Normally, I'd sooner be caught worm-fishing than mountain biking on a state highway, but New Mexico 67 is not your run-of-the-mill road. Much like its southern terminus, the remains of the town of La Liendre, the route is merely a ghost.
La Liendre sits beneath the long, meandering cliff where the Great Plains east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains plunge off to the llano country beyond. In spite of its official designation, much of the Highway 67 is too rough for a car.
Eyebrow of the Plains
The initial approach on New Mexico 67 off the main road out of Las Vegas is through a tortilla-flat sea of grass that gives no clue as to what is ahead. When the earth drops from beneath your wheels, you've reached the ceja, the eyebrow of the plains. The view stretches across lonesome country for a hundred miles.
The highway descends the 600-foot high ceja on Ca on del Agua Hill. The road is scratched into the cliff as it descends to the grasslands below. If you are leery of heights, you may want to ride as far to the right as possible. The road follows every nook and cranny of the rock wall, and gliding downhill on a bike is like cutting graceful turns on telemark skis.
At the bottom of the hill, the road becomes a patchwork quilt, randomly surfaced with sections of dirt, mud, rotting asphalt, and gravel. It passes through several arroyos that add some challenge to the ride. To the right, banded cliffs snake into canyons along the ceja. Just before entering the broad valley of the Gallinas River, the road passes a large stone ruin and the withering remains of an apple orchard. Five miles from the bottom of Ca on del Agua Hill, the road bears right and suddenly becomes the main street of La Liendre.
La Liendre gives visitors the rare opportunity to glimpse a nineteenth-century agricultural settlement. The town was founded in the late 1840s by the Maes and Duran families, who farmed the fertile bottomlands of the Gallinas River and grazed horses and sheep on the endless grasslands to the east.
In a few years, the Cabeza de Baca family established the headquarters of their huge ranch just across the river. Ranch hands employed by the Cabeza de Baca family joined the Durans, building homes for their families on the bluffs above the river. The community spread in a single line along the bluff, an arrangement that may have given the town its unusual name, which translates to "a string a nits."
The ranches grew in the second half of the nineteenth century, and the town soon had a dozen families. A post office was added in 1878. Cattle replaced sheep as the main livestock grazing the plains.
By the 1920s, problems with droughts and overgrazing that shook the entire West forced the first exodus from La Liendre. The lure of jobs in nearby cities took the last of the residents by 1950.
A Haunted Place
Riding by the crumbled walls, falling roofs, and stone foundations is like entering a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. The game is afoot: try to assemble the pieces by guessing what kind of structure each foundation used to be. A general store, post office, and a dozen houses and barns of the former residents lie crumbling along the street. It is a haunted and haunting place.
Visitors should take good care of the town. Stay on the road, out of all buildings, and off the posted property that surrounds the ruins.
Cool temperatures of late fall or early spring are ideal for this excursion. Before setting out, have a recent weather forecast in hand: the plains are no place to be caught when a wet snowstorm roars down from the mountains.
Touring Highway 67 with a mountain bike is not without its challenges. After a visit to La Liendre there is the matter of climbing the cliff back to the top of Ca on del Agua Hill. And just try sitting in La Liendre and ignoring the ghosts that roam the streets.