Category Archives: The Big Trip

Albuquerque to Show Low: Mile 6753.4

At long last, we are on our way home, the last couple of laps, at least. Only three more nights and we get to sleep in our own beddy-bye. Tonight, we will stay in Show Low, like San Angelo, a place we never heard of until we started looking for a place to stop between places we have heard of. Normally, driving between Albuquerque and California, we would stay in the Flagstaff area but we are trying to stay off major highways and explore new areas (for us). 

After a nice brunch at the Hyatt Regency in Tamaya – with my sister, husband Jim, and Jim’s daughter and her husband – north of Albuquerque, we backtrack through Albuquerque and then head west on Interstate 40. We have driven this stretch of 40, maybe, a dozen times and are anxious to get off which we do near Acoma Pueblo just after we stopped for gas. 

As we cross the Rio Grande, the road has walls on either side, stopping us from slowing down for a view. We are almost at 5,000 feet here, but the river is slow and meandering through its almost flat valley. 
We climb out of the Rio Grande valley onto the Colorado Plateau.
Driving through New Mexico is so much different than driving back east. With almost no trees except along stream and rivers, almost every drive involves long vistas. Driving through the southern Appalachians in Tennessee the hills are rounded – because the mountains were formed long ago, very roughly, about 480 million years ago, giving them time to wear down – while here the uplifted Colorado Plateau has not had time to smooth out.
Throughout New Mexico, we are reminded that this area was inhabited long before the Europeans arrived while back east only the geographical names remind us that Native Americans once lived there.

We finally get off the main highway…
and while the scenery isn’t necessarily better, it is closer and we are driving slower and…
there are more places to stop and stretch.
It also gives us a chance to see our first cactus that isn’t an Opuntia. I think the cactus on the left is an Echinocereus of some sort and I thought the one on the right might be a Mammillaria but the id. books say it is a Coryphantha.
For the next hour, or so, we drove along the top of the Colorado Plateau, through beautiful country with long vistas and the photographs pretty much all look the same.
We pass through the small town of Quemado NM – population 228 – near the Continental Divide (although I don’t think we passed a sign). We are about at 7200 and the surrounding area is austerely beautiful but empty of signs of people except for Quemado.


Arizona and New Mexico often get lumped together and to me, to anyone who has spent any time at both, they are very different. It seems to me that that new New Mexico celebrates its Native American and Hispanic roots while Arizona seems to have ignored them. At least that is my prejudiced opinion as we enter Arizona on Highway 60.
We are driving slightly southwest and, under the glare of the late afternoon sun, the high plane of Arizona looks the same as New Mexico.

To be continued…

Alamogordo NM to Albuquerque NM: Mile 6598.4

When we got dinner at Lowe’s Signature Market, on our only night in Alamogordo, we got breakfast for today. Then we dropped by White Sands, just to see it in bright sunlight, before hitting the road to my sister’s in Albuquerque. Our original plan was to stay south but both of us were a little burned out and going to my sister’s was almost like going home for a break.

We only had a short time to check out the dunes in full sunlight which was OK by me. I don’t wear sunglasses and the dunes were painfully bright (although this picture doesn’t show it).
The exposure on the dried grass is about right even though I over-exposed this shot by about four f-stops to give an idea of how bright it was.
We left Alamogordo on a divided highway to…
Tularosa NM.
Then the road got smaller and the country got bigger.

There is something about graffiti, especially on train cars, that appeals to me. On one level, it is vandalism but the defacing makes them more interesting. All that effort put into something that the artist will probably never see again.
As we head north, we run up the Colorado Plateau and then make an almost straight beeline for Highway 40…
where we get gas under the watchful eye of a raven and then…
down into the greater Rio Grande Valley,…
where the trees have changed color since we left about five weeks ago.


Some Pics from White Sands

White Sands National Monument is not what I expected. I’ve been to and hiked around numerous sand dune formations in deserts – and, probably, more than dozens at beaches – and I expected the sand dunes at White Sands to be more like Eureka Dunes or the main dune field in Death Valley. They aren’t and not just because they are white – slightly gray on our trip because, I’ve since learned, they were damp from a recent rainfall – they also have a different texture and are much lower than I expected. This is because they are gypsum – hydrous calcium sulfate, if you prefer – not quartz, silicon dioxide, most of us are used to. Sand, it turns out, is defined by size, not material (according to Wikipedia, it is “finer than gravel and coarser than silt”.

What I don’t know is how all this gypsum got here. What I do know is that this area shares a similar general history to the nearby – relatively speaking, that is – Carlsbad and Wolfcamp areas. About 280 to 250 million years ago, the land on earth was one supercontinent – with some smaller island arcs and isolated islands – which geologists have named Pangaea. As an aside, Pangaea was not the only supercontinent. The basis of modern geology is that the plates – sections of earth, imagine the different sections of a soccer ball – move around, driven by currents deep in the liquid core of the earth. These plates have, over about 4.5 billion years, come together to form supercontinents more than once, more likely more than five times, building mountains and raising seabeds and then bounced or drifted apart forming isolated land masses like North America or Africa. End aside. Anyway, at the edge of Pangaea was a shallow sea in which, over millions of years, layers of sediment collected. In this local area – and this is what I don’t quite understand, why only here? – gypsum, which is water-soluble, collected in the layers. About 70 million years ago, the Farallon Plate started slipping under the North American Plate lifting this part of the world, exposing the layered gypsum. About 30 million years ago, the Farallon Plate also started stretching the earth apart in this area, with the Nevadan Basin and Range, and the land that is now White Sands National Monument dropped, forming the large basin we drove into a couple of hours ago. About 24 to 12 thousand years ago, during the last Ice Age, large amounts of gypsum were washed into the basin, forming a lake without an outlet. Recently, geologically speaking, that lake dried up exposing the gypsum deposits, crystallizing them, and winds have blown the now sand into what is now White Sands National the Monument, for us to enjoy on a warm afternoon.      

El Paso TX to Alamogordo NM: Mile 6310.4

El Paso is a desert border town and a military town which, IMHO, are two strikes against it. But, I am also prejudged on this, I was stationed at Fort Bliss – the Military Base that makes this a military town – for training in a Surface to Air missile system called HAWK (Homing All the Way Killer) from March 1963 to January 1964 when I was transferred to an active unit in Korea and then from April to June 1965 when I came back from Korea and ended up teaching Germans at the nearby Orogrande Missile Range. 

Being in the Army for three years was a major influence on my life, much of it good and some not so good. When I was in the military, it was an almost universal American male coming of age experience.  Yes, if someone didn’t want to go in the military and had the means to get a deferment, they were able to stay out, but that was more of an exception than a rule. Like most men my age, by the time I was in my early twenties, we had actually contributed at least two years – three in my case – to our country. I was exposed to other men, many from vastly different social and economic backgrounds, who I would never have met otherwise; not only exposed to but lived with, and, in many cases, befriended, which I give at least partial credit for why I am more tolerant of Trump voters than most of my friends. But, most importantly and somewhat counter-intuitively, the draft makes war less likely. People revolted against the Vietnam War because they or their relatives might go. Now,  with a so-called Professional Military, war does not involve the citizenry. Now, because almost nobody has been in the military, killing people in faraway lands is looked upon as a noble cause. Now we say, “Thank you for your service.” instead of protesting our wars. End of rant. 

Since, by the luck of using the internet, our motel was almost next door to Fort Bliss, we decided to visit and look around. (BTW, it turns out that we couldn’t just go onto the base to drive and look around, we had to go through a security check, in a pre-gate area, and then have a reason to go on base, in our case the reason was to go to the museum. Not shown is a series of about 15 cameras that looked into our car from different angles).
War has been good to the Army, at least at Fort Bliss, the old wooden PX is now a spiffy Marketplace and there are new buildings everywhere.
All that is left of my old HAWK outfit except for…
the barracks, we lived in (and the mess hall in which I first heard of the Kennedy assassination.
After our Fort Bliss excursion, we went into El Paso, itself, for lunch at Tabla where we had an excellent “simple” salad – anything but simple with avocado, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, parmesan cheese, and a herbed vinaigrette – Brussel sprouts, and Pork Belly Wraps. Brussel sprouts and pork belly, neither of which were around ten years ago, are now on almost every menu in what I would call New Style Restaurants.
BTW, while guns may be legal, most places we went didn’t want them. We only saw one guy with a gun in all our travels. This sign was typical.
After lunch, we went to the Rocketbuster Boot Factory where Michele was tempted by a pair of exquisite mules.
After lunch and after Rocketbuster, we wandered around the newly gentrified warehouse area that housed them both. It was very nice but somewhat empty. It was, however, next to a bustling Hispanic area…
where I got a very welcome cappuccino. Then we blew town, heading for White Sands.
We drove along “the wall” for a while…
looking throw the pickets into Juarez, Mexico.
We wandered through a maze of new freeway construction…
until we finally got untangled and crossed back into New Mexico about ten miles up the freeway.
After a few miles of freeway driving, we turned right and took US 70 over Augustin Pass…
into a large, flat, valley (a graben, really, as this area is part of the Basin and Range and is a dropped block caused by the Earth’s stretching).


As we drive across the flat valley floor, we start to see white sand dunes on our left.
and arrays of cameras on our right. At first, I think this is because we are passing through the White Sands Missile Range but now I’m inclined to think it is part of our “border security”.
Driving through the dunes at White Sands is like driving past a snowfield.


The road is even plowed as if it were snow.
We wandered around in the warm, fading, light; soaking up the soft beauty of the land and the light, feeling as much as seeing the day end.

After getting gas, we went to Lowe’s Super Market to get a take out dinner – the food was surprisingly good, if not very memorable – and then to our eat it.


Whites City to El Paso: Mile 6132.2

El Paso is about 144 and two hours and 25 minutes miles from Whites City, according to Google and that is about what it took us. We started on a four-lane divided highway that goes between Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Guadalupe Mountains Nation Park named, creatively enough, National Park Highway.  

The highway makes a straight beeline, southwest, for Texas and then turns almost due west just before the border as if it didn’t really want to go to Texas.
Just as we enter Texas, the highway contracts to two lanes and starts getting more interesting. 
Thank you, Texas.
We run along the southern edge of the Guadalupe Mountains. These are the highest mountains in Texas – the only mountains, really – and Michele and I are both thrilled to be in the mountains again.
When asked to sum up his four book masterpiece on geology, John McPhee said, “If by some fiat I had to restrict all this writing to one sentence, this is the one I would choose: The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone.”. Now, we are looking up at a 4,000-foot thick marine deposit that was formed when it was a shallow sea at the edge of what was, at the time, the only continent on Earth, Pangea about 275 million years ago.  About 12 million years ago, this area was raised up by the Farallon Plate sliding under the North American Plate. 
From a high point in the Guadalupe Mountains, we drop down into the Rio Grande Basin for an uneventful drive to El Paso,
much of the time driving directly into the setting sun and lengthening shadows. 

We ended our drive at the Scenic Drive Overlook, looking down at El Paso and Juarez like any other tourist, and we ended the day at the Hoppy Monk where we had excellent Lamb barbacoa tacos, Rabbit tacos, suburb Veggie empanadas, and a pretty good Beet and Kale salad.