Day 23: (20 miles) Today was a relatively short day. Having cut the day’s prior mileage, we continued on to our original destination as 70+ miles in the predicted 20-30 mph winds did not sound like a good idea. We followed route 180 all the way to the park entrance where we found Crystal Forest Gift shop and Campground. We were happy to find out it was free of charge, so we set up behind the big sign to have a barrier from the increasing winds. We poked around the gift shop on site, and another across the street. We learned about petrified wood- how it was created 250 million years ago, and that this part of AZ, which was once a tropical swampy land, has the most colorful and most concentrated amounts in the world. Knowing that tomorrow had more high winds in store, we relaxed for the evening in our tent reading, and playing cards.
Day 24: (49 miles) We knew the night was supposed to be windy, but being awoke multiple times throughout the night by winds measuring around 50 mph, not to mention the sleet & rain, it was a good thing that we had allowed ourselves nearly 12 hours to sleep (easy to do when you go to bed at 7:00pm). When the time came to begin our day, we packed as much as we could inside the tent because we knew it was the only dry place we had and it was at least 5 degrees warmer than the outside. Emerging from our tent, we were surrounded by the stickiest, heaviest mud/clay we have ever encountered. With every 3 steps, our Chaco’s became 3” platforms. This slowed our cold, wet, morning routine even further. However, once we managed to escape the sea of slop with our bikes and bags, it was a relief to begin pedaling and get the blood flowing. Our first stop was the south end visitors center where we learned about the earthly inhabitants the roamed what is today AZ during the Triassic period. Everything from a two-ton land dwelling reptile to swamp animals that looked like a mix between an alligator and a flounder. While surrounded by millions of years of beautifully colored history, our ride through the National Park was a grueling assault of wind from every direction and hills that ensured a comprehensive visual experience. We pedaled through the painted desert, and stopped at the historic Painted Desert Inn. Finally reaching the opposite visitors center at the north end of the park, we indulged in a hot lunch of chili and green Chile Mac & Cheese. After warming up just a tad, we spent the remainder of the day on I-40 until we reached Chambers, where a warm bed at the Days Inn awaited.
Day 25: (48.6 miles) It was a chilly morning, but full of restaurant style eggs, bacon, and pancakes. We hit the road with our eyes set for a new state: New Mexico. Little did we know, it was going to be an eventful day. We started the day on a road paralleling I-40. It was less traffic, but its rolling hills were unrelenting. It was here where we’d have our first challenge of the day- cycling faster than two dogs. Our hearts were surely pumping as we cranked the pedals to escape the salivating chomps of the pups. Eventually they petered out and we were in the clear. That is until our next, literal, road block. We encountered a river crossing where our paved route should have been. Scouting out the situation, we watched a few vehicles pass through the rippling water, and a few vehicles not even attempt to pass. We debated walking through, but we already could not feel our feet from the cold and the current looked suspicious. We were about to pedal the 5 or so miles back to where we could pick up I-40, but thought perhaps, we could hoist our bikes up onto the bridge and walk them the 500 feet along the shoulder facing oncoming traffic and back down the other side through mud, shrubs and weeds. This took a bit more effort than you may initially think considering we each carry 40+ lbs. of gear. So the bikes were pushed up the hill, bags detached, and one by one they were tossed over the barrier, carried to the other side, and tossed back. We then walked our bikes across, and carried them through the brush until were were happily reacquainted with the dry road on the other side of the river. Here we reattached our panniers and pedaled on. Some where in the next few miles we met some more unfenced canines who again, although not quite as aggressively, chased us for a bit. Throughout the day, the weather couldn’t decide if it wanted to rain, sleet, or snow- we saw it all. We stopped for lunch in Lupton, at a truck stop called “Speedy’s” where we shared a cheeseburger, fries, and a grilled cheese. We returned to the road, and about a half mile later saw the sign welcoming us to New Mexico!! Shortly there after we encountered a road closure sign. Again not wanting to back track, we flagged down a car we saw exiting the closed section of road. The apparent locals said “its more of a recommendation, enter at your own risk, the rocks shouldn’t fall on you”. The road ran adjacent a 3-4 story cliff with teetering rocks and boulders. Successfully escaping, we continued heading east on 118, a few miles later we came across some seemingly free range horses, one of which was a foal and as we began to take photos of the baby, one of the larger horses began acting defensively, not wanting to push our luck, we continued on- eventually reaching Gallup. We happy to checked into our safe, secure room after a very eventful day.