Friday, June 20, 2014

Trivia From The Saddle

Do you know where the most photographed church is in The United States? Did you know that a city was created artificially when the atomic bomb was being developed in the early 1940’s? And that the tallest sand dunes are in a state that doesn’t even have a beach on the west coast of the United States?  In this same area, there is also a stretch of highway that has cow mutilation warnings on highway signs due to sightings of UFO’s, which is next to one of the smallest towns in the entire United States.  Yep, that is right, you better believe it!  The things you learn from the saddle of a bike are fascinating!

The road sign provided a much needed rest climbing up to town.

During the last few days I covered a lot of territory in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado and discovered some interesting and rather unusual facts about the area.  First on the list is Los Alamos, off the beaten track (as are many places I cycle on my route) on a road that leads to nowhere and literally dead ends, it’s a perfect remote location to develop the nation’s powerful weapons of mass destruction.  Back in the early 40’s scientists and researchers were looking for a place to build a bomb laboratory, code named the Manhattan Project.  It needed to be a location that was safe from enemy attack, isolated because of its classified top-secret status, and sparsely populated in case there was a nuclear accident.  Los Alamos, NM fit this description.  Not to mention it is a grueling climb up to the city, discouraging any cyclists from entering the area.  I guess I should say discouraging MOST cyclists from coming to visit.  For me, Los Alamos was relatively close to Bandelier National Monument and since I wanted to see the cliff dwellings here, and there were Warm Showers hosts in the Los Alamos, I made the trip.  It was a hard climb, but it was quite interesting to see the area and learn about the history from my hosts who both used to work at the national lab.

One of the atomic bombs developed in Los Alamos National Lab

In the summer of 1946, scientists successfully achieved their mission at the national laboratory and detonated the first atomic bomb at a test site in southern New Mexico.  A month later, the two other atomic bombs were dropped on Japan during WWII, one of those being on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.  Today, Los Alamos is the primary nuclear weapon research facility… theory, we no longer make nuclear weapons.

The front side of the church

Those would be your buttresses, a bit different from Western Europe supports

Due north and east of Los Alamos is home to the San Fransisco de Assisi Mission Church, the most photographed church in the United States.  It is a fine example of Adobe architecture and dates back to 1772.  I went to visit the church with my host and we were both surprised to see it under renovation.  The parishioner working on the church told us renovation is an annual event and quite laborious because of the style of Adobe architecture.  There is a short window of time available to work on the church due to the weather conditions, which explains why it took so long to build it in the first place!  Every year, the exterior walls need to be resurfaced, putting on a new coating to the adobe walls, which are made of sand, straw, and water.  Several coats are applied before the final coat, which is the finest mixture of sand to create an overall smooth surface.  Ideally, if the rain holds off after the walls are resurfaced, the sun will bake them, hardening and strengthening the exterior. 

This is a never ending job, renovating Adobe architecture

Why is it the most photographed church in the United States? See for yourself.  The front of the church is extremely picturesque, while the backside also draws the attention of many photographers due to its unconventional buttresses and supports.  The church looks nothing like its contemporaries in other areas of the world.  As you can see, I didn’t waste any time in helping out with its renovation!

National Park #9 in The United States

I rolled up at sunset, not safe for riding, but an amazing sunset

From northern New Mexico, I crossed the border into colorful Colorado, as the sign says.  Fifty miles north of the border against the Rocky Mountains are the tallest sand dunes in the United States.  It is awfully peculiar to see smooth golden orange sand dunes at the base of alpine mountains that have snow lingering on their peaks.  Temperatures on the dunes can reach about 150 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and towering above them are some of Colorado’s14,000ft. mountains.  Why on earth are there 750 ft. (230m) sand dunes in a state that is completely landlocked far from any ocean or beach?  It a natural phenomenon from the result of gusts of wind coming from the west (thankfully a cross wind for me rather than a head wind) that picked up sand and soil from the Rio Grande and its tributaries and carried it through the air in valley until it hit the Rocky Mountains here, where it was deposited. Over hundreds of thousands of years passed with this climatic phenomenon occurring and as a result, the tallest sand dunes in North America have formed. Riding through the area, you see a haze in the air, which is the dust, still depositing more sand on the dunes.  It is quite a fascinating sight to see and explore.

Tough but rewarding hiking on the dunes

I was alone on the dunes in the early morning

On the same area as the dunes, to both the north and south, I encountered some unusual road signs.  I thought I had seen all the crazy roads sings there are passing through SE Asia and Australia where I was warned about rare wild life such as elephants, anteaters, and platypuses, but the road sings I saw in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado topped those in rarity.  On many of the signs cautioning drivers of free-range cows, there is a small UFO image above the head of the cow.  At first I thought it was a joke done by someone with a lot of spare time on their hands, but the signs last for a good 50 miles and  in southern Colorado they are followed by advertisements for “The Cosmic Highway” where you can go to the “UFO Tower”.  What?!?!  UFO’s?!?! Really,…..What is going on here in this barren and remote area of the United States?

Is this a joke? That is what I first thought..... 

People sure know how to make a quick buck these days, getting tourist's attention

It turns out, there have been many cases of cow mutilation, an unexplainable phenomenon where cows have had their eyes and tongues removed, almost as if they were surgically removed and their uterus’ taken out as well.  Farmers claim that the cows were abducted and mutilated before plummeting back to earth dead, without a trace of blood or any other sort of explanation.  Cases of cow abduction and mutilations aren’t a new occurrence; they date back to the early 1960’s.  I know marijuana was recently legalized here, but it seems that people in Colorado have done a fair share of pot smoking over the past years.  However, after asking around at the local cafes and gas stations and doing a bit of research myself, I was quite perplexed by these abductions.  I can tell you one thing, they kept me pedaling at a fast pace through the area!  Crazy, right?!?! Read the articles for yourself and decide.

My last bit of trivia from the saddle comes when I actually ditched the saddle and had to hitch hike at the top of Poncha Pass, just south of Salida, Colorado.  As is characteristic in the high alpine mountains, a storm set in quickly. Gusts of 50 mph headwinds picked up and temperatures dropped drastically in the matter of 5 to 10 minutes.  I was knocked off my bike and walking with it on the shoulder of the highway, hoping to find a house where I could take shelter.  There was nothing around in a mile radius.  Thankfully a pick up truck drove by, took pity on me, stopped, backed up, and asked me if I needed a ride.  Moments prior I had had a total break down, completely demoralized by the brutal weather conditions that had blown in with 80 miles in my legs already that day.  I didn’t think twice about hitching a ride to town.

Mark Perkovich, Bonanza Colorado's only inhabitant
As goes the random events with my travels, the man who picked me up was Mark Perkovich, who happens to be a local and national celebrity.  He is a long time, yet lone full time resident of Bonanza, Colorado, a town in Colorado that is in threat of being disincorporated by the state.  What does that mean? It means that Mark lives in the smallest town in Colorado and one of the smallest towns in the entire United States and that makes him famous.  Interesting, right?  Both local and national news has covered this story as well as local and national newspapers.   In fact, next week, CBS national news is headed to his house to cover the story yet again! If you don’t believe me, read the articles for yourself!

How is it that I always have the most random and fascinating encounters with people.  I’m sure all of you are probably wondering if I went back and rode the mountain pass I hitch hiked…….What do you think?  

Poncha Pass take 2, a piece of cake the following day

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