June 2023 Drive North to El Vado Lake

Photo of BMWs at Brazos Summit.
By Donnette and Scott Wagner

The BMW CCA New Mexico Chapter June 2023 Cardinal Point Drive North started early Saturday morning, June 10, 2023 at historic Bode’s General Store in Abiquiu, New Mexico. Bode’s roots go back to the original Grants Mercantile in 1890, as a general store, post office, stagecoach stop and jail when Abiquiu was the starting point for the Old Spanish Trail. In the early 1900s, the Grants sold their stores to the Gonzales and Sargent families and moved to Santa Fe, where they were involved in the process of making New Mexico a State. Martin Bode, Bode’s namesake, immigrated to the United States at the turn of the century, and in 1919 Martin purchased the store and became an important member of the community.

With 7 BMW’s and 11 club members ready to go, we headed south on US 84 turning left onto NM 554.  After a brief stop at mile 6.5 for a photo op, the drive continued through the town of El Rito turning right onto State Road 111 toward US 285.
We took a right onto US 285 for a short side trip to Oliver’s General Store south of Ojo Caliente for refreshments and bathroom break. Heading back north on US 285, we came to a complete stop.  Realizing the highway was closed in both directions and unsure of what the problem was, we started to work on an alternate route. About that time a helicopter flew overhead.  The local emergency responders had to get someone to a hospital ASAP and the middle of the highway was the only good spot to land a helicopter.
With the highway open again, the group continued on to Tres Piedras where we turned west onto US 64 for the drive over the Brazos Summit. It’s one of the highest roads in New Mexico. Built in 1926, there is only one highway that runs at a higher altitude in the whole state. The driving is easy. No hairpin bends or high drop-offs. The road is steep, hitting a 7% maximum gradient. It’s said to be one of the best scenic drives in northern New Mexico and is a good drive to take in summer when you want to escape the heat. Along the way, it passes some of the most extensive groves of aspens in the state, making the drive ideal in late September and early October. Come fall, the aspens blaze like yellow flames across the landscape, making the scenery startlingly beautiful.

Brazos Summit is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 10,528ft, located in northern Rio Arriba County. Our stop at the summit was somewhat chilly, but a beautiful place for more pictures with the Brazos cliffs (Precambrian quartzite rock) in the background.

With everyone getting hungry we headed on to Tierra Amarilla, then north on Highway 84 and left on NM 112 to The Dam Diner near El Vado Lake State Park. NM 112 was a bit challenging with more and more potholes as we neared the El Vado Lake Dam. Work on the Dam has increased the number of large vehicles on the road and thus the number of potholes.
While the road was rough, the food was well worth the drive. The owner of the Dam Diner is a master butcher and smokes his own meat. We had everyone excited about the smoked brisket we had on our test run visit, only to find out a large group the day before had eaten all the brisket they had! We had to settle for Prime Rib! Not too bad!

After lunch, a couple of the cars headed back to Albuquerque while the rest of us returned to US 84 and south to Ghost Ranch.

For centuries, Ghost Ranch, N.M. was known as “Rancho de los Brujos” or Ranch of the Witches. The moniker suits this stunning place well, as all sorts of creatures have left their bones behind here in the 400-meter-high cliffs layered with red, yellow and white Mesozoic rocks.

Once the haunt of horse thieves and cattle rustlers, and home of Georgia O’Keefe — not to mention dinosaurs and sea creatures in an earlier age — Ghost Ranch is a treat for geology, paleontology, archaeology, history and art buffs alike.

After a break at the Ghost Ranch Welcome Center, we headed home enjoying all the changing scenery along the way.

Photos by Jim Levandoski, Phil Undercuffler and Donnette Wagner