Friday, January 13, 2017

West Texas

November 11 and beyond, 2016

I decided to skip Roswell - I've never been that into aliens and I doubted the town could compare with some of the things I'd already seen.  Plus I really wanted to see oil wells.  And Texas is flat.  After a dull night at the Carlsbad City Walmart (it's much like a truck stop, loud and a bit grimy) we headed towards Hobbs, NM.  My app showed a rest stop there that looked reasonable and Seminole, TX was just a little farther if the rest stop didn't work out.  I've already discovered the value in having a backup plan since rest stops seem to randomly close for maintenance issues and I've gotten stuck driving longer than I've wanted to.

I have no idea where that last rest stop in NM is; somehow I went right by it without ever seeing a sign.  Seminole here we come.  And yeeha!  Oil wells!  Turns out they aren't all that exciting after all but every town you drive through smells like petroleum.

Once I got to Seminole I did see the sign, a really big one stating that they didn't allow trailer truck or rv parking.  Woops.  Plan C.

The next stop on the Walmart app was Lamesa.  Okay.  Not too far.  Except once I got close, Google told me to take a left and head out on a tiny road into a big field.  Umm.  No...  Plan D?

Plan D was a long way away but I knew truck stops didn't change so I headed south toward I20 into the setting sun.  I guess the drive was pretty enough while there was light but when it was finally dark I did see a natural gas tower burning off in the distance.  That was kind of cool.

Google did manage to route me down some un-maintained old road but it didn't last long and I finally got to stop driving and feed the poor, starving cats.  Looks like I20 will be the way to go.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Carlsbad Caverns

November 9, 10, 2016

From El Paso you drive through some not very exciting country before you hit the hills.  The biggest thrill was going through the border patrol checkpoint and that was only because the dog that sniffed my wheels was cute.  The border guy basically waved me through.  I guess there are advantages to driving something that no self-respecting smuggler would be caught in.

The hills out of that part of the country are significant and it was a long, slow climb.  I was going to stop at Guadalupe Mountains National Park to check it out but the hills as you pass them look pretty bare and I didn't want to subject my transmission to that.  Have I mentioned that it was kind of leaking again?  Yeah.  But I knew I wanted to see Carlsbad so I spent a chilly, drizzly night at a rest stop up in the mountains and set out for the caverns the next morning.

The cave entrance is (of course) at the top of a long hill.  I think I added some transmission fluid and did the long, slow pull to the top.  Once there you go through the visitors' center to get tickets and head down the path to the natural cave entrance.  It's a big hole in the ground.

But kind of cool-looking from the inside:

Not many pictures here because it's hard to get quality images in the dark without the right equipment but the formations are fascinating and it's a pleasant walk through the caverns.

I will have to go back because 1) the bats that fly out of the cave are only there in the summer and 2) there are several tours given by the park rangers but in the off season they only happen early in the morning.

I'll do better next time

Monday, January 9, 2017

Hanging Out at the Auto Shop

November 7-8, 2016

Getting out of El Paso was horrible.  The only road in the direction I wanted to go was a city street with multiple intersections.  and I stalled at every single one.  Finally made it to Walmart and started shopping for a place to get the truck looked at.  Pronto Auto Repair was nearby and had some good reviews so I decided to show up there early in the morning to look desperate.

The mechanic that I spoke to was perfectly polite and told me I'd have to wait for Viktor, the owner, to find out if they could look at the truck.  I hung out in the parking lot for a couple hours until Viktor arrived and told him what was going on.  He was nice enough to take the truck immediately and I watched as the mechanic stepped through the possible causes Google had presented me starting from least expensive and getting progressively more pricey.

He stopped on the most expensive option - rebuild the  head.  Viktor stepped me through everything they had checked and showed me the lack of compression in two of the four heads.

<Side note:  That little truck had been pulling a 6000 pound camper on only two cylinders.  Now THAT'S a quality motor!>

He told me to think about which of the expensive options I wanted to do and let me know that it would take about a week.  He also agreed to push the camper to the parking lot once the head was pulled and let me live there while it was being repaired.

I called the Main Man and told him what was going on.  His response:  No, the guy you bought it from said he had done a head job.  I let him talk to Viktor and they chatted about several options.  Nothing was resolved and we left it for the evening.

In the morning I gave them back the keys and they started to go to work.  A couple hours later Viktor came out and said he thought about the conversation he had had with the MM last night and decided to do a little different testing.  He took the cover off the cylinder head and tested the valves.  It turned out that two of them were too tight.  They adjusted the valves, handed me a bill that was $1000 less than I was expecting to pay and gave me a cheery wave as I left.

All in all an excellent experience.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Day Trip to Mexico

November 5-6, 2016

Spent the night on the edge of El Paso and spent some time thinking about things.  The forecast looks clear so I'll put off dealing with the vents for the time being.  The bigger problem is that now I've dropped in elevation the truck is not driving any better.  Time to go auto shop shopping.  After I go to Mexico.

It's super easy to walk into Ciudad Juarez from downtown El Paso.  There are two pedestrian bridges and places downtown that have all day parking for a reasonable rate.  There's just something cool about waltzing across the Rio Grande and into another country.

My goal was to refill my prescriptions since my insurance doesn't work outside of Washington state.

Buying meds is totally easy.  There are pharmacies all over and although they don't speak English they are willing to try to figure out what you're talking about.  I recommend bringing the drug you're trying to refill so they can look at it.

I also recommend wandering around and accidentally ending up in the market.  You can buy just about anything and I really wanted some veggies but I hadn't looked into bringing them back across the border so I had to pass.

For some reason the bread didn't call to me.

Although I had to ask for directions to get back to the bridge, Walking around was fun.  It wasn't until later that I discovered that Ciudad Juarez is one of the most dangerous cities in the world.  Woops.  Maybe everyone was at church on the Sunday morning I visited.

Back in El Paso I need to find my way out of the city.  It looks like a long road of stoplights - in a vehicle that stalls when I slow down.  Crap......

Friday, January 6, 2017

Why is it Raining in the Desert?

November 2-6, 2016

Poor little 'Rigadoon is still stalling whenever I stop.  At this point I'm still hopeful it has something to do with the altitude and I noticed that the octane in the fuel has gone from 87 to 85 so maybe using higher octane fuel will help?  Stopped just outside Albuquerque and filled up with 89 octane to see if it helped.  Nope.  The road leads downhill from hill so dropping altitude is my last hope.

Stopped at Truth or Consequences, a spa town that changed its name in 1950 for the radio show of the same name.  A series of thunderstorms were forecast and I was happy to see that the Walmart had covered parking - made of solar panels.

Not entirely waterproof since there was a pretty good stream of water coming from between the panels but still not bad.

I hung out here until mid afternoon when it looked as though the storms had run there course.  As I was getting back on the highway the sky stared looking a bit scary but I figured it wouldn't be too bad and headed into a rainstorm for the next rest area.

I had just about enough time to fill my water bottles and wash my hair before the next storm came in.  And then another one, and then the doozy.

It started with lightning off in the clouds.  Not ordinary flashes - this was close-encounters-of-the-third-kind warning lights.  Along with the hide-from-the-aliens lightning there was thunder, rain and pounding hail.  Although the sound was deafening it wasn't loud enough to mask the sound of the giant hail globs smashing into my roof vents - and then through them.

It's a funny thing about taking things apart.  I had been idly looking at the vents trying to figure out how to take the screen off so I could clear out some tree debris that had been collecting there.  Had to be something about taking off the handle but I hadn't gotten around to discovering how that handle unscrewed.  

Somehow when rain is hitting you in the face and ice is collecting on the screen above you it becomes much easier to understand dismantling things.  One screw, pull the handle, shimmy the screen out.  Simple.

By the time I had the screens out and thawing in the sink the storm had passed, leaving lingering lightning in its wake.  And big holes in two of my vent covers.

New Mexico is flat and I could see at least one more storm (or spaceship) heading towards the rest area so I did the only sensible fix.  Duct tape.

For good measure I slid a couple trash bags over the open vents and closed them firmly to keep the bags tight.  Super-classy, I know, but I was going for dry, not stylish.

Got up the next morning and drove to the outer edge of El Paso.  Wonder if they sell vent covers here?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Badlands

October 28-November 1, 2016

Apparently many places are scary-looking enough to earn the name "badlands" and El Malpais earned that title from the many lava flows that make the area treacherous.

There's a one-mile hike at the edge of one of the younger flows that takes you through several different features of lava (falls, bowls, collapses..) and points out how dangerous it can be to take off over lava without a clear path and a good plan.  I stayed the night on the edge of the flow.

A picnic area near the middle of the monument is the first place I found any real shade and it came from a cliff on one side and deep lava on the other.  It's also the trail head for a hike over the cliff that provided some great views of the lava and La Ventana at the end.

The trail was sunny and hot, and came with companions.

Also a spectacular sunset.

La Ventana is the largest natural arch in New Mexico.  You can't reach it from the lower path the cliff hike looks like it may have had a way down if you continued around the cliff to the arch.

This is the cliff from which the earlier pictures were taken

El Malpais is around 7000 feet and I was hoping that the high elevation was contributing to the truck running rough.  Once again she's stalling every time I stop.  Time to head out and try to run every stop sign without getting caught.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Dinosaur Stomping Grounds

October 26, 2016

I am continually amazed at the number of National Parks, Monuments and Historic Sites that are sprinkled across the country.  I family I met at the Grand Canyon recommended the Petrified Forest National Park and hey, it was on the way so why not.  I've finally gotten wise enough to check websites before charging forward and this one recommended entering at the southern gate when coming from the west.  It works well, especially since what I thought was an additional entrance from the interstate is actually an underpass.

A few million years ago this area was lush forestland inhabited by dinosaurs.  The trees fell, were covered in sediment and turned to stone over the next 200 million years.  The landscape is still phenomenal and the park has paths through petrified forests.

The trees are cool in concept but look a lot like rocks when viewed from the outside (of the tree).

It's the inside that's amazing.  Different minerals being deposited create different colors within the tree.

In a different area of the park, clay hills are lined with shades of grey.

A few years ago the park added a portion of the painted desert to its borders.  When you come from the south, the desert presents itself as a magnificent pink vista that springs into view when you come over a hill.  The beauty is indescribable and of course the pictures are really sad substitutes.

The park also has a pueblo settlement from several thousand years ago and a hotel (now an information center) built almost 100 years ago.  If you've come to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon, take an extra day to visit this park too.