An Easter Weekend Road Trip and Some Unexpected History…

I have started this post at least three times trying to get into the substance of it. I don’t know why it seems complicated.

Maybe it’s because I have several interests and avocations in life outside of my “professional” existence. In reality, my job is nothing more than a means to support whatever my interests are at the time, and they can be myriad, sometimes annoyingly so. That being the case, sometimes it’s hard keeping everything on one track.

So, one of the constants in my life, since I can remember, has been road trips. I am not, and never have been a “vacationer” in the conventional sense. I prefer to get out and explore on my own and, well, I come by this naturally as my Dad was the same way. While I was growing up, our family vacations were usually spent on three day weekends to various destinations and exploring what we could along the way. This is how I saw Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, China Town in Los Angeles, The old Army Air Force Training Base in Blythe California, Meteor Crater in Arizona, Hoover Dam in Nevada, Sutter’s Fort in northern California, and so many other things, including driving nearly the entire length of Route 66 by the time I was a teenager, and visiting the Capitol building in Lansing Michigan. This has continued into my adult life, and my wife is an enthusiastic co-conspirator, for the most part. (Yes, this is leading to the Easter weekend road trip!)

Another one of my passions is reading. Now I am not a voracious fiction consumer. As a matter of fact, I rarely read fiction preferring instead to read historical accounts and reference works–especially if they pertain to my other interests – like photography, or jazz, or history.

Ah! Let’s talk about history, another one of my consuming interests. Not so much history in general, but rather narratives of the events that shaped the 20th century, especially, but not exclusively, from about 1930 onward. To this end, about two weeks before the Easter weekend road trip, I bought a copy of Bill O’Reilly’s book The Day The World Went Nuclear from the bargain table at our local mall bookstore, and promptly forgot about it in the shuffle of daily life.

Then the road trip.

So how do a book by Bill O’Reilly and Easter weekend come together? Really O’Reilly’s book is just a fun coincidence that ties into one of the interesting circumstances on our road trip.

The trip was to be done in 24 hours from Texas to California (some 1200 miles). Based on previous experience, 1200 miles in 24 hours is around an 8 on a difficulty scale from 1-10, but doable.

Now I could have taken one of two easy routes, I-40, or I-20 to I-10. Instead, I opted for a two lane trip across New Mexico and Arizona on US. 380 and U.S. 60 – just to see something different. We did.

We left home about 12:15 a.m. on Good Friday, and eventually picked up U.S. 380 into Roswell, New Mexico. In Roswell, before dawn we enjoyed breakfast at Denny’s, filled the car with gas and headed west. We were in Lincoln, New Mexico at daybreak – epicenter of the famous “Lincoln County War” of 1878. For any western history aficionado, this is an unbelievable location. With most of the buildings seemingly original to their 1870’s roots. An area that seems about as historically preserved as it could get.

It was just sunrise so, I didn’t really make any images, mostly because everything was still in shadow and we were on somewhat of a time schedule, so the time wasn’t there to wait for better light.

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Sunrise in Lincoln New Mexico

Heading west, we came to the town of Carrizozzo, New Mexico, a nice clean little town with beautiful early morning light.

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The Rainbow Motel in Carrizozo New Mexico.
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A line up of old trucks by the highway just outside of Carrizozo New Mexico.

Little did we know, the trip was about to become much more interesting.

On this particular trip, we had passed a number of “historical markers”. I’m not usually one for stopping at these things as they’re usually not all that interesting. My wife was driving (her turn) and I was a little groggy from driving all night when I saw a road sign for the gate to the White Sands test facility. I had been on the southern side of the facility when I was about twelve or thirteen (thanks Dad) and they have a welcome center and such for the tourists. I figured there might be something on this side, but probably way too early for it to be open. However, there was a marker a few hundred yards down the road, so lets stop and read the marker I say.

Gob smacked!

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Excuse the lens flare, but I was completely consumed by the information in front of me. If I would have put some consideration into my route planning, I might have seen this coming…

I suddenly realized, that I was within a few miles of the place that the universe was forever altered in an instant, and the world’s balance of power would be forever determined by horrendous weaponry that was based on a science invisible to the human eye.

Damn! That’s some weighty stuff right there.

Okay, we let that sink in for a minute… Then we decided to do a bit more looking around, basically because I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t.

So we backtracked a bit and headed south on the road to the White Sands gate. It was definitely a gate.

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Gate At the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico

No touristy stuff in sight. No Welcome center. Just a white pickup truck driving toward us on the other side shortly after I stated taking pictures. I’m guessing they really didn’t want us there. So, we decided to head back toward the highway. We probably weren’t going any further anyway. If you look closely in the above image you can see a small brown sign just inside the gate that says “Trinity Site”.  By the way, after doing a little post trip research, it turns out that the site is opened to the public on the first Saturday in April every year – two weeks before we were there!

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Trinity Site sign

The trip became even more interesting after we left the White Sands/Trinity area passing some cows as we continued west on U.S. 380.

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Cows – but you knew that, didn’t you?

As we headed west and picked up U.S. 60 in the little town of Socorro, New Mexico. We stopped for gas and the restroom in Socorro. After filling the car (a 2011 Honda Pilot named “Pete” – long story) using the rest room and, generally getting ourselves together, we checked the GPS and headed west on U.S. 60.

As we headed out of town commenting on the scenery and style of the town we came upon a sign that told us VLA was a few miles away. Being slightly goofy from the road we started making jokes like – what kind of a name is VLA? –  buy a vowel already, and my wife “they’re probably a wealthy community that doesn’t need another vowel”. So the jokes continued until we found out what VLA was.

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VLA!

Well, Ill be damned. Who new (uh… I’m guessing a bunch of people). Time for another side trip.

This facility is pretty much open to the public (unlike the humorless folks at White Sands). There is a walking tour, videos explaining the place and its mission, and of course the ubiquitous gift shop.

… And a whole bunch of these…

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Satellite antenna at the VLA – this one is actually part of the self guided walking tour, and you can get pretty close to it.

This is a really amazing place.

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Inside the Welcome Center.

As if this whole place wasn’t impressive enough on its own, it has a Hollywood connection too, the movie Contact was filmed there. Wow.

This was just plain impressive, even after fourteen hours on the road with no sleep!

So, after this we needed to make up some road time.

Heading west on U.S. 60 again, we stopped just outside of Show Low, Arizona, gassed up and used the restroom. I used an old standby of mine – I washed my face and arms, grabbed a sports drink and a beefstick and we hit the road. I was driving and, as the effects of the sports drink hit me I got my second wind and felt fine. We turned north to Holbrook and then picked up I-40 west.

One last thing. We had to stop in Winslow, Arizona to… well…stand on a corner.

I actually took a photo of my wife standing here but, I don’t think she would want me to use it, so this will have to do.

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Yep, the’ve made a whole touristy thing out of an Eagles song. It was fun though in a campy sort of way.

Back on the road, then straight through – Flagstaff, Arizona (don’t forget Winona), Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino (not quite but almost, and my sincere apologies to Bobby Troupe).  We  arrived at 7:00 p.m. Pacific time Friday evening or about 22 hours after leaving.

Had a great Easter with the kids and grandkids. Then I did a straight through drive back – sorry no side trips on the return just mile after mile. My wife? Well she flew back on Thursday (huh!) and Pete the Pilot? He’s waiting for the next one.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

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