Secondary Roads

My life on the road, exploring, adventuring and experiencing. Part journal, part travel guide, part history lesson, part stream of consciousness. The world is my bucket and the list is endless!

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Upgrade Phase I Complete

Parked in The Grove

Tucson is a couple of weeks behind me now. I spent a week slowly heading west with a few stops for golf before getting to Redlands, California to leave my coach for the first phase of my planned upgrades. Redlands Truck & RV Service has constructed 11 sites with power, water and sewer (just like a regular campground) in their offsite storage area, just 2 blocks from the service center. They call it The Grove, since it’s lined with lemon and orange trees, free for the picking. I snagged one of each. Haven’t tried the lemon yet, but the orange was FABULOUS!

Electric Cord Reel

Since the coach was gonna be up on lifts and torn apart, I went to stay out at US Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, near Oceanside. Pendleton is a HUGE base; approximately the same size as the state of Rhode Island. I had great plans for some golf and bike rides, but the weather turned out rather unfriendly for the week. I was winded out of one round, rained, hailed, and sleeted out of another 🤬 and rained out of a bike ride or two. I managed to squeeze a short but fun ride in on my last day before meeting some good friends in San Clemente for an amazing dinner.

The coach was finished on time, even with a few discoveries along the way which added on to the list…….. and cost. It’s a little disconcerting to walk up to the coach after spending $25,000 and not see any real evidence of difference, but that’s because nearly all the work in this phase was exterior and underneath. The one easily visible addition was a new electric cable reel, which not only has freed up some room in the compartment, but is far easier than hand coiling the cable.

LiquidSpring rear suspention

I had a tankless hot water heater installed, though I’m not sure it was worth it. On a practical level I thought it would save me from filling up my gray water tank as quickly, since I had to run the water for a minute or so before it got hot. On an ecological level, I am very aware and sensitive to water issues and wastage, especially in the west. In homes the tankless seems to be virtually instantaneously hot. So far, in the coach it takes almost as long to get hot as with the conventional water heater, so I don’t seem to have actually achieved either goal. Doh!!!!

I had the engine compartment sprayed with a foam insulation designed to cut down on engine noise and heat radiating into the cockpit.

Safe-T-Plus steering control mechanism
Koni Shock Absorber

The DOOZY of the whole scheme was, of course, the LiquidSpring suspension system I had installed. The install replaced the entire rear suspension, replaced the front shocks with high performance Koni shocks and add a Safe-T-Plus steering assist system. Apparently it was even more of a challenge to install than they were expecting because seemingly peculiar to the construct of the floorpan of my coach, they had to remove the generator and the propane tank in order to have room to be able install the rear system. Not permanently, just so they could do the install. But they got it in and all is well.

The one big add-on, other than the several hours of additional labor for the propane/generator work-around was two new front tires. The alignment was apparently so bad (both wheels were canted and toed-in) that the two outer tread lanes were completely worn through after only 30,000 miles. I’m now newly aligned an after 3 years, I finally have a the load weights on each wheel individually and both axles as well as my overall, fully loaded gross weight.

Liquid Spring dash mounted control unit

I’ll be back to Redlands in June for Upgrade Phase II which is all interior, with recliners replacing my sleeper sofa and a complete reconstruction of my dinette/workstation. For now I’m off to Las Vegas for the better part of a month before circling back to the Southern California area and then back to Redlands. The drive this afternoon to my overnight stay in Barstow was a dream. The LiquidSpring DEFINITELY makes a big difference in drivability and ride, and the engine noise is greatly reduced, especially going up mountains. I didn’t have to turn my radio up even once.


Wintering Over… And Planning

Well, we’re a good ways in to 2021 and while I’ve been quiet, I’ve still been making plans. So, let’s catch up a bit.

  • I’m still in Tucson, AZ. I’ll be here until March 1st.
  • I had a bit of a maintenance issue with my road bike when I arrived and it took three and a half months to get replacement parts from Japan. Thanks COVID. I’ve finally gotten back on the road in the last week. Yay!
  • I’ve done a bit of hiking and a whole lot of golfing
  • Since mid November I’ve been working as an independent contractor for Amazon Flex. Think Uber, except for packages and groceries vice people. I work when I want, the money’s not bad for extra cash and it gives me something to do. Win, win, win.
  • I’ve got some MAJOR upgrades planned for the coach………

For the past year or so I’ve been considering either purchasing a new motorhome or doing some upgrades to this one. A few things have driven me in the “upgrade” direction. If I was getting a new coach I’d be switching to a diesel and that is significantly more expensive. In fact, to outfit it the way I’d like, nearly double what this coach cost me. 2020 was a banner year for RV sales, again thanks to COVID and prices are currently at a premium. Not a good time to buy. I had a lot of difficulty finding a unit I liked as much as my current one and I won’t spend that kind of money without complete satisfaction of all my “wants.”

So Upgrade it is. In early March I’ll be heading to Redlands Truck & RV in Redlands, California.

The biggest and most costly upgrade will be a complete replacement of what is laughingly called the “suspension” on this coach. Look, it’s a truck frame and quite frankly, it rides like a truck. Or probably more accurately, like a Conestoga wagon. It’s really nothing more than leaf springs and the optional sumo springs I had put on when I built it don’t help very much. Every bump and jar from the road is a kidney threatening and coach shuddering jolt. Things like uneven turns cause quite a bit of body sway and have led on more than one occasion to things being thrown across the inside as I’m driving. The solution: Liquid Spring.

My entire rear “suspension” set-up will be removed and replaced with this Compressible Liquid Adaptive Suspension System (CLASS). Here’s how it helps:

Along with what you see in red, which is the rear install, I will be getting high performance shocks and a system to help maintain steering control, especially should I get in to an emergency situation, like needing to swerve suddenly, or control during a front wheel blowout on my front wheels.

Along with this I’m having the engine compartment insulated with a compound that will reduce engine noise and heat transfer into the coach. Lugging this thing up mountains can get pretty ear splitting at times.

I’m having my 6-gallon hot water heater replaced with a tankless unit. It’s not that I’ve ever run out of hot water. 6-gallons is certainly enough for one person. But, it does take a minute or two of running the water before it heats up. That’s water just filling up my holding tank with no use. Generally not a problem when I’m hooked up to a sewer line, but there are many times when I’m not. Also I can’t stand the idea of essentially “wasting” that water, particularly when I’m out west. I’m hoping to have a powered cable reel installed for my 50-amp electrical cable. This is really just a nice to have thing, instead of having to manually stuff my cable into its compartment. There’s some question as to whether the reel will fit, so that’s not a done deal.

There’s also some significant work to be done on the interior, but unfortunately this is going to require a second visit to Redlands, probably in early June.

I have a great big sofa. It’s rather uncomfortable to sit on and it does not face my TV. In fact, I don’t really have any comfortable place to sit in the coach, so it’s time to remedy that. I will be replacing the sofa with a double reclining sofa, so almost like theater seating. Two recliners, a drop down center console, USB and power outlets, cup holders….the works. The unit is also shorter than my current sofa, so I should have room for a small side table. Unfortunately, the model I wanted was out of stock, so I have to wait for their next delivery, which right now appears to be late May.

Of course, there’s not much point in having this great seating and reclining arrangement if it doesn’t face my source of entertainment, so I have to move the TV. One of the four anyway. This is going to involve some complicated and custom work. What I’m hoping to do is take the TV down from here….

….and move it to here….

What should happen is that the table top, which slides out, will get permanently mounted. Everything on the left 2/3 of the unit will be taken out and a TV Lift unit will be put in, so that the TV will lift up and pop out of the top. I’m hoping to be able to keep the 3 drawers on the right. Redlands was not sure they could do exactly what I want, but we will work all that out when I’m there in March for the Liquid Spring install. Then they can hopefully do that when I return in June, assuming my recliner unit has arrived by then.

So it’s some big bucks (although minuscule compared to a new coach) and big changes ahead. Till then, a few more weeks of golfing, hiking, riding and Flexing.

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Winding Down 2020

And just like that, my traveling days for 2020 are over. I pulled in to Tucson yesterday, and here I’ll stay until February 2021. Seems forever ago I was “sheltering in place” in Gulf Shores, Alabama. I fervently hope by February we’re not back in that same situation. Even so, it’s been a whirlwind year, especially September and October.

My travels through the Year of the Plague. Each color a different month.

Some Stats for 2020:

  • 6561.4 miles traveled in the motorhome
  • 15 states with at least 2 overnight stays
  • 14 tanks of gasoline / 7.3 mpg average / 962.4 gallons / $2049
  • 5 states I’d not “camped” in the motorhome before

I know those fuel stats sound horrible, but I can nearly assure you that my carbon footprint is considerably smaller than yours. Especially in a normal year when you might actually be leaving your homes on a daily basis. And absolutely if you’ve taken an airplane flight in the last year.

I was here in Tucson two years ago but this time I’m completely on the other side of town. Home for the next few months is South Forty RV Ranch. Don’t be fooled by the name. It’s not a ranch and it’s a half mile off I-10, in town, and on the northwest side. I’ve got a lovely site complete with requisite tree and cactus, and the “ranch” has a very nice pool and hot tub along with it’s great location.

Home for the winter

For now, my 2021 is completely up in the air, as I’m sure is yours. I have some thoughts and ideas, but too much uncertainty to even begin a plan. There is a slight (and I mean so slight it’s nearly non-existent) chance that I may end up in a new/different motorhome at some point in 2021. It’s far more likely that I will instead be adding some significant upgrades to my current coach. But that is all speculation and fodder for another post.

The weather’s lovely here in Tucson……….come and visit.


Mountain Biking Paradise

I had no idea when I reserved my spot in McDowell Regional Park that it was such an amazing place for mountain biking. OMG, it’s unbelievable. And the campground, which is also fantastic, is located smack-dab in the middle of it all. Huge campsites, well spread out, fabulously clean and modern bathrooms and shower facilities with gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains.

It was an amazingly fun 22 miles I got in yesterday. The entire park slopes up gently from east to west, so while it looks flat to the eye, the legs (and the lungs) can definitely tell your going uphill in that direction and downhill in the other. Now despite the trail ratings in the above map, found nothing to justify a Diamond (difficult) rating. In fact there were only a few small patches here and there that I’d even rate as Blue Square (🟦 moderate), particlulary for you readers with whom I’ve ridden in Virginia/Maryland. Everything I rode yesterday was non-technical, flowy and as fast as you wanted to take it, keeping in mind falling in to a cactus would be BAAAAAAADDD!!!!

22 miles through McDowell Park

My 2.5 hours only took me along a fraction of the trails within the park, and a couple of miles along the Gooseneck Trail outside the western boundary in the neighboring Sonoran Preserve. I didn’t even cross the park road to the eastern side trails nor sample any of the “Competitive Track” area. And as you can see, there are countless more miles of trails accessible outside the park, without ever having to touch paved surface. INCREDIBLE!

Along Gooseneck Trail

Perhaps most importantly, the entire area definitely meets the high standards of the Russ Adams Scale for Aesthetic Beauty, so there’s that. If you’re ever in the Phoenix/Mesa/Scottsdale area I highly recommend you beg, borrow or steal a bike and get a day or several of riding in here. The nearest town, Fountain Hills, is about 5 miles from the park entrance. It’s a very nice town, much like Scottsdale, just beyond.

Looking east across most of McDowell Park from the top of the Bluff Trail
Click the text above to view my Relive video

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Just The Tip

Mt Graham from the campground at Roper Lake State Park

It’s a fantastic road that climbs up Mt Graham, just south of Safford, Arizona. The kind of road you see on a map and instantly want to ride (or drive if you’re not bikey like me). Unfortunately the pavement ends after about 16 miles, but still several miles short of the top, though the road continues on as a nice wide, mostly well-graded, mountain dirt road. I’m steadily regaining my conditioning, but still not quite enough to take a 40-ish mile ride up a mountain which rises nearly 7000 ft from the valley floor. So, no road biking to the summit. But as you can see I managed to map out a summit loop so I could conquer just the tippy top of these beast of a mountain.

5-8% grade, but still a smooth trail

The road up the mountain is 366 and the pavement ends right where my mile marker “1” is. I started and ended my adventure from Hospital Flat for a good place to park and to split of just a bit of the climbing. Miles 1-8 are double-track trail more than “road” and while this is the steeper direction to do this loop to the summit, it has longer downhill on the return. A wise choice I was to discover as I’d not have wanted to come down from the summit along that loose rocky trail. It was 83 degrees when I left the campground, 60 degrees at Hospital Flat (9100 ft) when I started and 54 degrees there by the time I finished, although at the summit it was about 56 in glorious sunshine and just a light wind.

At about the 2.5 mile point I past through a gate which was marked, “Closed to the public. Administrative use only.” I generally follow such rules but there was no way I was heading back down and climbing up in the opposite direction, and I was obsessively dead set on getting to the summit. I advanced on the principle that I’m only breaking the rules if I get caught, and I SERIOUSLY doubted there was anyone up there to catch me. I was wrong.

Still a beautiful track; Still fairly steep; Less and less trees

Well, kinda wrong. Not too much further up was a vehicle, with nobody in it, so I still wasn’t caught. I pedaled on past. Then I came across the guy, sitting on the side of the trail. I figured I was caught, although the SUV before was “unofficial” but this guy just asked how I was doing. I just said hi and kept pedaling. So I guess I still wasn’t caught. The higher I got the rockier the trail became. Still very rideable, but more than a leisurely pedal. In fact, there was only one tiny section I had to walk, about 20 yards up at the hairpin turn at mile 4.5 where it was all loose rock and 14+% grade. That would have been a nightmare even coming downhill.

Coming up towards the hairpin turn
Proceeding on beyond the hairpin turn

It’s a pretty relentless upward slog at this point. There are a few short let-ups in grade, but it’s pretty consistently 8-12% so I was working pretty hard and really looking forward to getting to the top. But as you can see, the weather is beautiful and the scenery spectacular. Don’t need much more motivation than that. It took me and hour and twenty-three minutes to get up those 5.8 miles.

Mt Graham summit. 10,665 ft, looking east.
Large Binocular Telescope

Now the fun part, almost. You come down a bit from the summit but then traverse west around another small peak and back up some to pass around and then through the University of Arizona observatories campus. And HERE they are a bit more forceful with their signage. Like with a big chain across the trail, and a big mean “No Trespassing; Violators will be prosecuted” sign. Well, great. I’m not staying up on the top of this mountain the rest of my life and since going back down the way I came up was also technically frowned upon I proceeded on, apologetically, though there was nobody there to whom I could apologize. There were a few vehicles, but I’m not sure anyone was in any of the buildings. I don’t really understand because from what I’d now discovered, there wasn’t any actual way to get to the summit of the mountain without violating someone’s sign. So then why even have a road and a trail the goes to the summit? I didn’t really sit and ponder it as there was lots of great downhill to enjoy, and at the campus, it was back to an actual road, though of course still unpaved.

Vatican Advanced Tech and Large Binocular Telescopes

It was down there at mile 10 where I really discovered the “serious” notices that the way I’d come was pretty much off limits and strictly controlled. This is the point where the road down from the observatories meets 366, as it continues on further in to the mountains. A fun and twisty ride down from said observatories, by-the-way.

So, let’s see…………. yep, I was trespassing, no, I had not received radio clearance, I’d certainly reached speeds beyond 15 mph, I had my cell phone with me and, uh…………….yes it was on and not in airplane mode. I hope I didn’t screw up any great research going on up there. In my defense, I was not armed……..AND…….there is no question I am respectful of this place, as I am of all such places.

So I guess I can’t recommend that any of you go and repeat this really challenging, but really beautiful and worthwhile ride. But I would highly recommend a trip up mountain. It’s almost all a national forest with tons of trails, several campgrounds ⛺️, amazing vistas, etc. I’ll come back when I’m better conditioned and ride that paved road.

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Favorite Places

People often ask me, when they find out I live on the road, what is my favorite place. I always tell them, as I’ve said here before, that I don’t do “favorites.” It’s impossible. There is no way to compare the western shore of Michigan to northern Vermont, but those are two of my “favorites.”

Gila National Forest. The green areas overlaying the darker beige.

Another, where I’ve been for the last week and an area that probably very few of you are even aware, is New Mexico’s Gila National Forest. First off, it is an ENORMOUS area, encompassing several hundred square miles of the northwestern portion of New Mexico. At its lower elevations it is high desert in the 5500 ft range, while its several rugged mountainous regions have several peaks nearing 11,000 ft.

A coupe of years ago it was a new discovery for me when I spent a week in Silver City on the southern border of the forest. I’ve just now moved on from the northern parts where I spent 5 days near Apache Creek. I did a little hiking and a little biking and a whole lot of marveling at the scenery.

Apache RV Park, Cruzville, NM. My rig is in there somewhere near the back
Looking up to the peak of Eagle Peak

I took a near 20 mile gravel forest road to try and get to Eagle peak. The last 5 miles is really more of a forest trail than a “road.” Very steep and rocky. But I managed to get the ole Honda CRV all the way up to the point where the road was closed. About 1.5 miles from the top. Unfortunately it was an impromptu trip and I was unprepared, wearing my “slip-on loaf around the campsite” shoes which I was in no way going to hike 3 miles in to get to the top and back. Next time, Eagle Peak, next time. And next time I’ll be doing this by bike.

view along the way to Eagle Peak
old forest ranger station cabin

I took short hike on one of the trails just across the road from the RV Park. The trail ends in a little canyon along the Tularosa River. The only river with actual flowing water I’d seen since the Rio Grand in Albuquerque. On the canyon walls were some great petroglyphs.

Who knew bees like ham. This guy spent 10 minutes hacking off a chunk. Not even disturbed as I took bites. I was happy to share.

If you’re looking for stunning beauty. If you’re looking for “out of the way.” If you’re looking for nearly unlimited hiking, biking (on road and off), exploring or just being out in nature, you ought to consider a visit to the Gila. Silver City is a major town. There’s a beautiful RV Park on the west side of town and at least one really good restaurant. I’m sure there’s more but I only ate out once. There are a few “towns” here and there along the major roads. By-the-way, if it’s not marked as a primary road, it’s almost certainly not paved. There are forest campgrounds throughout, but services, particularly cell service is non-existent in much of the area. Apache RV Park had ZERO, and a wifi that only really worked very early mornings and late at night. Don’t worry, there’s plenty else to keep you happy and occupied. You just need look around.

I’ll be back to the Gila………many times, I’m sure.

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SCIENCE!!! (for Carl)

Journey back the better part of a week, because I’ve been pretty much off the grid. As I made my way from Albuquerque, where I didn’t have to turn left because I was already headed south, to the Gila National Forest, I stumbled across one of my bucket list “to visit” places without knowing I was going to pass by it.

Ever since I saw the movie Contact, I’ve wanted to see this place, the Very Large Array (VLA). To clarify, see it up close. I’ve actually seen it from about 30,000 ft in the air. At least of the Phoenix approach/departure corridors takes you right over this area. It’s very visible and not at all hard to recognize.

View from Hwy-60 to the control station and apex of the array

It sits in a shallow bowl shaped plateau at 7000 ft elevation between Magdalena and Datil, New Mexico. As I passed through Socorro, NM there was a sign for the visitor center. That was when I first realized I was in the vicinity. Socorro is about 50 miles away, so I was just hoping to get a glimpse. Little did I realize that my route along Hwy-60 was going to take me right through the array, literally.


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ABQ Pilgrimage

Breaking Bad was one of the greatest, most original shows ever. And what fan could possibly come to Albuquerque without 1) “making a left turn” and 2) visiting the iconic locations from Breaking Bad.

First of all, here’s what it takes to do your own BB location visit. Expect to spend the better part of a day as the locations are spread far and wide over the ABQ area. If you plan a pilgrimage of your own all you need do is Google “Breaking Bad Locations” and you will get a plethora of sites and maps. There is even a tour company that will take you around in a replica of Walt & Jesse’s original RV. I didn’t visit or photograph all the locations because some no longer exist and some just would be recognizable or meaningful in a photo.

Locations in the metro ABQ area
Locations further out
  1. Hank & Marie’s House
  2. Saul Goodman’s Office (not pictured)
  3. Walter White’s House
  4. Park where Mike Ehrmantraut took his granddaughter
  5. “A-1” Carwash
  6. Gus Fring’s laundry hiding the meth lab
  7. Gus Fring’s house
  8. Jesse & Janes rental apartments
  9. Crossroad Motel
  10. Java Joe’s – Tuco’s original hideout that Heisenberg blew up
  11. The Dog House
  12. Jesse Pinkman’s house
  13. Tuco’s desert hideout
  14. The original cook location (not pictured)
  15. “Pollos Hermanos”
Hank and Marie’s House

I started my tour in the northeast because I’ve been staying on the other side of Sandia Peak, in Cedar Crest. I have no idea how much a senior DEA agent makes, but if Hank could afford this neighborhood he’s certainly doing alright.

Saul Goodman’s office was in a nondescript strip mall, which is still nondescript. So much so that there was no point in a photo. It’s completely unrecognizable without the blow-up Statue of Liberty and big “Better Call Saul” sign.

Walter & Skyler White’s home

You have to look through the now present warnings and security measures taken by the longtime owner to get the show-feel of Walt and Skyler’s house. I’ve no doubt the general public and crazy fans of the show have gone far beyond acceptable in their visits. So much so that the owner has had to erect fences, post signs and generally ward off the public. People suck…..and I mean the crazies, not the owner.

Mike Ehrmantraut was one of my favorite characters on the show. Even more so since I’ve also watched much of Better Call Saul, the excellent prequel to BB. This is the park where he was often seen with his granddaughter.

My car is in desperate need of a good wash, no less so because this tour will eventually take me out into the desert. But I was on a schedule, sort of, and there’s no point in getting clean when I’ll be heading off on some dusty, sandy roads in a bit.

“A-1 Carwash”

One of the more interesting things about BB was how the creators mixed the traditional roles of its characters. Gustavo Fring is cast as the “villain” but perhaps only from the perspective of Walt. In fact he’s a much straighter shooter, and for me, infinitely more likable than either Walt or Jesse. Well, you know……..likeable for a meth dealer.

Gus has got himself a pretty nice house in a pretty nice neighborhood, his laundry business hiding his state-of-the-art meth lab, and his Pollo Hermanos chain, which is really the Twisters franchise.

After Jesse’s parents kick him out of this beautiful home in a VERY NICE part of town……..

… he ends up renting an apartment next to Jane, just off campus from the University of New Mexico campus.

Jesse’s rental next door to would be love interest Jane

By the way, as I was in the neighborhood, there was a film crew setting up for a shoot at a house one block over from Pinkman’s house. Not only that, if you’re also a fan of Better Call Saul, you might recognize this residence as well, just another block in the other direction from Pinkman’s house.

Chuck McGill’s house

Breaking Bad does a ton of location cameos throughout its run. Here are a few of the more iconic and memorable. Java Joe’s where Tuco had is original “office” till Heisenberg blew it up with some fake “crystal meth.” The seedy digs of local “working girl” Wendy and other lesser denizens, and the local eatery, the Dog House.

I visited all of these sites in one day, except for the site in the desert where Walt and Jesse first venture with their RV mobile meth lab. More on that in a minute. But at the end of the day I decided to head a ways south to seek out Tuco’s desert hideaway. The small house where he takes Walt and Jesse after kidnapping them and where where we all first encounter Don Hector Salamanca. The location is down a dirt road, about 25 miles south of the city. After my 30 minute drive I came to discover….

Tuco’s desert hideaway

it’s burned to the ground. Oh well. Gus Fring’s chicken farm is down in this direction too, though a bit closer to Albuquerque. I didn’t discover that till after I got back home.

Now of course, perhaps the MOST iconic location would be the site of Walt and Jesse’s first cook, where Walt buries the barrel of money, where Hank and Gomey meet their demise (probably the most shocking and unexpected scene in the entire series for me). The location is on the To’hajiilee reservation (Canonicito Reservation on the map) about 30 miles west of the city. The websites listing shooting locations mention that it is private property, as all reservations are. I could not find any info about visiting so I assumed it might be allowed and took a ride out there this morning to find…

Whether this sign is legit or they are serious about it is not for me to decide. I turned around and went back. It saddens me that we are still unable to heal the wounds of the past (though we can never make up for the atrocities perpetrated) to such an extent that we of European descent are unwelcome on native lands. And to be sure they are not the only community to feel this way.

But this notwithstanding, it was fun to get about and see these locations, and recall and reminisce about such a fantastic piece of television entertainment. It’s also a great way to tour and get a feel for the city of Albuquerque, which I’ve come to really like after many work visits before I retired from the Navy.


Walter “Heisenberg” White

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“Walking” Up Wheeler Peak

After a few weeks of no more than 3 nights in any one place, it’s been nice to slow down a bit. Welcome to Taos, New Mexico. I had some ideas for spending my time here, some of which went out the window when I broke my wrists. I did, however, completely forget that located near here is Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico. Guess I’m going to get to check off another High Point.

Devisadero Peak 8260 ft

Out of necessity that was going to have to wait till near the end of my week here. Even though I’ve been steadily gaining elevation as I’ve crossed the country I was going to need at least several days of acclimating to make it up that behemoth. And to be honest, I’ve been far to sedentary since my incident, partly recovering, partly being lazy, partly being pouty since I’m not able to do many of the things I’d like to do. So I’m not in quite the condition to go charging directly up to 13,000 ft on day one. Instead I did a nice little 5+ miler in Carson National Forest, not far from where I’m staying. Taos sits right at 7000 ft so this was a nice little warm-up. And believe me I could feel the effects of even this elevation. Along the loop Wheeler Peak was calling to me.

Along NM-150 heading towards Taos Ski Valley

Yesterday was the day and I could not have gotten a better day weather-wise. Forecasts for the low 70’s and almost no wind in the valley meant it would be quite pleasant at the summit. From the RV Park on the south end of Taos it was a beautiful 45 minute drive to Taos Ski Valley and the trailhead. Climbing the entire way, the ski resort sits at 9200 ft and it’s another 1000 ft up to where the begins, so you’re already a bit over 10,000 ft and you haven’t take a single step up the mountain.

4.2 miles trailhead to summit

I got started at 10:45 am from a overflowing parking lot. It was gonna be a crowded trail; drawbacks of having to hike on a Saturday. I should mention that NM law now requires masks, even outdoors and on trails. Ughhh! I probably spent just as much energy covering and uncovering with my mask as I did hiking. 🥾

Funny little birds for company

The plan was to start off slowly and slow down even more as I climbed in elevation. It’s a beautiful walk in the forest to start out. I’m not sure what kind of birds these are, but they are quite friendly about escorting you along the trail. They do a little hopping and a little flying an a lot of picking up morsels of food along the way.

Near 2 miles up the trail splits. Had I realized I could have gone past Walker Lake and still connected back with the summit trail I’d have gone up that way and come down the way I did. Keep that in mind when you tackle this hike. Also keep in mind that much of the trail traffic is only going as far as the lake.

Once past the lake split, the trail steepens a fair amount although still punctuated with relatively flat sections…….for a while. You get some fabulous views along the way…

And then suddenly, at 11,600 ft, you break out of the tree line, the summit staring you in the face and seemingly impossibly far off. You can see most of the rest of the trail winding left and right and the ant(people) making their way up, or down. It kinda catches your breath……..although that could have been the elevation.

Oooof…..that’s still a long way off

From the edge of the tree line the trail crosses once to the right across the mountain face, then back to the left where it crosses a pretty flat, wide open expanse of rocky meadow. And then say goodbye to anything but steep up. STEEP UP! So, ya know……nothing like saving the really hard part till the end. This section, up to the high saddle just below the summit is only a bit over a mile, but took me more than 40 minutes to scale. You can be sure my steps were slow and deliberate and there was plenty of resting going on. Luckily that was built in as you essentially had to stop to let other hikers pass every few minutes anyway. I also took a few minutes to throw on my wind shell. The temperature was pleasant, in the mid-50’s and the sun was warm. Also luckily, the southerly wind was mostly blocked by the mountain itself so you got some gusts now and then, but even at the summit it was 56 degrees and maybe 20-25 mph of wind. Really quite nice for that elevation. I finally made it up to the high saddle to peer over the other side, looking east.

From here it’s less than a 1/4 mile up to the right to reach the summit, and only another 115 ft up. I always say it’s never “official” unless you get a photo of the USGS Survey Marker. It’s that golden disc on the rock over my left shoulder.

Wheeler Peak 13,167 Ft

Then I turned around and walked back down.

By the end I was quite exhausted, with some pretty nasty blisters on both my big toes, some pretty shaky quads and some pretty achy knees…….but oh so satisfied.

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Spectacular Days

Clayton Lake State Park

From Dodge City, as I mentioned previously, I continued west by southwest across the remainder of Kansas, the panhandle of Oklahoma and just over the border in to Clayton, New Mexico. I was staying for two nights and was really hoping to spend that extra day with some time on my bike. My wrists, however (or more accurately, my right forearm in particular) have been nagging me more than I’d like, much like when the Ortho suggested I might be over doing things back in August. That, along with the 20 MPH of wind convinced me that riding may not be the best idea. Old dog, new trick. The winds, in fact, had been up for my entire journey across the plains. Go figure. It was alternating days of 20 mph with higher gusts from north, then south, then north again, even more challenging since I’m driving a big rectangular box.

Instead, I took my car where I’d intended to ride, to Clayton Lake State Park to see the dinosaur tracks. Then I added the beginning stages of a section of the Santa Fe Trail scenic byway, thereby alleviating going 20 miles out of my way as I continued westward the following day.

100 mile loop from Clayton, NM

First stop was Clayton Lake State Park. I never do miss an opportunity to check out dinosaur stuff. The lake is man-made and during construction of the spillway in the 1950’s and from subsequent runoff they discovered an enormous bed of 100 million year old dinosaur tracks. This area at one time lay on the shore of the inland sea which covered most of middle America and these tracks are amazingly preserved in what was once soft, sandy shoreline.

The most distinct print in the field

I knew from there I needed to get about 20 miles west, to the town of Greenville, where the scenic byway actually starts, and not wanting to backtrack south to go northwest I headed out into the hinterlands on gravel roads. Now I’ve done some traveling in my time. If you don’t believe me go back a few dozen posts and start from the beginning. In that time I’ve seen some sparse, wide open spaces, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyplace that is such a huge expanse of open country as here in northeastern NM. Yes, most of it is ranch land and you do see herds of cows, but except for occasional farmsteads (many of which seem abandoned) and towns which are few and far between, it is literally hundreds of square miles of this…..

Rabbit Ear Mountain from along the Santa Fe Trail Scenic Byway. It’s more than 20 miles in the distance

Very much what I imagine Mongolia to be like. It was just awe inspiring. I’m always taken aback by dino stuff, or most things from Deep Time. Along my loop I also encountered a bald eagle soaring majestically on the prairie winds, prairie dogs, a coyote loping through the grasses and more pronghorn antelope than I’ve ever seen in a single day. Actually probably more than I’ve seen prior combined.

The next day I continued on, a day I will list and remember as one of the most spectacular days of driving I can remember. It’s all very much, almost unbelievably the same till just west of the town of Springer.

Santa Fe Trail Scenic Byway and part of The Enchanted Circle leading into Taos, NM

And then suddenly………..The Rockies!

Rise of the southern Rocky Mountains near Rayado, NM