Las Cruces NM to California- Jan 25-Feb 28

28 Feb

After our dead VW battery scare was resolved, we drove around Las Cruces NM before taking off for the Mogollon Mountains and the Gila National Forest in southern New Mexico.  Las Cruces reminded us of Santa Fe NM – pueblo and southwest architecture – but a much smaller town and without Santa Fe’s high end tourist and retail establishments.

I followed up my seriously poor planning for our hike in White Sands National Park with an even more idiotic job of poor planning.  After driving for a couple of hours we arrived in Silver City NM, where I thought we would find ancient cave dwellings.  Not exactly.  Oh, yes, the cave dwellings are in the area, but only if we chose to drive another 2-3 hours up a steep, narrow, winding mountain road – mostly in the dark.  At the end of the road we would find the cave dwellings, darkness, and single degree temperatures.  We passed.  After all, we saw many cave dwellings in 2008 in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.  Instead we took a shorter, flatter, straighter drive to the three-building town of Glenwood NM where we found no open restaurants (although one owner invited us to join the bar-b-que he was preparing for a crew of visiting utility workers), and an empty no-fee federal campground in a beautiful mountain area.  Before bedding down for the night we encountered two problems: a broken shade (easily fixed with a paper clip) and a dead coach battery (easily recharged by leaving the engine running for about 1/2 hour).

We were fortunate to have recharged the coach battery as we were faced with a frigid 13-degree night.  In the morning we ran both heaters (the propane coach heater and the VW engine heater).  After a half-hour it was warm enough to get out of bed and proceed with our day.

Nearby was the Whitewater Catwalk National Recreation Trail.  We took a 2-hour hike through a mountain canyon trail which included a number of catwalks that were built in the 1850’s to access nearby gold mines.  The hike was stunning and very cold, especially in the shade.

We left and drove some 200 miles to Benson, AZ to spend the night at a functional KOA campground.  The drive was beautiful – across a high altitude golden grass valley in NM (with the Mogollon Mountains in the background) to the forested snow-covered mountains of eastern AZ to the desolate flat high desert plain of Arizona.

If you’ll pardon an obvious geography observation, Arizona borders California, and it has Safeway Markets (with Starbucks stands inside the markets, just like California).  For Joanna and me, all of this brought us to the realization that this was the beginning of the end of our five months on the road. We are beginning to experience a sadness about our adventure coming to an end, and a resistance to returning home.  Our time on the road has become a way of life for us.  We don’t feel like we’re away from home or on a vacation, we feel that this is our life and we don’t want it to end.

For the continuation of this blog and for photographs, click . . .

On our way to Tucson AZ, we stopped at the Saguaro National Forest in the Rincon Mountains.  We hiked through the cactus forest.  To me, saguaro cactus is the image that comes to mind when I think of cactus.  It’s even pictured on Arizona license plates.

We spent a couple of days in Tucson.  It’s a college town (University of Arizona), and has avoided the growth that has turned Phoenix into the largest city in the southwest.  One retail area in Tucson is known as 4th Street (or, is it 4th Ave?) and is devoid of any chain stores.  It reminds me of Melrose Ave in West Hollywood in the 1970’s.  Of course, 4th Street does intersect with another street that is filled with chain stores and leads to the main entrance of the U of A.

After Tucson, we started back to California.  Along the way we stopped at the Heart Attack Grill near Phoenix AZ, a hamburger joint with a serious attitude.  It’s a theme restaurant, fashioned after a hospital cardiac ward.  The waitresses are dressed in sexy nurse uniforms and the kitchen staff dressed as surgeons.  Upon entering the restaurant, patients/patrons are dressed in a hospital gown and have a hospital wristband attached.  The menu consists of 4 burgers (named from single-bypass to quadruple-bypass, depending on how many 1/2 pound burger patties you want), fries cooked in 100% pure lard, 80% butterfat milkshakes, and cokes with sugar and caffeine.  The restaurant proudly proclaims that the food served is bad for your health.  And, the restaurant was very busy.

Another minor VW problem – the pop-top jammed closed.  A trip to a liquor store and the problem was quickly solved.  No, not a beer, but a can opener which functioned as a tool to do the job.

In California, we went to Joshua Tree National Park – a beautiful and surreal landscape.  We hiked and watched another gorgeous sunset.  After being on the road for while, feeling gritty and dirty, we opted for a Best Western where we veg’d out with hot baths and mindless TV.

Leaving Joshua Tree, we wandered around California until, on February 18th, our 2 year-old rebuilt transmission started acting as though it wanted to be rebuilt again.  This is not a good sign.  But, we happened to be near GoWesty (a renowned independent VW van service/parts/accessories store/shop) in Los Osos CA.  A good sign because GoWesty supplied the unit to our mechanic, Karmakanix in Berkeley, CA.  And it’s still under warranty from GoWesty.  So, we stopped by GoWesty for help.  Alas, their service department was booked up for the next three weeks.  So, they politely suggested we go somewhere else, anywhere else.  Talk about someone standing behind their work . . . didn’t feel that way to me.  Over the last several years Karmakanix installed three rebuilt GoWesty transmissions in VW Eurovans.  The other two have already failed.  So, after several conversations with Karmakanix, we’ll be driving to Berkeley soon.  It could have been worse, much worse (see Dec12-18 posting about Mark and Laura whose VW Eurovan transmission went out in the middle of “nowhere” in Big Bend Texas).

And, after some 6 months and 16,000 miles of road-tripping adventures, we are (just about) ready to go home.  At least for a short time . . . we’re planning two other trips in the immediate future.  After reconnoitering at home for a month or so, we were planning on flying, not driving, to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and staying put for a month.  However, things have changed.  Karmakanix is servicing the VW and, although encountering a few abnormal shifts, couldn’t “testify in a court of law” that the transmission is failing.  But, they did find a couple of problems that could cause erratic shifting.  So, we’ve decided to hit the road for another month, probably around California, to gain confidence in the transmission before we set out on our second trip – a three month trip to Alaska with the VW.  For a part of the trip we’ll ferry through the inland passage with the VW.

Stay tuned . . . we’ll post about our decisions (after they’re engraved in stone), and further adventures (I think, although this blogging stuff takes up big chunks of time).