Saturday, May 31, 2014

US Hwy 70: Alamogordo, NM

Alamagordo, NM, is a sprawling desert town with a population of about 30,000 people at an altitude of about 4,300 feet. Although founded in 1898, it's clear that most of the town has been developed in much more recent times. The main drag offers every conceivable modern establishment, including fast food, quick marts, strip malls, chain stores and even a Home Depot right next door to a Lowe's.

The first thing I wondered is, "Why are all these people here?" The area has some natural beauty, to be sure, but that hardly accounts for so many people living in the middle of the desert. When you realize that the area also has an Air Force base, an extensive missile testing complex and a state university, you kinda have to conclude that this is another unnatural place for people to live that's the product of governmental stimulus. (Note: I'll leave it at that for now, but there's a theme here which I may do some more musing about in the future!)

Alamogordo's main attraction is the New Mexico Museum of Space History. It's a pretty good facility, with a higher than average collection of physical exhibits: Rockets, missiles, electronics, space suits, etc. It also has an extensive gallery of photos recognizing luminaries of space exploration, ranging from Galileo to the current space station crew. It's not the best space museum I've been to -- that honor remains with the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, KS -- but it's worth a visit if you're in the area.

A lesser known gem is the Toy Train Depot. Some die-hard toy train enthusiasts have assembled six rooms of working displays. Even if you're not feeling nostalgic about toy trains, it's worth seeing just to appreciate what people who share a passion can do. If that's not persuasive enough, you can also take a very nice ride around the adjacent town park in a nifty little train! Choo Choo!

The area's other main attraction is White Sands National Monument, but it deserves a post all its own... Stay tuned!

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Friday, May 30, 2014

US Hwy 70: PistachioLand!

You may recall that I recently saw "the world's biggest peanut" in Durant, OK. You may also recall it was a rather disappointing 3-foot long metal sculpture. So, when I saw a sign promoting "the world's biggest pistachio" while driving toward Alamogordo, NM, you will understand my skepticism.

Crikey! That's gotta be the world's biggest pistachio! You can see my road rig behind it for scale!

I had a nice visit at McGinn's PistachioLand where I tried at least a dozen different roasts, everything from "Lemon-Lime" to "Atomic Hot Chili." I'm a lifelong fan of the pistachio, so I chose to stay old-school and picked up a bag -- now only half a bag -- of the traditional, lightly-salted roast... Yummy!

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US Hwy 70: Mountains!

Heading west out of Roswell, NM, the views on US70 continue to be pretty much the same as they've been for days: Flat, dry terrain for as far as the eye can see. Actually, almost as far as the eye can see, because way in the distance there's a promise of... What are those?... Mountains!

Yes, indeed, mountains! The Sacramento Mountains spread mostly north-south in southern New Mexico, spanning the Lincoln National Forest at both ends and the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation in the middle. At first they are gentle rollers with just a bit of welcome greenery.

Before long, you're treated to forest-covered mountainsides as you climb up to a 7,500 foot pass!

All good things come to an end, however, and you're soon on your way back down the other side.

Approaching Alamogordo, it's back to business as usual. Don't despair, though, because more mountains loom on the horizon! That white streak in the middle distance is White Sands National Monument, which I plan to visit tomorrow. You have to give New Mexico credit for variety!

Also in Alamogordo is a highly acclaimed space museum which you can be sure I will visit. I will be especially interested to see how it compares to my current favorite, the excellent space museum in Hutchinson, KS... Stay tuned!

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US Hwy 70: Smokey Bear Lived Here!

So I'm driving through Lincoln County, NM, when I see this. You betcha I stopped to take a look!

What I expected to be a caution about preventing forest fires alters my consciousness when I read the plaque. Smokey Bear was a real bear? I thought he was just the creation of some ad agency!

I ponder this life changing bit of information as I drive into the small town of Capitan, NM, and am confronted with a barrage of signage. You betcha I stopped to check it all out!

It turns out that I was only partially ill-informed. Forest fire prevention became a priority during WWII, but the typical scare-tactic posters of the time weren't getting the message across to kids. So, the character of Smokey Bear was created to do the job. When the little bear was found in the burned forest, some clever chap had the idea to draft him as the real-life Smokey Bear. So, the fictional character came first, the real bear second!

The park has a remarkable museum of forest fire related topics, such as prevention, types of fires, fire-fighting strategies, etc. There's also, of course, a vast array of Smokey Bear memorabilia. Fictional or real, Smokey Bear has been known and loved world-wide for over 70 years.

Smokey Bear has long since died and is buried on the grounds of the park. You betcha I wandered out to pay my respects! Sadly, I was a little disappointed by the modest monument for such a star!

In my mind, there's a darker side of the story. How was the real Smokey Bear compensated for all his work aimed at preventing forest fires? He was locked in a zoo for his entire adult life. Perhaps a future Smokey Bear will modify his tag-line to read: "Only you can prevent wild animal incarceration!"

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

US Hwy 70: Fort Stanton, NM

After exploring Lincoln, NM, I drove down the road and found the fort which played a central role in the area's drama. The first surprise about Fort Stanton is how many buildings are still standing and what excellent condition they are in.

Many of the buildings date from 1855 and much of their longevity is attributable to being built of local stone rather than the more conventional adobe of the time. Another factor is that the fort has been utilized almost uninterruptedly in various ways since its beginning: First to protect settlers in the area, then as a Civil War post, a tuberculosis treatment facility for WWI merchant mariners, a Depression-Era CCC work camp, a WWII internment camp, a state hospital for developmentally handicapped, a low security women's prison and recently as a drug and alcohol rehab center. That's quite a resume!

The structures have been modified over time, as is evident by the roof lines, palladian windows, etc.

Interiors have been repeatedly sub-divided and re-opened, patched, rewired, etc.

As a result, the buildings currently look much better on the outside than they do on the inside.

The fort is currently under the care of a non-profit historical society which is dedicated to its full and complete restoration. I've uploaded a large panorama which is worth a click on the thumbnail below.

After thoroughly exploring the grounds and the few buildings that are open for admission, I spent some quality time in the excellent museum.

A delightful volunteer named Dorothy was very generous with her time, patiently and thoroughly answering all my questions. As you know, I can ask a lot of questions!

If you're ever in the area, don't miss the chance to explore a place where notable characters like Kit Carson, John "Black Jack" Pershing, Billy the Kid, and Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th Cavalry once lived!

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US Hwy 70: Lincoln, NM — A Cautionary Tale

A short drive west of Roswell lies Lincoln, NM, a lovely little historic town and one of the Old West's most storied areas.

It has a long and complicated history, which you can Google — or read any of the umpteen books about — if you find yourself interested in the details.

For our purposes, I'll synopsize it as a cautionary tale of opportunity, ambition, greed, corruption, violence and political intrigue. Here goes:

In 1855, federal troops established a fort in the area, with a mission to protect settlers from attack by previous inhabitants who were none too pleased about the invaders' adverse impact on their native land, hunting grounds, lifestyle, etc. Manifest destiny, after all, is never to be hindered in the least.

We all know there's a ton of money to be made supplying the military, just ask the folks at Halliburton, Blackwater, KBR or any other modern defense contractor.

This opportunity wasn't lost on some ambitious young men who set up a mercantile in a nearby settlement that later became known as Lincoln.

Surprise, surprise, they were backed by powerful local politicians (who were also investors) and a deputized group of gunmen known as "The Boys."

Too bad for them, their monopoly was soon challenged by a second set of entrepreneurs, one of whom was quickly murdered for his efforts. Go figure.

His allies — including the illustrious Billy the Kid and a local cattle baron — sought revenge by forming their own arm of the law called "The Regulators." County residents chose up sides and violent anarchy reigned.

Thus Lincoln gained the dubious distinction of being the most violent town in western America, prompting president Rutherford B. Hayes to call the single road through town "the most dangerous street in America."

To solve the problem, the president appointed a new governor of the territory who dispatched the local military to intervene and bring order and peace to the chaos and violence. Send in the cavalry!

Surprise, surprise, the military was quickly corrupted and backed one of the gangs. The havoc continued apace until ultimately resolved by a subsequent combination of civil/military authority which was motivated to quell the violence as a precursor to achieving statehood for New Mexico.

So what we have, in essence, may be America's earliest example of organized crime, mob/gang warfare, political corruption and military intervention. It's a cautionary tale, I think, of how government can cause a problem, use that problem to justify intervention, then exacerbate the problem in the process. To say the least, I had an enjoyable and informative day delving into the story!

My exploration was greatly aided by two factors. First, modern day Lincoln is a very well preserved historical locale, with many original or faithfully restored buildings. They are well documented by signage and include ample exhibits. If you're ever nearby, I strongly recommend a lengthy visit.

If you visit, take full advantage of the second great aid to exploration: the people who live and work in Lincoln. I found everyone in the lively community of state history employees, local shopkeepers and various artists to be well-informed, enthusiastic and generous with their time and knowledge of the town and its history. No matter how good the "stuff" is, the people are always better!

I'd like to give special thanks to Annmarie "Little Annie" LaMay for fueling my exploration with caffeine and knocking me out with the best chocolate chip cookie I have ever had. Also to Linda Caperton for sharing her exquisite fabric art and her infectious joie de vivre. Thank you, ladies!

After all the nothingness of the Texas panhandle and the disappointment of Roswell, my visit to Lincoln was truly a bright spot in my exploration universe. Later today I'll post a story about my visit to the nearby fort that was the cause -- or at least at the center -- of the Lincoln drama… Stay tuned!

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

US Hwy 70: Roswell, NM

Roswell, NM, has long been on my list of places to visit, primarily for its alien lore. Now that I'm here, I have to admit it's a bit disappointing.

Everywhere you look are alien and UFO themed enterprises, everything from ubiquitous souvenir shops to restaurants, laundromats and whatnot.

The centerpiece of it all is the Roswell UFO Museum, a cavernous building divided into a large number of semi-thematic alcoves.

Its full name is the "International UFO Museum and Research Center" which proves that titles can be more than a little misleading.

The main attraction -- I suppose you could call it that -- is a "life-size" display of aliens, standing under a model of their intergalactic transport.

One or the other is clearly not to scale, or the aliens must have to really scrunch themselves up to fit in their spacecraft!

Mostly, the museum is an overwhelming collection of letters, testimonials, transcripts, schematics, photos, etc. A pretty big deal is made about photos that have been proven to be hoaxes, as if that somehow lends credibility to those that have not been similarly debunked. It doesn't.

After reading/reviewing a respectable amount of the posted literature, I was reminded of the old "fact vs. truth" problem. It may be a "fact" that many people have reported UFO sightings, but that doesn't make their existence the "truth." I didn't believe the earth has ever been visited by aliens when I walked in the door, and I still didn't believe (or even question) when I walked out. Frankly, the whole thing is pretty sophomoric.

Thankfully, there are other attractions in Roswell. A much better bet is the Roswell Museum and Arts Center which offers a wide array of exhibits. In-depth presentation of Robert Goddard's pioneering rocketry work -- including his entire workshop and many artifacts -- is complemented by informative displays of the area's history and culture. There's even some fine art thrown in for good measure.

Another worthwhile attraction is The Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art which houses a fine collection worthy of its name. I'm not an especially big fan of contemporary art, but I enjoyed it.

I've seen enough of Roswell to check it off my list and turn my attention to other exploration in the area... Stay tuned!

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

US Hwy 70: Texas Two-Stint - Part 2

My last 100 miles across the Texas panhandle stayed true to form, a virtually featureless landscape of crops as far and wide as the eye can see. Here's as wide a photo as my dash cam can take:

I passed through a half-dozen small towns, one with a particularly amusing name: Earth, pop. 1065.

I wrapped up my "Texas Two-Stint" with an almost unnoticeable border crossing into New Mexico. I may have missed something worth seeing in the Texas panhandle, but I honestly doubt it. I mean no disrespect to the great state of Texas, but I'm glad to have that long slog of nothing behind me.

Once into New Mexico -- surprise! -- the landscape remained much the same, though I found myself thankful for a difference in flora on opposite sides of the road and for the company of a rail line.

That continued for a hundred miles as I cruised across what I believe is called the high plains. Finally, there was a bit of elevation change as I descended into the veritable oasis of Roswell, NM.

I've stopped in Roswell where I plan to visit with my alien kin and explore the local area... Stay tuned!

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Monday, May 26, 2014

US Hwy 70: Texas Two-Stint - Part 1

I continued west this morning on the last 35 miles of US70 in Oklahoma, heading toward an ominous sky. It was obvious I would be driving through some pretty serious rain, but I couldn't begrudge it to folks in the area who have endured a multi-year drought. Water is everything in these parts.

By mid-morning I'd "officially" crossed into Texas and drove through miles and miles of rugged, scrub covered terrain that was surprisingly hilly. The rain came in waves, so I was alternately focused on the road or had a chance to appreciate the awesome beauty of the landscape. There was nothing else to see or do besides stop in a couple of roadside pull-outs to stretch my legs with Happy.

After noon, I approached a remote small town called Paducah -- population 1185 -- hoping to find something for lunch. The town seemed practically deserted and I'd just about given up hope when I spied an open little eatery, basically a drive-in joint with a counter and a couple of tables.

I sat at the counter and struck up a chat with the delightful young family sitting next to me. They were very generous in their description of life in the town, as a family that dates back many generations.

I gave the kids a few of Happy's souvenirs which resulted in us all going outside to visit with the star of the show. As you can see, a good time was had by all!

Continuing west across the Texas panhandle, it was nothing but miles and miles of what you see here: Rolling plains of hardy scrub, punctuated by an occasional cotton or cattle field. It's really beautiful, which is a good thing because -- did I mention? -- there's nothing else to see or do.

The rain came back in force by mid-afternoon and poured buckets. I saw many fields that were completely flooded, some forming lakes with water coming right up to the lip of the roadway.

As I pulled into the "major" regional town of Plainview -- population 22,236 -- I saw my intended stopping place, the only RV park in town. I also saw that it was completely flooded, with water up to the hubs of a few campers. Luckily, I also saw a sign for my old home away from home just a few miles ahead, so I made a course correction and have booked a room at the Holiday Inn Express!

There doesn't appear to be anything here that inspires me to explore it, so I'm going to push west again tomorrow. The drive will take me across the border into New Mexico, so it looks like I'll have done a "Texas Two-Stint" across the panhandle... Stay tuned!

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

US Hwy 70: Wichita Falls, TX

First on the exploration docket for Wichita Falls was to check out the eponymous falls.

You can see them from the highway, but to get close requires a very nice walk in Lucy Park, a large municipal green space.

I was intrigued to learn that they are actually a man-made water feature, using water that is recirculated by a large electric pump.

The original falls were washed away more than 100 years ago, rebuilt as seen in 1987.

To commemorate the event, the Mayor of Niagara Falls, NY, poured water from his city's falls over a rock that was transported from those larger falls.

There's even a plaque that chronicles the ceremony, bolted onto the 2,500 pound rock.

As always, you can't really know what's going on someplace until you take a closer look!

Next on the list was the Museum of North Texas History, a substantial and very well curated facility that sprawls through numerous rooms, nooks and crannies in a large downtown building.

As advertised, there is a lot on display regarding North Texas History. A large-scale model of an oil rig with accompanying documentary video explains a lot about the process of oil drilling, and an immense collection of cowboy hats that belonged to various local folks is quite remarkable.

There are also many displays not directly related to North Texas, my favorite of which is an extensive collection of naval models, hand-made by a local resident. The degree of detail is as impressive as the breadth of historical representation, everything from early dreadnoughts to modern vessels.

Driving around town, I also found a small farmer's market and a semi-developed train depot attraction. Besides that there doesn't appear to be much available.

One gets the feeling that the nearby Air Force base is what keeps the area going. That and the ubiquitous presence of pasture, wheat and oil well pumps of various shapes and sizes.

I'm going to take the rest of the day off and push west tomorrow... Stay tuned!

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

US Hwy 70: Angry Sky

Now that's an angry Texas sky! Luckily it only produced a little lightning, a few sharp breezes and a good, soaking, much needed rain to help offset the area's drought. It could have been a lot worse!

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Happy: A Fan In Oklahoma!

Hi!... I'm Happy... I'm always Happy... Today I'm happy I met a fan in Oklahoma!

Susan has been a fan of mine since the very beginning when I ran the Iditarod in 2009. When she saw that I'd be traveling through southern Oklahoma where she lives, she arranged with Macgellan to meet me. She drove 80 miles round trip just to meet me!

We had a really great visit and she gave me such good pats that I kind of just collapsed on her foot and took it all in. I even gave her one of my best "snaggle-lips" as Macgellan calls it.

I love to meet my fans, so if you see I'll be traveling near you... Give me a howl!

Friday, May 23, 2014

US Hwy 70: Texoma Transition

Today's drive west on US70 across more of Texoma was a pretty remarkable transition. If a picture is worth a thousand words, here's a 5,000 word essay about what I saw in the course of 150 miles.

I've just about finished US70's crossing of Oklahoma, and have actually camped just across the river in the little town of Burkburnett, TX. After the weekend -- during which I'll probably check out nearby Wichita Falls -- I'll jump back across the river to drive the last 35 miles in Oklahoma before officially entering Texas to cross the panhandle… Stay tuned!

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