Tuesday, April 26, 2022

2022 Trip Southwest, Day 5 – Portales to las Cruces


If a good breakfast is important, this one was a bad omen – no milk, no cinnamon rolls, cold eggs – but it turned out to be the worst part of the day. I hit the road at 0705, heading SW on US-70, driving 10 mph under the speed limit. This is flat country, all grazing land, punctuated by wind farms. I could see why this whole area was part of the llano estacado, given the absence of landmarks.

What happens when a diesel locomotive breaks down in the middle of nowhere? The touble shooter drives up in a company pickup and stands around with the engineer figuring things out. The next town is Elida (aside: Springer is home to Elida's Cafe, where I discovered posole), with little business. Just past Elida, I saw the first pronghorns of the trip. Kenna has a defunct gas station and little else. The country is empty, save the nice 4-lane highway, running thru it.

I pass Haystack Mountain off-road vehicle area and start the long drop to the Pecos valley. The first mountain appeared in the haze at 0808. I slow down to look at a nice 4-field skeet range, all buildings painted in desert tan. I come to the town it's named after.

Gas in Roswell ranged 3.85-3.99. Near the visitor center stands a statue of John Chisum, founder of one of the great cattle empires of the west, and underwriter of of the Tunstall store in Lincoln. Billy the Kid indirectly worked for him.


I paid $6 to tour the UFO Museum, once a testament to yellowing sticky tape, now an up-to-date museum with all the bells & whistles one would expect.

I next visited the Roswell Museum, strong on art and history. This was always one of Sandra's favorite places to stop, as it features local art (think Peter Hurd/Henriette Wyeth). That visit took almost a full hour.

I headed west on US-70, passing a Martian Martial Arts place and Buena Vida homesites. The road starts flat, then climbs up and down the foothills as I reach the Hondo Valley – it looks just like a Peter Hurd painting. The highway department is fixing guard rails, and not with shiny new ones – these look pre-rusted. Entering Ruidoso Downs (the town), I pass Ruidoso Downs (the racetrack) and the Hubbard Museum of the American Horse. An aside: the last time we stopped there, it was hosting the roots music exhibit – the same one our Johnson County Historical Society hosted. Ruidoso has a cell tower designed to look like a Ponderosa pine.

This area is part of the Mescalero Apache reservation, home of their spectacular ski resort and casino, Inn of the Mountain Gods (which holds a large collection of Allan Houser bronzes). The road climbs to Apache Summit, altitude 7591', then drops 3000 feet to the Tularosa Basin. Dust blowing off the white sand in the basin obscures the next range of mountains. I see my first (and only) dust devil of the trip in a vineyard east of the highway.

I bypass Alamogordo, drive right past the entrance to White Sands National Park, and start the long climb to San Augustin Pass. Now in Las Cruces, I head for the Solano Ave location of COAS bookstore, and find 2 hardbacks. Belated lunch is a chile relleno (green) plate at Las Trancas restaurant across the street. Then it's downtown to the main COAS location, and I depart with 3 more books. Check in at the HIE, a quick green chile cheeseburger at Whataburger (never again) and I'm in for the night.

For the day: 278.2 miles, for the trip 1136.7. No virgin roads today.

Tomorrow: Gallup via Socorro & Pie Town.

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