I got on Interstate 25 and headed north towards Albuquerque. There were clouds in the east, obscuring the dawn. To the west, all but the peak of a mountain was obscured by low-lying clouds. The drive was quiet and peaceful. I watched horses prancing through a field as sunbeams poked their way through the clouds. The road climbed in gradual, easy grades. Sandy hills turned rocky and lunar as I drove into Valencia County, New Mexico. The eastern horizon was a ring of mountaintops. On the radio, some DJ's were talking about "girl crushes," and insisted it was normal –and not gay, at all, no– for a female to have a crush on another female. There were some lush crops beside the road as the outskirts of Albuquerque came into view. I'd never gone through Albuquerque from the south before. It took much longer to get through the metropolitan area that way. At 8:36, I merged over to Interstate 40 and headed east. On a maintenance road, I saw several emergency vehicles surrounding an accident. One car looked flattened, like it had been stomped on by some giant.
Once I got past the mountains east of Albuquerque, the skies began to immediately clear. The interstate took me past rolling hills. In my rear view mirror, the peaks were shrouded in mists. I found a radio station playing the greatest hits of the 1970's. There was a roadside park under construction; crews were building it to look like adobe ruins. It was on Interstate 40 that Satori clicked over 150,000 miles. That's a lot of mileage for one car, and Satori wasn't new when I got her. I couldn't help but wonder how many more trips she had in her, and if this was the last of our wacky adventures.
Down the road, I stopped in Santa Rosa for some gas. One station was selling unleaded for $3.04, but when I couldn't get any service I just left. A station two blocks away had gas on sale for $3.09, and it didn't look like it would get any better anytime soon. A fierce headwind met me as I got back on the interstate. I had trouble keeping up to the speed limit. The flat top of Tucumcari Mountain came into view. Beyond, the landscape flattened out into wide grasslands, much like what I'd seen the first day of my trip in the Oklahoma panhandle. I was back in the High Plains. The road briefly dropped into a shallow canyon, but once past that the landscape resumed it's normal programming of vast flatness. Sky and land blended together at the hazy horizon. A little over two hours past Albuquerque I crossed the border into Texas, and back into the Central Time Zone.
Rolling into Amarillo, I passed Cadillac Ranch, which I visited back in 2003. It had been a long trip, but there was one more place I wanted to stop. At Exit 75, I turned off the interstate and doubled back to a Texas legend, the Big Texan restaurant. I figured I deserved a good meal, anyway. The Big Texan is famous for it's free steak dinner challenge: dinner is free if you can eat a 72-ounce steak in one hour. How big is 72 ounces of steak? It's the size of a catcher's mitt! It's not just the steak, either. Challengers have to eat the salad and the baked potato, too. It's a daunting, intimidating piece of meat. Still, sometimes up to three people a day come in to take the challenge. The waitress told me about a 110-lb. Woman who ate her steak dinner in about a half hour. One man came all the way from Egypt. Another man didn't even bother using a knife and fork– he just picked up the steak in his hands and finished it off in 20 minutes. As I was sitting there, a man from Illinois stepped up to take the challenge. The restaurant has a little stage contestants have to sit on when they eat, to deter cheating. It was sporting of them to allow the man to cut up his meat first before starting the clock, which must save precious time. I didn't take the challenge myself. I ordered the 10-oz. sirloin. I asked for steak sauce, but I didn't need any. It was just about the best steak I'd had in a long time. Perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned, tender and robust, every bite was a joy. Expensive, but worth every penny. The man from Illinois was still eating when I left, but he was off to a good start. Outside, the sky had grown overcast, pale blue with white highlights. I was kinda hoping for some rain, to help wash some of the playa off the van. Gas was $2.89 a gallon in Amarillo.
on Interstate 40 heading east, I watched the old Route 66 as it followed
along the south side of the highway. Sometimes it would veer off and go
through one of the little Texas towns, but then it would come back again.
At Exit 96, I passed some cars half-buried in the earth, kind of like Cadillac
Ranch, but without the P.R. Right after 4 PM, the big cross at Groom came
into view. The road wound around some shallow canyons, one of which had
a little brush fire going. At Shamrock, I got some gas at $2.99 a gallon.
It was getting late in the day. At 5:25, I crossed the border into Oklahoma.
It was a good thing I was almost home. I was very tired. Patches of blue
sky appeared as the sun got low in the west. I passed a big windmill farm
near Weatherford. Right before hitting the Oklahoma City limits, I had
to turn my lights on. The sun was a big orange ball in my rear view mirror.
I sent text messages telling people I was almost home. A quick zip up the
Turner Turnpike, and I was back in Tulsa. It was 78 degrees in Broken Arrow.
At 9:39 PM, I rolled up into my driveway.
My trip to Burning Man was over. I'd traveled 3,922 miles in 13 days. My family was happy to see me home again. I didn't even bother unpacking. I just kicked off my shoes and relaxed. I went on the Internet, and posted that I had returned home safely. It felt so good to be back in my own bed again.
Tucumcari, New Mexico
The Big Texan
|All original content (c)opyright 2005 by Tim Frayser
Last updated: February, 2006