Day two: I woke up at about 8:30 am, feeling reasonably refreshed. I figured I’d have breakfast in Roswell, but I didn’t get there until lunch time. At some point, I saw female (or was it male??) fruit-fly genitalia in the cloud formations and realized that I was D.O.N.E. with flies. I had to keep my cooler stocked with ice, but other than that – no more. So, now I was just trying to getting to Vegas in time for a drink. Ha! I know – it’s always time for a drink in Vegas (as I later discovered while drinking a Pina Colada for breakfast,) but I’ll say no more about that, as what happens in Vegas…
Roswell was just as cheesy as I’d remembered it, with alien heads for streetlights and “Aliens Welcome” lettered on the Arby’s sign, and “out of this world” omelets. I’d always passed through at night before, and I like it less in the morning light. I tried to check my email at the Civic Center, but I couldn’t connect to their wireless network. I left without eating breakfast. Actually, I’d stopped in Tatum for coffee and ice (for the cooler,) so my appetite was duly suppressed. I thought Tatum was a pretty neat, quintessential New Mexican town. There was obviously a metalwork artist in residence, as every street had a cool metalwork street sign, with a coyote or cactus or something on it. I really liked those signs, AND there were a ton of motorcyclists cruising around. I apparently, as a convertible driver, was welcome into their ranks. “I’ve got a convertible, too!” says one of the silver ponytail guys gathered at the gas station. And, I often got the little hand wave off to the side and down a bit that is typically reserved for their own kin. Maybe it was just the camaraderie of being out on those lonely roads together. I mean, I guess you don’t really find yourself in Tatum if you’re not on a proper road trip.
Leaving Roswell, I entered the part of New Mexico that I love the best. Crazy cactus forests and gorgeous vistas of the mountains in the distance. I drove through Lincoln, “the home of Billy the Kidd” and that was not only beautiful country (by now I was in the foothills of those distant mountains,) but it had this great western frontier feel to it. I think it’s a very well-preserved historic town. You really feel like you stepped back in time a bit. Plenty of signs to let you know what you’re seeing, but no gas stations to sell you trinkets. I stopped in Capitan for some New Mexican food, which I had been craving all day. I ate at El Paisano, a friendly family-run restaurant, with a somewhat upscale decor and the prices to go with it. It wasn’t outrageous, but I think my lunch (with water) was over $10. I got a sampler-type lunch with a couple of enchiladas and a taco and maybe something else. The sauces were great and definitely took care of my craving. It was very good, but not outstanding, and I would probably try a different restaurant the next time I roll through. When I left, I stopped next door at Calamity Jane’s for a cup of coffee, and I have to say that it was the best cup of coffee I had on this trip (and I drank plenty.)
I stopped at the Valley of Fires Recreation Area to take some pictures. I will definitely come back here to camp sometime – I bet I’d be the only camper there, and the terrain is other-worldly. I love how you can see that the rock was once all melty and now it’s dotted with a variety of cacti and some shrub that smelled really nice. The rest of the way to Socorro was very pretty. Once I got there, I had to make a decision about whether I was going to hit the interstate or continue on these smaller roads. Since I’d been going 70 mph pretty much the whole way (and that’s about as fast as I want to go,) I figured I’d stay off the interstate. And, if I went west on 60, then I could check out the Very Large Array, you know, from the movie Contact with Jodie Foster?
As I approached the Very Large Array, it started sprinkling. I could see that there were storms ahead of me in the distance, and the lightning in the clouds made for a fabulous light show. It seemed an appropriate background for the search for extraterrestrial life. I was impressed with how large the radio antennas were and amazed at how vast an expanse of land they cover. I didn’t see them all clustered together like they were in the movie, but maybe I was just in the wrong area.
Then, I entered the storms. I have never driven through the desert in the rain before, and it was spectacular! I think this might be the most memorable part of the trip for me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take many pictures because I didn’t want to get my camera wet and also, I was a bit frightened, so my adrenaline was pumping and my hands were clenched on the steering wheel. All of a sudden, the parched desert turned into a giant river. The washes that I’ve never seen wet were full and flowing over the road. I was hydroplaning every few hundred feet and I couldn’t see the white lines in the road, my visibility was so limited. Thunder and lightning. What a thrill! I was alone on this long, lonely stretch of road for about an hour and a half, going about 50 mph. And, while a little scary, it was really beautiful. All of the big cracks in the desert ground turned into miniature canyons with miniature rivers carving through them. Little waterfalls everywhere. It was really cool. A side of the desert I’d never seen.
I finally made my way to I-40 (yawn) and to Vegas. I stopped briefly at some big store near the Petrified Forest and stretched my legs and looked at rocks. Later, I could see the lights of Vegas reflected in the clouds from about 100 miles away. I noticed the light emanating from the top of the Luxor at about 50 miles away. The Hoover Dam was under construction or something, so that was really slow-going. I would have enjoyed the opportunity to slow down and enjoy the view, but it was almost 3am and I had been on the road for about 16 hours. Ugh. Here’s the view from the hotel window at the Excaliber.