Monday, September 5, 2016

Road Trip. Part 2 - Capulin Volcano, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado

If you haven't already, check out Part 1.

I left Raton, NM shortly before 8 am and headed east on Highway 87. 40 miles down the road, as I approached the town of Capulin, NM, I saw signs for the Capulin Volcano. I've never been to a volcano before, so I turned off 87 toward the volcano, glad I had the time to wander off my route.

Without a National Parks Pass (which I plan on acquiring soon), it cost $7 to access the volcano.  Not far past this sign, there was a welcome center staffed by a park ranger where you could buy a pass or a souvenir and use the restroom.

This is a view of the volcano from the parking lot of the visitors' center.

At the parking lot at the rim of the volcano, looking toward the plains. 

The best view of the plains from the rim of the volcano.

A panorama of the rim of the volcano.

Coming from Colorado, where Denver is 5280 feet above sea level and there are more than 50 peaks that reach 14k feet, standing where the highest land mass for miles around was only 7877 feet above sea level amused me.

Standing at the rim of the volcano and looking in.

The inside of the volcano.

Panorama of the interior of the volcano. There is a paved path leading from here to the bottom inside of the volcano. It is smooth but very steep! And I of course forgot to use my inhaler for exercise-induced asthma beforehand, so I was gasping for breath and wheezing after climbing back out.


Volcanic rock inside the bottom of the volcano.

At the bottom of the volcano on the inside, looking up.

Panorama of the rim, standing on the bottom of the inside.

Not a time lapse. It was crazy windy and the clouds were actually moving that fast!

Squinting because I left my sunglasses in the car.

On the road again. Before I reached the border between New Mexico and Texas, I stopped at a rest area and was surprised to see a corral. I'd never seen a rest area with a corral before, though I guess it makes sense that horses need to stretch their legs as much as people on long journeys.

Just make sure your horse doesn't get bitten by a snake while you're using the restroom!

View of the rest area and my car from the front of the corral.

Dalhart Texas, home of roadside grain elevators and A TON of road construction.

Parked on Highway 87 in Dalhart due to the construction, I looked over and spotted a child's bowling ball in the gutter. It looked so...forlorn. 

Much of the road under construction was flooded. All the residents seemed to own trucks and drove through the flooding to access the businesses on the other side without a care in the world. I had to wait for a restaurant I could access without driving through a flood zone and wound up at an oddly fancy McDonald's.

I wasn't very hungry; I just needed a fresh drink and a break from driving, so I wasn't lucky enough to have food delivered to my table in wire baskets like you would find at a SmashBurger or similar fast casual restaurant. The place was packed with everything from weary travelers like myself to locals in their Sunday best, including a woman who looked like she might be a Mennonite who randomly asked me if I thought she could convince the employee wiping down the doors to come home with her and do her windows.  

"Collectables." Also in Dalhart.

After my break in Dalhart, I turned north on Highway 385 and headed toward Boise City, OK.

Google Maps made it appear that I would be driving through the Kiowa and Rita Blanca National Grasslands, but mostly I saw a lot of crops. Perhaps there were some grasslands amongst and behind the farms, I don't know, but it was never obvious that I was driving through a grassland, which I found disappointing. I guess I was hoping for a turnoff where I could see Pronghorns and Bison wandering through native grasses without any fences or crops in the way.

Can anybody tell me what this pretty crop is? I saw none of it in New Mexico or Texas, then it was all over the place in Oklahoma and popped up occasionally in Kansas. I don't recall seeing it in Colorado. The top was a really pretty reddish orange color that I don't recall seeing before.

Oklahoma had a couple of these roadside tables. There would be a sign with a 1 mile warning so that you could slow down, then there would be a covered picnic table on the side of the road. No restrooms, though, not even a Porta Potty, so hopefully you don't have to go right after you eat. Those trees offered very little cover from the side of the road!

The view across the highway from the picnic table.

In Boise City, OK, I got gas, then turned onto Highway 56 for my detour into Kansas. This is a good place to mention that Sprint decided I was roaming for most of my trip and refused me any data access unless I accessed WiFi at a restaurant or something. Having forgotten to finalize my route when I was resting at the fancy McDonald's in Dalhart, TX, I was only allowed a brief glimpse at Google maps to figure out my route. 

I should have downloaded my route, because I didn't memorize the Kansas detour properly and wound up doing a big, pointless circle.  

This is literally the only picture I took of Kansas. At this point I was getting tired of driving without having any interesting places to stop. After growing up near the mountains, the plains got boring after a while (my apologies to anybody who lives on the plains and loves it!).

After my Kansas loop, I wound up on (I think) county road 51 - which became a dirt road at the border with Colorado! That was an unpleasant surprise, but it would have been a very long backtrack through Kansas to find a different route, so I gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles and hoped for the best.

 Luckily the road was fairly well maintained, but I was still terrified that I would hit a rut that was worse than it looked and wind up in the ditch with no cell service. My car handled the dirt road OK, but it isn't all wheel drive and really wasn't designed for that kind of rough driving.

Approximately thirty miles and nearly an hour later, I finally re-emerged onto blacktop and cheered.

I hadn't memorized a route through Colorado, so until I found a place to stop, all I knew was to head north or west and I would eventually hit either I-70 or I-25, even if that wasn't the fastest route.

Twice in Colorado there were situations where the two-lane road was down to one lane and had a light at either end. Much more efficient than using a flagger.

By the time I reached Lamar, I desperately needed a break. I found a Burger King (anything but yet another McDonald's!) and was finally able to check Google maps and discover that I was already on the fastest route home - but I was still more than 3 hours away. Ugh. I was so over this road trip at this point, but there was nothing to do but keep going.

After stopping at a gas station that was out of the octane I needed, then getting paranoid that my fuel gauge was lying and I must have less than the quarter tank it insisted I had and worrying I would run out of gas, I eventually hit I-70 in time to see this beautiful sunset.

I finally reached home at 8 pm, exhausted and glad to be out of the driver's seat.

In the end, I would not recommend this particular route unless you are dying to add NM, TX, OK, and KS to your list of states. Even then I'd say break up the trip into two days, if you can. 

Road Trip. Part 1 - Raton, NM

I've always loved to drive, but my '99 Saturn was getting a little too sketchy for me to feel comfortable going more than an hour or so away from Denver. Now that I've upgraded to a 2013 Scion xD, it's time to get my road trip on!

And boy did I break in my new car this weekend (August 20-21, 2016). Yuck!

I was originally planning on doing this whole trip in one day, but at work on Saturday, I decided to get a cheap motel in Raton, NM that night so I would have more time to explore on my road trip and wouldn't be stuck only driving all day.

I booked the motel before I got off work mid-afternoon on Saturday (thanks!), then ran home to pack a bag and hit the road about 3:30.

As usual, I-25 was crowded heading south. There was so much traffic that I wasn't comfortable using my cruise control until I got south of Colorado Springs. Incidentally, I don't think I'll ever tire of the beauty of driving past the Springs. I love how the city butts right up to the mountains. Just one reason I love Colorado.

In southern Colorado - I think somewhere between the Springs and Pueblo, though I forgot to notate it and now I don't remember exactly - I stopped at a rest area. Luckily I didn't really need to pee yet - they were cleaning the women's restroom and there was a line for the family restroom. I mostly wanted to stretch my legs and take a few pics.


Maybe it's just me but it seems strange to honor the Armed Forces at a rest area.

By the time I hit Raton around 6:45, I definitely did need to use the restroom, so I decided to check into my motel room before finding a place to eat. 

The best thing I can say about the Motel 6 is that it was cheap - $57.19 after taxes and fees - and more comfortable than sleeping in my car, although maybe not by much. The mattress felt like a sheet of plywood over loose springs. It was very flat and very bouncy. Oh well. It was still better than sleeping in my car, and at least it wasn't dirty. No bugs!

The shower looked futuristic, but the position of the shower head left no way to escape the spray. Also not good if you're claustrophobic!

I didn't think the lack of WiFi would be a problem, but it turns out Sprint decided I was roaming and didn't get any data, so I unexpectedly found myself cut off from the world overnight, which was unnerving to say the least. I think I could still make and receive calls, but having no access to texts, Facebook, or Google maps to plan the rest of my trip was disconcerting.

Yes, that's a box TV. Why replace it with a flat screen if it's still functional, right?

Alanis Morisette would have us believe irony is "a no smoking sign on your cigarette break." I believe the epitome of irony is a no smoking sticker on the bottom of an ash tray. 

Settled into my motel room, I hit the town to search for a place to eat besides the nearby McDonald's, Arby's, and Denny's. That's when I discovered that while Raton is beautiful, it's one of the most depressing places I have ever visited (I haven't had the opportunity yet to travel to a third world country to see the very definition of poverty in person). Anyway, it seemed at least every third business was shuttered. Restaurants, motels, gas stations - all closed. 

The most bustling shopping center I could find at 7 on a Saturday evening included a Family Dollar and a thrift store. Talk about depressing. KMart seemed to be doing OK, too. After boarded up window after closed sign after decrepit building, I finally found a family restaurant that was open.

I wasn't starving, so I went with a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, which was served under a mountain of fries. It was pretty good. Typical family restaurant fare. The service was excellent. I never had to ask for a refill, which is always impressive, and I got my food very quickly.

Here's a view from outside The Oasis. What a beautiful town nestled into the Rocky Mountains. Too bad much of it seems to be deserted. 

After dinner, I stopped by the visitor's center, which was closed for the evening but had some pamphlets outside. I had also grabbed every promotional brochure from the rack in the motel lobby when I checked in, so I had plenty to look through back in my room as I wound down for the evening.

Sign outside the visitor's center.

I woke up at 6:15, anxious to tackle the bulk of my road trip. I wanted to get started early so that I wouldn't have to concern myself with time as I wandered the long way back home. 

After showering and checking out of my motel, I decided to eat at McDonald's for breakfast because I knew they would have WiFi and I needed to use Google maps to finalize my route for the day (too bad it didn't occur to me to download the route - that would come into play later in the day!) I was relieved not to have received any texts overnight and realized I should have told somebody where I was going. Well, I did tell my one coworker, but I really should have told at least my roommates and maybe my mom. What if something would have happened to me? Nobody would have known where I was. So, lesson learned, I'll always tell somebody where I'm headed before going on any more road trips. 

The promotional brochures for downtown Raton looked interesting, so I decided to head there after breakfast and take some pictures before leaving town.

At 7 am on a Sunday, the entire town was still asleep, and the overcast sky helped lend a ghost town feel to the city.

Train station - still used for Amtrak passengers. 

I wish the Alternatives To Violence Thrift Store had been open so I could learn more about it. Sounds like a store with a good cause.

I'm dying to know what kind of business this is!

They may have been "Luxury apartments" once, but I doubt they still are.

One of many closed businesses.

I don't know what goes on inside this building during business hours, but the windows are like a museum dedicated to the Marchiondo family. Pretty cool.

In the window of Marchiondo's Dry Goods.

My macro photography is improving. I thought this bee (or whatever it is) was dead, but it started moving after a couple of pictures. Maybe it was just waking up.

A deserted stretch of downtown Raton.

The town of Raton backs right up to this hill.

Creepy mannequin in a shop window.

This fire escape looked like it would fall apart under any amount of weight. I guess I would risk my life on it if there was a fire behind me inside the building, though.

All the benches had different designs on the back.

I'm not really a big fan of taking selfies, but I want you all to be able to see me in my adventures from time to time. The pendant I am wearing is a Celtic representation of "The Adventuress," (supposedly; I purchased it at the Colorado Renaissance Festival, so who knows for sure), and I try to wear it on all, or at least most, of my adventures.

For more info on the city of Raton, NM, check out Wikipedia.

For the rest of my road trip through New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado, including a stop at the Capulin Volcano, check out Part 2 of my adventure!

Day 1, Denver to Raton, NM.