(Death Valley is the first of four trips taken as part of Iron Butt Association’s National Parks Tour (NPT), where I visited at least 50 national parks, monuments, historical sites, etc., in at least 25 states in one year. )
Greetings from Pecos, Texas! Really, no foolin’! This morning I left for what, weather permitting, may turn out to be as much as a three-week two-wheeled adventure. I’ve got a lot of interesting, sometimes quirky stops planned, so get ready for a fun ride!
This morning got a late start and came the “back way” through Iraan and was sorely disappointed, but not surprised at the lack of wild flowers. With the two-year drought, our Hill Country is certainly not looking her best this year, although she’s trying. Actually, the only color I saw was a few red bud trees here and there. That’s it! Even the prickly pears were brown!
So that’s everything there is to tell you, which isn’t much. But everyone who has followed BT Holidays in the past knows the adventure doesn’t really start until the second day. First you have to get out of Texas.
Peace on the Road!
Hello from Socorro, NM, south of Albuquerque, where I’ll also be spending tomorrow night.
Today sure made up for the, well, uninspired ride yesterday. Left Pecos before 8:00 and headed north. Cut over west on Hwy 652 and watched the scenery literally unfold in the early morning light. This next picture shows what I mean by that. Those are the Guadalupe Mountains in the background. The picture was taken in the part of Texas that juts west underneath New Mexico. By the way, I was on that particular highway for 42 miles, took the time to make four picture-taking stops, and did not see one other vehicle! That’s why I love going West!
It’s interesting how you can be driving along and the land is all tired and overgrazed and then you enter into a national park and see what it’s supposed to look like — beautiful, vibrant desert and full of life.
From Carlsbad it was up through Roswall and onto the Billy the Kid Scenic Byway to Capitan, with “scenic” being the operative word. What great riding. And, by the way, just how do these people in New Mexico expect a girl to obey the speed limit with so many wonderfully banked twists and turns? Forty, schmorty! I don’t think so! Well, um . . . I suppose instead of whining about it I should be giving thanks for not getting a ticket!
If you read Biketrash Holiday New Mexico from last year, you may remember that Capitan is the home of the real Smokey Bear! In fact, I caught a glimpse of him along the highway doing his chores.
The next two pictures were also taken along the road to Capitan. Everything was so lovely and perfect today, and I’d still be out there taking pictures if there were time! What luck that I gained an hour with Mountain Time.
So do any of you remember the story about Lana, Glenda and I meeting the 86-year-old firecracker named Ethel in Capitan last September? Well, there is no way I’d go through there without checking on her, so stopped at the Windy City Cafe, owned by Ethel’s granddaughter, and had a homemade meatloaf sandwich. Believe it or not, the granddaughter (Ruthie) recognized me when I walked in! Said it had made a big impression on them when we were interested in their lives. Just goes to show we can have a meaningful impact on people and not even know it, doesn’t it? That’s nice.
Anyway, Ethel came over and we talked for about an hour and a half. She needs oxygen now (smoked for 50 years) but seems to be getting around all right and is still the same strong-willed rascal as ever! Here we are at the restaurant.
I’m extremely tired tonight and can’t wait to hit the hay. Tomorrow won’t be as many miles, but will be another full day.
Peace on the Road!
Hello again from Socorro, NM. Sure was nice to stay here and not have to pack up, load and unpack.
Today I went out to the Very Large Array (VLA — clever name!) west of Socorro. You’ve seen pictures of this in school and in the movies Contact and Independence Day. The place is so fascinating that you don’t even need to be a nerd to be interested in it. Basically, there are 27 radio antennas in a Y shape. The 27 antennas combine electronically to equal one 22-mile-across radio telescope. Even if you aren’t too interested in the mechanics of it all, it’s still stunning to see these things.
Went on a little walking tour and was able to get right up next to one of the antennas, shown here. That vertical black line down the center is the belt that moves the dish up and down. You can’t appreciate how big these things are unless you’re standing there. Each antenna is 82 feet in diameter, so they’re HUGE! To give you an idea of just how big they are, each antenna is 5289 square feet. Compare that to the average USA house, which is 2200 square feet. Yikes!
This shows the front of one of the antennas next to the road leading to and from the VLA. The “railroad track” you see there is the way the antennas are transported to their locations. Looking down the track, you can see several of the antennas lined up in one arm of the Y. Those little white dots underneath the three dishes next to the tracks are more antennas in the distance.
From the VLA headed west to Datil for lunch. I originally wanted to have lunch in Pie Town (no kidding!) and then ride some squiggly-line-on-the-map roads, but it was so danged windy today. It’s supposed to be windy and cold tomorrow, so I decided to take it a little easy and not get worn out.
Anyway, I had a great hamburger and fries in Datil at a cafe right out of the seventies! Check out the the cheap dye job on the big hair and bad combover on the couple with their backs to you. Since their friends were facing me, I serruptitiously acted like I was taking a picture of that creepy stuffed longhorn on the wall so couldn’t exactly zoom in on them, but you get the idea. Man, did I ever want to slap a helmet on that lady’s head!!!
After eating lunch I reversed my route to get back to Socorro. By the time I reached the VLA, all that water I’d drank caught up to me so I decided to stop and use the facilities at the VLA Visitor’s Center. Just my luck to pull in right after a Greyhound tour bus full of women, so you know I was waiting around in line for awhile and, truthfully, was doing a little griping about it to myself. When I finally headed out from the Visitor’s Center and was maybe 50 feet from passing that antenna next to the road by the railroad tracks pictured earlier, it starts to friggin’ move (!!!!!) so, of course, I pulled over to watch.
Apparently they only move counterclockwise because it rotated around a good 270 degrees to move 90 degrees clockwise. The whole thing only took about five minutes. Way cool! Was that good luck or what?
So the lesson for today is that if you have to wait around for a bunch of full-bladdered ladies, it just might end up being a good thing. I would have been long gone if they hadn’t been there to slow me down. To tell you the truth, this is a lesson I’ve learned and quickly forgotten many times!
If the weather forecast is accurate, tomorrow may be challenging temperaturewise and windwise. I want to leave at 7:15, but it’s supposed to be in the low thirties. Have I ever told y’all how much I dislike the cold and wearing bulky gloves? Ugh! But I also don’t want to wait too long for it to warm up because the wind gets terrible in the afternoon here. Stay tuned! Same BT time, same BT channel to see how she does!
Peace on the Road!
Here I am in Alpine, AZ, in the White Mountains just a few miles over the border from NM, where there is snow and it’s pretty danged cold at 40 degrees this afternoon. As I was driving into town, saw four beavers busily working away on a dam, which was cool. Alpine is at 8,000 feet, so I’ll be getting the inevitable high-altitude headache and puffy eyes before too long. You’ll receive this a day late because the only place that has internet in this small town is a restaurant that closes soon.
But let’s start at the beginning. . . .
Got up early, packed, and to save time had a weird little breakfast of tuna and crackers that Desha had sweetly packed for me — although she probably didn’t intend it for breakfast! By 6:45 the Econo Lodge parking lot was full of white-haired retirees in their khaki REI type comfortable outdoor clothes and walking shoes in town for exactly the same reason as me. (Hey! I’m nothing like them! My hair is platinum blonde!)
We were all there to visit the Trinity Test Site. That’s where the first atom bomb was detonated at White Sands Missile Range on July 16th, 1945, and it’s open to the public only two days a year – the first Saturdays in April and October. It must be my fascination with the culture of that time period, but I’ve been wanting to see this for a long time.
Fortunately for me, the temperature was not as cold as predicted when I left Socorro — only in the low forties, which is real tolerable. Left at 7:15 to drive the 25 miles to the entrance to the missile range. This picture shows me waiting in line for the gate to open at 8:00. Kept my helmet on to stay warm. The car in front of me was from Virginia, and you could see license plates from all over the US in that line of cars.
Everyone had to show their driver’s license to get in, and in my case it was a waste of time because the MP could only identify my nose, but he was nice enough to just laugh, shrug and wave me through. It was another 14 miles to drive back to the site. As we drove in, we could see the actual observation bunker where Oppenheimer watched the detonation. Got to park the motorcycle at the very front of the parking area, which was nice. There was a little bit of a walk to get to the site, but the TCX Sunray touring boots were surprisingly comfortable.
The crater has been filled in because of the radioactivity in the soil, but you can see how big it was from the fence outline. On the ground you could see trinitite, which is sand that melted from the heat from the blast. It was sort of a jade color.
This shows the exact site of the detontion with the fence outlining the crater in the background. Scary, huh? That obolisk is made out of lava rock, which is practically everywhere in New Mexico.
As I walked around the site looking at the plaques and displays, I felt such heaviness of heart. This feeling was totally unexpected and I don’t exactly know what it was all about. I thought I’d simply be visiting a place of historical signifigance, but apparently it struck something deep inside. Maybe I was ovewhelmed by the knowledge that the event that took place here changed our world forever. In fact, the feelings were so strong that I went off to the edge of the fence where I was by myself and sobbed for a few minutes. Not so sure I got it all out, but did feel better after that.
Ran into a fellow nerd I’d met yesterday at the VLA, who introduced me to 92-year-old J.D. Miller, his daughter, Gaylon, and son, Everett. Mr. Miller had been a rancher in the area (but not the exact Trinity site) and, along with several other ranchers, had been literally kicked off his land to create the White Sands Missile Range. Didn’t even receive $1 for it. Before being forced out, he twice entered a restricted area while herding goats and was shot at by the military. He told me they were using him for target practice, then let out a big laugh!
I heard several fascinating stories about their lives, too many put down here. That’s the kind of history I love, told by those who experienced it. My great grandmother, Linnie Mae Hubler Matthews, born in 1877, gets the credit for starting that!
Gaylon gave me the name of a website that has some fascinating information about that time period and some of the ranchers in the area. Click on “Miller Ranch” for the part that mentions Mr. Miller.
Here is Gaylon, Mr. Miller and Everett. (She looks just like him, doesn’t she?)
After leaving the Trinity site, I high-tailed it back down the highway I’d been on yesterday. Not only was it extremely windy, but imagine my surprise when the temperature dropped, it became very cloudy, and I started seeing snow! I know y’all would liked to have had a picture of the VLA covered with snow, but all my energy was going towards staying upright! Just wasn’t in the flower-sniffin’ picture-takin’ mood. Got a good upper-body workout with that wind and will be feeling it tomorrow.
To make a long story short, the weather system finally blew through, and it turned sunny but cold. Rode wonderful roads the rest of the way into AZ.
Thanks, Lana and Glenda (the Harley Girls), for introducing me to “enchanting” NM riding way back when!!!
Here is the obligatory state-line shot with Lizzie. By the way, that white rectangle velcroed onto the gas tank is the heating controller and wiring for my electric jacket (which goes two layers under the outer jacket). Seriously, I wouldn’t have made it today without the heated jacket and heated seat, and they did their jobs well.
It’s been a long, difficult day (not a complaint!) and I look forward to hitting the hay. It’s expected to be in the teens tomorrow morning, so I’ll get to relax until the sun can warm the air.
Peace on the Road!
Hello from Elaine’s house in Tucson, AZ!
Didn’t get out of Alpine this morning until 10:00 since it was so friggin’ cold. At least by then it was up to 40 degrees! Stopped at the Bear Wallow Cafe on my way out of town and was quite the curiosity walking in with that high-vis jacket! Nice people there.
Here are the before-and-after shots of the tasty, heaping breakfast special of eggs, biscuits and gravy, and hash browns. MMMMmmmm. . . . Stuck to my ribs all morning!
I’ve been looking forward to returning to this area since I first rode here in 1998. The route is called the Coronado Trail or Hwy 191 or Devil’s Highway (so named because it used to be Hwy 666). The Federal Highway Administration claims this is the curviest road in the nation, with nearly 450 switchbacks. To me it’s the perfect motorcycling highway: extraordinary alpine scenery, good road with lots of twists and turns, very little traffic (possibly saw 20 cars in 92 miles) and powerful smell of pine.
The next picture shows typical scenery on this gorgeous clear day. You can see by the deciduous trees that spring has not yet reached this elevation.
Cool shot of the road ahead.
Didn’t see any of these, although I kept my eyes peeled!
Too bad I didn’t get a picture of the sign that said 15 mph for the next 12 miles, but there was nowhere — and I mean nowhere — to pull over!
A girl has to take some time to stop to breathe in that clean, fresh air, and it took four hours to ride and soak up every bit of joy and pleasure. You know what I mean by that? There is something about riding on that kind of road at the perfect speed with the perfect amount of input and perfect lean for any given curve that touches my heart and spirit. Don’t ask how or why. All I know is that is the reason I love the two-wheeled experience. Long live long rides!
This is the view from one of the stops.
The wonderful, almost altered state ended abruptly at the end of the trail at the Morenci Copper Mine, the largest producing copper strip mine in North America. Hwy 191 runs smack dab through the middle of the mine and it’s the biggest eyesore I’ve ever seen. The place is unbelievably huge.
By the way, Morenci is where J.D. Miller relocated after being kicked off his land, and he worked here at the mine for some 40 years.
This picture of the mine was taken at a pullout on the side of the highway. I’d stopped to remove several layers of clothing when the temperature skyrocketed with the abrupt descent from the mountains.
The rest of the ride to Tucson was pleasant and warm with little wind. Makes you wonder what kind of geological upheaval created some of the rock formations. Wish I knew more about it. Lots of beautiful blooming cacti.
I must admit it feels good to be off the motorcycle tonight, and I’ll probably be in Tucson about four days????? Now that I have someone to talk to and dogs and cats to pet, I’m real distracted so you won’t hear from me right away. Oh, man, I sure wish I could send y’all the sweet smell of orange blossums! More in a few days. . . .
Peace on the Road!
Still in Tucson, AZ, having a great time with my friend Elaine and her four-legged friends. She lives right on the edge of a nature preserve, and I’ve seen prairie dogs, broad-billed hummingbirds, Albert’s towhees, phainopepla, and Gambel’s quail. Those quail are so danged cute!
Each morning I have P.G. Tipp’s English Breakfast Tea — none of that Twining’s stuff in this genuine English household! I’m lucky that Elaine enjoys cooking for house guests, and today we’re having tomatoes (pronounced toe-maw-toe) and sausage. The first picture shows the lovely meal and the next one will instruct you yanks on how to eat the toe-maw-toe on toast. MMMMMmmmmmm good!
On Monday (4-6) we drove over to Biosphere 2, which is about 30 miles north of Tucson, and took their interesting tour. We learned and saw how they brought about the different climates and conditions on earth in the closed environment. It’s unbelievably complex, incredible and huge. By the way, Biosphere 1 is Mother Earth herself.
They’ve run two experiments with human inhabitants physically inside the buildings. The first experiment lasted the full two years, but the second lasted less than a year due to soil imbalances where oxygen levels were affected and the inhabitants couldn’t grow enough food to sustain themselves. Strangely, there seems to be very little information to be found on the human experiment. Currently the facilities are used for totally controlled experiments in growing plants and is not sealed.
Here is yours truly at the Biosphere 2 entrance. Listen, I don’t want any comments from the peanut gallery about white-haired retirees in khaki REI-type comfortable outdoor clothes and walking shoes! I told you the hair is platinum blonde!!
This was taken from the tropical rainforest area looking out. Those black lines are the water lines for making rain. That’s how they can precisely control the rainfall amounts.
On Tuesday (4-7) we drove up to the summit of Mount Lemmon, which tops out at about 9,000 feet. Within an hour after leaving the house, we’d ascended through desert, high plains and into alpine climate zones. Sure is weird to feel the difference in temperature when you get out of the car. We did a four-mile roundtrip hike with the dogs to Rose Lake, where we saw gorgeous bluebirds, yellow-eyed juncos, and violet-green swallows. Felt good to move around after several days of being sedentary.
This next picture shows a hazy City of Tucson from high above on Mt. Lemmon.
Today Elaine had to get some work done, so I headed off to Saguaro National Park, east of Tucson. Arrived there in about 45 minutes. What a great thing for the people in Tucson to be so close to so many fantastic destinations! This is a must-see park! If you’re not into the desert now, you will be after visiting here!
Saguaros are the cactus you see in all the Old West movies, although in reality their range is not particularly widespread. They’re huge, majestic, unique, and support a wide variety of animals. “Stunning” is not an exaggeration.
The desert here is bursting with life. At one point I pulled off in a parking area to have a little picnic lunch, and I’d say within a couple hundred feet of that spot I saw lizards, squirrel, rabbit, curve-billed thrasher, gila wodpecker, mourning dove, loggerhead shrike, verdin, and a cactus wren. Didn’t actually see the Gambel’s quail, but could hear it.
Here are a few pics from the park. Those holes you see in the saguaros are made by woodpeckers. They hollow out a little living area, and then the cactus heals itself by forming a hard lining-like scab over the wound. All sorts of other animals take over when the woodpeckers leave. Not only do they get a nice little home protected by nasty cactus spines, but the water in the cactus acts like an air-conditioner to keep them cool.
Peace on the road!
Greetings from Cottonwood, AZ, which is southwest of Sedona and Flagstaff. As usual, I’ve had a full day and there is a lot to tell you.
Said goodbye to Elaine, pups and kits a day early because there are high winds predicted for tomorrow. While I’d like to have stayed another day, I’m glad I left because the first 125 miles or so out of Tucson traversed pancake-flat plains, where wind can be ferocious.
First stop was the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. This is where the Hohokam people — “First Masters of the American Desert” — resided for over 1,000 years. They were a farming society with a vast network of sophisticated irrigation canals. In fact, as I was driving through, I noticed they still use irrigation canals for crops in that area. Seems inefficient in this day and age to me, but what do I know?
This shows the Casa Grande Ruins with some lower rooms. The cover was built to slow deterioration.
From the Casa Grande Ruins I took a combination of back roads and Interstate 202 to avoid Phoenix and get to Hwy 87. This Hwy 87 was absolutely gorgeous, with no billboards ruining the view. Makes me wonder if they’re trying to get it designated as a Scenic Byway.
Started out with beautiful desert landscape, thick with saguaros and blooming ocatillo. Don’t ya admire anything bad-ass enough to survive out there? Then the desert gave way to high plains and then alpine as I continued to climb through twists and turns. Really, exquisite is the only adjective. If you ever come this way, be sure to ride Hwy 87!!!
Next stops were the Montezuma Castle National Monument and then the Tuzigoot National Monument. Both monuments are ruins left by the Sinagua people six and seven hundred years ago and are about 20 miles apart. They mostly made their living by farming.
Here is the five-story, 20-room Montezuma Castle.
Truthfully, for me, Tuzigoot was a little boring, although it is an important historical site. This picture looks down onto some lower rooms at Tuzigoot (meaning crooked water). There isn’t much to see, although there are a lot of cool artifacts at the Visitor’s Center.
Here are some newly excavated cliff dwellings at Tuzigoot.
HA HA HA HA HA!
So are any of you wondering about my sudden interest in cliff dwellings? Well, besides the fact that they’re important excavations and history of some of our First Americans, I’ve gotten into this thing I heard about by the Iron Butt Association with the National Parks passport program. You visit 50 national parks, monuments or historical sites in 25 states in a year. I don’t know that I realistically can even come close, but it will be fun to make a stab. I’m determined to not just run in and get my passport stamped, but to actually watch each park video and walk around and learn something.
Tomorrow will be lots of fun! Stay tuned. . . .
Peace on the Road!
Greetings from Boulder City, NV! That’s just a few miles across the border from Arizona and the Hoover Dam. Ugh! (More on that later.)
Got a chilly, early start this morning from Cottonwood, AZ. Took 89A to Jerome for a gorgeous ride. Jerome is one of the coolest looking mountain towns I’ve ever seen. Didn’t stop to get any history on it, but I’m thinking it was real prosperous at one time with a lot of old stone buildings everywhere. It would be a fun place to stay, but it’s built on the side of a mountain and I didn’t see one five-foot flat spot anywhere for parking a motorcyle! This was taken a little west of Jerome. That dark brown stone is the building material used in town.
From there I eventually got onto Hwy 89 and up to Ash Fork to ride the longest intact section of the original Route 66. (Around 80 miles maybe?) Ash Fork is a fun little town and I stopped at their museum, which is in the old maintenance camp building that was built in the twenties to service Arizona’s section of Route 66. Here is Lizzie outside that museum. What you can’t tell very well by the picture is how the parking lot consisted of probably four inches of freshly dumped tiny pea gravel, which is treacherous for a big cruiser — to me, anyway! Had to bravely plow through with a pounding heart to make a U turn and somehow miraculously did not fall over. Found some packed dirt off to the side for parking.
Ran into a little trouble there in Ash Fork with the museum curator, but managed to sweet talk myself out of it!
Traveling the original Route 66 was great fun. Very little traffic and great scenery as it wound through the high plains. It pretty much paralleled a busy railroad track, and I’ll guess that every ten minutes a freight train came by going west to east. I imagined traveling in a car with no air conditioning, windows open, home-made bologna sandwiches, and a load of kids in the back seat on vacation. Lots of Burma-Shave signs along the way. My favorite
was. . .
If daisies are
your favorite flower
keep pushing up
those miles per hour!
Seligman is a town thriving on the Route 66 image. Lots of cool motels in fifties style in operation, and it would be a delightful place to stay. They’ve left the original old signs on all the buildings, which can be confusing because, for example, it might say cafe when it’s actually an attorney’s office. Stayed there for a while walking around, and I haven’t had that much two-wheeled-visiting fun since the Spam Museum (See New England Part Two)!
Met two German couples that had rented — in other words, not customized to fit them – Harleys in Miami and were traveling two-up to Los Angeles. That’s a loooooong way to ride double if you’re not comfortable!
They were very interested in my heated jacket and the ergonomic things done on Lizzie. As one of the women said, “I didn’t expect it to be so cold,” which means they were freezing! Felt some sympathy for them and hope that overall their US tour is a good one.
I must admit I also expected it to be warmer this far south, but it is only April, isn’t it?
Had a late breakfast at the Copper Cafe. All the Pepsi signs remind me of my grandfather’s store in the small town of Agency, Iowa, when I was a kid.
Here is a little street scene featuring a talisman red (looks pink to me!) 1959 Edsel Corsair in front of one of the souvenier shops. This was typical of the fun things to be found in Seligman. I rarely buy anything for myself on these trips because there is no extra room to pack, but had to buy a Route 66 sweatshirt from that shop. If you ever get the chance to visit Seligman, do it. Yeah, baby! Get your kicks. . . .
At Kingman headed up Hwy 93 for Boulder City, NV. This area of Nevada looks exactly like what you see in Old West movies with lots of red canyons and a sparse desert landscape.
So I’m really moving along and, bam, at least twelve, maybe more miles from the Hoover Dam traffic slows to a crawl because of construction. No place to pull off with a narrow or nonexistent shoulder. Worst traffic jam I’ve ever been in. Imagine a major four-lane highway the Friday afternoon before Easter narrowing down to two lanes with major construction going on, routed through hundreds of tourists and cross-walk traffic lights at the Hoover Dam. Had to feather the clutch on the long uphills and turned the bike off and coasted in neutral for the long downhills. Aaargh!
This was bad news for me because my left (clutch) hand suffers from 31 years of overuse as a court reporter and those tendons get inflamed easily. Right now it feels like a chunk of hot metal running from my hand up through my shoulder and neck. Anyway. . . I found a massage therapist that will see me tomorrow morning and I’m staying an extra day to rest and ice my hand. Glad I packed the BioFreeze! I’d love to go back to tour the dam, but do not want to get into another situation like that.
Peace on the Road!
For all you touchy-feely people out there. . . had a fantastic massage by Suzy here in Boulder City, NV. She didn’t get it 100 percent, but damned good for one session. Everything is much better, from my ears down to the little finger, although I’ll need to be careful with it and continue to ice that hand. The massage and everything else I needed was all close by, so it was an easy walk and I didn’t have to be on Lizzie at all.
I won’t have internet use for a few days since Death Valley is so remote, so stay tuned. Same BT time, same BT channel!
Peace on the Road!