Tuesday, October 29, 2013

On the Road: San Angelo, TX, to Winslow, AZ

We’re on the road again. This is our first major trip in our new car. We miss traveling with our trailer, but we enjoy the ease of travel without it.

We’re on our way to Las Vegas, a trip we’ve made numerous times since retiring. This time, though, we’re taking a new route (see map below). Basically, we’re slicing northwest through the center of New Mexico in order to see country we’ve not seen before.

San Angelo, Texas, to Winslow, Arizona
It was drizzling when we left San Angelo at 6:00 AM Monday, October 14, and took US 87 through Big Spring up to Lamesa. It really looked wintry outside, but it wasn’t very cool. After a brief stop at the McDonald’s in Lamesa, we took Texas 137 up to Brownfield, our old shopping town when we lived in nearby Wellman during the mid 1980s.

At Brownfield, we turned due west on US 380, passing through fields of sunflowers, maize, and cotton before leaving Texas behind. Just before reaching the state line, the sun began popping through the clouds, and the day would become sunny and beautiful before we reached our destination.

The highway from Brownfield to Roswell, though only 2-lane, is a good road with good shoulders. As we moved west, the crops gave way to native grass land. Soon we were in Roswell, home of the UFO Museum and site of the mysterious crash of an airborne object in 1947. The road west from Roswell is 4-lane and 70 mph. However about 20 miles out, the highway enters the foothills and the speed limit drops. We would encounter low speed limits throughout the remainder of the day, especially in New Mexico.

We continued west, soon sighting the Sierra Blanca Mountains. At Hondo, the road turns northwesterly and becomes a narrow 2 lane highway with no shoulders. It soon passes through Lincoln, site of the infamous Lincoln County War, which climaxed in 1878 and set Henry McCarty, aka William H. Bonney, on his path with infamy. About 2 years later, he would come to be called by his better known name, “Billy the Kid.” There are numerous historic buildings in Lincoln, most related to the Lincoln County War. For the historian interested in this historic event, the small community is a treasure trove.

The old Lincoln County Courthouse in Lincoln, NM. After freeing himself from his shackles at the top of the interior stairway, young William Bonney shot and killed the deputy guarding him, James Bell. Hearing the shots, deputy Bob Ollinger approached the building from the Wortley hotel, where he was feeding other prisoners. I took this picture from in front of the Wortley. As he approached the building, Bonney stood in an upstairs window hidden by the trees in this photograph. He emptied both barrels of a double-gauge shotgun into Ollinger. It was the Kid's last -- but most spectacular -- escape.
At one time or another, we had traveled all of these roads before. Soon after leaving Lincoln, though, we were in new territory.

We passed through a portion of the Lincoln National Forrest between Capitan and Carrizozo, mountains on either side of the road. Capitan is where the legend of Smokey Bear was born. The mountains through this area are rather scenic with tree covered slopes. As the road continues west, through, the road drops down, slowly working down to the Rio Grande.

We passed through the small village of San Antonio on the west bank of the Rio Grande as we approached Interstate 25, where we would turn north for a few miles. San Antonio is well known for the Owl Bar and Café, famous for its green chile cheeseburgers as well as having been a meeting place for the scientists who detonated the world’s first atomic bomb at the Trinity Site about 35 miles southeast of San Antonio on July 16, 1945.

After a brief ride on I-25, we turned west again at Soccoro, an area visited by Juan de Onate in 1598, and the site of the mission Nuestra Senora de Perpetuo Socorro, established in 1626. However, the mission was destroyed and its residents killed during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

We followed US 60 west out of Socorro, past what is known as the Very Large Array and through the Cibola National Forest. The Very Large Array is a radio astronomy observatory responsible for much of what we know about black holes and other space mysteries. If you happened to see the 1997 movie Contact, starring Jodie Foster, then you saw this impressive observatory.

Antenna from the VLA on the Plains of San Agustin

Close shot of an antenna at the VLA

We remained on US 60 as we left New Mexico and entered Arizona, soon coming to Edgar and Springerville, where we turned north/northwest on US 180 for our final leg to Winslow. If you’ve followed my blog over time, you will recall our last stop in Winslow, where we visited the “Corner in Winslow, Arizona.

Our journey today covered 738 miles through farmland, forests, mountains, and desert. It was a long drive. We saw some wonderful country, but this is not a trip we plan to repeat. To be quite frank, we were exhausted when we finally arrived in Winslow. We’ve made trips this long numerous times in the past; what was different about this trip was the numerous slow sections on the road, making it much longer than the 738 posted miles. Throughout New Mexico, we were able to drive 70 for about a 20 mile stretch, and we drove 75 for about 9 miles on I-25. Probably most of the time, our speed was 55, sometimes dipping to 45 for numerous short stretches. We were able to drive 65 on several stretches.

But we're glad we made the drive. We saw country we had not seen before and probably will not see again. The largest town we passed through was Roswell, with a population of just under 50,000, so this was truly a rural drive.

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