despite the ACA map:
- Ask hunters for water - they often carry extra and often happy to help. It helps if it's hunting season ;)
- Look at where the cows are gathered - chances are that they are gathered near a water source, which is an option for you if you have a good water filter
- Look for windmills - many of them don't work anymore, but are now connected to a solar pump that you may not be able to see from the road
- Use your topo map - USGS topo maps typically show where there are springs, tanks, and reserviors. The map will show you water sources that ACA doesn't indicate.
- Be wary of motorist information - People and cars and on motorcycles just don't have the same concept for mileage. They may indicate that a lake is nearby, but they don't realize that 30 miles is about half a day of riding for you... essentially making a water source unattainable.
This is part of the charm of New Mexico, but it also means that re-supply options for food and gear are limited. If you need serious work on your bike, you're not going to find a shop on the route that can help you until Silver City... which is basically the end. I knew a guy who got so many goathead flats just out of Grants that he hitched a ride to Albuquerque to switch over to tubeless and took a cab back to the GDMBR. The general store in Abiquiu is pretty good, but other "grocery stores" are very limited. So ship yourself snacks if you're picky about what you eat.
THE UPSIDE OF NEW MEXICO
It's not all bad news here. First, most of the route is in forests of juniper and pinion or even more impressive forests, like in the Gila Wilderness. So it's not all hot and dry and sunny. Second, it's remote. There aren't a whole lot of people or tourists; you really get some QT with nature. Also, if you didn't get your fill of wilderness camping in the first part of the route, you'll get it in New Mexico. No more paying too much money for lackluster campsites. Most of the places you'll sleep are backcountry sites or they are inexpensive campsites. Coyotes and elk will provide a serenade as you fall asleep out here, which was something I didn't hear in other states.
PIE TOWN is in New Mexico, and is absolutely worth the stop. There are four places that will sell you pie here, and they are open on alternate days to ensure that you get your fill of pie in Pie Town. The Toaster House is also a real gem. It's a house that's unnoccupied but left for thru-hikers and cyclists. It's located right on the GDMBR route, and is an excellent choice of free lodging. Lastly, there's just something about the wilderness out here that feels very vast and impressive. I can't explain it, I can only tell you to experience it yourself.
This wraps up the New Mexico review. I'll be doing a general recap of the GDMBR in a few days, and continue to do gear reviews afterward.
HERE'S THE FINE PRINT ABOUT HILLS
Right from the beginning, you're climbing your way into New Mexico on a stepped, climb from 9,000' to a little over 10,000' with some pushers. This is the Brazos climb/ridge. AFTER here and El Rito, you will be climbing intermittently until the downhill to El Rito. After Abiquiu, you will be on the climb for 31 miles (read: FOREVER) on a 'road' that is rocky, sandy, and steep. The road to Cuba is riddled with short climbs on better road quality. Cuba to Grants is fairly flat but the trail is extremely sandy in some sections. From Grants to Pie Town, you will again encounter a number of longer climbs mixed with short climbs that don't really show up in the elevation profile. From Pie Town to Silver City you will be punished dearly for daring to enter the beautiful Gila Wilderness. Lots of long climbs and some shorter, steep climbs. They rival many of those in Colordo and Montana. However, there are lots of fun hairpin turns and switchbacks. From Silver City to Antelope Wells, you finall get a break from the hills.