2011: Texas, New Mexico and Utah

It would get much hotter than this at times….

Hi y’all, hope yer mighty fine – enough of that accent already. Only made 280 of the 580 miles today. The motel we were in didn’t have anyone to check us out till gone 10am, so we did an oil change whilst waiting. Then we dawdled a little as we moseyd down the old highway.

Following the Texas Fort trail so there’s a lot of tempting stops. Arrived in this little town at about 5pm, walked into a huge, real old place – sort of cafe-come local meeting place. J fell in love with the dame at the bar (coffee), I fell in love with the decor and photo ops – so we’re staying the night. So here is a bit of Texas Line Dancing…..

One stop this afternoon, a little man with a big hat asked about the bike. On hearing J’s accent he said, ‘Hey, y’all aint frem around here, are ya?’ ‘No, Christine’s from England, I’m from Denmark’

‘Denmark, that’s near New York, ain’t it?’ I had to bite my cheeks so as to not offend him

As we ride further west, the temperature is soaring – around 100 F today. The green grass of western Texas close to the Gulf, is disappearing rapidly. There’s lots of scrub and cactus and every creek we’ve seen this afternoon has been bone dry.

Treat the earth well, It was not given to you by your parents,It was loaned to you by your children.

American Indian Proverb

Made a stop at Buchanan Dam and was able to walk on ground normally deep underwater. Imagine, there was a lighthouse – deep in the heart of Texas – most unexpected. Was so lovely, I actually got my Nikon out and suffered the scorching heat to go get photos. Normally, I have the little Sony NEX around my neck so I can keep it around my neck and take pics while on the bike. Most of the photos on here are from the Sony. They’re OK, but not brilliant.

New Mexico

In the last post we were in Seminole, Texas. OK town, but it was a Sunday and nothing was open so we had to make do with a Snickers and some water. So when we set off the next morning, breakfast was heavy on my mind. To begin with, we did over sleep a little, waking at 8am. The plan had been to be off by 6am as the terrible heat the day before had made us feel a bit unwell. Not to worry, we must have needed the shut-eye.

Hoping for a Denny’s or even a McDonald’s for something to take away the hunger pangs, we rode west towards the New Mexico border; but there wasn’t an eatery in sight. We crossed over the state line and through the first town of Hobbs

– looks a decent size on the map, should be a Denny’s here… but I guess they must have been off the main drag and through town, because nope, no brekky places. The heat was increasing, as was my thirst and hunger.

After Artesia we headed to Roswell. The Roswell UFO Incident was the recovery of an object that crashed in the general vicinity of Roswell, New Mexico, in June or July 1947, allegedly an extra-terrestrial spacecraft and its alien occupants. Since the late 1970s the incident has been the subject of intense controversy and of conspiracy theories as to the true nature of the object that crashed. The United States military maintains that what was actually recovered was debris from an experimental high-altitude surveillance balloon belonging to a classified program named “Mogul”; however, many UFO proponents maintain that in fact an alien craft and its occupants were captured, and that the military then engaged in a cover up. The incident has turned into a widely known pop culture phenomenon, making the name Roswell synonymous with UFOs. It ranks as the most publicised and controversial of alleged UFO incidents.
Well, Roswell was actually very uninteresting and I only got one (faintly) interesting photo….

(Warning (or apology) there are a lot of spots on some of these photos – dead bugs, dust, and other grunge, sorry, no time to edit)

We carried on. It was 84.3 miles to Fort Sumner. They were a very, very lonely 84.3 miles of high plains, straight roads and – wow, well, opportunity….

Well, what would YOU do?

Bet you’d do this – in England, we call it a TON

A TON (100mph)

Finally, we reached our objective, Fort Sumner.

First stop – the gas station (phew – big relief to find it open as this was a Sunday). We drank about one and a half litres of fluid each then filled up. We asked the guy in the garage about motels; three in town, two mom and pops and a chain – Super 8. He recommended the Billy The Kid Inn so that’s where we went. $40 for a large, uncluttered, exceptionally clean room with all we needed and high-speed, secure internet. Booked two nights – then added another.

Once installed in the motel and unpacked,  we put our gear on and headed the 3 miles to Billy the Kid’s grave. He is buried in a small cemetery – fairly close to one of his victims….

A half mile further down the road was Bosque Redondo.

Fort Sumner was the center of a million-acre reservation known as the Bosque Redondo Indian Reservation. The story of how the U.S. Army forcibly moved the Navajo and Mescalero Apache people from their traditional homelands to the land surrounding this lonely outpost is pivotal to the history of the American West.

During this tragic period of U.S. history, the Navajo and Mescalero Apache Indians were starved into submission and then forced to march hundreds of miles to the Bosque Redondo Reservation. The Navajo call this journey the Long Walk. When they arrived, 9,000 Navajo and Mescalero Apache were spread as far as 20 miles along the banks of the Pecos River. Nearly one-third of the captives died during incarceration.

This experiment in social engineering was doomed to failure from the beginning. The Mescalero Apaches—450 strong—left without asking permission in 1865. The Navajo were held for three more years before the U.S. Government resolved to undo this terrible mistake. General William T. Sherman was sent to Fort Sumner in May of 1868 to negotiate a new treaty. The Treaty of 1868 allowed the Navajo to return to their original homes in the Four Corners Regions and acknowledged Navajo sovereignty.

Bosque Redondo Memorial


On the final  morning here, I went to hunt brekky again. It was a mile to the place and a mile back! The cafe, The Rodeo, was obviously the place for the local ranchers. I listened in to them talking about bulls and pie and bbq.

The next town was Artesia, about 41 miles away. The road began to become more desolate and arid. Nodding Donkeys appeared for miles and miles – appeared – as far as the eye could see; there must be oil in them thar hills – or in this case, plains.

Dust blew across the road and grit got in our eyes.

I glanced over J’s shoulder, watching the miles on the odo tick by. I’m sure the miles grew longer than is normal. Ah – at last 40 – 41 – but hey, not a town in sight!. Then we came to a junction. ‘Artesia, 31 miles’ Oh No!

Someone, somewhere read that map wrong! On and on and on we rode. Another road sign, ‘Artesia – 14 miles’ At that point, I wondered what urine would taste like and J’s shoulder was looking like a likely piece of meat. Mmm – I could just take a chunk of that right now.

The road began to grow buildings and oil-industry machinery began to appear.

Yet not a soul did we see. There were cabins that advertised food and drink, but they were all closed and deserted.

Finally – a town did appear, and, very nice it looked too – but it was still fairly deserted. We rode up and down and finally found a lady loading up her pick-up. We stopped and asked where we could get breakfast. Ah, Ruth’, two blocks thataway.

We found Ruth’s and went in – quite a few vehicles outside – looks promising. Quite a few senior citizens in there too – more and more promising.

no waitress – up to the counter to order. I ordered egg, sausage and toast – and hot tea (you have to specify that or you get iced tea).

J ordered a coffee and a chocolate milkshake (he isn’t a breakfast person)

About 20 minutes later, my tea arrived. I undid the tea-bag envelope and plopped the bag in the cup. Something didn’t fizzle – or look right. I put the tip of my finger in the cup – stone bloody cold – even icy. Argh. I returned to the counter and said, ‘I can’t make tea with ice water’. The Mexican lady had a little difficulty understanding – and was a little gobsmacked when I repeated it in Spanish.

Another 10 minutes passed and my cup – now microwaved to tepid reappeared. Oh well. here comes breakfast, AT LAST.

Bit of a mess with snotty egg and the final crunch came when the flock of flies began to dine along with me. Oh bugger this, and bugger this bloody awful place! I left the meal and went outside, feeling a bit queasy.

J had finished his drinks so off we went to look for a bank and fill the bike up. BUT, there was a saving grace to the town. Some magnificent bronze sculptures celebrating the town’s history of ranching and the oil industry.

29th June – Dis-Arm Yourself, Officer or I’ll Tazer you!

We had enjoyed the peace and quiet of Fort Sumner for two nights and now it was time to get back on the road.

The first road, just side of town, was pretty straight and quiet and we rode the 44 miles to Santa Rosa (still in New Mexico) feeling full of beans and ready for a long days’ ride..

Santa Rosa was a great stop. First a drive (ride) in bank for some cash (no bank that we could find in Fort Sumner)

Next on the agenda was a proper breakfast – and, looky-here… a Denny’s right opposite the bank. Sustaining egg, bacon and hash browns, a couple of cuppas and we’re done. One last thing – fill up with fuel and, fortune smiling again, the gas station was next to Denny’s and, with a convenient right turn right onto -I-40W – the interstate west to Albuquerque. Fine – if a little busy. As you ride this freeway, for much of the time you can see the old R66 running alongside – some parts are still driveable roads – others are merely overgrown old tracks; at one point I noticed two wonderful, derelict old cars abandoned on the Mother Road – oh, my photographer’s heart so wished we could have stopped.

The approach to Albuquerque gradually became a little congested – not too much though. As we turned off on our exit to Bernalillo, I breathed a sigh of relief we didn’t have to negotiate all those flyovers!

We stopped at a gas station just off the ramp but they charged way over the odds for the petrol.

Our next stop was Cuba, New Mexico. I followed the usual routine – climb off bike, remove helmet, root for my plastic bag containing paper, pen and money. Write down the mileage on the odo and the total mileage on the clock. Walk into the gas station – you nearly always have to pay upfront – give them around $15 and then I go and get drinks for the 2 of us whilst J fills up. Once done, I collect my change.

We were now on a Reservation – own laws, own police etc. As I stood at the coffee machine, a Tribal police officer came in. He collected some eats and a drink then went to the counter. The owner of the gas station said – in a serious voice, ” Officer, we cannot allow you in here bearing arms – we sell alcohol. Can you please leave the store and take your firearms out to your vehicle.”

I couldn’t make out what the officer replied – and the store owner continued ragging (it now became clear they were playing out a familiar routine) him about having his guns in the store. The owner’s wife then joined in – ” If you don’t comply, officer, I’ll have to TAZER you”.

Want a free ride in the sheriffs  car?

Next towns were San Isidro, Bloomfield and finally, Aztec.

Aztec, NM

At the start of town was a small motel that looked like our type – mom and pop with direct access to rooms.

The owner came out and said he had a room. He looked like a biker – long hair, bandana and tats. And he was – once. Three years ago, he had been T-boned by a drunk driver; they were both in pick-up trucks. He had to be cut out – the drunk was dead. This guy lost an eye and a lot of the right side of his face, as well as sever damage to his legs.

The owner came out – said he saw us looking at his bike on the CTV. We chatted more with him and he told us the accident had cost him everything – more than $160,000 in medical fees, more in lawyers and still, the case was unresolved.  An autopsy had shown the dead driver was over twice the legal limit but, as the dead person, the law here means the survivor has to bear the brunt of the outcome. He is fighting the case still – it seems so terribly unfair and my heart went out to this really nice guy.

He had been an avid biker – nowadays, he could barely ride. Loss of an eye means that, to see over his right shoulder, he has to twist his head over enough to be able to use his left eye and leaning into a curve to the right is a nightmare – he has no sense of how far over the bike is.

In fact, this was the second instance on this day that the realities of health care in the USA is a dread for the average person. That morning in the motel in Fort Sumner, the wife of the couple had spoken to us at length. They were trying to sell the motel. Her husband had had two strokes and heart surgery. They hadn’t had much in the way of medical insurance and so, all their savings were gone and the motel, which they had built and run for 32 years, needed to be sold to help pay off their debts. What can I say? We criticise the NHS in the UK, but health care is always free and doesn’t bankrupt us.

We booked in, paid up and moved the gear into the room; very clean. Then we took a walk into town and found a Safeway – first one we'[ve seen in the USA, even though we know that Safeway came to the UK from the states. It was a good supermarket and we bought a salad main and a fruit salad for afters – needed some vitamins and a change from the burgers and hot dogs we usually end up with on the road.

Above – Just the job after a hot, dusty ride.

Next morning we visited the Aztec Ruins National Monument. This is a stunningly well-preserved example of ancestral Pueblo architecture, artifacts, and culture. In addition to original masonry walls towering three stories tall, a number of 900-year old wooden roofs are still intact. On the half-mile self-guided tour, visitors have the opportunity to walk through many original rooms. A reconstructed Great Kiva sits in the center of the plaza and provides insight into the ceremonial lives of the ancient people. Aztec Ruins is still a sacred place to the descendants of its builders, including many modern-day Pueblo tribes in New Mexico and Arizona.

Aztec ruins NM

Aztec, NM to Kanab, UT

We left Aztec after seeing the ruins, then returning to the motel to pack the bike up.

Just 10 miles down the road was the fairly large town of Farmington; never have I seen so many car dealerships and scrap yards! It was a little like a hospital – Life (the new cars) and Death (the dumpsters).

The next town was Shiprock – and we could see that from Farmington; that is because the town is named after a huge rock – 1,700 feet high, rising from the desert floor.

Shiprock, NM

As we approached the monolith, a queue of traffic built up behind us… wouldn’t you just know it! So we had to ride on a couple of miles and pull in to the gravelled hard shoulder and wait for the traffic to pass before turning around and heading back to take photos.

Another biker was stopped at the lay-by – his bike was a Buell. He too had stopped to take photos. We discussed the weather to the north. The other guy was very apprehensive at the dark clouds and decided to turn around; he was concerned about the strong winds building.

Mr Buell climbed on his bike and headed back south. I was taking photos when a car pulled in to the lay-by. A Navajo guy leaned over to his open window and said something. I couldn’t hear him through my helmet so he climbed out of his car. He asked which way we were headed and I told him north. He then said he had grown up at the base of Ship Rock Pinnacle – his family raised cattle. Then he asked if I would like to hear a story? A bit confused, I said, yes, OK. He said, ‘I have a story printed on a paper in the boot of my car – I’ll get you a copy’.  Now, this sounds awful – and it was nothing to do with him being an Indian – just the fact he had turned around and driven up next to us. I thought (I am a little ashamed here) that he was going to maybe get a shotgun out! I went to the back of his car to watch him rooting in a big box.

He did have a paper and it was about the rock. He told me more about life living on the reservation and warned me to not speak to strangers as people couldn’t be trusted hereabouts!

He was a very nice guy and, as said, I felt bad at being a bit suspicious. He wanted me to take his photo too.

He said it would be very windy and dusty ahead and to take care then returned to his car and drove off; we climbed on the bike and rode off in the opposite direction.

We looked at the weather and knew the bike was in as good a condition as it could be and that we could rely on it (fingers and legs crossed) and so, decided to continue on-course.

The sky took on a pinky-grey colour and visibility wasn’t great. The wind was rising and, as we rode into it, the bike, and us, were buffeted quite a lot. Clouds of sand obscured visibility – rising like dervishes ahead of us. Tumbleweed flew into us – spiky and crackling dry. The sand hitting my hands felt like red-hot needles.  Our visors were caked in dust. At one point, J pulled off the road and I gave him some bottled water to rinse his eyes out – then they stung like hell for a few minutes.

I took a couple of videos early on, but soon realised it could damage the camera, so turned it off and stuffed it inside my jacket.

This was a long road – around 90 miles – so it was with relief we pulled into Kayenta, Arizona.

First stop – Shepherd’s Eyes. The coffee bar and social gathering place run by a dear friend, Ron Watch, a respected person in the tribal hierarchy of the Navajo Nation.

But hell, it looked kind of closed!

(Excuse all the dust spots)

Where’s Ron Gone?

As we peered through the locked gates and into windows showing empty rooms instead of the lovely coffee shop, a red pick-up pulled in. One of two guys got out – Navajo again.

” Ya need help?” he asked.

“We called to see Ron – do you know him? His place is all closed up”

The man hesitated and then said, “He died”

“WHAT?”

“Yeah, he died – suddenly”

I felt a terrible sadness. I also realised that all the flags in town – The Stars and Stripes, The Arizona flag and the Navajo Nation flag – had all been at half mast.

” Is that why the flags are at half-mast?” I asked, trying not to cry. I thought about the last time year, when we walked in, Ron had a DVD playing in the coffee shop – mine, one I had made after visiting the Custer Battlefield. Ron played it over and over and had been given permission from the council to invite me to a pow-wow. I thought about the little whale we’d posted to him – found in the Azores and carved from whale-bone; he had that hanging at the counter.

He hesitated again. ” Yes”

Oh my God, I said. What happened? Was he ill? Was it sudden?

He shrugged.

“Can you spare 2 dollars?” he asked. A little taken aback, J started to root in his pockets and brought out some notes. Seeing them, the man asked could we spare $5?

Recovering his nouse, J said, no, and gave him $2. The man returned to his pick-up and drove off.

We got on the bike and went to fill up, over the road. I asked if any of the staff knew Ron. The owner said he did. ” Where is Ron?” I asked.

” Oh, he ‘s moved to Phoenix.”

If I could have got ahold of that s-o-b I’d have strangled him! But we were very, relieved to hear Ron is not dead.

The flags were at half-mast because a local police officer had been slain two days earlier.

Some people!

A quick coffee and another look at the map and we returned to the road.

It was about 26 miles to the turn-off, HW 98, that would take us to Page, AZ.

The sky was clear again and it was a pleasant ride through the wonderful desert scenery:

SONY DSC

Next stop was Page, Arizona.

UTAH and on to Kanab

It had been a long ride and we were relieved to arrive in Kanab. Only one motel we wanted to stay in

Wayne and before payment and admin, he passed us a beer and said, ‘Here’s a proper beer, none of the UTAW piss’ (it is against the law to sell beer of more than 3% alcohol in Utah)

And what a warm welcome we got from our old friend, Wayne

As soon as we had unloaded, he took over the State line back into the Arizona and the small town of Fredonia so we could load up on ‘real beer’ – he knew we’d be here fore quite a few days.

We would be able to enjoy cooking our own meals here – on this antiquated and weirdest stove I have ever seen – am all-in-one, 2 electric rings, oven and sink all in the one appliance!

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