The high point of our cross-country bicycle journey this fall — literally — will be Emory Pass in the Black Range of the southern Rockies in southwestern New Mexico.
At 8,828 feet, it’s not as high as such Colorado passes as Independence (12,095 feet), Hoosier (11,542) or Monarch (11,312).
Emory Pass doesn’t climb above the tree line, and, judging from photographs and videos, it appears to be shaded much of the way, very lightly traveled and nicely graded.
I’m hoping that Emory Pass, on New Mexico 152, will be relatively easier than the above-mentioned Colorado Passes.
But when I climbed those during five trips to the Rockies for the Bicycle Tour of Colorado, I wasn’t carrying any gear on my bike. On our transcontinental trek from California to Florida, we will be self-contained, meaning that we have to carry on our bikes all of our needs — tent, sleeping bag, clothes, tools, etc. So maybe Emory Pass will be relatively equal to those in Colorado in terms of effort.
Despite its higher elevation, Emory Pass is not the Continental Divide in that part of New Mexico. By the time we reach Emory, we will already have crossed the Continental Divide — at 6,230 feet — on U.S. 180 just west of Silver City, N.M.
A bit of history about the area: Emory Pass is named for Lt. William Emory, who explored the area and crossed the pass in 1846 during the Mexican-American War.
During the war, the Army of the West had to get troops and supplies to California from Fort Leavenworth, in what was once part of Missouri Territory. So Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny was put in charge of an expedition to explore the uncharted, Mexico-controlled lands that are now in the states of Arizona and New Mexico.
As part of that expedition, Emory led a topographical unit. He kept a record of the plants and geographic features that he saw during his travels and provided information about the residents of the Hispanic Southwest and the political situation at that time. Emory’s unit also produced the first reliable map of the Gila River Trail.
After the war, Emory’s findings were presented to Congress as “Notes of a military reconnaissance from Fort Leavenworth, in Missouri, to San Diego, in California, including Part of the Arkansas, del Norte and Gila Rivers.”
Check out the video shot by a motorcyclist crossing Emory Pass from the west.