Thursday, June 24, 2010

Grand Canyon Bicycle Tour, Day 4

While camped out just south of Poncha Pass, I had thought about heading toward the Great Sand Dune National Park the next day.  But after weighing the matter for a while, I decided that I couldn't afford to lose the time it would take to get there and enjoy the area.  So I'm saving that for a future trip.  I decided to stick with the route I'd planned.

Just south of where I camped, there is a very small town called Villa Grove which has a small restaurant attached to a motel.  I stopped in there for something to supplement the oatmeal I'd had for breakfast and to refill my water bottles.  There is also a hot springs close by, but I wasn't able to stop there.

Cafe at Villa Grove

The San Luis Valley holds some beautiful farm country, and I saw a few pronghorn in the fields as I rode along.  But it is quite dry and sometimes desert-like.

San Luis Valley farm country

I reached Saguache between 10:00 and 11:00.  I turned down the road which was labelled as the business district and rode the two or three blocks of that street, looking for food.  I had read about a place called the Desert First Restaurant and planned to eat there.  Instead, I found another restaurant which turned out to be undergoing renovation.  The gentleman who was working on the place chatted with me for a little while.  He informed me that Desert First had closed down at the beginning of the year.  He recommended the Oasis, which was just a little bit farther on US-285.  He also gave me a bottle of sports drink which he'd gotten for free but could not drink due to the sweetener it used.

The Oasis turned out to be a fine place to stop.  I had a very good breakfast burrito and got a good enough signal on my phone to talk to my family for a little bit.  As I sat waiting for my food, an older lady and her two granddaughters came in and took a table near mine.  She asked about where I was going, and we ended up talking quite a bit over the course of the meal.  Years before, her daughter had done a trans-American tour.  And she used to live in Arizona and was familiar with the area I'd be riding through.  She was the first to warn me about the "drunken Indians" that drive around there at night.  I wasn't really sure what to make of that.  She suggested that I try to find an alternate route across Arizona, but in looking at the map, there was no better way than the one I'd planned.

After leaving that Oasis, I hadn't been on the road an hour before I came upon another one.  A motorist on the side of the road flagged me down and told me that there was a cold spring there where I could fill up my bottles.  I wasn't running low, but I stopped nonetheless.  I topped off my Camelbak and splashed water all over my head.  It was very refreshing.  I didn't notice any signs about the spring, but the location is N 37° 56.3', W 106° 8.655'.  I think it was near the Russell Lakes State Wildlife Area.

Cold spring in the cool shade, south of Saguache

Somewhere along this stretch of road, I passed a couple of ladies on bikes heading north with a support car.  I couldn't tell what event, if any, they were part of.  There was also a group of guys out riding on this stretch of road.  For a weekday in the middle of the country, it seemed like heavy bike traffic, so this area may be home to more cycling than I would have suspected.

My next stop was the Penitente Canyon campground near La Garita.  I got to La Garita and stopped in the visitors' information center, which was also a general store and restaurant, for directions.  I was a bit disappointed by the campground - the water it offered was in a well about mile from camp, there was no shade to speak of at any of the sites, and ants were everywhere.  But it was cheap, and there isn't much else in the area.

Co Rd G to La Garita

It was terribly hot when I got there around 14:30.  I made a lean-to with my tarp to give me some shade to sit under while I prepared and ate my lunch.  Later in the evening, a storm blew in, but I didn't get much rain out of it.  I knew I was still in bear country because there were signs talking about the archery hunting season, but this area had no trees from which I could hang my food bag.  I eventually discovered that the animal-proof trash bins had a hatch on the back which had enough room for my needs.

Camp site at Penitente Canyon

The Penitente Canyon area is evidently a popular spot for rock climbing.  The campground itself is strewn with boulders, so I spent some time climbing and jumping around, exploring a little bit.  But it seemed a likely place to find rattlesnakes - a sign at the campground pay station indicated as much - so I was pretty cautious.

Campground at Penitente Canyon

Exploring Penitente

Later in the evening, I started hearing strange animal sounds which I couldn't identify, like a cross between a cow and an angry pig, from different parts of the canyon.  So of course my imagination told me that it must have been bears.  I slept alright and morning arrived without incident, but I've become no less convinced over time that I was surrounded by bears that night.

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