Category Archives: The Big Trip

Albuquerque to Show Low continued: Mile 6753.4

Driving along the Colorado Plateau at near 7,000, it is hard to see how anybody could make a living here. Yes, in the picture above, I can see a barb-wire fence which would imply that cattle are being kept off the road but we have not seen a cow in hours (if at all since Big Spring). When we enter the town of Springerville, population 1,961, I begin to pay more attention to the question, What do these people do?  There is a Safeway in town and a McDonald’s and a Post Office bigger than the one in San Mateo when I grew although, even then, San Mateo was a much bigger city (town?). It had been a while since our brunch and we were getting hungry but it is Sunday so everything is closed. We decide to go to always-open Safeway to see what they have in the deli department, but on the way, we pass the McDonald’s and I suggest we just grab a burger. It is our second trip to a McDonald’s this trip – and the second in the last twenty years, for me at least – but the burger is fine and we are on our way to Show Low.
As an aside, the Springerville question, What do these people do? wouldn’t go away so I started googling around Springerville. It turns out, Springerville is chock-a-block full of interesting things. It has the only high school football field covered with a geodesic dome – eighth largest dome in the world – it is the home of Arizona’s Madonna of the Trail statue, it has an Indian ruin, Casa Malpais, that is a National Historic Landmark, and it is only 35 miles away from a ski area that tops out at 11,200 feet. Springerville also has the oldest movie theater in Arizona ( it was originally named the Apache Theatre, but that name was changed to El Rio in 1937, eighty years and still counting before the Washington Redskins changed their racist name). My point is that this little, out-of-the-way place, seemingly boring and not even worth stopping for, isn’t boring at all and I think that goes for almost anyplace on our trip back and forth across the country. This is a complex, diverse, and fascinating country full of places worth visiting most of which we just cruised through.

As we leave Springerville, we cross over the headwaters of the Little Colorado which joins the Colorado almost in the middle of the Grand Canyon. 
Behind the picaresque old car, is part of the Springerville volcanic field, consisting of 405 discrete vents and is the third largest volcanic field in the US.
Back on the road to Show Low.
As we drop down off of the top of the plateau…
we start getting into more trees (and I’m not sure why).

In Show Low, we check into our Motel – a Days Inn but locally owned for something like 60 years – then went out to dinner at The House, which billed itself as a Yard Bar & Eatery. When we got there, they were closing down the kitchen and cleaning up, something that has happened to us more than several times on the trip. We were their only customers – in what looked like hours – and we ate on picnic tables. Michele had Sweet Corn Fritters and Pork Wings, and I had The Big Green salad with salmon. They were both served in cardboard boxes – sort of like what Whole Foods uses with their takeout bar – with plastic forks and paper napkins and it was the best salad I had on the trip. It was shockingly good; fresh, crisp, greens, with a perfectly cooked piece of salmon, and a vinaigrette that was sublime. If this were at home, we would eat here often (and we would bug them to use real plates and flatware).

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 motel.to eat it.