Aliens! Outlaws! Mountains! I saw all this and more while I rode through Texas and New Mexico – read on.
Flat, flat, flats
Leaving Texas On Mother’s Day, I booked it out of Dallas and headed west on Rt. 380, across Texas. All the roads in this area looked pretty straight and flat, and 380 appeared to have a few curves, which was better than none. Sure enough, every once in a while, there were inexplicable curves as I headed through cattle and oil country.
I don’t know what the road builders were avoiding – there aren’t any rivers or mountains in this country to skirt.Some of it has rolling hills, some if it’s flat, but if your dog ran away, you could watch it for three days.
By now, it was obvious I was entering the southwest US; I saw tumbleweed, cactus, oil rigs, lots of horses, and gated ranches with signs warning all passers-by to keep out. People around here take their property rights seriously.
After all the rain I encountered in the eastern US, I was happy to finally encounter the desert. West Texas is hot, hot, hot. It looks hot – everything’s parched and brown. It feels hot – as soon as I stopped the bike, I headed for shade. It sounds hot – the whistling desert wind is straight from a Saharan sandstorm. And of course, all that Mexican food tastes hot as well. Even the gas stations here get in on the act – burritos, enchiladas and the like are standard fare after you fill up.
The 380 took me through country towns, with small, low adobe and brick buildings and big gas stations. Probably the most interesting town I saw was Post, founded originally as a utopian dream. Apparently it didn’t pan out.
In fact, I barely made it into Post, as I didn’t realize how far into city limits I would have to ride to find gas. I’m sure I was running on fumes, as the Switchback’s gas gauge was on dead empty, and the fuel range setting on the gauges was flashing “LO RANGE,” after I dropped below the 10 km mark. No kidding.
I’m glad I wasn’t stuck roadside, as I’m not sure if the locals trust Harley-Davidson riders or not. I think I would have been OK, but once you hit the rural US, there’s always the chance of an Easy Rider moment.
OK, that might have been an exaggeration.
After gassing up in the town founded on a breakfast cereal fortune, I headed north to Lubbock, spent the night there, and on Monday morning, was en route to Roswell, New Mexico, once again on the 380.
A legal alien
The Lubbock-Roswell route is hardly very interesting – it’s easy to see why Buddy Holly moved away from here en route to rock and roll fame, although maybe he would have lived longer if he’d stayed at home.
But, maybe he would have died of boredom. The horizon stretches forever here – very beautiful for me, an out-of-towner, to see, but I’m guessing the locals don’t get as excited about it.
The Switchback is excellent for this sort of riding. You just point the front wheel in the direction you want, and start picking off cars. All that torque is very very useful when the slowpokes start to back up.
The terrain starts to change as you dip into Roswell; things get greener as you see a sign proclaiming Roswell as the dairy capital of the southwest. Riiiiiiiight. Ask anyone who’s ever heard of Roswell, and they’ll tell you the town’s number one attraction is its goofy alien stories.
Aliens are to Roswell what Anne of Green Gables is to PEI – the 1947 Roswell Incident is the only thing that’s ever put the town on the map, so the locals mine that for tourism gold. I visited a few alien museums while I was in town, including the International UFO Museum and Research Center.
I thought this was actually a fairly interesting attraction – although I don’t believe in little green men in flying saucers, the collecton of newspaper clippings displayed at the museum will leave you wondering what exactly the military was covering up. Was it some sort of Cold War intrigue? Were they trying to track down Bigfoot? Was the base commander having a torrid affair with a local rancher’s daughter? We’ll likely never know.
The rest of the town centre has alien stuff everywhere – every store has Martians painted in the windows, and the town streetlights are painted to look like space invaders. Even the McDonalds has a flying saucer-shaped play room. Everything has sort of a small town tourist trap feel, which is actually sort of comforting to me, since I grew up on PEI.
Get off the main drag, though, and you’ll see what the town really is – an outpost in the desert, with a struggling economy and more of those small, low adobe or brick buildings, with spruced-up facades. It’s got to be a tough town to make a living in.
If you’re not into aliens, check out the town’s Museum and and Art Center. There’s a fine collection of local art in here, some of it fascinating. There’s also a great collection of local artifacts from the area’s rootin’ tootin’ frontier days – cowboy revolvers and work equipment, native headdresses and clothing, even some items from the early Spanish settlers. It’s totally free to visit, too – great for the CMG budget.
Leaving town, the roads started getting interesting as I approached the Hondo Valley. The mountains rise from the sides of the highway here, and the road starts to curve – a welcome change from the hours of straightaways on the other side of town.
A detour took me down a fun little road into Riodoso, where I checked out the Hubbard Museum (also fairly interesting, but not free admission) and barely escaped the clutches of an overly bored elderly attendant at the tourist centre who wanted to give me all sorts of advice on my travels, but would have delayed me from traveling at all by jawing at me all day, given the chance.
Traveling through this area, I started to see the wild western landscape that film director Sergio Leone mimicked in his famous spaghetti westerns (although they were mostly shot in Europe). Sharp peaks and tight canyons marked the landscape, with occasional landmarks noting that some outlaw or other had met his end at this spot in a hail of bullets.
There are some very twisty roads through this area as well, where you’ve got to watch your speed – the state troopers can actually double your speeding fines in some of these areas, as they’re marked as dangerous.
Follow these roads, and you can get to Fort Stanton (the museum was closed when I got there) and the town of Lincoln, home of the infamous Lincoln County War – the conflict where Billy the Kid kicked off his murderous career.
Lincoln’s a neat town. You can even visit the courthouse where the Kid made his infamous escape, shooting two deputies as he fled.
Then, you can ride out of town through the same passes he took, all the way down 380 through the Valley of Fire (a mostly straight stretch of road, but amazing views of the mountains and lava formations), then cross over to the 60 in Socorro and head through more straight desert roads that climb and fall through mountain elevations – all the way to the Very Large Array.
I took a quick detour to get a photo of the radio telescopes, then, as I headed back to the highway, noticed some movement roadside. As I looked again, I realized there was a well-camouflaged herd of about a dozen antelope grazing a meter from the side of the road.
At this point, my normally calm and collected train of thought switched from quiet introspection and consideration of the desert landscape, to a desperate set of commands, all aimed at avoiding the antelope. Thankfully, the sight of a fully-loaded Harley barreling down the road, braking and gearing down and swerving, was enough to send them scattering off into the desert.
Back on the highway, I let my heart rate settle, and observed the roadside fences, figuring they’d keep the deer away from the road.
Wrong. Less than a klick down the road, another antelope buck was grazing in the ditch.Thankfully, he took off away from me, not in front of me.
You might not have heard of this, but there are programs in the US that offer free shotguns to inner city residents, to protect themselves and their homes. I have a suggestion – I think the AMA should give away high-powered rifles to New Mexico residents, to keep the highways clear of these pronghorned terrors of the dusk and dawn.
The sight of a few more deer, and then some elk warning signs, convinced me it was time to camp for the night, instead of making it as far down Rt.12 as I could. I’d rather be on the side of the road willingly, camping, than in the ditch thanks to a member of the deer family. No matter how fun your ride is, it’s not worth that sort of crash.
I pulled over in Horse Springs when I saw Martin Sheen working on his gas station’s pumps. At least, I think it was Martin Sheen – it could have been a local who looked like him. I asked him where I could get into the forest and camp.
Instead of the woods, he offered up his under-construction hunting lodge. There were no beds, but I could hang my hammock inside, and there were toilets, showers, and clean drinking water. And, if I looked out the window, the back yard looked like a 1970s-era album cover from the Eagles or Linda Ronstadt, complete with rusty ranch equipment and a weathered Catholic church.
Chatting with him, Martin Sheen began to fill me in on the area’s rich history, with stories of the cowboys and Indians that had lived all over the surrounding hills, which gave me a lot to think about as I planned the next day before drifting into an unexpectedly fantastic sleep.
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