Sunday, 12 July 2015

Beware of Maps and GPS that lie

Beware of New Mexico roads that on the map that appear just as two lines.  

I’ll get to the lines matter a little later.

Got into Santa Fe late yesterday (Saturday) and had originally considered extending my trip to spend an additional day in Santa Fe.   

After checking into my motel I decided to grab a quick look at downtown Santa Fe.  This city has a reputation as the artisan capital of the US and they certainly try to live up to the hype.  The downtown core is just what I had expected. Wall to wall shops and artist booths, all competing for the tourist's dollars.  Beautiful shops works of art and of course people.  Also, wall-to-wall tourists who think nothing about meandering obliviously onto the road.  It's as if they believe that being on a holiday makes them immune from being struck by a vehicle

I wasn’t overly impressed; it was basically what I’d expected and feared.   

Maybe it was just that I was tired from the day on the road but everything seemed so overly contrived, designed, and priced.  I've seen similar shops in similar towns before.  Decided I wasn’t in the mood to deal with all the pretence. Besides I can always come back, quite sure things will still be the same. 

As lovely as it might be, Santa Fe really has nothing to do with the R-66 that I was in pursuit of.

After a gourmet breakfast (hay, when you've had 7 days of  McDonalds you'll convince yourself of anything) I header for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Very Large Array (VLA), about 190 miles south of Santa Fe.   

Though the VLA is not actually on Route 66 it’s a place worth visiting.  These radio telescopes peer deep into the universe and pull back images of stars being born and dying as well as black holes spitting out fire and brimstone.  There are 27 of these monsters each weighing over 250 tons with dishes measuring 82 feet across. They are spread across 37 km of open plains, mounted on a railway track system that allows them to be realigned as need be.  To realign all 27 takes two weeks.
Part of the field that's spread out across 37 km

Inside the control room

9 of the 27 Dishes

21st Century meets the 18th Century

While on my way to the VLA I turned off of I-25 at Socorro, headed west and came across a real gem called Magdalena. I just couldn’t zip through, though it’s my guess that most travellers heading to the VLA do just that.

Magdalena is an old cowpuncher town that has long since seen it’s better days.  However, I met and photographed one of the most colorful characters I’ve met so far.  His name is Mac and he owns an antique/junk shop on the main street.  Mac used to be a carny and worked on various big-top circus’ that made their way throughout the south-west in the late 50’s and early 60’s. 

Mac was a real pleasure to meet and talk to.  Thirty minutes well spent.

Mac and his leg

Old Windmill and House in Magdalena
Bank in Magdalena
Mac's place

Finally, found my way to the VLA.  After taking the VLA tour I headed north to the I-40 and Gallup. Now, because of the location of the VLA, getting to Gallup isn’t quite as simple as it sounds.  This is where to two lines previously mentioned come in.  You know the saying “the shortest distance between to places is a straight line” well, maybe that's true but in New Mexico, some sayings can be the exception.

The most direct road to Gallup from the Very Large Array is road #36, or so the GPS and maps indicated.  Only thing is, you see, it rained today and I didn’t know that #36 wasn’t actually what you would call a road as much as a mud path, better suited to tanks, not something on four wheels.   

The first part of #36 was mostly dirt, actually more clay like. However, about 4 miles along I encountered a rainstorm and driving became not just difficult but downright dangerous, quickly turning into impossible.  I had to disengage the positraction in order to make any headway and prevent the car from sliding into the ditch.  It's not that the dirt was deep but the red soil turns to grease when wet, making it nearly impossible to go faster than 5 mph.  With night was quickly approaching and my GPS said 97 miles to Gallup, I groaned.  I contemplated turning around but if I stopped and tried to do so I figured for sure I’d get stuck.  As luck would have it about 6 miles later on the storm had gotten far enough ahead that the road had dried out.  80 miles later I reached asphalt.

I now know that what one minute is a decent dust road the next becomes a quagmire of grease thanks to the rain.  I also discovered the since the land drains so quickly here a mere 10 minutes after the rain goes through the road is back to dust. 
This is what both my GPS and the road map showed as shortest and main road to Gallup

After 80 miles of dirt this is what I popped on to. Gallup is at the distance
The moral of this story is; beware of New Mexico roads that on a map that show the route number inside of a little round circle and the road as two lines.

Tomorrow I'm back on R-66 again, or what's left of it.

More to come...

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