New Mexico: Highway 64, Raton to Shiprock

New Mexico:Highway 64

Raton to Shiprock

This stretch of road is at best a three season road, at least as far as motorcycle riders go. It runs through some fairly high mountains and the snow can get deep. However, I have ridden it in all four seasons and if you are up for it, it is a great ride even in the winter, just check the weather forecast.

 Like every road, this one works both ways, but you have to start somewhere so on this write up we start in Raton.

 From Raton head south on I-25 for a few miles and Highway 64 branches off towards Cimarron and Eagle’s Nest. After a bit of flat land travel the road starts to climb, the mountains close in and the pine trees begin to show up. The road mostly follows the river switching from side to side. It is a scenic ride but be aware, there are a lot of campgrounds in this area so be on the lookout for hikers, cyclists, kids playing and people driving motor homes.

 After a nice ride up the canyon, the canyon ends and the road very abruptly climbs up through a series of 10-15 MPH switchbacks and atAngel Fire Lake the top you get a view of Eagle’s Nest Lake and the Sangre De Christi Range. It is quite stunning and a there are a couple of pull outs to snap a few photos. This is one of the pull outs looking down on the lake. This was taken on November 11, and it was 13 degrees. Check the weather and dress accordingly.

 After a bit the road tees with Hwy 64 to the south. A little after that on the west is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Chapel. From there into Taos those who are into curvy roads will be in their element. Along this part of the road there are not many straight sections and normally the traffic is light. If you come this way in the fall, winter or early spring cinders are put on the road when it snows and that has the same effect as sand, so watch it. If the rains have not washed the cinders off it can get interesting in the corners.

 Coming into Taos it appears you are coming in the back way. Taos is an old town and the roads can be cramped and narrow. Taos is a Mecca for artistic types so there are all sorts of opportunities for shopping and just generally looking around.

 Just west of Taos the highway crosses the Rio Grande, the same one that later on is the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Here is has cut a very impressive gorge into the lava flows. There are pull outs on both sides of the bridge and you can walk across the bridge and snap some photos.

 If you are interested in greeNarrow Gauge Trainn environmental housing just a bit past the gorge on the north side of the highway is an interesting subdivision with some very strange looking environmentally friendly houses.

 For the next 30 or so miles the scenery is pretty much sagebrush. Just past Tres Piedras the road climbs into the Tusas Mountains with fantastic views as well as great riding. When you top the last ridge the ride down the switchbacks into the valley is one of the best.

 A few miles from the crest the road Tees, Highway 64 turns north and heads for Chama. One of the things to do here is to park the bike and catch a ride on the narrow gauge railroad. It runs north out of Chama to Colorado and then back. Or, if you would rather take some good train photos there are several places north of town where the tracks cross the road, and one where it climbs a very steep grade with you at the bottom looking up.

 The train photo opts are not Highway 64, so after the photos return to Chama and turn west on 64 for a nice ride into Dulce. While it is a small town Dulce has a casino and a decent motel. If you want to try your luck just book the room before you lose all of your money.

 After Dulce the road climbs back into the Jicarilla Apache Reservation and after that, the Carson National Forest. This is a very nice ride. The road is good, the traffic not heavy and the views very good. There are curves, but nothing very serious so just kick back and enjoy the ride while watching for the forest critters.

 Shortly after leaving the reservation and the national forest the climate and scenery change dramatically. The road leaves the forest and heads down a canyon. The road narrows and it is one curve after another. Set your own pace but keep an eye out. This is oil and gas country and there is no telling what you will be sharing the road with. It could very well be large, slow and dropping mud all over the highway.

 On this part of the road the view is mostly sagebrush. For an interesting side trip swing north of Bloomfield to the Aztec Ruins National Monument for a very interesting history lesson, right by the road with very little walking.

 Ride on through Bloomfield and Farmington and other small towns until you come to Shiprock. There is nothing special about the town ofShiprock Shiprock, but there sure is about its namesake. The namesake Shiprock is an eroded volcanic spine. Millions of years ago many volcanoes erupted in the area. After everything cooled down erosion set in. Shiprock is all that is left of one of the volcanoes. It is a volcanic spine, the hardened lava in the center. If you have the time and inclination ride around a bit and you can get up close and personal with other erosional features around. One of the more spectacular is a very large dike south of Shiprock that is cut by the highway.

From Raton to Shiprock is approximately 400 miles. Not a real long distance and doable in a long day. However, why not take a couple of days, spend a night in Taos, Chama or Dulce and enjoy the ride and the country.