Scottsdale / Montrose
July 2002
Day 4


Tuesday July 2nd, 2002
Start: Clovis, New Mexico
End: Quemado, New Mexico
361 Miles

In the morning in Clovis, the sky is blue and the temperature is just a little on the warm side as we pack. We have the continental breakfast; then Sharon showers while I try to take care of the petcock issue.

I ride to the local Kawasaki dealer, it's only a block away, to check out my options on the petcock. The guy behind the counter checks, and they have neither the petcock nor the internal parts to fix mine. I ask if it's possible for a big glob of fuel to have gone down the vacuum line, and he says yes. He asks if my motor is Ok, as he's seen where a cylinder has filled with raw fuel due to petcock failure. It seems OK, although maybe buzzing a little more than usual.. Or maybe I'm just more irritable. I tell him since he doesn't have any parts for it, I'll plug the vacuum line, and use the manual position of the petcock. He says that sounds like a good temporary fix, and gives me some battery vent tube plugs that might work as plugs.

He also gives me their business card with their toll-free number on it, but since they don't have any parts to fix the problem I don't see what good a telephone number might be.

Back at the motel room, I remove the fuel tank. The plugs the mechanic gave me are too big to fit in the vacuum line, but hold the phone - there's a rubber nipple on the end of my bungee cord hooks. I stick the hook in the vacuum line, squeeze the vacuum line to hold the nipple in place, remove the bungee hook from in the vacuum line, and the deed is done. Invisible, and effective. Could ride it forever this way safely, using the prime position.

We head out of Clovis, westbound on US-60. Vegetation continues to become more and more sparse, and the rolling hills of the land get further and further apart. Visibility increases, and suddenly we realize that when we see a train we see the entire train at once, even if it's a mile long... Or even two trains, sometimes - it's very open country.

A few more feedlots in the small towns, and then even they taper off as the big open areas become even more open on US-60. We see a few ranches, and the ruins of some other ranches. The temperature climbs steadily.

This seems like a hard land to make a living from. No water and very little vegetation, and what vegetation exists has thorns to protect itself from animals. Looking out over that kind of a harsh land, I can never get it out of my head that man is an intruder and not well suited to the desert.

And I love it! I lived 6 months on a ranch after graduating from high school, the Orme Ranch and School in Mayer, Arizona. Most folks from back east seem to hate the emptiness, the brown, the drab greens - but to me it was (and still is) different. I hated it too, at first, up at the ranch back in 1981. At first I was homesick, missing a girlfriend I'd left behind in Ohio. Then over time, the constant sunshine and warm temperatures softened me up. I began to see the more subtle beauty of the desert, the rounded shapes of the hills contrasted against the hard shapes of the mesas and the rugged mountains beyond, the irony of a dry riverbed, the beauty of a walk in that same riverbed, and how the brush would green up after a rain. And then an entirely different face as the riverbed carried water now and again during monsoon season, and the smell of the desert during and especially after the monsoon rains, when the pinyon and juniper and sagebrush and mesquite were wet and giving off their unique odor - I don't wear cologne but if that scent could be bottled I'd probably start.

I think the desert is an acquired taste, but once you develop that taste the desert doesn't let go. It's wonderful to be in such a place - even if it is a tad warm.

We take US-60 west towards Vaughn, watching the mile-long trains again and again in the distance for entertainment. It's hilarious to us to see an entire train all at once, back home in Ohio and Michigan we see only the part of the train crossing the track in front of us. Sharon keeps saying that it's so empty, and I keep replying "Yeah; isn't it great..?"

US-60 itself is a pleasant, rather empty two lane road all the way to Vaughn, New Mexico.

Vaughn seems to be a town that's seen better days. A cruise down the main drag of town shows about 75% of businesses boarded up. What's left is a restaurant or two, an auto parts store, a grocery store, a bar. A few others I'm sure, but not much. I'm guessing that I-40 did the same thing to US-60 that it did to Rt. 66, i.e., traffic switched to I-40 from 66 and US-60, and left towns like Vaughn to wither. Progress, but I'm not sure I like progress in this case.

Thinking some more, I don't like this kind of progress. And it shows in our route choice, we're on US-60 to experience alternatives to the modern and homagenized I-40. And a lonely town like Vaughn is one of those alternatives.

US-60 Westbound
Vaughn, New Mexico
Ranch View Restaurant and Motel
Vaughn, New Mexico
Very Large Array
Datil, New Mexico
VLA in Background
Datil, New Mexico
Plains of St. Augustine
Datil, New Mexico
We're through Vaughn quickly, but we want to stop for lunch. Not a lot of choices, so we settle on a rather shabby restaurant / motel at the very west end of town before US-60 turns into four lanes and heads across the empty plain.

The inside of the place is as run-down as the outside, but the counter and kitchen appear clean. Several Hispanic people are in the dining room. There's a small display of dusty merchandise that hasn't sold forever, and behind that a display of miscellaneous stuff such as irons: manual that you heat in a fire, gasoline irons, and electric irons. Dad's told me about gasoline irons, his mom threw one out a window when it made a funny noise once and she refused to use it ever again. But this is the first one I've seen - sort of a gasoline blowtorch. This one is made in Akron, but I've never heard of the company. I can only imagine the liability issues a gasoline iron would present today...

The waitress brings us our water and menus, then returns later to take our order. I try to order, we want to try splitting an order of stacked burritos but we 're not sure what that is. I ask, but English isn't the waitress's first language and we're struggling and she seems self-conscious about her English.

Sharon takes charge, and begins speaking Spanish to the waitress. Sharon has a degree in Spanish; she traveled and lived in South America for a few years so she's fluent. The waitress smiles now, at Sharon. I no longer exist, and the two of them jabber away in Spanish for awhile. I only know enough Spanish to be polite in an office setting, such as "Good morning", "please", and "thank you". Otherwise, I only understand about every tenth word the two women are speaking.. But it sounds like the order is complete and I didn't hear "No cheese!". I've been silent, but I speak up with "No queso, no queso!" The waitress looks at me and smiles, I exist to her now too, and Sharon confirms with the waitress that I don't like cheese, and she should put cheese on only half the order. The waitress looks at me a bit funny, we thank her and she takes the order to the kitchen.

Our food comes, and stacked burritos are burritos stacked like pancakes, which explains the puzzled look on the waitresses face when Sharon asked for cheese on half. But it's a good meal anyway, a very good meal as a matter of fact. And there's no cheese. Whew!

It's funny, the place looks so humble. But as Sharon points out, all they service is locals. If the food's no good, the locals could just as easily eat at home.

Lunch done, we get back on the bike and continue west. US-60 stays a four lane highway for a few miles out of Vaughn, then tapers back down to two lane, and we pass through many more towns much like Vaughn: glory days gone, buildings still lived in but in disrepair, the town withering away slowly in the sun. I'm not convinced we've "conquered" the desert any more than the Indians or the Spanish or the miners did. I think nature will have the last laugh and the desert will be empty again someday. Probably not in my life, but someday.

East of Mountainair, we pass what looks like an almost-dry salt lake. Odd...

Mountainair is where the turnoff is for the road to the Gran Quivira Pueblo Missions National Monument. We decide to pass on that, Sharon broke her foot in the winter and it's still a bit "off" - hiking isn't recommended. Instead, we visit the Information Center there, which has great displays and the history of the area's Salinas Pueblo Indians. Plus it's cool inside while hot outside, and they have a drinking fountain with cold water..

The area has a rich history: turns out that the salt lake we passed was a source of salt for the local Pueblo groups, and there was a lot of commerce between local and distant tribes due to the salt. Then came the Spanish, who conquered the Pueblos and tried to convert them to Christianity. The Indians were expected to do work for the church friars, as well as for the colonial government, which meant that there was little time to work the fields and conduct trade. Then came a decade of drought in the 1660s and 1670s, which killed 540 people at Gran Quivira alone. The Apaches, who were former trading partners, began to raid the Salinas Pueblos for food, and they were abandoned in the 1670s with their residents moving down into the Rio Grande valley, presumably to be closer to water. In the 1680s, the Pueblos north of Salinas revolted and drove the Spaniards and their sympathizers out of New Mexico. The Salinas Pueblo Indians thus became the only Pueblo Indians to lose both their home and their language, as they moved south with the defeated Spaniards to the El Paso area.

The staff tells us that the church at the Abo ruins is very pretty, and won' t require walking, so we head over there.

The church at Abo is actually part of a large complex of ruins down a very pretty road, off US-60 west of Mountainair. While heading down the side road, there's a light rain and the desert smells come to life - the pinyon and juniper and mesquite. Haunting smells, to me at least, and appropriate for a visit to a church and Pueblo abandoned over 300 years ago. Timeless smells, the same smells the locals would have smelled three hundred years ago after a rain...

The church ruins are picturesque, constructed not of adobe but of cut stone. European architecture, not Pueblo architecture. To save walking, we motor around the parking lot slowly like typical automobile tourists, not really savoring the experience. The ruins are impressive, and I want to go back when I can spend a day or so soaking it in. Motoring around the parking lot just doesn't do the place justice.

We continue west on US-60, with the weather alternating between hot and occasional light rain. When it rains, or when we pass through a cooler spot, it feels good - we're wearing mesh protective gear and you instantly feel rain or temperature changes.

After Mountainair, US-60 descends into the Rio Grande valley and we can feel the waves of heat rising off the valley floor as we come down from the higher desert.

It's the hottest I've been in years, we're both sucking on our water bladders in the tank bag, and Sharon reminds me that I told her it wouldn't be hot until we got to Phoenix. I tell her that's right, this probably isn't as hot as it will be. She asks me what the temperature is on my watch, in the map pocket of the tank bag. It's an Avocet watch, popular with climbers, and has an altimeter and a thermometer. I look down, and it says 159ºF. I tell Sharon the watch isn't right, the map pocket is like a greenhouse and it's not a true reading. She persists, how hot is it? Ok, I tell her. 159ºF. There' s a pause... She says she doesn't think that number's right. No, of course it's not. That's what I was saying...

Then we're in the Rio Grande valley, headed south on I-25. Maybe the watch isn't that far off, it's extremely hot as we roll along the Interstate. The temp gauge on the Concours, which back home almost never gets beyond the 12 o'clock position on the hottest days, is at the one o'clock position. The ambient temperature is high enough that the fan is often on even on the Interstate. It's really hot out.

We pull into a Burger King in Socorro, New Mexico for something cold - like a cold dining room, a frozen lemonade, and the chance to refill our water bladders with ice. We walk in, and it feels cool - at first. We order, and I set my watch on the table while I fill the bladders with ice. Returning to the table, and the watch reads 103ºF inside the restaurant in the shade. Then we notice the employees whining about the heat, and realize that it's even hot inside. Amazing - it felt cool to us when we entered.

When I pulled the water bladders out of the tank bag, out of curiosity I checked the temperatures of various parts of the bike using my hand as a sensor, figuring that around 125ºF-130ºF is about as hot as you can hold in your hand. I can't hold my hand on the footpegs, the frame near the footpegs, the seat, nor the handlbar end-weights. I can hold my hand on the gas tank for a bit, and that's about all. The heat is just rolling off the asphalt and the engine in waves.. I'd guess that the area where the rider sits is probably running 130ºF-140ºF, based on my hand readings, and the fact that back home it's generally 15ºF-25ºF above ambient behind the fairing.

After our drinks, we fuel up and head out. Again, just getting gas, and the heat hammers at you - I'm sucking on ice water before and after getting fuel. Another drink as we head out of town. And I'm sweating it all out, I 'm not urinating any more often than at home. And thankfully, not any less either.

At the west edge of town, there's a portable orange highway construction sign that says US-60 is closed at Show Low, Arizona; due to fires - that may be a problem tomorrow.

Heading uphill out of town, and I again feel like I'm returning home. I've been on this road before, on weekend trips out of Phoenix on my GPz-550, so I feel as though I'm in my former backyard.

Still heading uphill, running about 75-80 mph, and the bike begins to stumble as though it's running out of fuel or has lost a couple cylinders. But we just filled up - what the heck? As it sputters, I pull over off the highway. I'm puzzled - could I have yet another mechanical problem?

We take off our gear, Sharon lays her stuff on the ground and I quickly point out that's not a good thing here - fire ants and such. She lays her gear on the seat with mine. I'm not local anymore, but I was once and I remember being bit by those damn things.

I wonder.. The bike has stumbled a few times at high speed, high temps, and uphill. I know that some bikes have trouble with the Hall effect sensor, could that now be giving trouble on my bike? I spray some of my ice water on the LH end of the engine, to see if cooler temps might cure the problem. Wait a bit, and the bike starts right up. Hmmm. File away the results of that experiment...

We continue west, through Magdalena, New Mexico. Magdalena is another town much like Vaughn, it's glory days long passed. Pretty, quaint, and if only those buildings could talk...

An old railroad bed (rails long gone) also parallels US-60 at times in this area, and I wonder about the trains that must have run that track. Most likely steam trains, like in the movies. All gone now..

It's cooler now, we're a bit higher up than Socorro.

And then, on the Plains of San Augustine, we come across the VLA, or Very Large Array. The VLA is a radio telescope, consisting of 27 9-story radio dishes on railroad tracks. There are 3 sets of track, or 3 arms, each arm about 9 miles long, with all 3 tracks radiating out from a central point like a Mercedes emblem. The scale is huge - we stop for pictures.

Basically, radio waves are similar to light waves. The 27 dishes can be moved out along the tracks, and focused together on one area, effectively mimicking the performance of a a single huge radio dish. Hook the output to a computer with the proper software, and you can create images of the stars and galaxies from the radio waves.

We take some cool photos, and then head out. We'd like to make it to Pie Town and the Pie-O-Neer restaurant, Steve told us the pies are to die for there.

This is all ranch land again, and in many places there's two fences along the road, the second one about 30' back from the first, to form an alley for driving cattle to market. That way of life isn't completely gone yet.

Past Datil, and we make it to Pie Town before closing. It's easy to find the Pie-O-Neer restaurant, it's about the only business in Pie Town. A local is inside carrying on a conversation with the waitress, and it appears that the Pie-O-Neer restaurant is simply joined to the people's house. It's also rustic, to say the least. Big wooden porch, and a big dog hanging around. The owner's kids watching us, and asking us questions.

Being the end of the day, selection is limited but we each manage to order something that we like. We really wanted to eat supper here, but they're out of a bunch of things so we have to settle for just pie.. It's good pie, the waitress / cook / owner is a large woman and she tells us she makes them all herself right there, all homemade, and that people come from all over to eat her pies. She also tells us that she's heard from people that found Pie Town on the Internet, and that on the Internet Pie Town has a lot more services than it does in reality. In reality, Pie Town is basically just her restaurant.. Nice lady, nice town, nice family, and really good pie.

From Pie Town, Quemado is just down the road about 15 miles. We're there in a bit, watching the hazy sunset as we go, wondering if the haze is from the Arizona fires, feeling the air cool down, and just starting to wish we were dressed warmer as we pull into downtown Quemado.

Quemado reminds me of a New Mexico version of Pemberville, Ohio or Bellington, West Virginia. There's a main business district, but not a big one. A Post Office, a gas station, a liquor store, and Allison's Motel. Kinda run-down, but Sharon wanted local rather than chain and it's about the only game in town so...

We check in, but are still hungry - the pie didn't quite fill us up. The owner of Allison's Motel tells us about a good restaurant in town, just west of the motel, and after checking in we take an evening walk to grab a bite.

The restaurant is on the west edge of town, south side of US-60, and although the name escapes me the memory of the food does not. Green chili, made with green chilis and pork. Sounds terrible, and I can already hear the Texas purists hollering - but man is it ever good chili! Spicier, not so fatty and greasy like normal chili in the Whirlpool cafeteria at Clyde, Ohio. I've got to find something like this back home - maybe in an ethnic neighborhood in the Detroit area?

After unwinding over supper, Sharon and I head back to Allison's Motel in the dark.

A very nice day, but a long one. My head hits the pillow, and I'm out.

Doug Grosjean
Pemberville, Ohio