The Charlie Bravo Story

Alone in the Wilderness

Durango to Dulce’, or why I will never trust Google Maps again.
Due to reports over the years of excessive UFO activity at Archuleta Mesa as well as my own experience in the area just south of there, I decided that Dulce, NM was to be on my itinerary. So I checked Google for possible routes out of Durango. One was east to Pagosa Springs, then south; problem is, I hate 160 as much as the cops seem to love it. Another route was south down 550 to Farmington then east across 64; marginally better, but still not a fan. That left me with an intriguing middle route to the north and east of Navajo Lake; Google says it’s OK, what could possibly go wrong?
The road quickly turned to gravel; hmmm, the Google didn’t say anything about gravel, let alone 14 MILES of gravel. And I’m on a sidecar with very limited ground clearance, but hey, I’m not skeered, so I forage on.
As I near what I expect to be the holy land of Blessed Asphalt, I instead find a one lane bridge over Cat Creek partially obstructed by concrete barricades. I eased the sidecar through them to find perfectly groomed roadway on the other side.
Except I didn’t; what I did find was that the gravel was transitioning to dirt. I now achieved Pucker Level II. I was easing along, the bank of a beautiful but swift flowing river on my right when I spotted four large hats atop their lean, angular owners. A family of ranchers was relaxing and fishing after a long day of hauling hay.
I cannot say enough nice things about this family; if you have lost faith in the direction our country is headed, I recommend that you consider their example. There are salt of the earth people of this quality still out there doing what they do, regardless of what the media tells them is the new normal. With respect to their dignity and privacy I will refrain from saying as much about them as they deserve; I will say that they made a most impressive impression, if that makes sense.
I’m sure the sight of a dusty black sidecar bearing a middleweight guy and a mouthy dog appearing out of dusty nowhere must have been a bit amusing, but they didn’t show it. As a matter of fact, mom fired up the grill and soon some fresh fish tacos were on menu. MacDuff held court as we sat on the banks of the river for longer than I should have, discussing UFOs, religion vs spirituality, and the abundance of mountain lions and possibly even grizzly bears in the very mountains where we were sitting.
That information,coupled with the fact that the sun was setting, was my cue to once again get moving. I asked how far I had to go before reaching pavement, the answer was “oh, not far”. And exactly how far is “not far”?
Twenty. Seven. Miles.
Of rocky river bottom road. On a bike not even remotely designed to go gallivanting through the backcountry. I almost spit up my fresh fish tacos.
But waddya gonna do except go ahead and do it? The Duff and I took our leave from the nicest family in Colorado and plunged into the wilderness to engage in a lopsided race to beat the setting sun. And the road continued to worsen, with widely spaced ruts wrenching the wheels of the hack to spend more time bouncing to and fro and up and down than making any semblance of actual forward progress. I often had no choice but to just hammer the throttle, hang on, and hope that I didn’t leave vital bits of the sidecar on the “road” behind me.
In all of our travels, I have often been concerned, sometimes a bit worried, even often somewhat trepidatious, but this was the first time that I have been truly skeered; this was Pucker Factor III. If I got stuck, suffered a break down, ran out of gas, whatever, I would be on foot. In lion country. With a tidbit-sized dog and a handgun more suited to shooting myself as to not suffer the indignity of being an hors d’oeuvre for a epicurean grizzly.
Then I saw a sign, but not a sign bearing glad tidings: “entering Jicarilla Apache Indian Reservation”; Pucker Level IV officially attained. Not where I was wanting to be at this particular stage of my life, an undocumented alien encroaching on land owned by a people who at the very least deserved to be left alone. That we were in a tight spot was the understatement of the ages.
But still I forged onward, as forging backwards seemed a bit silly under the circumstances. Gas was getting low and time was growing short. Then I saw headlights bouncing towards me in the distance; this is it, I thought, my inevitable confrontation with the tribal police and some sort of involuntary atonement for the broken treaties of my ancestors. But it was instead an elderly Apache grandmother with her dog and granddaughter in attendance. Although she was as sweet as could be, she was also the bearer of more bad news: another 15 miles until we reached Dulce and some semblance of civilization. By this time even MacDuff was about to cry, at and I didn’t blame him a bit; Pucker Level V.
But things have a way of working out, especially if you just keep moving. Eventually
the dirt changed to chip seal, then to asphalt, and soon we popped out onto HWY 64 and familiar territory. I found that I had somehow misplaced my interest in UFO phenomena somewhere back in the mountains, so we hightailed to Chama and a motel room; setting up camp that late at night was not even a consideration.
I surely wish that I had taken more pictures that day, as the area was absolutely astounding. But at the time, photo documentation was the last thing on my mind. But I do want to go back, but on a more suitable offroad motorcycle…
…or maybe even in a SXS, as humbling as that would be.
Next: Fina’s, Facing the Fear in Chama.

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