Caduceus Cellars makes me feel like a Tool.
The predictable direct route to ABQ would have been out to I-17, then east on 40 … but now that I was in the mountains (and the mercury was only expected to hit 90 along my route), I didn’t think like that. Instead I went looking for the smallest through-roads that go in the general direction of travel, so as not to add too many extra miles. Here, in the Mountain West, this strategy can backfire with a sudden dose of gravel road (as it has for me more than a few times before). But all the roads I found to avoid the Interstate were state highways or better with little chance of unplanned off-road excursions.
The road from Prescott to Jerome is a wicked little two-lane called 89a. I got a late start again, but this time I had a reason. Caduceus Cellars in Jerome is a storefront for a local Arizona winery, one of a pioneering few that are attempting to make the Verde Valley another wine growing reason … and they don’t open until noon. I’m not normally so into viticulture, but the owner of this one is Maynard James Keenan, lead singer of Tool, and one of my favorite bands of all time. Ever.
I’ve been trying to get a taste of his wine for years, every time I pass through Jerome. I couldn’t find it the first time, a girlfriend wanted to eat elsewhere the second time, then I was in a hurry to miss an approaching storm. This trip, I wasn’t on anybody’s time but my own. I’m pretty sure I’m not being biased when I say that Maynard makes some very interesting and creative wines. They’re not all to my taste, but some were remarkable. Also, the locally-grown olives that come with the cheese plate are spectacular.
A little slice of my hometown in Jerome.
I took AZ-260 east along an extended ridge called the Mogollon Rim past old Mormon frontier towns like Payson, Show Low, and Heber Overgaard. Though there was a bit of slow truck traffic, the route made for scenic views, and relatively cool temperatures. On the north side of the Verde Valley, it’s all spectacular sandstone cliffs or heavy pine forest covering up sandstone cliffs, either way, it’s good riding. And, since it’s not terribly twisty, I think I made pretty good time through the rest of the state.
I crossed into New Mexico on AZ-61/NM-53, and my first impression was far from magical. While the landscape was green, hilly plateau, I swiftly passed into the confines of Zuni Pueblo. It was a hardscrabble old-school Indian Reservation with wrecked houses and trash everywhere. While some reservations make a point of being tourist friendly, this one was actively hostile. There were “no pictures” signs up everywhere … not that I wanted to take pictures of the depressing place. To be clear, I’m not blaming the residents for my experience, it just was not the fun way to go, with low speed limits, unkempt roads, and a quiet desperation that sucked the wind out of my sails at the end of a long day of riding. Toward the end of NM-53 I hit the western fringes of El Malpais National Monument, but barely scratched the surface of what that was about, with just a hint of exposed lava where the road meets the I-40.
If I weren’t running late at this point, I’d have stopped at El Morro National Monument, which is the ancient equivalent of a graffiti wall/message board. Everyone from the Anasazi to Conquistadores to American settlers made their marks in the soft sandstone cliff. A shaded pool and massive outcrop made this a must-see trailside attraction for people as far back as there were people here.
The never-ending mesas of Western New Mexico.
From there it was just a straight bomb down I-40 to Albuquerque proper. Dropping in from the western plateau as the sun’s going down on the city is pretty special. It lights up all reddish-orange, framed by the vertical wall of the Sandia Mountains on the far side of town. Once in Albuquerque, I laid out a ride plan like a clover, with loops going out from the city in every direction—plan to get to know this beautiful state a little better.
Thanks to a strong program at University of New Mexico, my gracious host informed me that Albuquerque has the highest ratio of architects anywhere in the US, so the buildings tend to be beautiful. Also, as capital of the area as far back as Spanish Colonial times, the place has a sense of history as well. Sante Fe, just up the road, has a reputation as an artist colony, adding to the beauty of the place. Art scenes, architecture, wine and cheese plates, pretty birds, and bunnies? Watermelon Ginger Keifer?! What the hell is this crap? One word: Awesome. Welcome to the 21st century Southwest.
There’s a lot of nuke facilities in the Southwest.
In case you somehow made it to the middle of Route 66 before deciding to rent a motorcycle
Happiness is a spare bedroom and a parking spot. Albuquerque, New Mexico.
I was attacked on sight in Albuquerque.