Day 19 (July 30th): ALAMOGORDO
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Vegas, baby!

Wow, man, like, lemme just say this: Vegas is not what I expected at all.

These are all the lights? These are all the casinos? Where's my man George Airbus? I mean, c'mon -- wait, what’s this you’re telling me? Uh huh…uh huh…so this is Las Vegas, NM, not Las Vegas, NV? Hmmm. OK, now I get it. (Boy, what a difference one little letter can make -- Ed.) OK, so this  was the only major sign I was to see...

Well before this debacle, the New Way had worked out again in the morning leaving Alamogordo, and another relatively “rapid” departure allowed me to have the motorcycle’s oil changed on the way out of town. The rig had racked up over 3,000 miles (as a rule of thumb the longest suggested interval for a bike of this size) since leaving Surfside Beach eighteen days earlier. In fact, somewhere on the ride into town I had passed what I had come to think of as the “Fail-Safe” (tm), the point at which it would be a shorter distance to continue the trek rather than to turn back! And of course that 3K figure is due to the zig-zag sightseeing route I am taking, for the same mileage covered in a straight line would have put me a few hundred miles into the Pacific Ocean by now.

After passing an interesting choice of travel ads in the lobby of the Motel 6 -- spiritually, both the beginning and the end of my journey, n’est-ce pas? -- I took one last look at the beautiful morning view of the nearby Sacramento Mountains and headed to the motorcycle shop. Whilst talking to the boys there -- and where I was favored with donuts n’ coffee, and the chance to sit on a Honda Gold Wing up on its center stand, thus understanding what it would be like to tour the country perched upon that motorcycle’s throne -- I learned that for maximum riding pleasure I should head back east on the very same road I came in on, thus climbing back up into the mountains, and then break off to the north slightly afterwards. Fair enough.

Upon leaving, I was thrilled to note that the price of gas had gone up eight cents at the station I re-filled at just the previous evening -- timed that one right for a change! Although a minimally-satisfying tour through Alamogordo proper (and subsequent construction delays) slowed my progress, I eventually got back up the mountain and spent some quality time at around 8,800 ft. elevation, in and around Cloudcroft, NM.

On the way up I used my binoculars for the first time on the trip. The view of the White Sands from up on the hill was impressive, as were other pictures of the valley and of the trestle used for the old switchback railway in the early 1900’s. During my visit to the Park Ranger station I saw a reprint of the passenger service schedule, and it showed that the train took three hours to cover the 26 miles uphill from Alamogordo to Cloudcroft! Another road which offered scenic views led all the way across the mountain ridge to the National Sunspot Observatory, and although I didn’t have quite enough time for that trek, I did enjoy some of the sky-scapes up here in Cloud Country.

As I believe I mentioned in yesterday’s recap of my ride through it in the other direction, Cloudcroft itself had that frontier-look that The Chief (tm) apparently just can no longer get enough of. Perhaps there were a few too many artsy shops, but also a rustic old hotel, an excellent camping/outdoor store and a couple of cool-looking eateries. And before I go too far in dissing the shops, I should relay the following tale.

Ever since the conversation with Stan outside of Del Rio, TX, and the ride out of Sanderson back on Day Seventeen, I had decided I wanted to have a little statuette of the Patron Saint of Travelers riding on the dashboard shelf. I mean, I had made it this far with perhaps only the blessing of my host from Fredericksburg, so how could I go wrong in getting “official” coverage? Problem was, there was no place in Cloudcroft that carried that sort of stuff, but the shop owner I first spoke with knew of another shop owner who would know where to go, and that second owner sent me up the road to the neat little town of Ruidoso, pretty much the route I had planned to take regardless.

Ruidoso had recently experienced some very heavy rainfall, causing flooding and mud slides that were responsible for one fatality. I saw some evidence of the severity on the road up there, with mud flows near creek crossings and a few washed-out dirt roads. There were also cows (and, at one point, a horse) walking around on the road, looking for just that right spot to graze, well outside of where their ranch must have been. And in the ongoing “I Hate to Sound Like A Broken Record” category, there was almost no traffic to speak of on the road between the towns.

The search for my statuette began in earnest at the Visitors Center, where two friendly and helpful employees suggested either of two Christian bookshops further up the main street, as did a nice guy who hailed from Chicago, and who had also axed a few questions about the motorcycle’s trailer. Getting up into the main business area and parking was no picnic, as in-town traffic was heavy and the parking lots offered challenging, steep pavement to contend with. Finally, upon docking the rig, I moseyed on over to the cute little retail area only to find that both of the shops were closed because, you know, it’s Wednesday (?)

Hmmm…only thing to do now is grab lunch -- since long ago a rarity on this constantly “late-to-depart” trip -- and then regroup. On the way up I had both eyeballed and smelled the Circle J Barbeque, by which I mean I had seen smoke coming from the cooking shack and could detect the delectable aromas even while driving by. Turned out that the "Two Meat Platter" was a very good call -- brisket and sausage, in my case -- and while I was there I read approximately (1) one page of the Albuquerque newspaper I had been sitting on for the last three or four days. I also remembered that the Visitor Center folks had suggested checking in with the Catholic church on the avenue I’ll call “Church Row”, because about seven straight establishments on it were, in fact, churches. But did you think I had any idea about which one was which? No, I did not, and so I checked every one of them in succession -- Baptist, Church of Christ, and so on, and so on -- until I finally hit St. Eleanor’s. The people at the other ones must have thought I was crazy, or stupid, for going to their churches and asking about a statuette of a Catholic saint, but at least I knew enough not to go to a temple or a mosque. Not that I had seen any of those, of course, though I had seen this, and shuddered.

So I axed the young lady if they did have figurines like some people had thought they might, and while they did not, they did have some pendants for use with a necklace. I hadn’t planned on that particular route -- it had to be on the bike, and pointing forward to guide the path just like Stan had said -- but I knew I could affix the thing directly to the dashboard and do it that way. The lass said, “Is he your patron saint?” And I replied, “not really, but I am on a long trip, so…” SO-o-o, after much searching, for $2 I had now added the missing piece of the puzzle to the bike -- or had I?

The route out of Ruidoso was to eventually take me to a four-lane for just a short stretch, but before this I climbed, climbed, climbed and passed the wonderfully scenic Sierra Blanca and Mount Veracruz (though admittedly those pix don't capture the beauty too well). Descending again (down to 6,000 ft.) through Carrizozo, I and the rig were in a definite rhythm, so the four-lane ride was mercifully brief and I was back in for another beautiful ride through the countryside. I passed through the town of Vaughn, NM, with not much left there but a nice old-style diner called Penny's. Alongside the sparsely-traveled high-speed two-lane road I spotted -- hey, is that a wind farm? The Chief (tm) may soon be selling those things for a living! Crossing a railroad track brought me onto a nice, isolated, twisty hilly road towards my destination for the evening, but not before crossing the Pecos River again, which failed to impress quite the same way as last time.

As it was getting dark, I realized I wouldn’t be heading directly into town tonight, so I set up camp,  ate a few fistfuls of trail mix as dinner, and got to work on website updates for you, Dear Reader. Engrossed as I was in that task, I (almost) failed to notice that it had gotten rather cooler out -- especially since I was still sitting there in shorts and a T-shirt -- and when my fingers felt like they were about to go numb I took it as a signal to retire for the evening. That, and the fact that it was 2 AM. Basically I had experienced about a 40-degree swing on that day in New Mexico alone, the coldest weather of the trip thus far. Alas, some dog was barking all night long at a nearby farm, so I only caught about four hours of sleep. YA-W-W-W-N…


I said VEGAS!



That Darned Setting Sun!

Did They Know I Was Coming?

Sacramento Mountains, AM View

Nosebleed Territory

White Sands in the distance

Switchback Railway trestle

Cloud Country Pt. I

Cloud Country Pt. II

Main Drag in Cloudcroft


Circle J BBQ.. AAAGGGHHH.. Sierra Blanca.. Veracruz Mountain.. Penny's Diner.
Rush Hour, Pt. I.. Wind Farm Outside Vaughn, NM.. Rush Hour, Pt. II.. The Not-So-Mighty Pecos River.. B-R-R-R.