NMBDR by Land Rover

ricker

New member
#1
NMBDR Trip Report – May 26 through May 31, 2018

The idea for this trip began when I went to the Dallas showing a few years ago of the introductory film on the newly completed New Mexico Backcountry Discovery Route (https://ridebdr.com/NMBDR ). Designed by the very ambitious group Backcountry Discovery Routes (https://ridebdr.com/) for adventure motorcyclists, I thought it would be a fun trip in one of my Land Rovers. I contacted BDR and they said that it would be perfectly doable by truck with the exception of a few difficult sections that had bypasses. They recommended that I use the bypasses, which I did because I drove the route alone. If I were with a group of trucks I may have given some of the harder bits a try knowing that I could get rescued by another truck if I got myself stuck. With that said I still took all of my self-recovery gear, but did not need to use it at all. I had two very distinct reasons for doing this trip. The first was to test my gear and truck for long distance overlanding, with a plan to do more, and longer, trips in the future. Up until now I have really only done day trips off road, but have done quite a few long distance trips but they were all mostly on pavement. The second reason was to test myself. I am still getting used to traveling alone after losing my life partner of many years, and reliable navigator, Ruth, to breast cancer a year and a half ago. She was the perfect travel partner and it has been tough going places without her.

The truck I used for this trip was my 2010 Land Rover LR4. I fitted some Atturo Trail Blade M/T tires on the stock 19” wheels, and a Baja Rack MegaMule roof rack with 6 gallons of extra fuel (which I didn’t need) and most of my recovery gear.

Intro.jpg
LR4 loaded up and ready to go.

The back was filled with camping gear, food, a 12v fridge, an ArkPak, and a heavy duty hand winch. I ended up not needing any of the recovery gear, although if the sand was deeper, or the weather turned bad, there were places where one would probably need the at least the Tred traction boards and a shovel. Because of the extreme fire danger I packed mostly cold food (sandwich stuff, snacks, etc.), although I did bring a couple of stoves and cookable food just in case. I didn’t camp as much as I had intended but I still ate most of my meals from my own pantry. For navigation I used the very good Butler map purchased from the BDR store, and the LeadNav app on my iPhone with the tracks (converted to routes) downloaded from the BDR website. My initial plan was to navigate by map as I am a long time map guy, but I quickly learned that I am great at reading maps but suck at following them. By the second day, after a number of wrong turns I began using the GPS route as my primary method of navigation.

In the following posts I will give day-by-day reports with some photos, and daily comments. I will follow up with a post containing my final thoughts and some statistics.

Enjoy the ride. :cool:
 

ricker

New member
#2
Day 1, May 26 – Dell City, TX to Cloudcroft

After transiting from my hotel in Van Horn, Texas to Dell City, I stopped to top off the fuel tank and take a photo of the beginning of the NMBDR.

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The beginning of the NMBDR

Dell City seemed still asleep on a Saturday morning as I drove toward the Texas-New Mexico border just north of town to begin Section One of the NMBDR. The road turned to a very dusty dirt and gravel road as I crossed the border under very hazy skies. The further north I traveled on this trip the clearer the skies became. The dusty road turned east, then south, and then back north again and slowly climbed up to the western rim of the Guadalupe Mountains through the Lincoln National Forest on Route 67. There were beautiful views to the west across the desert.

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I soon overtook a very nice group of four adventure motorcyclists from Colorado also doing the NMBDR. We chatted for a bit and then I moved on toward the very small town of Weed, where I topped off the fuel tank again. When I arrived at the gas station there was another group of 3 (maybe 4 – I don’t recall) adventure motorcyclists obviously doing the NMBDR. I was to follow what I think were their tracks all the way to Colorado without catching up to them. Overall I would guess there were about 12-15 motorcyclists doing the NMBDR, both north and southbound. The route leaving Weed became progressively more rutted, especially where some logging operations were underway. After getting lost a few times, I finally crossed Route 537 and worked my way north on a very rocky Route 90, finally arriving in Cloudcroft late in the afternoon. It was along Route 90 that I had my first of two minor mechanical issues. Approximately half way between Route 537 and Cloudcroft the truck chimed out a suspension fault. I stopped the truck immediately and shut it off. I did a walk around and everything looked OK. After about 15 minutes I re-started the truck and the fault had cleared itself. I haven’t checked the fault codes yet, but I suspect the suspension compressor overheated on the rocky road. After this I learned to rest the truck some after crossing areas that really worked the suspension. I only had one more suspension fault that also cleared itself. I once again topped off the fuel tank in Cloudcroft and then decided to head down the mountain and get a hotel room in Alamogordo for the night. It was a very long first day and I definitely was not going to make it to Ruidoso before dark.
 

ricker

New member
#3
Day 2, May 27 – Cloudcroft to Truth or Consequences

After a good night’s sleep, I set off back up the mountain to Cloudcroft where I left the pavement again and promptly came upon the group of four from Colorado camping in a small glen just off the trail. I stopped and chatted with them for a little while, and they asked me to text them trail conditions along Route A250 as they were concerned about the notation on the map regarding deep sand. We continued to keep in contact via texting until I finished the NMBDR. It was nice to share some trail comradery. The ride over the mountains from Cloudcroft to Ruidoso was through beautiful forests but became very rocky on the decent toward US Route 70.

Day 2 - 1.jpg
Rock trail south of Ruidoso

I finally arrived in Ruidoso, completing Section One, and fueled up at a very busy gas station. It seems that this town is very popular on a holiday weekend. Heading north, I began Section Two and descended further to US Route 380 and into Carrizozo. After Carrizozo I entered ranch land traveling along more very dusty roads. By this time the truck was getting really dusty, both inside and out. The dust consisted of a very fine powder and infiltrated everything. I was enjoying the drive but began to dislike the dust, and it only got worse as the day went on. After traveling many miles of dusty ranch roads north of US Route 380, I crossed to the south side and began traveling a very long, and in some areas, very straight Route A250. There were some short areas of sand (fine powdery sand!), but it was not deep and I reported this back to my Colorado friends. The powdery sand would accumulate in road depressions and ruts so when you ran through then it exploded into a big cloud almost like going through a puddle too fast. I was also hit by fast moving tumbleweed! Luckily there was no damage to the truck but the tumbleweed was totaled. The last bit of Section Two into Elephant Butte was on a very nice graded gravel road. After another long hot dusty day I once again decided to stay the night in an air conditioned hotel room in Truth or Consequences.

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Ranch land north of Carrizozo

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Ranch land north of Truth or Consequences
 

ricker

New member
#4
Day 3, May 28 – Truth or Consequences to Bill Knight Gap

Leaving the hotel early I fueled up the truck and headed north along the west side of Elephant Butte Lake on Section Three. At the north end of the lake the trail turned west, crossed I-25 and began rising into the mountains on a mix of paved and dirt roads.

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At Winston I decided to bypass Chloride Canyon and drove along on paved roads for quite a while entering the Gila National Forest. I was still gaining elevation when I finally was back on dirt roads traveling on Routes 49 and 142. The mountains and trees were beautiful, and I really enjoyed a little less dust. After buying fuel in Reserve, the end of Section Three and beginning of Section Four, I headed west just brushing the Arizona state line before turning north again. I passed through the little town of Luna before climbing back into the mountains where I spent my first night camping at Bill Knight Gap. Since the holiday weekend was over the unimproved camping area was completely empty. I spent a nice evening listening to the wind blow through the trees and watching a herd of mule deer graze their way through the camping area. Once it turned dark I crawled into the tent and went quickly to sleep. Sometime during the night I heard an animal rustling around outside but I was so tired I just turned over and went back to sleep.

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View from the mountains west of Truth or Consequences

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High grass lands west of Truth or Consequences

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The dusty LR4 in the western New Mexico mountains

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Beautiful camp site at Bill Knight Gap (and a dusty LR4!)
 

ricker

New member
#5
Day 4, May 29 – Bill Knight Gap to Cuba

After a chilly, but very restful night, I headed back out on the trail, still traveling north toward Fence Lake. I soon passed out of the National Forest and onto Indian Reservation land. The roads were good but once again very dusty. Did I mention that I was beginning to dislike the dust? Section Four ended at Fence Lake and I continued through the Indian Reservation on Section Five. About half way between Route 53 and Grants there was about a five mile section of very bad trail. It appeared that this portion of the trail was little used because it only had one other set of truck tracks and about a half dozen motorcycle tracks. It was very rutted and washed out in areas. There were also a lot of fallen trees, rocks, and other obstacles. It was the most difficult section of the NMBDR for my truck, and I had to walk the trail a few times uncertain if the truck would make it through. I even broke the 2m antenna off the roof rack trying to negotiate some ruts under a leaning dead tree.

I finally arrived at the end of Section Five in Grants where I re-fueled the truck and stopped at the Napa Auto Parts store to buy some valve stem caps and octane boost. I had noticed the night before that I had lost a valve cap, and the last couple of fuel stops only sold 87 and 89 octane fuel. The truck was noticeably down on power while it was running on the lower octane fuel. Since it was only about mid-day I decided to continue onto Section Six which headed northeast along ranch, Indian Reservation, and BLM roads.

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Nice views north of Grants, NM

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Sandy ranch land

Once again the roads were once extremely dusty and crossed many deep dry washes. Fortunately the roads were all recently graded although still pretty rough. One needs to also keep a very close eye out for the sudden drops into the dry washes. I had one dry wash that came up very quick and surprised me. I was going a little too fast and nose-dived off the edge before I knew what happened. The landing was smooth so no harm done, but it got the adrenalin pumping.

Day 4 - 3.jpg
The bottom of a dry wash

Along the entire length there were occasional gates that one had to stop, get out, open, drive through, get back out, and close. Routes 19 and 39 seemed to have more than their fair share of gates. I learned that one needs to watch out where one steps when getting out of the truck to open a gate. It seems the cows do not care where they use the toilet. It was also interesting to note that every gate seemed to have a different fastening mechanism. Most of them were easy to figure out, but I did find one that took me about ten minutes to open. I knew it could be done because I had just met a southbound rider shortly before I reached the gate and assumed he had passed through. I eventually drove out of the dust and onto US 550 into Cuba to complete Section Six. I topped up the fuel tank, and once again got a hotel room for the night. After completing two and a half Sections I was too tired to continue on and find a camping spot. At the hotel I met a few bicyclers doing the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. They all looked very tired.
 

ricker

New member
#6
Day 5, May 30 – Cuba to just south of the Colorado border

I left Cuba bright and early on Section Seven anxious to get back up into the mountains. After entering the Santa Fe National Forest and crossing the San Pedro Mountains I descended to Route 96 and traveled through Coyote and into Abiquiu, where I topped up the fuel tank again. After Abiquiu, the trail entered the Carson National Forest and ascended back up into the mountains. The trail followed Forest Service roads that were fairly well maintained until I reached Route 91, and then it became very rocky again. The trail was very rocky on and off until I reached the camping area where I camped for the night near the Cumbres Toltec Scenic Railroad (http://cumbrestoltec.com/) tracks, just south of the Colorado border. It was beautiful camping among the birch trees at an elevation of 9,300 feet.

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Back in the mountains of the Sante Fe National Forest

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Another mountain view from the trail

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The LR4 in the mountains

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Another beautiful mountain view

Day 5 - 5.jpg
Campsite among the birch trees at 9300'
 

ricker

New member
#7
Day 6, May 31 - Just south of the Colorado border to Antonito, CO

I woke up after another good night sleep to a sunny but chilly 45 degree morning, which felt great. After packing up my gear I made my way down the mountain crossing into Colorado, and easily arrived in Antonito mid-morning completing Section Seven and the NMBDR. After filling up with fuel at the gas station at the end point of the trail, I sat in my truck for about an hour reflecting on the past 6 days. It was really a great trip, and I was happy that I had finished what I had set out to do. I was also a little sad that I had to do it without my girlfriend. Once I had finished my moment of reflection I visited the headquarters for the Cumbres Toltec Scenic Railroad, and I spent a little time checking out the old equipment before pointing the truck south and east toward home.

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The end of the NMBDR

 

ricker

New member
#8
Concluding Thoughts and a Few Statistics

I hope everyone enjoyed my narrative and photos. As I stated at the beginning, I set out on this trip with two specific objectives. The first objective was testing my gear for long distance overlanding. On the first day I quickly came to the conclusion that I was not as prepared as I had planned. Even though I had made a list of gear, I found that I was still packed for two and carried way too much stuff. My food box and 12v fridge had enough food for probably two or three weeks. The trail passes through at least one town a day so it was unnecessary to carry that much food. Maybe 4-5 days’ worth and then stocking up in towns along the way would be a better plan. I also forgot a few things including my cold weather sleeping bag but did fine with my summer bag lined with a fleece blanket. The temperatures ranged from 45 degrees to over 100 degrees. One needs to keep that in mind when packing. I was covered for the hot weather but probably over packed for cold weather. I had a down parka, gloves, long underwear, etc. which I never used. A little more research on my part and I probably would have packed a little more efficiently.

The truck performed extremely well except for the two suspension faults mentioned previously. The trail was mostly easy to moderate with a couple of short difficult spots. The only Terrain Response setting I used was for the sand. I did use the lifted setting quite a bit during rocky and rutted areas, but did not need low range at all. The Atturo Trail Blade M/T tires worked great with no issues. A heavy duty MT tire was definitely necessary because of the abundance of very rocky sections.

The second objective was more personal. I wanted to test myself to see if I could deal with overlanding on my own. The first couple of days were long, and I had many moments of doubt. By the third day, I was beginning to feel comfortable, and by the end of the trip I was feeling pretty good. I really missed my girlfriend but knew that she was traveling along with me in my heart and mind. One important thing that I learned along the way was that I need to slow down a little. I also need to learn to better estimate how far I can and should travel in a day. Going slower would have allowed more time to visit off trail attractions. I had allowed eight days for the trip. I assumed that each of the seven Sections of the NMBDR could be done in a day (I had a spare day for weather or whatever). I learned the first day that was an incorrect assumption. Again, more research on my part ahead of time would have better prepared me to estimate time and distances through various terrains. Since I didn’t make the end of Section One the first day I became stressed that I didn’t allow enough days, so I pushed a little too hard during the rest of the trip, and ended up finishing about a day earlier than was necessary. I would have liked to spend a little more time in the mountains. With that said, I still had a great feeling of accomplishment when I completed the trail. One more thing – I learned that I don’t care much for powdered dust.

Now for some miscellaneous comments and observations. I stopped and talked to about a half dozen locals along the way who were out enjoying the wilds of New Mexico. They were all very nice and helpful when I was occasionally lost. I also met a few 4 wheel vehicles, some local, and some out enjoying the holiday weekend. Among them were two Toyota Priuses. One was on Section 1 north of Cloudcroft, and one was on Section 7 north of Abiquiu. It is a little disconcerting seeing such a small vehicle coming at you on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere, and one feels a little embarrassed driving a Land Rover when they made it through in a Prius. My dad traveled off road in a Ford station wagon for many years until we talked him into a Jeep. He always said if you knew what you were doing, and had the right tools, you could almost go anywhere.

The first and last sections are very long and probably not realistically doable in a single day. The BDR folks recommended filling up the fuel tank at every opportunity. While this is obviously true for motorcycles, I would also recommend it for other vehicles as well. The trail does pass through at least one town every day. They are often very small towns, and may not have fuel.

The trail runs out of cell phone range a lot. It would be wise to carry an alternate means of communications. Also, I recommend a second means of navigation besides the map for those that may be map challenged.

Section 3 and Section 7 were my favorites. I just like the mountains and forests better than the deserts. Have I mentioned that I don’t care much for powdered dust?
I was very lucky in that I finished the route, and left the National Forests the day before they were closed due to the extreme fire danger. The only signs of fire I saw were a small recently burned area near Ruidoso. I was beginning my trip home when the large fire in northeast NM began, and did not hear about it until I was home watching the news.

A lot of the BLM and National Forest lands had fenced areas with cows grazing. That was a little disappointing as the wilderness is so varied and beautiful. When one comes upon what is essentially ranch land in the middle of a National Forest it kind of took a little away from the beauty.
Would I do the NMBDR again, probably not alone, but if I had a group of trucks with me, absolutely. I am already thinking about doing either the AZBDR or COBDR next year. I would also not do it during Memorial Day weekend - maybe the week before would have been a better choice. The National Forest was crowded around Cloudcroft and Ruidoso.

Miscellaneous statistics -

1233.7 miles
23 mph average speed
16.4 mpg average fuel consumption
5.2 days

Wildlife - a coyote, a marmot, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, squirrels, a bobcat, mule deer, cows (watch out for them as they like to lie or stand in the middle of the road), lizards, rabbits, jackrabbits, road runners and a wide variety of other birds.

One more tip – when you get home replace your air filters. When I checked mine it looked fine, but when I whacked it on the driveway it exploded in a cloud of powdery dust right in my face. Did I mention that I don’t like dust?

It was a wonderful trip and well worth the effort. Should anyone have any questions or comment please let me know.

Safe travels,

David
 
#9
Thanks for the write up. I'm glad you posted this report! NM is such a beautiful state and is (thankfully) still overlooked by many. It has varied terrain and some truly lonely country. I grew up exploring New Mexico with my Dad. I guess we were overlanders? Haha we just called it "car camping". My wife is from T or C so now I have in-laws who ranch near the Gila and also Hatch. Talk about folks who know and love the land. If you ever get a chance to explore New Mexico via pack mule don't pass it up! Here's to more adventures moving forward.
Will
 
#10
Great pics and great write up. In particular I enjoyed the pic of the campsite in the Birch trees. Its so refreshing to see a campsite and not see 400 other campers/tents in the background.

As far as the food goes: Better off having it and not needing it then the other way around. There is always that (small) chance you take a wrong turn and have an accident or breakdown and that food could
be a lifesaver.
 
#13
Thanks to everyone for the kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed my report. Hopefully I’ll have the chance to do more reports in the future.

Safe Travels,

David


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