New Mexico – Land of Enchantment

New Mexico Desert Landscape

While driving to Albuquerque from Roswell, the desert landscape left me awestruck. Prairie grass and sage cover the red dirt of the desert. Dotting the land are thousands of Pinyon Pines. Today is the first time I saw mountains on the trip.

Entering New Mexico from Texas, first stopping in Roswell, and now in Albuquerque, my route has mostly been determined by weather. My near term goal is Sedona Arizona. Much of this part of the country is having very high winds. North and northwest of here have nightly temperatures below freezing. Operating the coach in sub-freezing temperatures is something I still need to learn. South of here is too hot with temperatures already climbing into the 90s in southern NM. I am trying to find a route with winds below 25 mph, and temperatures between 40 degrees and 75 degrees.

The websites I’ve used most on this tour are the Weather Channel and Google Maps. The weather website helps me decide where to go next, finding a place that is neither freezing or sweltering and also not being blown away. Google Maps lets me know far the destination is so I don’t end up driving more than 200 miles a day. After waking up this morning, I changed my mind to drive north instead of west, and headed to Albuquerque. The winds here are not as bad as other places in the area and the temperature should only dip down to 40 degrees. How the early pioneers traveled west in their Conestoga Wagons without internet access is beyond my understanding.

Today’s drive was still windy. Strong gusty winds buffeted the coach the entire way. Half way here, the cruise control suddenly shut off. Three error messages illuminated on the instrument panel. One said ESP, the second Take to Shop. The third was an icon of a tire. I thought, this can’t be good. The messages where the first ones I’ve ever seen since I got the rig.

In several online forums for the type of RV I have, I’ve read about others who had similar experiences in high winds. I figured ESP did not mean extra sensory perception. I hoped the error messages would go away. Hope is not a plan, and the messages remained. I pulled off the road, and did the standard electrical engineering reset. That reset is turning everything off, and then turning everything back on and hope the problem goes away. When I restarted the engine, the error messages cleared. I drove the rest of the way without using the cruise control. My best guess is that constantly changing high winds affected the speed sensor inputs for the cruise control.

Back in June 2007, during the third day of the “Chasing the Great Divide” bicycle tour from Lordsburg New Mexico to Jasper Alberta, we cycled from Quemado to Grants NM. We had a 45 mph tailwind, and I was riding along at 35 mph without even pedaling. We covered 84 miles in four hours with almost no effort. Just like a scene out of “Return of the Mummy”, I remember seeing a 200 yard wide, five foot high wave of sand blowing over the desert floor. The winds knocked out the power in our hotel in Grants for three hours, and hurricane force winds of 100 mph plastered the northwest part of the state with sand. Maybe New Mexico is always this windy.

Tomorrow I will check the weather again and decide between heading north to Sante Fe and Taos, or west towards WInslow Arizona on Monday.

As for the UFO crash in Roswell, here is a link that describes what really happened there. Although the UFO story is a lot more fun, the crash vehicle was actually a sturdy high altitude balloon from project Mogul. “Project Mogul used sturdy high-altitude balloons to carry low-frequency sound sensors into the tropopause, a faraway part of the Earth’s atmosphere that acts as a sound channel. In this part of the atmosphere, sound waves can travel for thousands of miles without interference, much like under the ocean. The scientists believed that if they sent microphones into this sound channel, they would be able to eavesdrop on nuclear tests as far away as the Soviet Union.” – from The real story might be more interesting than the UFO stories.

Roswell Crash Site 1947

This part of NM is where the acclaimed TV show Breaking Bad took place. I think I will head out now and see if I can find Walter White, and Gus the Chicken Man. Oh, they are both dead, maybe I can still find Jesse. Since I arrived in New Mexico, I keep hearing the same birds that chirp at the very end of the show’s introduction.

Breaking Bad

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Paso Robles and Mountain Lioness resting on the dash after a long days drive

After enduring a fifteen hour tornado watch in Lafayette, the storm clouds cleared on Monday morning and I escaped unscathed. Others were not so fortunate. A tornado killed two people in a trailer just east of Lafayette. I didn’t sleep much on Sunday night.

I feel now the tour has begun. I spent the first week all along the Gulf of Mexico, delayed by several days waiting out storms. The trip didn’t feel like the west trip yet because the vegetation and climate were the same as home. The drive Monday morning to Shreveport LA was easy, the distance being only 221 miles, and I arrived just after 1 PM. I spoke to some folks that tried to make the drive from Lafayette to Shreveport during the storm. They said they had to pull off the road because they couldn’t see, and there were many other cars pulled of on the side of the road too. I can’t imagine why people would drive during such dangerous conditions. Being inside a car when there are tornadoes around is not a good idea. I’ve seen the movie Twister.

After the easy drive to Shreveport, I decided to keep most days to about 200 miles and 4 hours. Well that plan did not last one day. While planning to head north of Dallas towards northwest Texas and northeast New Mexico I checked the weather. I saw the dreaded red blob on the weather map indicating another region of potential severe weather north of Dallas and stretching into Oklahoma. Winds of 25+ mph were forecast. Setting out early on Monday morning, I set the GPS NAV unit for north of Dallas. I did not want to drive through Dallas. After a few miles I stopped, looked at a map of Dallas and checked the weather forecast for Dallas. Winds around Dallas were forecast for 20 mph, but I figured that was better than the 25 mph winds forecast for north of Dallas. I rerouted the GPS NAV  through Dallas and Ft. Worth on I-20.

The same low pressure system north of Dallas causing high winds also caused 20+ mph winds south of Dallas. The good news is that getting through Dallas on I-20 was very easy. The road is in great shape, and there were not too many trucks. There was some traffic around Dallas, but not nearly as much as I thought it would be. I arrived in Dallas around 11 AM and cleared Ft Worth around 12 PM. The Dallas Ft Worth metro area was about 60 miles wide. The traffic was very moderate which surprised me.

The strong winds from the south made driving difficult. The cross winds constantly buffeted the high-profile RV. Sometimes the wind would gust and push the coach to the right. Then the winds would calm a bit and the coach would lurch to the left since I was steering against the wind.

Finally I ended up all the way in Abilene TX, 363 miles and seven hours later. So much for the 200 mile/day goal. I think high winds are just part of the west, but the winds are really high now because of the change of the seasons. I intended to go to Santa Fe and Taos when I made my way to New Mexico. Santa Fe is now having snow and very cold temperatures. I think I might just head west to Roswell New Mexico and see little green men and their flying saucers.
Link to Bob Seger “Against the Wind”

Riders on the Storm

Norfolk Pine Tree struck by a tornado on March 31st 2011 on the south side of my home

A better title would be, “Not Riding in the Storm.”

A conveyor belt of severe storms continues to roll across Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and northwest Florida. The storms started last week. Every three days, another storm roars across the southeast. The thunderstorms have high winds, numerous lighting strikes, large hail, and are spawning tornadoes.

Hunkered down just east of Pensacola Florida on Wednesday and Thursday, I waited out one of these rounds of storms. That storm was not as bad as I feared, although the storm did last eight hours. Today I drove to Lafayette LA, about 100 miles west of New Orleans. Now the next round of severe storms is coming through this weekend. Without success, I looked for a route around the massive storm system. First I considered going towards Houston, but that route heads directly into the area of severe weather predicted for Sunday. Then I looked into driving north through Shreveport and Texarkana. This route would put me directly in the path of the storm. I didn’t know until today there is a town called Texarkana. I thought Texarkana was a term describing the region around Texas and Arkansas. I thought maybe I could get on the north side of the storm before the storm barreled east. Neither route is possible. There is the giant wall of severe weather from the Gulf Coast up to Kansas blocking my way. After checking the weather forecast in several locations, the forecast here is the least worst of all the places I checked.

Deciding to just hunker down in Lafayette LA for the weekend gave me a feeling of relief. The idea of being out on the road trying to out drive a storm was unsettling. I smiled thinking about the people who are “storm chasers”, and that I am “storm escaper”. There is possibly another storm system on the same track on its way next week. I will deal with that situation next week if the storm comes. Monday I plan to start driving northwest towards Shreveport LA, and then turn west and start the trek across northern Texas.

The situation reminds me of an old joke. “Why are tornadoes and redneck divorces similar? Someone always loses a trailer.”

Living in the Tampa/St Pete area of Florida for the last 38 years gives me a great appreciation of the danger of thunderstorms. Tampa/St Pete is the lightning capital of the world. The name of the hockey team in Tampa Bay is even the “Lighting.” The only place in the world with more lightning strikes is the west coast of Africa where the great Atlantic Hurricanes are born.

Exactly six years ago, on the last day of March, a tornado ripped through the neighborhood where I live in Pinellas County Florida. Now that is March going out like a lion. The tornado touched down behind my house, destroying several buildings, and knocking down all the power poles leading into the neighborhood. The tornado lifted off the ground for a few seconds. Then the tornado passed 10 feet south and 15 feet above my house before touching down again on the other side of my street.

The damage the surgical precision a tornado is capable of is stunning. I saw exactly where the tornado passed. The tornado shredded the branches off the Norfolk Pine on the south side of the tree starting 15 feet above the ground all the way up to 10 feet from the top of the tree. The branches on the north side of the Norfolk Pine, the side facing my house, were all still attached. So now I also have a great fear of tornadoes after seeing first hand the destruction they cause. I still have an elm tree in my back yard that is leaning towards the east. The tree was almost completely uprooted from the tornado. We managed to stake to the tree back into the ground and the tree survived. The crooked elm tree is a forever reminder of that storm.

Exactly 24 hours before the tornado struck, I had a wonderful cat named Blue Mesa put to sleep after a long struggle with kidney disease. I think this tornado whisked Blue Mesa’s spirit into the heavens. Blue Mesa was a rider on that storm.

Link below to “Riders on the Storm” by the Doors.

Riders on the Storm

Go West, Young Man, Go West

Wild horses in Wyoming, photo taken during my bicycle tour from New Mexico to Canada in 2007

Leaving to head out west in the RV for several months is making me feel both excited and apprehensive. I really don’t know where I am going or how long I will be gone. My general plan is to head out of Florida towards the Grand Canyon. The route out of Florida along the panhandle and Gulf of Mexico is a beautiful drive. Then I’ll continue to head west through Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and then turn towards the north into Utah and Idaho as the weather warms up. I will be traveling by myself along with my two cats, Paso Robles, and Mountain Lioness. Wow, are they in for a surprise. The cats will be fine, I think they could live full-time in the RV.

I’ve never spent more than 22 consecutive days in the RV. I did take a 43 day bicycle tour back in 2007, cycling from Lordsburg New Mexico to Jasper Canada, crisscrossing the continental divide 24 times. That tour was better planned since we had a known destination and stayed in a motel each night of the tour.

The trip is the beginning of a new phase of my life. I’ve been working towards this trip ever since I retired over three years ago. I first starting dreaming about this trip back in 1999 when I was on a bicycle tour in Alaska. While cycling into Valdez, I saw a RV with Florida license plates. The people in the RV drove to Alaska from Redington Beach Florida. Redington Beach is located along the Gulf of Mexico, on the west coast of Florida, and is only six miles from my home. Meeting people who lived only six miles from me while being over 4000 miles away from home was a very interesting chance encounter. Perhaps the concept of synchronicity best describes meeting them, a meaningful coincidence with no causal relationship. Ever since meeting them, I dreamed of taking a RV trip out west. Their “RV” was a hand-made wood shack built on the back of an El Camino. They traveled for three months and 4000 miles in this contraption to reach Valdez. I looked inside and mostly what I saw was racks of canned food. To this day, I don’t know where they found room to sleep in their home-made RV.

I took a six-week road trip out west in the summer of 2015 from Florida to Frisco Colorado in my SUV. I left the cats behind in Florida. I returned home a bit early because I missed my cats so much. I decided if I was going to travel for extended periods of time in America, that I would bring the cats along. So I started looking at RVs. Continue reading

The Natchez Trace National Parkway – Synchronicity

Relief Driver, Mountain Lionness

Relief Driver, Mountain Lionness

Campsite at Trace State Park

Campsite at Trace State Park

Driving north on the Natchez Trace National Parkway

The Natchez Trace National Parkway is the most pleasant and peaceful road I’ve driven. There are no billboards, no trucks, very little traffic, and the speed limit is only 50 mph. The Trace is a 440 mile forest lined road running between Natchez Mississippi and Nashville Tennessee. I’m now just north of Tupelo Mississippi, the birthplace of Elvis Presley.

The drive is surreal, almost “Twilight Zone” like. While on the Trace, all you can see is a narrow winding road surrounded by trees. Upon exiting the Trace, within 1/4 mile, you are back in civilization. Rather quickly many cars, trucks, buildings, and billboards surround you again, regular Americana. The Trace is actually a 440 mile long and 1/4 mile wide National Park.

The ride on the Trace did not go as planned. I reserved a site at a campground in Starkville Mississippi, about the midway point of the Trace. When I pulled into the campsite, a swarm of thousands of bugs descended on me and the coach. I felt like I was in the middle of one of the seven deadly plagues. I quickly fled the campsite, got my money back, then drove down a highway over 70 miles per hour trying to blow the infestation off the coach. The little bugs held on. I had no idea what kind of insect they where. While stopping to refuel, using a long brush on a pole, I managed to brush most of them off.

Now a different problem confronted me, no place to stay for the evening. The afternoon was getting late and there are very few campgrounds along the Trace. About 3 hours of daylight were remaining. So I abandoned the Trace and hi-tailed it on Highway 15 towards Tupelo where the campground directory showed two RV parks. I was hoping to see a sign for them on the highway. I must have blasted by the first one without seeing any signs for a campground. So I stopped, remembering the saying, measure twice, cut once. I found an address for the second campground and entered it into the Navigation System. The NAV unit guided me on a twisted route with many turns to the campground. I never would have found the campground without the directions from NAV unit. Right now, that NAV unit is one of the most important parts of the RV for me. After getting settled into Trace State Park, I looked on Google Maps. Realizing I was only nine miles from Tupelo astonished me. I thought I was in the middle of nowhere. A very friendly camper came over to help me back into the site. I told him about the bugs. There were several of them still on the coach 100 miles after the first attack. He told me the “Soft Bodied Wood Nymph” was the name of the bug. I am not making this up. He said the bug was completely harmless and didn’t bite. I don’t understand how thousands of any kind of bug all in the same place is harmless.

I’m spent a second night there, then headed into Tupelo see the see where Elvis was born. Rejoining the Trace after going to Krogers and Exxon, I drove towards Tishomingo State Park, my home for the next three nights. Tishomingo is right next to the Mississippi/Alabama border. Tishomingo was a Chicksaw Indian Chief who died at the age of 102 on the Trail of Tears.

While pulling into a visitor center on the way to Tishomingo, a van pulled in with bikes on the roof and pulling a trailer. I instantly recognized the van as a sag wagon for a bicycle tour. I just passed about 15 cyclists. Since I have taken about 20 bicycle tours, I walked over to the sag wagon just as the tour leader started to exit the van. A very beautiful blond woman stepped out of the van. She had a wonderful smile and was very friendly as bicycle tour leaders usually are. Wearing a Telluride t-shirt (for the second day in a row) the tour leader noticed my t-shirt right away. She said she was from Telluride and asked me if I was from Telluride. I told her I picked up the t-shirt when I visited Telluride back in August. Quite amazing that I just happened to have that t-shirt on today, she simply said, “Synchronicity”. I really didn’t know what the word meant, thinking the word was some new age term. I thought the word had something to do with strange but positive coincidences in the universe. Later I Googled the word and found out Carl Jung coined the word back in 1952. Jung used the word “synchronicity” to describe “temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events.” “How are we to recognize acausal combinations of events, since it is obviously impossible to examine all chance happenings for their causality? The answer to this is that acausal events may be expected most readily where, on closer reflection, a causal connection appears to be inconceivable.” – Carl Jung. I still don’t understand this gibberish, but I was happy that our acausal meeting occurred. Spending hours on the road by oneself can become quite lonely.

Here is a little history of the Trace. The history goes back 9,000 years to the time of Paleo-Indian Hunters, so this is only a very brief description. The Natchez Trace began as ancient animal trails worn by creatures heading toward the salt springs in what is now Nashville. From Buffalo paths used by prehistoric hunters, the Trace became a series of Indian Trails for the  Natchez, Choctaw, and Chicksaw Nations. Hernando De Soto claimed this territory for Spain in 1540. The Trace was used by French and Spanish trappers, traders, missionaries, and soldiers. By 1798, the Spanish relinquished their claims. This freed the port of Natchez to open more widely to Mississippi River Trade. The infux of boatman who needed a way home did much to publicize the route. As commerce and land attracted more settlers, the U.S. Government needed a quicker way to communicate with the Mississippi Territory. In 1800, the U.S. Government established the postal route between Nashville and Natchez. In 1801 Indian Treaties permitted the establishment of a road. Abandoned when water travel down the Mississippi became more reliable, the road fell into disuse. A New Deal Project resurrected the road in the 1930s.

There really isn’t that much to see on the Natchez Trail compared to other National Parks. Still the ride is peaceful and serene, reminding one that enjoying the ride is just as important as where you go. Wherever you go, there you are.

Link to Enjoy the Ride by Krewella