- Where We Started: Alamogordo, N.M.
- Where We Ended: Green Valley, Ariz.
- Miles Driven: 393 (6,6672 total)
- New States: Arizona
- States So Far: 15 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
There are so many interesting facets to trips like this. One of them is seeing things for the second time. While we've tried, for the most part, to avoid that, there are places we loved so much back in 2003 that we wanted to come back. White Sands National Monument was one of those places. But second visits -- be they to restaurants, cities or landmarks -- so often erase the positive memories of the initial visit. It's safe to say this did not happen at White Sands.
We wanted to save White Sands for later in the day, when the lighting is phenomenal, so we started our day at the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo. The museum has a strong collection of old spacecraft and space-related artifacts. Outside the museum, there's a small park with the larger pieces that can't fit in the compact building.
Inside, there are more exhibits and also the International Space Hall of Fame, which includes all the usual suspects plus some unexpected folks: Arthur C. Clarke, Copernicus (who, unfortunately, could not attend the induction ceremony, due to his death 452 years earlier) and Walter Cronkite. Outside, there's a simple but powerful memorial for the astronauts who died in the three biggest tragedies in U.S. space history: the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, the Challenger explosion in 1986 and the breakup of Columbia over Texas in 2003.
Next, we were going to do a scenic drive to Cloudcraft, N.M., the location of the nation's southernmost ski resort, but we then decided we couldn't wait any longer to get to White Sands. It was the right call. For those who have never been to White Sands -- and, based on its relatively remote location, you probably haven't -- it's hard to describe. It's basically 275 square miles of white gypsum powder, created by the prevailing westerly winds that have blown eroded parts of the San Andres Mountains to its present location. It is one of few places in the United States where you truly feel like you're on another planet. There and Las Vegas.
White Sands is also one of the best national park sites for dogs. They're allowed anywhere in the park, there are lot of smelly things buried in the sand and they can run free. Fred and Hank took full advantage, playing, running and hunting themselves to exhaustion. The humans even got some exercise, doing a long hike and renting a slide to cruise down some of the huge dunes. Of course, to slide down these dunes required climbing them in the first place, so we could only muster a few runs.
Because White Sands is easier to show than it is to describe, I will now shut up. Enjoy the photos.
Joan slides down a hill at White Sands. There's a photo of me doing the same, but considering I could barely get the damn thing to move, I figured I'd save myself embarrassment by using this pic. (Photo by Jim)
FHMA PROGRAMMING NOTE
As I mentioned last week, the weary travelers on the FHMA tour will soon be taking a three-day hiatus from posting daily updates. I am headed back to Virginia for some fantasy baseball drafts. Joan is going to relax, get some spa time and help the dogs and the car get recharged. Fred is getting a session with an acupuncturist. Hank is going to get his runny eyes checked. The car needs a general checkup, as it has a slow leak in the front right tire and a side panel that's lost a screw. So there will be two more posts after this one before we take our break.
But because we care, we do have plans for three posts during our "outage." They'll address some of the behind-the-scenes issues that come into play on a trip like this. Here's the plan:
- Saturday: What goes on behind the camera to get the photos -- especially those of ornery beagles -- that we're using.
- Sunday: What technology we're using to chronicle the trip.
- Monday: How Joan and I have divided the labor to ensure marital bliss on the road.
- Considering I'm a pretty big movie buff, I'm ashamed of myself -- and if I wasn't, Dave Aldridge and Matt Sampson rightfully shamed me -- for missing an obvious connection. On Tuesday, we drove through Fort Hancock, Tex., which is where both Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman cross the border into Mexico in "The Shawshank Redemption" after they "get out" of prison in very different ways. The movie itself was filmed mostly in Ohio, and no filming was done in Fort Hancock, but either way, it is notable, especially when you're talking about the No. 1 movie of all time on IMDB.com, one of the Web's truly great sites.
- Thanks to the known mavericky-ness of Arizonans. we gained yet another hour on Tuesday. Most of Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings Time. So we arrived at our hotel after another long, boring drive thinking it was 11:45pm, only to find out is was 10:45pm. That was nice. Thank you, Arizona.
- Speaking of the mavericky nature of Arizona, an odd fact about Interstate 19, which runs from Tucson to the border town of Nogales, Ariz.: The road signs are all in metric. Apparently, when I-19 was built in the early 1970s, the United States was in the midst of metric system mania, so they decided to use metric units for distances. Apparently, this will change when Arizona gets its stimulus money, as it will use $1.5 million to convert all the signs. Odd note: Only the distances between exits or to upcoming towns is in metric; the speed limit uses miles per hour. The good news: The road signs are not in Esperanto.
- The stretch of U.S.-70 that that cuts through the White Sands Missile Range in southwestern New Mexico: the Bataan Memorial Highway. This drive, through the Jarilla Mountains, is gorgeous. Let's just say that if you were going to name a highway after the Bataan Death March, west Texas seems like a more appropriate place.
- You've got to love a town that knows what it is, and doesn't try to put on any airs. As you're blowing through the interstate town of Lordsburg, N.M., here are its three exits: East Hotel Drive, Main Street and West Hotel Drive. When two of your three exits are named after things people stay at on their way through your town, you know you're not a hot spot.
- Interesting fact: One of the places I really wanted to go while we were here was the Trinity site in New Mexico, where the first atomic bomb was tested in 1945. But the site, on the northern end of the White Sands Missile Range, is only open to the public two days a year, the first Saturdays in April and October. Ironically, the first Saturday of April is this week, but instead of witnessing one of history's most important sites, I'll be sitting around a table with a bunch of other geeks drafting baseball players. But here's what the Trinity site looks like, via a miniature version located at the New Mexico Museum of Space History.
One cool exhibit at the New Mexico Museum of Space History: Packets of old space food. The best part of the exhibit was the old Pepsi and Coke cans used in space. Wait... a faster way to drink soda? Bring it on...
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "Baba," by Mickey Hart and Zakir Hussain. I will get this out right away: I am not a big Grateful Dead fan. But Hart, its longtime drummer, has been very active on the world music scene, and this is off an album called "The Global Drum Project." This is not as good an album as "Planet Drum," which, in 1991, won the first Grammy ever awarded for Best World Music Album. That's a terrific album. The song "Baba" is undoubtedly named after the late Nigerian percussionist Babatunde Olatunji, who produced the classic "Drums of Passion" in 1959. Hart studied with Olatunji, who also collaborated some with the Dead.
- Most-Played Albums: We played some Barenaked Ladies early in our long drive to the Tucson area, but as night settled in, I needed some more noise, so I turned to "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs," by Derek & The Dominos, and "Machine Head," by Deep Purple. On the former album, I just love "Bell Bottom Blues," and on the latter, the riff of "Smoke on the Water" never gets old. After that, I played some more Deep Purple, and then, for the home stretch, turned back to Rush, and cruised into Green Valley jamming "Signals," featuring an appropriate cover for this trip. Best tunes off that album -- because I know you care -- are "Subdivisions," "The Weapon" and "Countdown."
- Reader Sonja Zambrana asks: "Are you "allowed" to skip a song (in the instance of Billy Joel and Joan's dislike) or do you have to listen to whatever pops up?" Answer: We listen to whatever pops up, whether either of us likes it or not. So far, we haven't turned up a song that both of us dislike. But, then again, since it's my iPod, I suppose that shouldn't happen anyway. It's not like there's any Abba on there... Well, at least not much.
- Thanks to a tip from Joan Burnett, here's an MSNBC article that discusses the issue of prog rock's absence from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with key discussion around the credentials of a specific Canadian power trio.
- Lunch: Applebee's, Alamogordo, N.M.: In an attempt to start eating better -- and, hey, how hard could that be? -- we went to the Applebee's that was about 100 feet from our hotel. I had chicken salad and a cup of tomato soup, and both were quite good. Joan also had soup and a grilled chicken Caesar salad, and pronounced both excellent. Places like Applebee's may not be five-star cuisine, but you've got to give them one thing: They're consistent and dependable. Jim Nutrition Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5). I probably used too much dressing, as Joan helpfully pointed out. Hey, darlin', I'm not the one who had the Caesar salad. Yup, that's right, I'm talking nutrition smack. Restaurant Rating: 4 stars (out of 5). Quite good.
- Dinner: Nopalito, Las Cruces, N.M.: This small, easy-to-miss Mexican restaurant is located on the outskirts of Las Cruces -- which, much to my surprise, is the second-largest city in New Mexico. We weren't sure what to expect, since the place was empty when we got there, although it was Roadfood-recommended. But Joan took one bite of her crispy tacos and held up five fingers, meaning a five-star rating. My chicken fajitas were also excellent, though I only would only pony up four starts. Joan's cake was also tremendous. She only dinged Nopalito for pedestrian guacamole. Jim Nutrition Rating: 2 stars (out of 5). Of everything I could have gotten, chicken fajitas were not the worst choice, and I passed on the sour cream, barely touched the guacamole and had no dessert. But I did have chips and salsa, so I cannot in good conscience give myself a better rating. Restaurant Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5).
- Quality Inn Green Valley, Green Valley, Ariz.: This didn't start well. We arrived late, and I was, shall we say, a tad crabby. So when the key to the room didn't work, I didn't respond well. But once Joan gave me my pacifier, things got better. When we got to the room, we found it comfortable and quite nice, and it had a nice easy chair to work from. The wireless -- as we're finding a lot in the west Texas/New Mexico/Arizona region -- is a bit balky. Nonetheless, we're quite happy, despite the fact the fan in the bathroom sounds like a 747 starting up. Hotel rating: 4 stars (out of 5).
- Joan is getting wearing of what she calls "gratuitous Joaning" that occurs when making reservations. The hotel reps she's raking over the coals tend to use her name in every sentence, and it's making her crazy. These calls seem to be battles to see who can annoy each other more.
- Joan: "Do you any other rates I don't know about, but should know about, but need a special password to access?"
- Rep: "No, Joan. I'm sorry to say we don't, Joan."
- Joan: "So that rate is the best you can do?"
- Rep: "Yes, Joan. I wish I could do better, Joan."
My suggestion to Joan: Tell them your name is "Baby." Wouldn't it sound better if they said, "I'm sorry, Baby. That's the best I can do, Baby."? Added bonus: If they ever try to put us in a crappy corner room, you can pull out the "Nobody puts Baby in a corner" line.
COMMENT OF THE DAY
- Today: Tuscon, and on to Phoenix.
- Tomorrow: Phoenix.
- The Day After Tomorrow: Day One of our FHMA hiatus.
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTOS