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Big Bend

Old Ore Road

Photograph by Aaron Bates

“If it were hotter out, we’d be soaking in that pool,” said veteran guide Mike Long, who, along with his wife, Crystal Allbright, was leading our thirty-mile bike ride down Old Ore Road. The dirt trail, once a route for miners to ferry silver and zinc out from the Dead Horse Mountains, is popular among two- and four-wheeled explorers alike, not least for its side trips; the pool in question, known as Carlota Tinaja, was a water hole we’d stopped to investigate. The hollowed bedrock was filled with rainwater and slimy algae. I figured Long was kidding. 

On the other hand, I could imagine feeling desperate enough out here to jump into the green gloop. Long, who owns Terlingua outfitter Desert Sports, was pedaling with Allbright on a tandem bike with 29-inch knobby tires, and they’d been kicking my butt for the past twenty miles. And though they’d invited a friend along, a winter Texan who owns a bike shop in Ontario, to ensure I didn’t get dropped, I was nearing my limits. The south-to-north traverse, with a two-thousand-foot plunge in elevation, doesn’t translate into epic downhills (as my guides cheerfully pointed out), and for every adrenaline-boosting swoop and dip, there was a grinding climb. Winded, I imagined the ocotillos as my fans, cheering me on with their spindly arms. Thankfully, the views across Tornillo Creek, a tributary of the Rio Grande that crosses these badlands, offered a distraction, as did the white-banded cliffs of Sierra del Carmen. Happy that my companions were still in my sights, I focused on the cold beer that awaited me, a winning alternative to a stale splash. 

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