Non-grafittied highway art is the norm in northern New Mexico
"Where does this road go?" It is a great game for a traveling day. And sometimes serendipity plays and awesome role as it did on a recent winter day just north of Santa Fe. During the winter the high temperatures in the area often linger in the mid 20's for extended periods. However, an occasional window will open up and provide a bright, clear sunlit day where one can gear up and pretend the riding season is not really over. A good general direction for a short days ride from Santa Fe is towards Los Alamos aka "Atomic City." There are several routes to choose from and even the short-slab based one is entertaining and can contain some interesting suprises.
One of the pleasures of living and riding in northern New Mexico is that the slabs and the highways are actually made pleasant to look at which to me is pretty stunning. As a long time resident of central and southern California it is so pleasant not to have a bunch of inconsiderate "taggers" mucking up every public surface with their stupid gang signs.
IThe unassuming road leading to Cottonwood Trading Post
In keeping with the theme of let's see where this road goes mentality, in this community and surrounding area it pays to keep your eyes and awareness open to small things that are easy to miss. A case in point being the Cottonwood Trading Post just off of NM502 on the way to Los Alamos. To get there take US 285 N to NM502 W. The road is unmarked except for a sign indicating San Ildefonso Pueblo, and if you look real hard you can also see a sign indicating the Cottonwood Trading Post. (SEE MAP) On an scantily marked dirt side road, one drives on what is little more than a dirt side road to a modest looking faux adobe structure. Waking through the door is a significant surprise. Inside is a very modern, yet intimate and comfortable working gallery inside what used to be a large private dwelling. Typical of this area it seems to be doing a brisk business in high-end merchandise in spite of being basically non-existent on the map. After an interesting stop it is time to get back on the road.
Lunar-like formations along NM 502
NM-502 runs roughly NE through into the Jemez mountains. Climbing into the wide twisties the Rio Grande valley opens up to the north. The road is cut into a high ridge and high walls and bizarre rock formations are within arms reach to the south. As the road climbs higher the landscape can become alien, almost lunar particularly when partially covered with snow as it is this time of year.
In the next installment of this article we will get to the REAL interesting stuff...hiking on the edge.