Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Mustang is a peculiar kind of time machine


I bet you think this post starts in the morning with me complaining further about this godforsaken campsite! Well, you’re wrong. It starts at 4:15 AM with me complaining about this godforsaken campsite. Though I guess this part really wasn’t their fault.

I went to bed early, prepared for a nice long snooze, and was awoken at 4:15 AM by the wind whipping my tent sideways as rain came down like tiny bullets. Fortunately (still), my tent is quite waterproof and very wind-resistant. But remember, I was camped in the middle of a field with no shelter in any direction… describing the noise as “loud” is like describing Jane’s exhaust sound as “mild”. Pretty impossible to sleep when the tent keeps whipping around, so I just picked my book back up and read for however long it took for the storm to calm. Then it was back to bed with me!

Near as I can tell it rained steadily all night, because when I woke up the entire campground was a massive muddy mess. Good thing I put my tent on the patch of grass! At least I did that one thing right. Jane had, of course, protected all of my stuff so it was quite dry. But it was still covered in mud because the rain had hit the ground so hard that it slung little bits of mud up and onto everything. Ugh. Useless!

I scrapped making my own breakfast and went inside their cafĂ© to make someone else cook me something. I tracked mud everywhere and almost felt bad about it, but I was pretty grumpy at that point. I’m pretty sure I had part of a thornbush stuck to my leg. I did my best to be pleasant, and I think they felt bad for me because they were super quick on the service and they let me linger over three cups of tea while I charged up my phone. Their pancakes and hashbrowns were pretty awesome too.  

I headed back to camp and started putting things up, somewhat appeased and thankful that at least it wasn’t raining anymore. So it started raining again. Hard.

Thoroughly ruffled, I ended up loading my gear and an extra few gallons of rainwater into Jane. I was soaked and bedraggled and my shoes were so muddy that I had to drive barefoot. I had a five hour drive home through an endless rainstorm with a vintage car, and I had to do the whole thing wet and tired and cranky.

And yet as soon as I got onto the asphalt, everything seemed to melt away. As always it was just me and Jane. The windshield wipers beat steadily as the motor – always reliable to a fault, even while suffering from undiagnosed issues – hauled us tirelessly down the blacktop towards the horizon. The exhaust hummed happily in countermeasure to the howling wind, and the radio dribbled out some appropriately laid-back tunes that I could almost hear. I forgot that I was wet, and nevermind the fact that I was getting wetter because I had the window cranked down and my arm hung out into the storm. I forgot that anything had been bothering me. I forgot that I might be cold, or tired, or achey, or anything else. None of that matters once you’re in the driver’s seat of a vintage Mustang. Sometimes I think that I could probably break all four limbs and still feel completely fine once behind the steering wheel.

Cruising down the highway in that car is like hopping in an exceptionally well-designed time machine. Not the kind that takes you back into the past – though it should, since the whole car still retains a very 60’s feel – but the kind that takes you into the future while showing you the amazing sights along the way. You kind of pop in and out of awareness based on the beauty of your surroundings. If there’s something to see, you’ll notice it. But if there’s nothing to see you just sit back and keep going on and on and on and then somehow, some way, you’ve arrived at your destination. It’s always a bit surprising when you get there.

I’ve found out from experience that I need to set the GPS before I get on the road. Jane’s time machine effect sometimes really gets a hold of me and if I don’t have a GPS telling me where I’m supposed to go, I’ll just keep following the road until it ends or I get low on gas. I’ve ended up a hundred miles out of my way before. I just get really into a zenned out frame of mind and just… go.

One day, I’d like to take a road trip where I don’t have a destination in mind. I really think I would end up in some amazing places. But for now I’ve got a time frame, so I do my best to stick to it so I can see what I think seems the most interesting.

And so this trip has quietly drawn to a conclusion, ending with me pulling into my driveway in Austin sopping wet, thoroughly disheveled, and once again all in one piece mostly due to the help of friends and my fifty-year-old car’s seeming inability to quit. I’ve had a blast this trip but now I’m ready for some quality R&R. Jane is now hanging out in the garage taking a much-needed rest of her own, waiting for me to get off my butt to clean her up. Hopefully I’ll figure out what all the smoking is about too sometime soon. I’m sure it’ll be ridiculous, whatever it is. And that’s cool with me.

Until next time… Kelly signing off.

** Addendum: I will try to post a few other updates in the near future as pictures from other people trickle in to me - so keep an eye out for a bunch more awesome Reno pictures when I get my hands on them! **

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

I really wish Texans didn't pronounce "Guadalupe" as "gwahd-ah-loop"


I woke up bright and early so I could pack up my stuff and head to Guadalupe Mountains National Park! I was feeling pretty hiking-deficient at this point in my trip. Usually by now I’ve gone around a bunch of cool places and hiked my boots off, but time has just not been quite on my side this trip. But that’s okay! I saved this whole day for hiking.

Guadalupe Mountains NP is actually quite a long drive away from Carlsbad, as you have to go on this long roundabout road to get to the hiking side. I was really excited to see what “the Guads” had to offer since I have been here before but only on a class field trip. I’ve never been on any of the more touristy hikes so while I’m somewhat familiar with the nature of the back country areas (cactuses, cliffs, and more cactuses, rooted on some really awesome preserved ancient reef complexes) I haven’t seen any of the things that usually show up in the photographs.

A nice view of Texas's El Capitan (which is of course superior to California's El Capitan, if you ask Texans)

Anyways, you have to go into Texas to get to the Guads, which is kind of confusing because it crosses another time zone but for some reason they keep New Mexico time? This whole trip has been disorienting from the time side of things, really.

I stopped by the Visitor Center to get my customary sticker to put on the road map of the US that I have mounted on a sunshade for Jane’s rear window. Super bummed out when I was informed that their bookstore has closed, which means no stickers! Ahhh!

I endured this overwhelming hardship with as much grace as I could muster and asked about good hikes. My geologist friends have recommended the Permian Reef Trail to me, but that’s a long day hike and the weather was pretty overcast. I figured that if I was going to bother to hike all the way to the top of the Permian Reef Trail, I should probably do it when the weather’s nice. So I put that one on hold for next time. Instead I chose to go to Devil’s Hall, the Frijole Ranch, and a couple of springs whose names I’ve now forgotten.

Jane really starting to look like a mudball now! To my eye, at least...

Devil’s Hall was, at first, a pretty big disappointment just because the weather was crappy. It’s one of those places that you can tell is really beautiful when the light is right. The trail starts off nicely in the foothills and gives you the opportunity to check out the peaks from enough distance to appreciate them, as well as the opportunity to see some wildlife. Mostly I saw lizards.

Then it dips down into the wash in the center of the canyon and from there you hike a couple of miles on loose river rock. This is less than pleasant if the rocks are a little slippery, say… after it’s been raining off and on the past few days. I just watched my step and took it slow.

Eventually the wash narrows and steepens and you start to see really awesome limestone outcrops. I’ll try to keep it light on the geology, but basically the outcrops consist of a bunch of different separate layers of limestone, usually up to about a foot thick, with a “hummocky” texture (instead of just being flat, the layers are kind of wavy and bubbly looking). At first they’re just neat to look at, but further up on the trail the layers are eroded into natural stairways that you climb up and over. Super cool!

A very precariously perched tree

Neat nodules in the top layer of this bench - infilled burrows? Not sure...

The trail culminates in a “hallway” of limestone, appearing manmade (or devil-made, I guess) due to its square-cut nature and smoothed walls. But really it just eroded this way! I’m not entirely sure why it’s eroded here, but it is likely either due to a river or some kind of fracturing. Regardless, it’s awesome. You should go see it, even if you’re not a geology person.

After I poked around out there some, I realized that I had taken way too long on the rocks coming out and had cut my time close for the other trails I wanted to do! So I hoofed it back down the canyon. Fortunately, by the time I got out of the wash, the clouds had cleared, giving me my first good look at the mountains.

But first, look at this silly bush growing upside down

Weird tree - couldn't tell if it was a live tree and a dead tree twisted together, or if just half of the tree was dead, or what! Like I said, weird.

Some days you just don't know what picture of your car to feature so you just feature both. I like the mud splatters.

I snapped some shots and then headed on to the Frijole Ranch, location of an old homestead and a bunch of life-saving springs. The old homestead built in the 1870’s is actually still standing. Now normally when I hear “1870’s” I immediately envision a run-down shack that was falling into the ground even when it was built over a hundred years ago. So imagine my surprise when I came upon the Frijole Ranch House – a beautiful home even by today’s standards.

The house is situated right next to Frijole Springs, which pump out 6 gallons a minute. The homesteaders dammed the springs and built little aqueducts for irrigation and to direct water under storehouses to keep produce cold. Clever! Though the homestead was inhabited up to the 1940’s, most of the changes were not to the spring irrigation setup so much as the outbuildings, which were built as needed to accommodate more people. There’s also an orchard out back that the runoff from the spring feeds. It’s a very unexpected oasis in the middle of the desert scrub. It would have been interesting to live here “back in the day” I’m sure!

After checking out the ranch I wandered on to the other springs. There are 5 springs in the general area, making it a hotspot for wildlife and settlers alike (well, the settlers aren’t here now, but I guess tourists replaced them in that capacity). Kind of hard to photograph as they are mostly surrounded by extremely dense thickets of tall grass. Not that I blame the grass, of course.

A baby lizard that kept wagging its tail at me

Heh, guess what they call this mountain? I bet you know.

Having seen more than enough lizards and being pleased with the hiking I had done, I headed off for my final campsite in Fort Stockton. The problem with living in Austin, you see, is that it’s surrounded by the rest of Texas. And out of the rest of Texas, west Texas in particular is terrible to drive through. I’m sure I mentioned this on my way out. Well, I got smart on the way back and decided that if I could make it partway through the horrors of west Texas, the final day of driving would not feel nearly so awful. So I elected to drive two and a half hours from Guadalupe Mountains NP to Fort Stockton.

Overall, I’d have to say that was a pretty terrible decision. Not because the idea behind it was bad – it definitely wasn’t – but because Fort Stockton is mostly an RV type of place. All of the oil field workers set up their rigs in the RV sites and stay there. And that’s fine! RVs have never bothered me. But it didn’t occur to me that RVs were so prevalent, and that Fort Stockton was so remote and non-touristy, that they would not entertain tent campers very frequently.

And so it was that when I rolled up to the one RV place in town that offered tent “campsites”, I found myself sorely disappointed. It was, by far, the worst campsite I’ve ever been to (and I certainly shouldn’t have paid anything for it). I was directed to a field next to their dog park where I could just set up “wherever” as long as I didn’t drive on the grass because “the sprinklers come on”. The field was half-grassed (and half-assed) so I just plopped my tent down in the grassiest part, figuring that it would help keep rain from pooling under the tent. There was no fire pit. There was no picnic table. Definitely no water. There was nothing. Just a field and Jane, parked haphazardly on an area that I’m pretty sure counted as “the grass” but that didn’t actually have any vegetation growing on it. Fringing the grass was a ring of those stupid spikey horrendous thorn bushes that populate so much of Texas, which I consistently stubbed my toe on as I unloaded my stuff. The campsite owners asked me if I was sure I wanted to camp in a tent because it was supposed to rain. I figured it didn’t matter if it rained on me the last night because I could just drive back home and dry my stuff out there.

I found a picnic table a ways off behind a playground set so I set up my grill there and tried to make hot dogs. I haven’t had hot dogs in years and really suddenly had a craving for one, so I made one! The wind was whipping but I used a pan to keep the hot dog from flying off of the grill. I then ate it and decided I should make two more. I have now eaten enough hot dogs to last me for another few years.

 After my quite satisfying dinner I packed all of my stuff back up – not wanting to get it stolen off of the random picnic table I had commandeered – and stashed it under Jane to keep it dry. Not sure why I didn’t just put it back in the car, but I was just not enjoying the campsite “ambiance” and all I wanted to do was get in my tent. So I did. Jane would keep my stuff safe for me anyways.

This post ends with me in a tent in the middle of a field, snuggled in my sleeping back enjoying a book while Jane watches over me – protectively, I’d like to think, though likely more in the capacity of a bully who’s claimed possession of a particularly entertaining target. The next post will start somewhat sooner than expected…

Dragon Slayer


Well, I had a bunch of options of places to go this morning. And I chose to… do none of them! Originally, I had planned to head down to White Sands National Monument. But a friend of mine recommended that I also visit the Sacramento Mountains while down in that area, and so I figured I would instead save that part of the world for next year’s trip to Reno. I had planned on being home on the 14th, which would give me plenty of time to check out another destination, but a glance at the weather radar told me that I wanted to get home earlier. A depression promising monsoon-like rains was forecast to hit my area of the country pretty soon, and I really dislike camping in rain. It’s not so much the tent getting rained on that bothers me – my tent is good and watertight – but packing up wet stuff is pretty awful. Particularly when the wet stuff then has to sit in your 50-year-old car for days on end.

So I made the decision to just carry through to Carlsbad for the night, where I would stay before going to Guadalupe Mountains National Park the next day. Boring decision, I know, but you try getting rained on while trying to cook hamburgers for three days straight! Ugh. It’s just as bad as having the sprinklers turn on and spray directly into your grill when you’re trying to make dinner (which is something that happened in Holbrook, by the way).

Anyways, so I just headed along east on the now-very-familiar stretch of Route 66 / I-40 that I seem to occupy so often these days. I might as well live in Albuquerque, really. Fortunately the views on the highway are quite nice! I wonder how many times I’ve taken pictures of these rocks now.

This picture is probably the most accurate one that I have of the red rocks of the southwest this trip - camera has been acting up but it got the colors in this one pretty good.

Just liked the giant flag with the awesome rocks/mountains and clouds in the background. Unfortunately, this semi truck kind of obscured the best part. Oh well.

Speed limit sign prominently displayed and likely summarily ignored.

Every single one of these billboards is for the same place! Talk about overkill advertising. 

I got on down to Roswell, NM and figured I’d stop for a bit as I’ve never really stopped there before. For those not in the know, Roswell is one of the more peculiar places in New Mexico – and New Mexico has a lot of peculiar places! It’s a town entirely overrun by alien memorabilia and conspiracy theorists. Apparently back in 1947, some of the townspeople saw some aliens crash-land and they just never let it go. Even more than half a century later, these people are still on about aliens all the time! Nuts. I was going to stop in their official town alien museum – the International UFO Museum and Research Center – but alas, when I got there it was closed for the day! It’s definitely on my list of places to visit though. I just really want to know what kind of research they do there.

Disappointed in the lack of alien sightings (outside the hundreds of statues scattered all over the town, that is), I scooted on to Carlsbad to make myself some more hamburgers. Yes, when I’m on the road, I will eat that tin foil hamburger meal literally every day of the week quite happily. I think I ate it almost exclusively for two months straight back in 2014 and I still wasn’t tired of it when I got back home. Call me low maintenance! Anyways, that’s about it for the day – short post I know, but really now I’m just trying to beat the storms.
Like this storm over here.

And that one over there.

Oh, and some of you who are more observant (or obsessive) may be wondering why the hell I named this post “Dragon Slayer”. ‘Maybe,’ you may be thinking, ‘it has to do with how Jane fearlessly tackles any challenges!’ And that would make sense, but you’d be wrong. No, this has to do with one of the odder things about owning this car. This has to do with Jane’s propensity for destroying dragonflies.

I’m fairly sure that we may be responsible for some minor decimation of dragonfly populations, if not full-on genocide in some areas. I think that killing dragonflies must satisfy some destructive need that the car has. Or maybe it’s just entertaining to see how grossed out I am when I have to clean up the mess. Whatever the reason, when I stopped for the night in Holbrook, Jane was proudly displaying no less than five dragonfly corpses. Dragonfly wings sprouted from every gap in every body panel like trophies.

It was (and still is) truly disgusting.

UGH. Giant, headless, and still moving.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A distinctly multicultural day


I left for Canyon de Chelly in the morning and went to Justin’s Horse Tours for a horseback tour of the canyon. There were a dozen or so Europeans in the parking lot when I pulled up, and they were immediately all over Jane. Talk about instant celebrity! Not a single angle was left unphotographed. Good thing that Jane’s working on her “grungy road warrior” look.

"When Europeans Attack!" 
Anyways, my guide was late and we ended up getting started on a two-hour ride at 9:45. No problemo, as I had to be back by noon to get on the road to hit Flagstaff by 2PM (it’s a 3 hour drive, but that pesky time change thing would finally work in my favor). We hopped on our horses and I found out that I’d be getting a private tour, which was awesome! My little pony’s name was Coco.

We headed up the canyon and saw some really awesome stuff. The views were great and there were some really interesting pictographs to check out. Further up the canyon, there was a cool ruin. The weather was perfect – partly cloudy and not too warm – and the horses were well-behaved. It was pretty muddy though as a result of recent rainstorms that had washed a lot of sediment down the canyon. Not an issue as the horses were surefooted even in the clay.

A cool notch in the rock about 20 feet off the ground - lots of neat pictographs!

Not sure what the guy is doing lying down

We were moving so slowly that another horse tour passed us... oops

See that little notch in the rock about halfway up the picture? Look what's inside...

How the heck did those people get up there to draw these pictures, and why??
Awesome dwellings off the ground. They think that perhaps the canyon used to be filled up to that level (making the dwellings actually on ground level), but that erosion had removed a lot of sediment and brought ground level down to present levels.

Yep, there's me.

My guide, Dennis, had grown up in the canyon in the 70’s and remembered well the transition from more traditional Navajo lifestyles to more “mainstream” habits. Apparently, most of the families have moved out of the canyon into nearby Chinle, which gives them better access to food, water, housing, schools, and hospitals. But some still follow the old ways, at least for part of the year. We passed by a lot of fenced off portions of the canyon in which herds of horses grazed, and saw some nice little houses perched in areas high enough to not be washed away by flash floods. Dennis also told me about his experiences as the president of the local Navajo rodeo association – hard to believe that this man, who was in his late 60’s, was still riding bulls and organizing rodeos to boot! Very cool stuff.

We got caught up in chatting and ended up going over our ride time by a whopping 45 minutes! Oops. We got back to the paddocks at 12:45 and I was a little worried that I would be way too late to Flagstaff to meet up with my friend. Fortunately, I own a muscle car with a healthy American V8 in it…

Jane lying in wait among the trees

Coming into Flagstaff I hit the worst rainstorm I have ever been in. Considering that I used to live in Wilmington, NC (known for being very monsoon-y), that’s saying something! The rain went from a sprinkle to a full deluge in about 5 feet flat, causing everyone on the road to slam on their brakes and try to avoid fishtailing in the incredible amount of water suddenly on the road. A bit hair-raising, but Jane’s tires are meant for rain and she handled it no problem. And because I am not originally from a desert state, I have no issues driving in the rain… so we passed everyone else and eventually got out the other side.

Yep, I can see a storm coming alright...

Once in Flagstaff I headed to Galaxy Diner to meet up with Geoffrey, his friend Christine, and two New Zealanders whom they’d met along the way. It’s always funny to me how I can meet someone know only through the Internet and feel like I’ve known them for forever. It’s easy to fall into conversation like old friends that way. So we had some diner food, I had a root beer float, and we chatted about Route 66 travel and cars and future stops and weird things you see on the road. Afterwards we said our goodbyes to the New Zealanders and I took Geoffrey for a ride in Jane. 

Surprisingly, she was on her best behavior and did none of the weird things that she is prone to doing when other people are in the car. We chalked it up to him being a fellow Mustang driver with appropriate levels of reverence for Her Majesty Jane (ha!). He was very, very impressed by her sound (and for good reason – she was sounding pretty good that day). So here’s a couple videos that he took! Apologies for the poor quality, but they were uploaded on a slow connection.

We also found a good spot for a mini photo-shoot, though he was running low on time and Jane was a dusty, dirty mess after hightailing it through the dustbowl of Arizona and then getting rained on.

I returned Geoffrey to his car and said my goodbyes to him and Christine – they were headed on to Needles, CA for the night and I couldn’t delay them any further. But it was really awesome to get to meet them! I just wish that we could have visited for longer. Maybe next time they’re in the States I’ll be on the road again at the same time.

I took off in the direction of Gallup and enjoyed some quality sunny early afternoon Arizona driving. Ther'es just something about driving this stretch of highway late in the day that's just supremely peaceful. Something about the way the light falls across the endless plains and the way the clouds gather on the horizon. It is truly a feeling of having all of the space you could ever need in the world. Always makes me take a few really deep breaths just to appreciate the nice crisp clean air (which is, of course, tinged with more than a little muscle car exhaust). Guess it's really not that clean, but it feels cleaner somehow.


I only made it as far as Holbrook before deciding that I really needed some hamburgers. So I pulled up at the Holbrook KOA and got started on the Hattori special, which my Dad taught me back in 2014 on my first trip. It’s simple – get some aluminum foil, slice up a potato, a carrot, and half an onion, and acquire a hamburger patty or two. Spread some vegetable oil on a sizeable strip of tin foil, layer the potatoes over the foil, sprinkle them with salt, add the hamburgers, sprinkle with more salt and some pepper, add the carrots and onions, and sprinkle THEM with a bit of salt and pepper. Then wrap the whole thing up into a packet, stick it on your grill, and cook it until it smells awesome. That’s all there is to it! Delicious.

It's been a fun day and it is good to kick back and relax now. There's no better sight at the end of a long day than this one: