I was up several times in the night. I made a note to get more bug spray.
I slept for about 8 hours and woke up at 5:40 AM Thursday, September
5th. The breeze was chilly. The sunrise hid behind some clouds, but
it came out blazing. I cooked some breakfast and boiled water for tea,
a civilized way to get up in the morning. Except for the mosquitoes, the
Homolovi campground was a nice place. Where were they coming from? It
was a desert, for crying out loud.
I took a shower, brushed my teeth and changed into some clean clothes.
Before leaving the campground, I stopped at the dumpster and threw away
the camp chair that broke on the playa. I shooed a stowaway mosquito out
a window as I got on Interstate 40. It was four hours to Albuquerque. There
was one pickup at Jackrabbit Junction. A train loaded down with shipping
containers was eastbound parallel to the highway.
|It was right at 8 AM when I pulled over at the Geronimo Trading Post.
I couldn’t remember ever stopping there before. It had an extensive gift
shop and a large display of petrified wood. I bought a Christmas ornament.
||It was 8:26 when I went through Holbrook. Dinosaur statues stood guard
outside the Hopi Trading Center. Construction slowed traffic down near
the Painted Desert Indian Center, across the highway from Stewart’s. Three
big black birds sat on a sign watching the progress. My sunburned arms
were peeling; I needed to put more aloe on them. It was 9:38 when I crossed
the border into New Mexico. A sign for a Gallup motel advertised “No Train
Noise.” I drove on into the mountains and pulled over for a pit stop at
the Continental Divide.
On the Mexican radio station, the news was in English. It faded away
by the time I got to Grants, where I could only find Christian stations,
country western stations, or Christian country western stations. The Sun
was bright when I pulled off the highway at Exit 108. I wanted to check
out the Dancing Eagle Casino, where I almost stayed for the night. The
RV park was simply a parking lot, no trees, no shade, but it was within
walking distance of the casino. I treated myself to lunch in the restaurant.
I had the pork chops & scrambled eggs special, and it was really good.
I would eat there again.
Back on the road, it was 49 miles to Albuquerque. There were lots of vehicles
stopped at Laguna Pueblo buying goods. There always seemed to be construction
around the Route 66 Casino. It was just after 1 PM (Nevada time) when Albuquerque
came into view. I got off I-40 and headed north on Interstate 25. The highway
was eight lanes wide until I got out of town. This was a highway I’d never
been on before. Traffic was pretty steady. Big industrial sites lined the
highway. All the housing additions were built adobe style. Outside of town,
dry, rolling hills had scattered houses. A dark ridge to the west gave
way to dark mountains. Steep grades rose to greet me. Traffic got heavy.
I passed a truck with a smiley face on the back; one of its tires was flat.
The road topped off and headed down into a wide valley.
I found myself wandering around residential streets, up and down hills
and down twisty roads for a half hour. Finally, I got back on a highway
headed south, and was lucky to spot a sign for the Plaza. I passed the
emerald lawns of the Veteran’s Cemetery, a green oasis among the somber
tones of the city.
||At Exit 282, I got off an headed north on Highway 285 into Santa Fe.
I passed a light rail commuter system called the Rail Runner. There were
several places I wanted to see in Santa Fe. I had a map. It was a busy,
modern city, with KFCs, McDonalds, and a coffee shop called Pony Espresso.
I figured the Plaza would be the easiest to find, so I headed that way.
I made the mistake of thinking the streets would be laid out logically,
but Santa Fe had been around for hundreds of years, and had tons of short,
narrow streets that made navigation for strangers a nightmare. I found
myself on a highway headed north out of town. When I found an exit, it
did not lead to any place where I could get back on the highway.
Going down the tight, congested streets, I spotted an empty parking
place and took it. Luckily, there was still 45 minutes on the meter. Downtown
Santa Fe was like a college town, with lots of young people on bikes, tourists,
and folks with backpacks. There were plenty of homeless people in the parks,
too. I headed for what I thought was the Loretto Chapel. It turned out
to be Mission of San Miguel. Built around 1610, San Miguel is the oldest
church in the United States. It was designated a National Historic Landmark
in 1968. I took a moment to get my bearings, then turned north. A block
and a half down the street, the gothic lines of the Loretto Chapel came
into view. I paid a small fee and went inside.
|The interior was beautiful. The staircase itself is a wonder. I remembered
the family trip we took, way back when I was just a wee lad—we came here.
I don’t remember much more than not being able to see much over the pews,
but I remembered the staircase. It was hard to believe how small
the chapel really is, considering all the detail and workmanship. Even
with the choir loft, it couldn’t hold more than 100 people. The carvings
and stained glass were inspiring. It was truly a labor of love.
Surrounded by familiar symbols of my youth, I felt at peace. It reminded
me of a simpler time, when the world made sense and there was order in
the universe. I wondered if other people felt the same way. I told the
man outside it was just as I remembered it from when I was a boy. “That’s
our goal,” he said.
I walked through the gift shop, and asked the sales lady for directions
to the Santa Fe Plaza. It was just a couple of blocks away. It, too, was
much smaller than I remembered it, not even the size of a football field.
The view was disrupted because of some kind of festival they were having.
The area was choked with booths, sales people and tents. I remembered walking
through the Plaza when I was a little kid. A boy not much younger than
me came up and asked if he could shine my shoes. When he saw my tennis
shoes, he left disappointed. I rememberd recognizing the Plaza in a scene
during the movie "Billy Jack" when I first saw it years back. I wandered
around, but didn’t stay long. It was already mid-afternoon, and I had a
long way to go. A nice lady at Red River Mercantile gave me directions
back to the highway. When I got back to my car, the meter still had 1 minute
left. I didn’t see half the things I wanted to see in Santa Fe, but I figured
it would just be stuff to see next time. (I was saying that a lot this
I circled around the narrow streets and made it back to main road. I stopped
for $30 gas. The girl at the counter got mixed up and thought I was already
pumping the gas. No, I’m right here, I said. She even went outside
to be sure I wasn’t there. It was hard to get turned back onto the main
road. Everyone in Santa Fe drove with big city impatience. Interstate 25
was clear when I got back on the highway, headed north. I had never been
in this part of New Mexico before. The mountains were very impressive.
Many had the shape of volcanic cones. It was like I’d crossed over into
Colorado. It was 61 miles to Las Vegas.
||The road had many hard grades, and Satori was not liking them at all.
High bluffs loomed past Glorieta. The mountains were beautiful, covered
in cedar forests. It was kind of a surprise to see that much forest. Traffic
was very light.
I passed San Jose at 4:45 (Nevada time), right before crossing the
lazy Pecos River. The rest area at Mile Marker 325 had no facilities, or
tables. I passed shallow ponds of muddy water.
|At pointy Starvation Peak, the highway turned north.
My goal for that day was Clayton, New Mexico, but I figured out I was
not going to make it before dark. I had already been on the road for 9
hours. I was afraid I had miscalculated the distance across New Mexico.
To be fair, the mountains were an obsticle, and I spent way more time in
Santa Fe than I intended. I needed to find a place for the night.
I had not seen any RV parks since leaving Santa Fe. Just past Tecolote,
I passed the exit for Santa Rosa. All roads led to Santa Rosa, in New Mexico,
There was some road construction at Las Vegas, “Home of the Cardinals,”
so I pulled over to check my bearings. My smartphone wasn’t finding any
RV parks nearby... but just north of Las Vegas was little Storrie Lake
State Park. I had not planned to stop there, and indeed had never heard
of it, but at that moment it sounded pretty good. I exited the interstate
and headed north, but it soon became apparent I was on the wrong side of
the highway. I backtracked and went through the city of Las Vegas. It was
a big, busy town, but traffic was polite on the wide streets. It took a
while to find the park, because there were no signs for it until you were
barely a mile away. I stopped at the Walmart for some supplies.
The Sun was very low in the sky when I found the park. There were still
people at the visitor center. They were very friendly. I was relieved they
had open campsites. A non-hookup site was only $10 for the night. Several
sites with covered picnic tables faced the lake. Pit toilets were across
a wide gravel lot. There were no showers. I didn’t think I could go any
further. I drove 428 miles that day, but calculated I only traveled an
average of 47 miles per hour all day. The mountains slowed me down.
I set up my stove and cooked a big pot of soup. The water faucet at my
site didn’t work, but I found one that did, so I was able to wash up. Fed
and cleaned, I tried to relax as darkness fell. There were several other
campers at the park that evening. One looked like they’d been there a while;
they had tarps pulled up over their campsite. I called home. As it got
dark, everything slowed down. Even traffic on the road next to the park
stopped. A guard light lit up the gravel lot, so it never got completely
dark, but I was able to curl up in the shadows and find some peace.
Last updated: September, 2013