Road Trip USA 2009 ...
Go West, Young Man
The second part of my trip was planned from Atlanta, Georgia to Phoenix, Arizona as detailed in the book Road Trip USA following the old US 80 highway. After talking with a number of bikers at the Smokey Mountain National Park, they advised me to go west through Tennessee instead. Looking at the map I noticed the Natchez Trace Parkway neatly intersected Route 64 so I had a new plan!
Before setting off on my new planned trip I had a day off in Chattanooga which gave me time to visit the Hunter Gallery which was appropriate to the trip as it featured a number of landscape artists who were contracted by the government to try and persuade people to settle the old west.
Hunter Gallery, Chattanooga, TN
The old mansion pictured above used to belong to George Hunter who inherited the Coca Cola Bottling Company from his uncle on the understanding that he would never marry or have children. So as he had no heirs he left his vast wealth to beneficial causes. Despite this magnanimous gesture Coca Cola remain on my evil list! The Gallery contained a number of excellent landscape paintings, however I did not enjoy the modern or pop art sections. I can never seem to 'get' modern art, it's meant to invoke feeling or emotion but I still think 'what the hell is it supposed to be'. I guess that's the engineer in me looking for an abstract representation of reality in every work. I knows my art and I knows what I like!
I knows what I like, Hunter Gallery, Chattanooga, TN
The Bluff Art District borders onto the Hunter Gallery, it's a sort of yuppie hangout with arty shops selling dust collecting tat and foo foo coffees, you know low fat vanilia flavoured latte with sprinkles that sort of thing. The district seemed very quiet and the shops did not seem to be selling much tat at all. One thing the district seemed to have was a lot of yummy mummies running behind prams, is it me or are mothers looking younger and younger these days?
After the art district I rode to the Chickamauga Battlefield site. It's a scaled down version of Gettysburg (another Confederate victory), the Visitor's Center was excellent and it had the most amazing collection of muskets and rifles I have ever seen. If you are a gun buff, and who in Tennessee isn't, it is well worth a visit. I rode around the tour route but without the in-car audio tour you don't really get a good understanding of the site but the thousands of cast iron plaques do give some idea of which unit was where and how the battle progressed.
Example of memorial, Chickamauga Battlefield, Chattanooga, TN
That night I had dinner in Magoo's Resturant, although it was a resturant in name only as the food was awful. It's real purpose was a working man's bar, the type where everyone has a tool of some description on their belts and wears steel toe capped boots. I thought hey I wish I had seen this place yesterday, I may have had a few more beers and endured a few more stares from the locals (which may have had something to do with my Kanji anti-whaling message on my T-Shirt). I was just enjoying my first beer when the karaoke kicked off! The first, huge burly guy up, started singing the most syrupy, cheesy country love song you will ever hear in a voice that would make a cat cry. I beat a hasty retreat!
Riding out of Chattanooga on I24 or any other interstate for that matter one would get the idea that folks from Tennessee love 'Fireworks!' almost as much as religion as every exit off the Interstate has a massive wholesale Fireworks superstore. I also enjoyed reading the inspirational banners outside each Baptist church as they help pass the time, 'It's easy to debate the bible, harder to obey it' and 'Happiness is God, do you have faith' are some examples. They seem to lack any fire and brimstone for example, 'You are going to burn in hell, motorcyclist'.
Route 64, or the Davy Crocket Highway as its known or Trail of Tears as an alternative name was a two lane pristinely clear highway that ran though farmland and small towns getting progressively flatter the further west I travelled. When I stopped in Lafayette a patrol car pulled up alongside, I thought 'oh no I've done something wrong, here we go with the whole licence and registration followed by a swift trungeoning but all he wanted to know was whether my bike was the 650cc or 1000cc model as he had the 1000cc model! Lawrenceburg was another interesting stop, it had a really pretty old central square featuring a statue of Davy Crocket himself and the most odd museum I have been to. The 'Cultural Museum and Davy Crocket' center had an odd collection of unlabled Indian items and a religious rant 'why New York is not the new Rome' (syphilis was oddly one reason) and a rant against computers (the basis of which seemed to be the first computer's name, ENIAC, adds up to 666). I didn't have the heart to point out that ENIAC is not actually the first computer! The guys behind the counter wanted to know what tribe I was from, how do you answer such a question?
Davy Crocket, Lawrenceburg , TN
From Route 64 it was onto the Natchez Trace Parkway, it is similar to the Blue Ridge Parkway in that it does not allow comercial vehicles and it features many stops with historical information, short trails and overlooks. However it differs in that it is almost completely flat, it follows the old Natchez Trace that old boatmen to walk back to Nashville after floating their goods down the river on flatboats. At Rocky Springs stop I went on a short trail and I smelled my first beaver (hey you no chuckling in the back), wow did it stink! After riding, for a while I crossed into Alabama and at Cave Springs I met Andy, a native from Alabama. We had a long talk about politics, unions, Africa and racism. He felt there was a still a strong undercurrent of racism in the southern states and considering he was passed over three times for promotion for white guys he trained I can't say I blame him for thinking that. He apparently had a cousin who lives in the United Kingdom who told him that the same undercurrent of racism does not exist in the UK. I wonder whether his cousin has been to Bradford?. Andy was a really nice guy, someone I could easily call a friend.
Crossing into Alabama, Natchez Trace Parkway
Shortly after crossing into Alabama I crossed into Mississippi. The Trace was in Alabama for only a few miles but I claim that counts as having riden in Alabama!
Shorlty followed by crossing into Mississippi, Natchez Trace Parkway
Terrain on the parkway, Natchez Trace Parkway
Having ridden a fair distance for the day, I decided to camp for the night in Tishomingo State Park alongside the lake, it was a nice camp site and empty but for some kids from New Jersey who were on their way to New Orleans for the annual Jazz Festival. FOr most of the evening I was kept company by a really friendly large white duck.
My camp site, Tishomingo State Park
This camp site also had a prayer meeting hall, I didn't stick around to see if they really did have services at 08h30.
Sorry I'll be gone by 08h30, Tishomingo State Park, MS
One of the more interesting stops on the Natchez are the Indian Burial mounds, apparently the Indian's had a custom that when one parent dies the other kills the entire family 'as a mark of respect'.
Pharr Indian Burial Mounds, Natchez Trace Parkway
Another interesting stop were the graves of thirteen unknown confederate soldiers, no one knows what unit they belonged to, what they were doing there (there wasn't a lot of fighting on the trace) or how they died. My theory is that they were deserters heading home to Nashville, of course that is not one of the possible explanations offered on the information boards.
Thirteen Unknown Confederate Soldiers, Natchez Trace Parkway
They are still remembered with flowers, Natchez Trace Parkway
A Civil War battle was also fought at Tupelo, and a battlefield site was listed as one of the attractions along the trace. When I got there I was quite disapointed as it was just a small park with an information board.
Tupelo battlefield site, Tupelo, MS
One of the memorials had a very poor choice of words in my opinion, 'gave their lives in battle for their rights'. It seems a little too over simplified a description of why there was a battle in the first place!
Poor choice of words? Tupelo, MS
I was so disapointed in the battlefield I completely forgot about Tupelo's main attraction, the birth place of the King himself, Elvis Presley. Now that would have been worth visiting!
In parts you can see parts of the old Trace itself, basically a sunken (from so much use) path through the woods, swamps and creeks.
Old trace, Natchez Trace Parkway
Probably the best stop along the trace is French Camp. In a restored log cabin they have built a small Museum with a very odd assortment of wood working tools, dresses, dolls and memorabilia from the French Camp Academy. The Academy is a faith based school where they still use Corporal punishment as part of the deciplinary procedures, it seems very like my old school Dale College in that it is firmly stuck in the 1950's! The caretaker at the Museum, pictured below sitting on the porch was a real character. Visitors queued to take his photograph, and he gave his address to each and asked them to send him a copy as he was putting together a book!
Restored log cabin, now a museum containing an eclectic mix of exhibits. French Camp, Natchez Trace Parkway
French Camp also had a restored Post Office that I really liked, it looks sort of unbalanced with the porch almost as large as the building itself. I guess it wasn't a hurried place in its heyday!
Restored Post Office, French Camp, Natchez Trace Parkway
Colonel Drane's house had also been restored and moved to French Camp, each of the rooms has been filled with items from the period so it was quite interesting to see how the wealthy lived in those days. I don't think the poor today would be too happy with the wealthy's liin standards of the past!
Col. Drake's restored house, French Camp, Natchez Trace Parkway
At the gift shop in French Camp, they had plastic bags filled with water hanging over the door jam. Curious, I asked the lady what they were for. She told me they were to keep the flies out of the shop. Being a skeptic, I asked her how they worked, she said 'well the fly has compound eyes so he see's many of the same thing, when he flys towards the water he sees many refelctions of himself and asumes that's a hornet nest and since hornets eat flies he flys away!' Apparently she was a skeptic as well, but she swears they work, she also said 'they work better if you put a penny in it as the fly will think this is the opening to the nest' and 'some people from Tailand told me they use the same thing in their homes'. Maybe it's something my Australian relatives should try.
One of the more distressing exhibits was the one for the Choctaw boundary, they were a peaceful tribe whon farmed and readily adapted to new technologies and techniques brought by settlers but they were still forced to concede huge areas of territory before eventually being sent off to reservations. I wondered what would have happened if the Indian tribes had united under a single leader to fight for their land, would they have won?
Entering Choctaw territory at least it was. Natchez Trace Parkway
I was planning to stay near Jackson but when I asked whether there were campsites nearby at the Kosciusko (named after a fella who had the distinction of being an American as well as Polish 'freedom fighter') visitor center they said 'no but you could make Jackson tonight'. When I asked how far it was they said 'an hour and half by car, but you're on a bike so you can cheat a little'. I love it, here they accept that you might ride faster than cars where as in the UK you are hounded by the law if you do! I tried again at the Clinton visitors center but they said sorry this center isn't really anything to do with the Trace it was built to encourage people to come off the Trace into Clinton. When I asked to what was available in Clinton, they said 'oh nothing really, you can drive around the old town in fifteen minutes and take a look if you want'. Obviously Clinton has a very laid back outlook on the terms 'promotion' and 'work', we talked for quite a while about this and that but in all that time they never really did 'sell' Clinton to me. I did take a ride around though, it was quite a pretty little old western town but was tricky to ride as they had paved the old streets in red brick which was slippery and uneven. It turned out to be a bit of luck that I couldn't find a campsite in Jackson or Clinton as I ended up at Rocky Springs campsite which was both free and was where I met a wonderful Canadian couple from Vancouver Island touring the states on their Suzuki Boulevards (similiar to the ones Craig, Alicja and I rode in Ontario. Their bikes were heavily overloaded, which they freely admitted (the photograph below shows their bikes after they had setup camp for the night). They were on the 28th day of their ride, and were traveling in the opposite direction to me. We exchanged routing information, campsite information and poured over some maps. They suggested southern Utah as the place to go which is the second time I have heard this. I also donated them my Eastern campsite guide and my Smoky mountains trail map (that Mike had donated to me) with the provisio that when they leave the park they hand it on. Maybe the map will still be floating about from biker to biker for years to come. They also had some interesting observations and reflections on their journey so far. They commented on how 'black the black people are down south, it's like there is no interacial mixing' and they also found it 'a bit odd that as soon as you ride across the Texas stateline the racial mix changes quite suddenly'. Once they pointed this out I also noticed the sudden change when I rode into Texas later in my travels. Sleeping that night proved quite a challenge, as I was still spooked by the graves of the thirteen confederate soldiers. I got up in the middle of the night and my flashlight made it even spookier walking through the woods! There must be a lot of ghosts wandering the old Trace!
Canadians don't pack light. Rocky Springs, Natchez Trace Parkway
I visited Port Gibson along the Trace as I was curious as to why it was called a port when it was miles from any water. I never did find out! It had a very interesting old center but was very poor and almost deserted. The court house was quite spectacular but slightly ruined by the powerlines hanging in front of it
Court House. Port Gibson, Natchez Trace Parkway
The final fourty miles down into Natchez (rhymes with matches) was the best riding on the Trace and where I finally saw a deer. Unlike the Blue Ridge Parkway there are a lot of hunting camps just off the trace so the deer are very wary of people.
Last fourty miles better biking territory, Natchez Trace Parkway
One final stop along the trace was Mt Locust, an old cotton plantation and inn that used to serve travellers along the trace. Apparently the women who used to run the place was the original iron lady and is still known to her descendants as Gradma Polly. The National Parks guide was a real 'good ol boy' who drawled his way through the tour, all the time chewing on a piece of grass. He enjoyed pointing out that 'in those days they had to walk the trace, they didn't have no motorcycles'.
A real plantation house, not exactly what you see in the movies, Mt Locust, Natchez Trace Parkway
He also seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of quilts and pointed out the patterns of each quilt in the bedrooms.
Luxurious accomodation, Mt Locust, Natchez Trace Parkway
The slaves burial ground behind the house was quite sad, there is a simple stone marker (a bit like a stone brick) marking the grave of the only unknown slave buried there. Unlike the confederate soldiers no one has donated a marker for his/her grave and there are no flowers. It seems sad to me that so much energy goes into remembering those who would keep slavery and little energy goes into remembering those who lived in slavery!
This theme is carried on in Natchez, at the Forks in the Road where slaves where bought and sold there are only a few information boards discussing the impact slavery had on America, and the incredible hardships suffered by those in slavery and a pathetic memorial (some concrete poured over shackles). At the visitor center they hardly make a mention of slavery when marketing tours of the antebellum houses houses that were built on the backs of slavery. It all started to make me feel a little depressed so I decided not to visit any of the houses.
Forks of the road, Natchez
A pathetic forgotten memorial to those who died in horrible suffering of bondage! Forks of the road, Natchez
I crossed the impressive bridge into Vidallia, Louisiana thus marking the furthest west I had been in the United States although in truth I also crossed the Mississippi when I visted New Orleans. The change from Natchez was stark, it seems the leaders in Natchez have decided in their wisdom to spend significant money building a mall and visitors center on the banks of the Mississippi but not spend any money on improving the main route into and out of town and where most people spent their money! I don't want to make snap judgements based on a days ride through Louisiana but, it really sucked! Maybe I chose the wrong route to ride, up US 84 and US 167 especially and maybe I should have stayed near the coastal areas. I never knew Louisiana had such a big timber industry! All day long I was being buffeted and showered with bits of pine trees from the massive trucks as they thundered past and as I bumped my way accross roads that had been crushed by the heavy trucks. The only funny thing that happened all day was at the Burger Barn in Jude where some schoolgirls starting taking the piss out of me and my bike mouthing things like 'I love your bike' and waving crazily through the window at the burger joint. It made me laugh and put the whole biking trip into perspective!
Furthest west in the USA, crossing the Mississippi, Natchez
Finally I joined US 80, my planned route across the lower states. First stop was the Bonnie and Clyde Museum in Gibbsland near where they were ambused and killed. The museum was pretty gory and included a reproduction, at least I hope it was, of Bonnie and Clyde's graves complete with gravestones. It seems Gibbsland has two attractions, Bonnie and Clyde and trainspotting (three tracks converge in town and trains rubble past every few hours). The proprieter of the Museum, the last remaining children of one of the police who shot Bonnie and Clyde, was quite sarcastic. Then again when I said, in reply to his statement that he had just moved down to take over the business, that 'you look as if you've been sitting on that bench forever' may also have been taken as being sarcastic.
The gory, tacky Bonnie and Clyde Museum, Gibbsland, LS
From Gibbsland it was a short ride along US 80 to Bossier City, which has to be the biggest dump in the USA! I thought if US 80 goes through places like this you can keep it. I also arrived at rush hour into five lane traffic where every car seemed to display significant damage, it was terrifying. Once over the bridge into Shreveport things improved dramatically. It's funny how a river can devide one sprawl into two distinct cities where one is a dump and the other is not! While riding through the center I noticed an exhibition on Cuban art that looked interesting as I have recently been to Cuba.
Cuban art exhibition in America! Shreveport, LS
I wanted to stay in Shreveport for the night as it has a good art gallery and the eigth airforce musuem, but as with most cities it is difficult finding a motel anywhere near the city center. Eventually I ended up in a budget motel out on the Interstate. When I got off the bike I was greated by a drunk woman in her dressing gown with a cigarette dangling from her fingers who said 'that's a nice Harley', when I said 'it is not a Harley, Harley's are laid back like this' (showing her the laid back cruising position) she said 'not all Harley's are like that, what about the Goldwing'! I gave up trying to explain that Harley is not generic for motorcycle! I latter met a Honda guy whose wife had bought him a Harley jacket as she 'doesn't know any better', his words, he said he wears it to annoy Harley riders! The place was really 'budget', and mostly occupied by seismic workers who were looking for 'mineral's in the area'. I had parked my bike outside room party central and they stood around until three drinking through cases of beer so my bike had it's very own security team even if they were drunk and prone to sitting on it! When they heard my plans one guy said 'you're either one tough or one crazy mother f*&ker'. I got talking to the Indian owner of the establishment, when I told him that I was born in Zimbabwe he went off on a huge rant about 'why should I hire blacks if they can't get their own (Africa) house in order'!
The next day I thought about hanging around and riding back to see the Art gallery but eventually decided no I want out of Louisiana so I got on US 80 and headed west. There was a dramatic change once accross the Texan border, the roads improved, people got a whole lot friendlier, the countryside opened up into small picture perfect ranches with Western sounding names like 'Big T' and 'Circle J'. The first stop in Texas was Marshall, the city center was really clean (volunteers were out cleaning their neighbourhoods') and picturesque. As it was early on a Saturday morning I just wandered about taking the occasional picture. It was exactly what I was looking for, small town America!
Ornate court house, Marshall, TX
Further down the road I came to Mineola, a 'Main Street' city which means the highway runs right down the Main Street and there are no strip malls. What an odd place, every shop seemed to be selling Antiques! I'm not sure how the locals survive on Antiques, my guess is they go to a strip mall in a neighbouring town!
Antique capital of the world! Mineola, TX
I was planning to camp just west of Greenville, however on riding out of town it started to rain and it got very dark. I stopped at the side of the road to put on my waterproofs and decided on balance the more sensible choice would be to turn around and find a motel. The manager at the Best Western advised me not to leave the hotel as a tornado had touched down nearby and was heading towards town. The wind picked up to about 45 knots and it started hailing so I was glad not to be on the bike, I spent a few anxious hours watching my bike hoping it wouldn't get sucked up or blown over into the neighbouring cars. There were a number of hysterical people in the hotel, some who even wanted to get in their cars and drive home as 'my baby is all alone'. The manager said the kitchen is the safest place in the event the tornado hits, something I thought odd as kitchens are normally full of nasty sharp pointy things. Eventually the storm subsided as the tornado headed the other way, much to the disappointment of the manager who had never seen a tornado before. I was glad to just have my bike in one piece and a little bit cleaner from a natural jet wash! The manager felt sorry for me and gave me a discount for the night.
Anxiously watching the bike and luggage, hoping it doesn't get sucked up and away by a tornado, Greenville, TX
The next morning I left for Lubbock, Texas on US 380 where I planned to get a new set of tires for the bike. Unfortunately along the way I discovered that my camera had decided that it was not tornado proof and it died so I have no pictures of the trip. What can I say about Texas? Texas is big! No that doesn't describe it. Texas is enormous. No that still doesn't describe it. Texas is epic! That describes travelling across this state, it is more like an ocean voyage than a mere road trip crossing this state. I have never really understood why some people are attracted to big featureless plains like the ones that cover much of north western Texas but after spending a day racing across a lot of it I think I finally do. It is not so much the view that is the attraction, rather it is the way the landscape makes you feel. With no external distractions like trees and mountains, there is plenty of time to think and daydream! The road rose and fell over small parallel ridges giving you views that seemed to stretch forever, occasionally the smell of hot dust was overpowered by the stench of raw crude oil when you rode past one of the pumps. I loved the ride even though it had no dramatic corners or gradients to deal with. Some would consider this part of the trip boring but I loved the big open spaces and the road disappearing across the horizon for how it made me feel, free at last. No job, no income, no responsibilities, just the bike, road and me!
When I got to Lubbock I was disappointed with having to stop, even after 380 miles I felt I could have ridden another 380 miles! I stayed at Buffalo Lake, a few miles outside of Lubbock. What an odd place, its a mixture of campsite and holiday homes for people trying to escape the heat in this part of Texas. The camp ground also has a off road course through it and in the hills above it, so much for a peaceful escape to the countryside. I met a guy from Colorado who had moved there as in his estimation 'its the best place to be', can't say I agreed with him though! In the evenings the place suddenly filled up with fishermen who cast a few times, drank a beer, played loud music and then left!
Buffalo Lake, Lubbock, TX
Sunset at Buffalo Lake, Lubbock, TX
While waiting for a new set of tires to be transported into Lubbock, I got the chance to have a good look around the town. Lubbock is not the most attractive city you will ever visit. It is a hot and dusty agricultural town that does not really have a center, although the local council are trying hard to build the depot area as an entertainment district. I can see why Buddy Holly, who was born in Lubbock, wanted to get out of the place so much!
When I asked the kid at the local chop house, roast beef sandwich on a biscuit with cold tea is a feature on the menu, what attractions the town had for example museums he said 'well there aren't any museums in Lubbock but there's this windmill place up the road that's kinda interesting'! So I just had to go and see what he meant, for a 'required donation' of $5 you got to see ninety restored water pumping windmills, some made of wood and some made of steel. There was even a windmill that had been restored and given to George Bush on his election, the windmill apparently stood in Whitehouse grounds for the first few months of his term. Despite the odd typo, for example 'recalculating the water' instead of 'recirculating the water' it really was 'kinda interesting' and if one place should have a windmill museum it should be Lubbock!
The 'quite interesting' American Windpower Museum, Lubbock, TX
Ninety windmills of all shapes and sizes American Windpower Museum, Lubbock, TX
After the windmill museum I still had a few hours to kill waiting for new tires, so I went to see the Buddy Holly Center. I am a closet fan of Buddy Holly, and I guess he should be recognised for shaping rock and roll (he was a massive influence on the Beatles and the Rolling Stones), so it wasn't actually too much of a stretch to see what they had. I spent a good twenty minutes watching the introductory video, which was good, but then I discovered that the exhibits in the Museum repeated what the video said almost word for word. I was amazed to see how much stuff of Buddy's his family had kept, most of my old stuff ends in a trash can! I took the photo below, only to discover that the center had already had the same idea, only their photo featured the local Cheer Leaders. Unfortunately that weren't on hand to liven up my dull picture!
Buddy Holly Center, Lubbock, TX
If two pictures sum up Texas for me they are the ones below, I took these on the way from Lubbock to Roswell. Just before taking these the girl at the gas station asked 'what are you doing here?', I said 'I have come to see your part of the world!', she said 'but its just dirt, once you've seen one field of dirt you've seen all of it'! I don't think I agree as I enjoyed every mile of dirt through Texas!
Summing up North West Texas, flat fields
Summing up North West Texas, and oil
I had left Lubbock quite late but wanted to get going, two days of staying still are enough once you start rolling its hard to stop. My original plan called for travelling on US 80, but I am glad I changed it to travelling on US 380 as it takes you through much smaller places, real 'one horse' or should that be 'one steer' towns. On riding out of Lubbock the bike felt very strange, the front felt loose and it weaved about a bit when it got to seventy miles per hour. Initially I put it down to the new set of tires, then I thought maybe the guy has wound the pre-load on the rear off and it is making the rear squat. The next day when I checked the tire pressures I saw the front was over inflated by 10 psi. Correcting the tire pressures made a huge difference, I guess the lesson is always double check.
Entering New Mexico, Land of Enchantment, my favourite state so far!
The evening ride to Roswell was fantastic, as soon as you hit the border it seems the landscape suddenly gets a lot harsher and dryer and the colours become a lot deeper. The camera cannot truly capture the landscape of New Mexico, it doesn't capture the sheer scale and it doesn't capture the layered colours on the canyon walls. Later on I suggested to a woman at Dog Canyon that the only way to capture it would be with paint and a brush, she replied 'yes and a whole lot of talent, you can't buy those!'. How true, I wish I could draw more than a stick figure!
On the road to Roswell, not a UFO in sight, New Mexico
Roswell is a really pretty little town. If you ride in from the east that is, if you ride in from the west you are confronted with the usual strip mall hell that blights most American towns! The first surprise for me in Roswell was the massive New Mexico Military Institute, it dominates half of the town! Their strength is obviously not the English language, or is it? I took this picture walking into town from my budget hotel. Maybe the sign writer deliberately put in the inverted commas?
Roswell Military Institute, gramar is not our forte, Roswell, New Mexico
Along with UFO's Roswell is also known as the home county of John Chisum, of the Lincoln County War fame supporting the Regulators. He was the biggest cattle baron in the west, at one time having eighty thousand cattle. I loved the way he 'claimed' his ranch 'by right of discovery', I think I should 'claim' a bar on a beach somewhere 'by right of discovery'! Roswell is also famous for being the place where Dr Goddard did his pioneering work on liquid fueled (gasoline and liquid oxygen) rockets that he built in his workshop at his house and tested nearby. The museum in Roswell had his complete workshop and some of his rockets, it was really fascinating seeing how someone can knock those up in their garage. It makes me wonder how the Kiwi guy is getting on with his home made cruise missile project, last I heard he was ordered to stop by the New Zealand government.
John Chisum Statue, Roswell, New Mexico
If you travel to Roswell, I guess you just have to go to see the UFO Museum and to be fair it was pretty much the reason why I went to Roswell in the first place. I was glad to see that the musuem was quite balanced in that it presented both sceptics and believers viewpoints and cases where physical evidence turned out to be man made. There is definitely a bais towards the believer side however as some exhibits descriptions show, for example 'While it is commenly accepted that aliens exist...'. The Museum wasn't beyond poking fun at aliens either, the cheesy T-Shirts (an alien dressed as a mexican with the title Ilegal Alien) and alien driving licences were on sale in the gift shop!
UFO Museum, Roswell, New Mexico
Most of the visitors to the Museum appear to be skeptics as there was a lot of laughter at the exhibits. My favourite was a big wooden replica of an Aztec carving that 'proved aliens visited ancient cultures', the proof was shown in a diagram. For example the thing near his nose is entitled 'oxygen supply'!
'Proof' aliens visited Aztecs, Roswell, New Mexico
The main street in Roswell had a number of gift shops that all seemed to sell variations on the same themes (driving licences, illegal alien etc), my favourite was a shop that had little alien dioramas in the window like the service station below.
Alien diorama, shop window, Roswell, New Mexico
The Museum in Roswell was really good, having a section dedicated to Dr Goddard, a section dedicated to old west and native american cultures and a art gallery featuring well known artists local to New Mexico such as Peter Hurd. My favourite art pieces were these very odd sculptures by Koi Neng Liew, the men all seem to be portrayed with evil grining faces and a rabbit lady, what else can you say!
Laughing Men, Roswell, New Mexico
Rabbit Lady, Roswell Museum, New Mexico
Taking a day off the bike in Roswell turned out to be a great idea, as by the next morning I was looking forward to riding again. First stop on the day's ride was the Billy the Kid byway which runs through Lincoln, site of the infamous Lincoln County War in the 1870s. Lincoln has been preserved as a national monument, and as such gives a good idea of what a real western town was like. The Tunstall shop was especially impressive, apparently someone recognised that one day it would open as a museum so bought the shop and all its contents. When Lincoln was declared a national monument, they sold the shop and its contents back to the government so everything in the shop is the real merchandise from the period. The National Parks guide seemed surprised that we would have such a deep knowledge of Billy the Kid growing up in South Africa. I don't think many American's know how pervasive, or should that be invasive, American culture is! I also think they disagreed with my assessment that the war was merely a continuation of the dislike between the English and Irish, as the main protagonists were English and Irish!
Tunstall shop that started the Lincoln war, Licoln, New Mexico
From Licoln I rode up into the mountains of the Apache Reservation, stopping at Fort Stanton along the way. This fort is famous as the home of the 7th Calvary, otherwise known as the Buffalo Soldiers, and as the home of the author of Ben Hur. Currently it is being used as a drug rehabilitation facility, although there are plans to turn it into a national monument and to relocate the facility. I think this is a shame, as it will have few visitors as it is a bit off the trail and I think it is better having a purpose. The curator of the museum was a real character, he said the 'Apaches got a good deal getting their reservation, they got all the best land around their sacred mountain and now they have casinos and ski resorts'. My guess is the Apache nation would probably disagree as they still lost the Hondo valley! What I found interesting is that the Apache nation as we think of it today, expert horsemen and warriors, didn't really exist until the settlers arrived. When the settlers arrived that's when the Apaches got access to horses and when they gained a fearsome reputation as warriors during raids on the settlers. Their culture changed from being based on hunting and farming to one based on warfare and raiding!
On the ride up to the ski resorts I encounted some bends, the first real bends for the last week. I almost forgot what it felt like cornering. At the top of the pass I passed a number of ambulances and police patrol cars, it looked like a truck had hit a couple of school buses. There didn't seem to be much damage, but all the kids were being shipped to hospital for check ups. The change in the mountains was marked, from desert suddenly you are in pine forests and posh alpine looking ski homes. The variations you get in New Mexico is one of its' great attractions.
Billy the Kid byway, New Mexico
After Billy the Kid it was time to see a natural phenomenon, so I stopped at The Valley of the Fires State Park. This is a huge lava flow down a sandstone valley and it has a three quarter mile paved trail that you can walk, with information boards that tell you how a feature was formed or what species live on the lava flow. Wow, did it live up to it's name! It was hot, I'm not talking about your average hot day, I'm talking about Australia type of hot, melt your shoes to the pavement type of hot. It didn't help that I was walking in motorcycle boots, carrying my helmet and bike jacket. The trail was good, although it is difficult capturing it in a photograph.
Valley of the Fires, lava flow, New Mexico
A scorching ride later and I was in Alamogordo, where I dived into the Space Center to escape the heat in their air conditioning. The Space Center is supposed to be a world wide hall of fame and museum for the exploration of space, but I was a little bit disappointed with it. It didn't have a lot of exhibits, I have seen more at Cape Canaveral and even in the science musuem in London. After a few hours I had to face the heat again and find myself a campsite at the Oliver Lee State Park, otherwise known as Dog Canyon. The site was spectacular, however the trail was closed due to flooding! Hard to imagine any rain when you are dehydrated in forty degree temperatures. The canyon walls especially were quite beautiful, having many layers of different colours.
Dog Canyon, Alamogordo, New Mexico
The toughest thing I have found camping in New Mexico, and Arizona for that matter, is that the ground is as hard as concrete! At Dog Canyon, I couldn't even get the pegs to go one inch into the ground! Eventually I gave up and just had to use rocks and my luggage to hold my tent inner in place. The most annoying thing that I have found camping in New Mexico, and Arizona, are the little sand flies or gnats. I think they know their buzz isn't loud, so they fly into your ears to make it that little bit louder. The reason why old western prospectors are always portrayed as barmy and deaf has nothing to do with gold fever, its all down to these annoying sand flies and wacking themselves in the side of the head trying to kill them! I asked one National Parks ranger 'does anything eat these flies, if so they are not doing their job'. He told me they were particularly bad this year, and that they are normally gone by now!
While I was at Dog Canyon I met a really cute blonde German girl, called Martina. She was travelling alone by car for five weeks around the south (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah). We chatted for quite a while, about the usual travellers stuff i.e. routes, good places to go etc. I discovered we share many many likes and dislikes, we hate global chains, we hate shopping and we hate big supermarkets like Walmart! You could say Martina was a Trollette! Unfortunately, she was travelling in the opposite direction and she has a boy friend waiting for her back in Germany. Just my luck! She also had a terrible cold, apparently the pharmacist stood back from her scared it might be swine flu! We jokingly said 'see you in Utah' when I left in the morning.
Improvised tent pegs, Almagordo, New Mexico
I got up with the dawn, trying to get to White Sands National Monument before it got too hot. I got there at about 08h15, before the rangers but not before the heat. At least I didn't have to pay the $3 fee. The sands are a gypsum dune field, the largest in the world. Fine white sand, that is smooth and slippery. I rode out on the paved road into the field thinking it was paved all eight miles into the dunes, but about one third of the way it turned into an unpaved gypsum road. I tried riding on it for a few hundred yards and then decided it just felt too wierd and slippery and I didn't feel like lying around injured in the heat until rescue would arrive! Call me chicken! It was spectacular though!
White Sands gypsum dunefield, Almagordo, New Mexico
In the photograph below I am not frowning, I am squinting trying to avoid the glare! It's a bit like standing in a spotlight.
White Sands gypsum dunefield, Almagordo, New Mexico
Next stop was White Sands Missile Range Museum, it is an outdoor park of all the missiles they have test fired at White Sands Missile Range. The ones they have declasified that is, no Roswell UFO technology here! The guy in the visitor center was a biker and was heading to the UK for a visit in November, when I told him that it would be cold, grey and rainy he said 'good, we don't have winter here'. The guard at the gate was a little less friendly, he said I could take pictures only with the base and hills in the background. I was not allowed to shoot down range, I'm not sure why they have this rule as down range is just flat desert floor. I was tempted to take a shot anyway, but I guess 'rules are rules'. It is quite an amazing collection, I never knew for example that the United States built nuclear capable air to air and surface to air missiles designed to take out massed formations of enemy bombers! Sounds like a crazy idea to me! They were even good enough to name a missile after me, Lance that is not Troll, no Troll's here no bridges and too hot!
White Sands missile range, Almagordo, New Mexico
I decided to change my plan again and avoid El Paso and the US 80 and head up into the Gila Wilderness and Gila National Forest area as I figured it might be a bit cooler up there. This required riding through Las Cruzes and along the El Camino Real National Scenic Byway alongside the Rio Grande river. The ride along the El Camino was great, it rolled through pistachio and chilli plantations alongside the river. Every now and again the road would dip, marked by roadsigns saying 'Dip' and 'Water in the roadway', these were huge drainage ditches for flash floods that must really be something to see. I was also required to stop at a Border Patrol checkpoint, miles from the border on a side road, and present my passport. I guess with all of the agriculture there must be a lot of illegal workers in the area. Anyway it all checked out and he sent me on my way with a 'ride safe now'. I also met a British touring cyclist who had ridden from Florida and was on his way back, the guy was burnt brown to a teak like colour. He told me he drank seven litres of water a day but was still dehydrated! He also packed 75 pounds of luggage on his bike! Rather him than me!
I turned off the El Camino onto the Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway (US 152). the first town along the way was a small artist town called Holloway. Unfortunately the Black Mountains musuem, one of those small town eclectic collection museums, was closed but I stopped anyway and wandered around town for a while.
Geronimo Trail, Holloway, New Mexico
The Geronimo Trail then suddenly shot up through the Elmore pass, I would rate this road and one I rode later as much better than anything I rode in the Smokies. It was just bend after bend with a massive drop off on one side, a solid wall of rock on the other, and gravel on some apexes. A huge adrenaline rush, I was tempted to run it a few more times but wanted to get to my campsite at Lake Roberts before I threw the bike down the road, or off one of the drop offs! The photograph below was shot at one of the few places you can stop on the Gila roads, and shows an easier corner.
Elmore Pass, Geronimo Trail, New Mexico
The British touring cyclist also suggested I stop at the view point at the top of the pass, and I was glad I did as the view was spectacular and it gave me a chance to look back on the road I had just ridden.
Elmore Pass, Geronimo Trail, New Mexico
Lake Roberts turned out to be a great campsite, although there were no showers. I made the mistake of thinking that as it was hot I only needed my tent inner. Half way through the night I had to get up and put the outer on as the temperature had dropped close to zero! I was freezing! That's New Mexico for you, state of contrasts, deserts and forests, plains and mountains, hot and freezing cold!
Lake Roberts campsite, Trail of the Mountain Spirits National Scenic Byway (US 15), Gila Wilderness, New Mexico
One of the reasons for staying at Lake Roberts was so I was within an easy thirty miles of the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Well easy turned out to be one of the most challenging rides of my life, anyone who is afraid of hights should not ride US 15 to the Gila Hot Springs. It was similar to the Elmore pass, but the turns were tighter, the drop offs higher and the road a bit rougher. Every now and then I would push a bit harder, loving carving left and right through the bends before reminding myself that six inches from the shoulder of the road, there was a fifty foot drop with no crash barriers! That slowed me down! An incredible ride! There was only one stopping place at the top, I guess there wasn't room to construct anything but the road on the side of the mountain!
Gila Wilderness, Trail of the Mountain Spirits National Scenic Byway (US 15), New Mexico
The Cliff Dwellings, built by the Mongollon people and abandoned within a generation were fascinating, it was quite a hike up the canyon and the rough wooden ladder at the end was not to everyones taste but it was well worth a look. I met a very interesting couple at the end of the trail who had spent some time in Zaire, and who had visited Zimbabwe in 2001 (their son wouldn't let them out on their own). We talked for quite some time about Africa, it's beauty and it's trouble.
Gila Cliff Dwellings, (Trail of the Mountain Spirits National Scenic Byway (US 15), New Mexico
A Mongollon's view, Gila Cliff Dwellings, Trail of the Mountain Spirits National Scenic Byway (US 15), New Mexico
Leaving the Gila Cliff Dwellings I had to tackle the road I had just ridden, oh the hardship of a life on the road. I was looking forward to it, but on the way back I met a lots of amateur cyclists reproducing the route from the Gila Tour the previous week so I had to take it easy. South of Lake Roberts on the US 15 the road becomes even tighter, is unmarked and is very rough. It all got a bit crazy, I had three cyclists on the wrong side of the road taking the racing line, I had one motorcyclist almost hit me head on as he was overtaking on a blind rise and I had two motorcyclists taking a racing line through the corners cross into my path! There was even a girl getting up off the floor after she had hit a car on her bicycle! I backed off and crawled my way to Silver City.
On the way there I stopped at the Buckhorn Saloon, which the guide book said is a good place to eat and which everyone I met in the wilderness said I must visit. When I got there it was closed for remodeling, a phrase that fills me with dread when associated with a bar or saloon. Apparently the bare wooden floor had collapsed though, so maybe I'll forgive them this time!
The famous Buckhorn, closed for remodeling, Pinos Altos, New Mexico
In Silver City I visited the museum where I met two other touring cyclists from California, although they didn't seem to want to talk much. Maybe it had something to do with how bad I smelled, from not showering the previous night and from two days of sweating riding and hiking. The museum itself had the usual collection of local history, mining silver, gold and copper and a collection of wedding dresses from the 1880s to the present. An odd combination, but the reason why I like these small museums. Silver City is a very pretty little town, it retains most of the buildings on the main street from its rush days (although the main street was washed away into a 'big ditch', any buildings left standing opened their back doors and continued trading). It is quite yupified, with lots of art gallerys and independent coffee shops.
While looking around the town I had my second spill of the trip, I was at a red light turning left. The light went green, I moved forward a yard, hit the brakes and bang I was on the floor, no warning, no slide nothing. I can only think that I must have braked on the white line and that it was covered in oil (there is a lot of oil on the roads at intersections in America), either that or I was distracted by the gaggle of student girls at the intersection. I fell a lot harder than the first spill, but fortunately the only casualty was a little rubber thingy on my left mirror. That crash protection is really earning its money. As usual a friendly huge guy on hand to lift the bike off the floor luggage and all! After a morning of confidently carving the mountains my confidence took a bit of a hit. I decided to get out of town and ride! Next stop Tombstone, Arizona!
Silver City Museum, Silver City, New Mexico
The ride down US 80 into Arizona was back into the heat, but it was also back into being completely on my own. I only saw a few cars on the road all the way to Douglas. I did see a road runner, the bird type not the human type, on the road! Well not actually on the road, more like crossing it. Strangely it did not go 'beep, beep' when it crossed the road and there was no evil coyote trying to blow him up with Acme explosives! I also saw two guys hiking in the middle of nowhere so I stopped to see if they were alright. They were from Chile, spoke only Spanish and were making their way to Douglas. I guess they were illegal aliens, but why would they be making their way back to the border? Maybe they decided that the US economy is in such a bad state that it was better back home? When I told them it was thirty miles away, they looked shocked but also disbelieving. I gave them half my water and my day pack of power bars and jerky. I hope they made it.
Douglas was a bit of a dump, there were police and border patrol everywhere but I got to look into Mexico. I guess that doesn't quite count as visiting or riding there but it gave me a taster of a trip in a few years time! You can always tell which trucks are Mexicans on their way home, they are always stacked with a huge amount of furniture!
Bisbee was an odd place, it's the only time I have ridden through a strip mine! US 80 runs right through the middle of the Lavender Mine, I tried to get a photograph at the viewpoint but it ended up showing my bike in front of a chain link fence. The town looks like a tourist town now as the center is all about shopping and coffee shops. I didn't stop as I could almost taste the beer, my first in a week, that I was going to have in Tombstone.
I decided I would stay in a Motel overnight in the town if possible, as the map incorrectly placed the town's park, where camping is available south of the town. It is actually north of the town. After a quick shower and a brief wander around town I headed for the famous Crystal Palace, formally owned by one Wyatt Erp, well the actual Crystal Palace is next door but it is no longer a saloon. The bar wench, am I allowed to call her that, had mmm how should I describe it? She had a much bigger super structure than sub structure, if you don't get that think Dolly Parton. It was very distracting so when she said the 'ribs are the only thing worth eating' and 'do you want another beer' I just said yes while trying not to drool too much. I ended up spending quite a lot that night. I got talking to a biker couple. He was half German, half American and she was half German and half Russian although you wouldn't be able to tell that from the way they dressed. They were definitely into the biking thing! I also talked briefly with the local bar heavy, at least I think he was, or fancied himself as one. He seemed very annoyed that the Americans were loosing to the British at the Ultimate Fighting Challenge, he said the American guys are full of talk and when it came to the fight they lost badly! The bar also seemed to be the local hangout for the actors from the OK Coral reinactment that happens every day, they seem to enjoy their jobs as they stay in character long after they have finished for the day. Doc Holliday strolled past with characteristic limp and walking stick! A lot of folks who go to Tombstone really go the whole nine yards and get all dressed up in cowboy gear for the time they are there.
The new Crystal Palace, what would Wyatt Erp think, Tombstone, Arizona
Tombstone is a bit cheesy, tacky and touristy but I really liked it. It had a certain charm that is hard to describe. Martina said to me that I should visit Tombstone as 'everyone walks around in cowboy hats. It's silly, but fun also' and I think that kind of sums up Tombstone.
One of the many cheesy signs, Tombstone, Arizona
Next day after a bit more a stroll around town I headed up to Tucson. The main reason for stopping in Tucson was to visit the famous Boneyard, where thousands of aircraft are mothballed in the desert. Unfortunately I learned that there were no tours on Sunday, however I did go to the Pima Air Museum. This more than made up for the disappointment of not seeing the boneyard, aside from through the chain link fence. They have a huge collection of aircraft, easily surpassing the Smithsonian in Washington although the Smithsonian may have some rarer and more exotic one of kind aircraft. If you are a plane spotter its a great place to visit, you will be there all day. I even got to walk around John F Kennedy's Air Force One, I don't think Barak Obama would be too impressed with it after flying on his Jumbo!
Hospitable yanks even gave me use of Air Force One, Pima Air Musuem, Tucson, Arizona
From Tucson it was a hundred mile ride up the scorching Pionier Trail, route US 89, to Apache Junction where I stayed at Lost Dutchman State Park for two nights while I got my bike serviced, the big one including valve clearences, by The Motorcycle Service Shop in Mesa. They were very good, they did it on very short notice and did it in half a day. I would recomend them to anyone traveling through the area, the Blue Knights (police motorcycle organisation) and the Goldwing owners group apparently also recomend them.
Pionier Trail on the way to Apache Junction, hot and cactus aplenty, Arizona
The campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park was spectacular, it was extremely hot (110F) and there were sand flies everywhere but the scenery and wildlife made up for that. I was there for only a few minutes when lizards, quail, rabbits, song birds and little field mice came out to see what I was up to. I felt a little like Dr Dolittle as I set up my tent. At night the little mice kept on using my tent for cover, rustling it which was a little disconcerting as I thought they may attract the parks other residents rattle snakes and tarantula. Fortunately I didn't see any, but I carefully shook my boots out in the morning to make sure they didn't contain any nasty residents. The mountain behind the park is the rumoured to be the location of the legendary Lost Dutchman gold mine, the local Superstition Mountain Museum had a collection of maps to the lost gold and I was keen to do the difficult five hour climb up the mountain. Unfortunately the Sonoran desert, beautiful as it is, didn't agree with me. I got a bad case of hay fever allergies, my eyes almost closed up. I think it was the little yellow flowers that covered every tree around my tent. The desert is amazingly beautiful though, with a huge number of plant and animal species.
View of Superstition Mountain from my campsite, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona
The Suspicious Mountain Museum also contained the remaining buildings from Apacheland, which was built as a movie set for just about every western TV drama from the 1950s to the 1970s. They even had some cheesy clips on show in the Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel.
Suspicious Mountain Museum, Apache Junction, Arizona
I really enjoyed this part of the trip, I thought the long haul across the Texas and New Mexico would be boring, and I was warned by many bikers in North Carolina that it would be, but I found it to be a highlight of the trip so far. In fact I would go so far as saying the ride through New Mexico has made the trip worthwhile for me by itself, it is an amazing part of the world!
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