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US64 Tres Piedras - Tierra Amarilla s(u)

Like its neighboring state to the west, the topography of New Mexico changes radically from north to south. And so - what just may be the highest paved road in New Mexico is actually a fairly gentle, little visited road over a rolling plateau, named Tusas Ridge. Just to the north, across the boundary in Colorado are many higher highways through rugged mountains. But here a sweeping, desolate landscape waits to be cycled. The feeling of isolation is heightened by the restrictive land use in the Tierra Amarilla landgrant area.

1.START=END EAST ALT: Rio Grande Gorge bridge on US64
2. START-END EAST: 8800ft, US64 TP-TA s(u)-2, also jct with forest road going to Tusas Ridge Rd.
3. jct with FR123 on right
4. turnoff to Hopwell Lake on left
5. 10140ft, US64 TP-TA s(u)-3
6. last turnoff onto NF road on left, before US64 crosses into Tierra Amarilla immediately after
7. 10500ft, TOP: US64 Tres Piedras - Tierra Amarilla s(u)
8.START-END WEST: the town Tierra Amarilla


From East.
The beginning point of the profile on this side is the most popular tourist attraction along the entire road - popular enoug to fill up the a huge parking lot, designated just for this purpose. From here they walk a few hundred feet out over the Rio Grande bridge and take selfies. The distance from here to the summit is long enough and the temperatures hot enough, that I personally elected to do this lower part as a separate ride.

As an aside, since most of these tourists come from Taos, the road between the bridge and Taos can be very busy. It is narrow and has no shoulder and often it would be a nightmare to bike. Following the profile up from here, the road is no wider, but traffic seems much lighter. Still these first 20 miles between here and Tres Piedras only has less than a handful of barely perceptible bends, and climbs as steady as an inclined plane. The one curious attraction along the road is the earthship settelement. Self sufficient solar homes with spaceship like appearance dot the sage covered plane between the road and Sangre de Cristo horizon. A good telephoto lens comes in handy.

Tres Piedras is a collection of trailers and houses scattered in the woods with a single business: a restaurant and bar. It sits on the exact dividing line between the rolling dessert plateau around the Rio Grande Gorge and the forested Tusas Ridge to the west.

Between here and the summit the road only gains ~2000ft in elevation. But the rolling landscape contains two intermediate high points. I count the first one as a summit (max - min elevation is greater than 500ft). There are additonal unpaved roads on the map for the second, higher one to also meet that criteria. But they are inside the Tierra Amarilla area and probably closed to public travel.

Anyway - a pleasant ride trough low ravines leads up to a gentle high, rolling plateau. The sustained gentle climbing starts at a ramshackle trailer shack residence greeting potential visitors with a life sized human puppet hung above the gate. It ends with the sight of Hopewell Lake, a gentle blue oval on the rolling plaiin. Along the way the Sangre de Cristo Range behind Taos periodically lurk between the trees. Even from the top they still make a backdrop.

Just before crossing into the Tierra Amarilla area the road first reaches a gentle high point in a high meadow with a parking area, deserving of a summit, only to drop again and finailly arrive at the escarpment. Super luxurious picnic tables along a single scenic rock outcrop, overlooking the sweeping valley, mark the view The highest point is reached just at what looks like a switchback on the map, but is really a large radius curve, making a perfect highlight over the ridge.

cLiCk on image , arrows , or thumbnails to advance slideshow

From West. (described downwards). It is fairly rare that you can just let the bike roll down full speed. The road surface is sufficient, the road is wide and contains only large radius curves - virtually no traffic - little reason to stop in ths wide sweeping landscape, where distant features only move slowly while the bike moves at top speed that still feels save.

The land has a strange abandoned or reserved appearance. Absolutely all passage ways off the highway are locked with gates.

Eventually even these wide radius curves turn into a long straight away. At the end the scattered farms and houses of Tierra Amarilla dot the landscape. The most rocky-rugged view along the way is actually here at the bottom and in the distance, the peaks between Chama and Antonito, part of the eastern San Juan Mountains, for the most part located in Colorado.

Dayride with this point as highest summit:


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US64 Tres Piedras s(u) , US64 TP-TA s(u) -2 : 3/4 mile west of Tres Piedras <> US64 TP-TA s(u)-2 <> US64 TP-TA s(u)-3(?) <> US64 Tres Piedras s(u) <> turnaround point within view of Tierra Amarilla ~3 miles before reaching it: 92.0miles with 7360ft of climbing in 7:53hrs (garmin etrex30 r4:21.5.25).
Notes: a perfect sunny spring day with ideal temperatures along the way. Nice backwind on the return