The indirect route home continues its western leg across New Mexico, including mountain passes, desert, and a nice conversation with the Hurley PD.
Before the Ride
I woke up in my motel room in Brownfield, Texas shortly before my 9am alarm went off. Outside, it was a beautiful 74ºF and sunny. It occurred to me that this morning would be the first time since day one (1) of this trip that I would be riding with the vents closed on my Vanson jacket.
I packed up the Nightowl and asked the desk clerk for a rag or two to wipe some of the crud off the windshield from yesterday’s cloudbursts.
Aside: Always ask for rags instead of using the extra towels in your room. Motels never say no to this request.
At the desk, I saw a few folks enjoying the on-site breakfast, which appeared to be fairly elaborate. I was considering coming back for a sausage link and perhaps a biscuit and some gravy, but I figured I’d get an early lunch somewhere down the road. This Best Western (in Brownfield, Texas) turned out to be much better than NAS.
I pulled out at 9:30am and immediately remembered that I needed to top off the air pressure in both tires; yesterday I’d noted that both were a pound or two low (the target for the Nightowl is 42 PSI).
I stopped at the first gas station I saw, maneuvered the Nightowl so I could get to the air valves on both tires. Here’s my procedure for this:
- Roll the Bike until the front air valve is reachable.
- Continue to roll the bike forward another foot.
- Pull the bike back onto it’s center stand, which lifts the rear tire.
- Rotate the rear tire until the rear air valve is reachable.
I swiped my card for the pump, jacked the pressure up to its maximum (I wasn’t going to rely on it’s value anyway), and proceeded to try and fill the front tire.
Unfortunately, the air chuck on this pump was way too deep to use on the Nightowl’s short air valves. Every time I interfaced the chuck with the valve, all I was doing was letting air out of my front tire.
Confutatis maledictis flammis acribus addictis!
Yes, I was angry enough to swear in Latin.
So, back on the bike and further down the road was another gas station with yet another air pump stand (what ever happened to free air chucks at gas stations?). This time, I had the presence of mind to check the air chuck before paying for the damn pump. This one was much better (much shallower), so I paid and put a couple of pounds into both tires.
That task completed, I pointed the Nightowl west on US380 out of Brownfield, Texas.
The landscape continued to be flat, flat, and more flat. I knew I would be crossing a few mountain ranges today, but I wasn’t anywhere near them yet. The speed limit was still 75mph, even on a simple two-lane highway, so I set the cruise and settled in for a longer day. Today’s ride was supposed to be around 430 miles, but speed limits tend to be higher out west, and the distance between towns (slow-downs) tends to be longer. Consequently, as my friend Redbeard Emeritus used to say, you can make your destination on two-lane roads almost as fast as on the Slab.
The cooler riding conditions were a wonderful change from the last thousand miles or so. The jacket vents were closed and my sleeve zippers were also closed, which makes for a nice leather cocoon to ride in with no distracting flapping around of clothing. To make conditions even better, I had east-north-east winds pushing me along. It was a good day to be out for a ride.
After passing through Plains, Texas, I soon came across a change in road surface. I was expecting a county change, but Plains was in the last Texas county on today’s route. The only indication that I’d arrived in New Mexico was a insignificant little sign showing me which sector within New Mexico I was in (I had entered Sector 2). In any case, I was now in New Mexico, and the speed limit dropped 10mph.
Another change I noted was that the time on my route view in Scenic was now an hour earlier. I’d forgotten the time zone boundary again. When I passed from Texas into New Mexico, I entered the Mountain Time Zone. Suddenly I had plenty of time to reach my destination before the small town rolled up the streets and closed all the restaurants.
If you ride enough, you will eventually see some seriously weird shit on or beside the road. Today I had a new first experience in this arena. I’d noted a dark object, perhaps a rock, just my side of the center line. As I got a little closer I noticed it was moving slowly across the road in my direction. I maneuvered right a few feet and in the last millisecond before the object disappeared under the bike, I saw the multitude of legs scrambling to cross the road.
It was a spider.
A big damn spider.
The thing had to be about 2/3rd the size of my hand. The only spider in the US that grows that big is the tarantula. I had a thought to go back and photograph it, but it was moving with purpose and would likely be to the shoulder by the time I got there. I rode on, smiling to myself for witnessing something unusual.
In the upper right corner of my route view in Scenic is an altitude readout. Much like yesterday, where I was very slowly increasing altitude all day, the altitude continued to steadily count up as I rode west. The day was fairly clear, but I knew there were wildfires in the state, so I didn’t know how badly views of the horizon would be compromised by smoke.
About 40 miles west of Roswell, I reached some sort of peak elevation on the plain and I started the long slow descent into the Pecos River valley at Roswell. I had anticipated that Roswell would be full of tourist exploitation attractions touting the legendary crash landing of a UFO in the area back in 1947. While I did see some alien-themed decorations at a hotel and more at a campground, most of the alien references were in murals on some of the bare walls in town. Some of these were very well done (I know, I should have photographed them).
It was around 11am and I decided that a late breakfast/early lunch was in order. US380 is the main drag through town, so I rode slowly to scope out the available options. I saw a few national chains, which I summarily ignored. I saw a few local establishments that clearly were trying to attract tourists (“Free crayons for the kids!”) and they were surrounded with family truckster vehicles and RVs. Then I noticed a little red building, back a bit from the road, with a tiny sign out front touting La Escondida Cafe. In it’s parking lot were a few sedans and a bunch of (mostly dirty) pickup trucks.
That is the local hangout.
I did a u-turn right in the middle of US380 and went back to park.
The front of the building was quite unassuming. If you didn’t know it was there, it would be easy to miss.
Inside, the place was filled to the gills. There were two four-place tables that I could have sat at but I didn’t need that much space. I took a place at the counter. A waiter fetched me a Diet Coke and I took a panorama of the room as I checked the menu.
During my menu inspection, I saw several plates of deliciousness headed for other tables. I elected to partake in their breakfast burrito. You picked any three of the eight ingredients they offered (you could add more as an upgrade). In addition, you could add any combination of onions, tomatoes, or jalapeños for free. Then you picked a red or green sauce for go over the top in addition to the standard portion of cheese. I ordered one with: eggs, potatoes, chorizo, onions, and red sauce. When it arrived, it was the size of my forearm.
The burrito was delicious. I ate well, drank a gallon of Diet Coke, and was back on my way before noon.
Before I entered Roswell, I could see the first of the mountains off to the northwest. About 30 miles west of Roswell, the road went down into a valley and started following it into the mountains. The speed limit dropped again, probably because the road started curving around a bit, but these sweepers were still plenty comfortable with the cruise set at ~65mph. As I continued west, I noted that the altitude was going steadily up again. I also noticed the greater amount of cloud cover over the high terrain, which is common.
When I was about at Honda, I noted that there was one portion of cloud cover that looked to be dropping rain. It didn’t look very heavy and I figured that, as long as I encountered it while moving, I’d be fine.
No such luck.
I started seeing raindrops on the windshield just as I encountered the lower speed limit near Ruidoso. Crap! At 35mph, the windshield and fairing provided negligible protection from rain. I even got stopped at a stoplight. I was in and out of it in about three minutes, but I still got a fairly good soaking.
As the road continued to wind off to the southwest, I got further away from the rain cell and was enjoying the slightly added chill of the evaporation as I rode. I still had about 200 miles to ride, so I was confident that I’d dry out before my destination.
The decent down onto the desert pan near Alamagordo was impressive because you could see the White Sands region of the desert between this range and the next mountain range to the west.
I stopped for gas in Alamagordo, pleased that I was able to halve the day; this single gas stop would provide enough to get to my destination.
West of White Sands, I was getting closer to the next mountain range and I managed to capture a photo.
I’d eventually climb over that range into Las Cruces, where the heat came back. It was still below triple digits, but well into the 90ºsF. The good news is that the route through Las Cruces was mostly highway and very little stoplight-to-stoplight. Soon enough, I was on I10 headed west.
There’s a Union Pacific main line that closely follows I10 along this stretch. Most of that main line must be double-track, or perhaps a long sequence of passing sidings, because I counted no less than six looooong trains (eastbound and westbound) parked and waiting for other traffic to clear. I did eventually encounter a westbound intermodal train blasting it’s way east; it had five(!) head units and another two inserted in the middle of the consist. That seemed to be a common pattern with the UP power; three to five units on the front with two in the middle of the consist. I did see one shorter train (non-intermodal, perhaps a manifest freight?) with three units in front and one helper way back on the tail.
I turned off I10 onto US180 at Deming. Like at the start of today’s ride, the terrain was completely flat, but the horizon offered the promise of more scenic riding. I took it on the fly and through my buggy windshield, so it’s not much to look at.
I started to get into the mountains as I neared Hurley. The speed limit dropped for the coming town and there was a tight S-curve to cross a railroad track. Just pass the railroad crossing, I noticed a small yard off to the right and I was trying to read the railroad name on the side of the two units that were switching the yard.
About that time, two things happened in rapid succession:
- I realize that I wasn’t monitoring my acceleration after the railroad crossing.
- Looking away from the yard I saw the Hurley Police car in the opposing lane, moving off to the shoulder to make a u-turn.
I looked down and saw that I was going around 70mph, and the speed limit had just dropped to 55mph.
I was busted and I knew it. I didn’t bother to feign innocence and wait for the approaching red & blue lights to escort me to the shoulder. I pulled over, shut off the bike, and began fishing out my ID and vehicle paperwork.
The officer introduced himself and noted that he clocked me at 68mph in a 55mph zone (that matched me earlier assessment). I explained that I’d been distracted by the locomotives in the yard and had failed to track my acceleration out of the S-curve. I made no attempt to defend myself. I handed over my license and registration, but I didn’t have the current proof-of-insurance on me; I did have it on my phone and showed it to him there, which he said was satisfactory. Glancing at my license, he noted the state (Michigan) and that started a conversation of why was I on a motorcycle on the opposite side of the country.
I explained about the model train convention in Dallas and how I’d taken extra time to see a few sights and visit a few friends on the way to and from the convention. This prompted a question as to why I wasn’t headed back towards Michigan. I explained that there was a stretch of US191 that I heard was a great motorcycle road and I wanted to ride it.
At this point, the officer said that, assuming that my license and registration checked out OK, he was going to just give me a warning. I thanked him and we went back to talking about scenic roads in the area.
Now the officer described a parallel route that he said wasn’t as curvy (so I’d make better time) and even prettier. I got the impression that the two routes, US191 in Arizona, and US180 in New Mexico, represents a little bit of cross-state rivalry. After a few more minutes of bike talk, the officer said that he’d delayed me enough and returned my paperwork without even checking it out.
Thank my lucky stars.
To commemorate the event, I grabbed a quick photo of the officer’s vehicle and another of a palisade off to the east overlooking the scene of my crime.
At this point, I was only about 10 miles from my motel in Silver City. The rest of the route was completed without further close encounters with the law.
After the Ride
I parked at the Comfort Inn in Silver City and checked in. When I arrived at my room, I found the room to be in a humorous condition.
Apparently, the desk clerk had forgotten that my assigned room had its carpets shampooed recently and wasn’t dry yet. To make matters even worse, the smoke alarm was giving off its once-a-minute chirp indicating that it needed its battery replaced. I removed the battery and returned to the front desk, where the desk clerk assigned me to another room.
The only remaining challenge was finding a dinner venue. Apparently, Silver City hops during the weekends and sleeps during the week, so most decent local restaurants are closed on Sunday and Monday (today is Sunday). If nothing else, there’s a Denny’s down the street. There appears to be a few options a short walk or ride away.
After a quick consult of Yelp, I found a favorable entry for the Little Toad Creek Brewery and Distillery. It was in the nearby downtown area and would be open this evening until 10pm. After a selective change of wardrobe, I grabbed my jacket and helmet and went out to the Nightowl.
The ride downtown was only a few miles and I managed to find parking right across the street with two other bikes (both adventure models). There was plenty of room so I selected a high table near the window. After consulting the menu, I picked a Copper Ale and placed an order for Pulled Pork Tacos.
I’m not a huge beer fan, but something unusual or unique can generally hold my attention for 10-16 ounces with of consumption. I found the Copper Ale to be a worthy end to a full day of riding. The tacos came out in a set of three, with salsa and BBQ sauce on the side for selective customization. I ate the first taco with the salsa and the second with the BBQ sauce. The tie-breaker taco went with the BBQ sauce.
The waiter somehow conned me into dessert, which was a large soft cinnamon sugar pretzel with warm icing on the side. I ate it so fast that I didn’t have time to photograph it.
All in all, Little Toad Creek was a fine dinner destination. Yes, it’s one notch above bar food, but it was a healthy notch. The place has plenty of character; they even have one of the old Western New Mexico Mustang (local college) mascot costumes hanging from the wall.
Walking across the street back to the Nightowl, I got the distinct impression that I was closing the downtown region. I half expected to see county staff rolling up the streets until tomorrow.
This was today’s map. Click on the image to open an interactive page for this route.
Head up US191 through eastern Arizona (the whole reason for this diversion) up to Canyon de Chelly.