Despite the heavy rain, we left Memphis and headed for Nashville. An overnight there, and we were on our way to North Carolina.
The drive from Knoxville to Scaly Mountains through the Smokey Mountains was very scenic. We probably stopped at the trip’s most excellent rest stop, near the Blue Ridge Parkway.
We enjoyed three nights with Dave, Lisa, and the Girls. We got a couple of great hikes in and enjoyed Lisa’s most excellent culinary delights! Jake got to say hi to his cousins Elly and Bonnie. And I finally made it up late enough to see the sunset!
We had a torrential downpour on the first afternoon! Lightning cracking all around! Poor Elly Mae was not a happy pupper!
The only thing left to do now is make it home. Wow. It’s hard to believe our nearly three months on the road are at an end. What a fantastic time it has been.
My parents were not fans of Elvis Presley. Although he was only ten years younger than they were, I never heard either one of them express any interest in his music. It was impossible to grow up in the 60s and not know of him. Then in the 70s, he seemed to lose it ala Michael Jackson and Prince.
The one thing I always remembered more than anything about Elvis was Graceland. And the only thing I knew about Graceland was the Jungle Room. Can you even imagine? And apparently, girls were everywhere. A young boy’s fantasies come true!
Then Paul Simon came along and made it famous again in the 90s. One of my favorite albums where every song – including this one – is memorable. I guess it was always meant to be that I would make it here one day.
Driving up the parking lot to the entrance was a bit of a disappointment. That’s what Simon’s first impression was. It looked like a giant strip mall. Once inside, I learned the Mansion was across the street. I secured a 10:30 AM tour and toured the museums.
When he started to become famous, somebody decided to keep everything he ever had, every photo taken of him – every bit of him. There were about half a dozen significant themes – his toys, movies, and even a tribute to other rockers that acknowledged his greatness (just to keep him relevant!).
Between each one was a gift shop nearly the size of the exhibit!
You name it, it was there, including this $4,025 replica of the outfit he wore in his Hawaii special.
The tour lets you walk through the first floor of the mansion. It was stunning – I loved his bohemian style.
The trophy room had more personal stuff of his, like his student discount card. But it was this stuff, like the slot car, that I related to because I played with these growing up.
Finally, the pool and meditation garden served as the graves of Elvis and his family. Quite moving.
I am glad I came. The most expensive thing I’ve done so far on the trip. Not even in the same category as Yosemite or the Redwoods. But it’s a unique piece of Americana.
And as the man says: Poor boys and pilgrims with families, And we are going to Graceland.
We woke up the next morning to a downpour with bolts of lightning flying about! Great way to wrap up the tour!
East to Nashville and then to the mountains of North Carolina for a visit to Browns Mountian.
Three days to cross Texas and get to Memphis. Elvis awaits!
We left Carlsbad and drove through the land of the dead oil wells for most of the morning. Very few wells were pumping. In some places, you could see them to the horizon. The towns we went through looked deserted for the most part. Later in the drive, we started hitting the ones that were operating.
We got to the RV Park to discover they had a hot tub! The scenery on the drive into the area left me underwhelmed, as did the stuff I read about Lubbock. So I passed in favor of sitting in the hot tub that afternoon and left early the following day.
The second day’s drive started in the grasslands. A lot of water, and everything was green as usual. Eventually, I got into some very pretty hills with smaller mesas and buttes off in the distance.
The were a lot of large cattle ranches with cool names. That leads into Wichita Falls through several large wind farms. I love driving through these monsters!
I discovered you can see a map of all installations in the US. On average, a single turbine can power about 1000 homes. Blades are about 100 feet long.
I listened to Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls on the way in. It was the number-one Jazz LP in 1981. I love It’s For You – the perfect nostalgia song.
They were so young, and their music was so fresh. I started listening to them in the late 1970s. Now, Pat is my age, has three kids still in school, and tours all the time. Probably the most successful jazz guitarist ever. Lyle died early several years ago after stepping back from music to become an IT consultant. And here I am 40+ years later – finally there 😎.
It turns out the original falls that the city was named after were destroyed in a flood in the early 1800s. It wasn’t until the 1980s that another one was built. They pump river water out to make it work.
I have to say I was a little disappointed when I saw it. Like the fountain in your backyard – only bigger 🤣. It looks like a giant chocolate fountain to me 🤩. Slightly more brown than my toxic waste spill in New Mexico 🤮.
The Chamber of Commerce must be proud – you can see it from the fucking freeway. So Falls Wichita Falls – indeed!
Back on the road. Lots of cattle ranches. Lots of trucks too. I got the impression there are a lot of second homes for the urban folks here. Primarily it was just grazing farmland. They have a lot of pull-outs with picnic tables which make for nice places to stop.
This is one end of a train line established in 1874 originating in St Louis. It has twin cities in Texas and Arkansas. We are just barely on the Texas side.
The state line runs right down the middle of the fucking freeway here. There is a sign somewhere. It’s rated a 4-star tourist attraction on Google!
I’ll pass again and get an early start. It will be good to get out of Texas again. Bad vibes all around for the most part, although I didn’t see too much of the Fuck Biden stuff on this leg of the trip.
So here we go!
I’m going to GracelandPaul Simon ~ Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there’s no obligations now
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received
Last stop of the New Mexico portion of the journey before heading home. I visited Carlsbad in 1978 on my gross country trip before graduate school. I remember it was a welcome relief to the hot weather I had been traveling through! And the Bashful Elephant.
The drive from Roswell was short, hot, and flat. We passed through the biggest dairy farm I had ever seen – the were thousands of cows, and the stench nearly gave me a headache! We arrived and watched an enormous thunderhead threaten us with rain.
I made a reservation for an 8:30 AM tour. Jake got to stay home this morning. Interestingly, the park has a kennel – the first I have seen so far on our journeys. The drive took me about an hour. The canyon leading to the caves was very scenic.
The caverns were initially explored around 1900. Local ranchers used to collect the batshit (aka guano) for fertilizer. Eventually, it was turned into a National Park. Elevators were installed in the 1950s, and Rangers would lead tour groups through the caverns. The elevator shaft was one of the tallest at the time, going some 750 feet down. You can also hike the original entrance, adding about 1 1/2 hours each way.
One person on my trip commented it was the most fantastic thing they had ever seen. I felt the same level of awe that I did when visiting the Redwoods earlier in the trip.
It was an epic experience, with every turn opening up to a more incredible vista than the last. I applauded the lighting design – it really made the caverns come alive.
The whole loop took me about 1 1/2 hours. One of the highlights of the trip!
Alas – the Bashfull Elephant was nowhere to be found.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
This was our last stop on the Big Kahuna as originally planned. This came on the list later in the trip after seeing the mountain range from Las Cruces some two months earlier!
I knew there was not much there to see – but hey – it is a National Park. As an official National Park Geek Club member, I needed to check it off my list! And wouldn’t you know – it was the only stop where it rained the whole time we were there.
We learned that this whole mountain range, including Carlsbad Caverns, was, at one point in time, a vast ocean reef. They call these fossil mountains because they are built on ancient sea creatures’ fossils. Amazing!
It was actually quite cool – cooling, that is! We managed to get on a quick hike and watch the thunderstorm! I tried to get some shots with lighting – but the weather just wouldn’t cooperate. Hah 🤣!
Too bad I didn’t bring my scuba gear!
That’s it, everybody! Now the trip home.
We left the Trinity site with a new mission – to find all the Little Green Men in Roswell I have always heard about. We didn’t need to look far.
First, we crossed over the Valley of Fire again. We saw this in 2021 on a different road to Kanab, Arizona.
It was alive with blooming Dasylirion wheeleri as far as the eye could see. Situated in the lava flows, it made for a spectacular sight!
As we continued eastward that morning, it got hot. Really hot. By the time we reached Roswell, it was 107F outside. The trailer tires reached 113F. We got there and tried to beat the heat. Not much fun walking Jake in that heat with little shade to be found in the New Mexico desert.
The story goes something like this: In 1947, an alien spaceship explodes north of Roswell. A bunch of people see it. A fewer number of people find the wreckage of the flying saucer. Four aliens were dead, but one survived. They examined him. They covered it up because – WFT – a flying saucer? We thought World War II was bad wait for this! Or something like that 😉.
Years later, people started talking. Military people. Townspeople. A cover-up had occurred. The gig was up. They eventually built this museum and laid the whole thing out for the world to see. They host conventions and have regular speakers. They have a research library containing all their reference materials.
There were a lot of people who ended up saying they knew about it. Probably more surprising was the cohesiveness or the individual stories taken as a whole. Many were deathbed confessions! How dramatic is that? Everyone’s 15 minutes of fame? Hard to know.
The second part of the museum had artifacts, including some very cool re-enactments of the alien autopsy—another group of exhibits talked about other sightings, some from antiquity. Intriguing stuff.
The museum was fun and about what I expected. They make a compelling case with all of this evidence. I personally do not believe it – the physics just make it all too unlikely.
I have no doubt that there are – or have been over time – many solar systems that support life. Life is too tenacious and found at all extremes on Earth. Essential ingredients are floating around in interstellar space. I am sure that intelligent civilizations like ours have existed.
The Universe, however, is really big, and physics – especially the speed of light/information – is limiting. 13 billion years old is a long time, and 48.5 billion lightyears wide is a long time to receive and transmit. How weak would the signal be so far away? Space, after all, is not empty.
Or maybe they are just fucking with us 👽. I do believe that another independently evolved species would not necessarily be like those that evolved on Earth—too many variables.
Roswell itself was bigger than I expected. The cashier at the museum told me the primary industry is dairy farming. They grow grass in the fields to feed the dairy cattle.
The town does have a grand history of cattle ranching. The statue of John Chisum across from City Hall is a testimony to that. He was a real-life Cattle Barron with over 100,000 head of a longhorn steer at one point in the late 1800s.
Starting in the 1930s, Robert Goddard set up a secret lab nearby and conducted dozens of launches to test rocket engine designs. During and after WWII, Walker Airforce Base became a crucial player in nuclear deterrence. It was eventually closed.
I was surprised that the whole alien thing was not overdone. Roswell is a bigger city than I expected – the fifth largest in New Mexico. The Mcdonalds’ seems to be the biggest alien attraction other than the museum. They light it up at night!
To my great surprise, it rained that afternoon. This was the first solid rain we had experienced on the whole trip. And it happens when it’s 107F outside! I am surprised it didn’t boil on the gravel as it splashed down! It cooled it off a bit – it was a mere 100F an hour later!
The next stop is our last in New Mexico, Carlsbad. We are staying at a big family-oriented park north of town. I made reservations to see the caverns early Friday morning. It’s supposed to be 107F today and then cool off a couple of degrees for the weekend 🥵. I plan on visiting Guadalupe National Park on Saturday.
From there, we start our journey home.
Hundreds of years ago, in this area, the native peoples drew symbols on the rocks inspired by their understanding of the natural world around them. Some of these symbols survived; you can see them in a National Park outside of Albuquerque.
None of them looked like Miss Atomic Bomb above. These were simpler times 🤣.
In the 1950s, when my Dad was testing rockets in Alamogordo, something far more interesting was happening in Los Alamos to the north of Albuquerque.
A decade earlier, the most important device in all the history of bipedal apes with big craniums was built and successfully tested. It was called the Gadget. It was tested at a site called Trinity, about 100 miles south of here.
The successful test of the first Atomic Bomb in 1945 changed everything. It was the culmination of an evolution of the understanding of our Universe unparalleled to that point. Our new understanding of the natural world around us.
One hundred years earlier, scientists could not even agree on what matter was. They thought there must be a luminiferous aether that light travels through. One hundred years later, scientists now were beginning to understand the star stuff. We cracked the code, so to speak.
It was a boomtown in Albuquerque! Events that followed that test put the town front and center in the race to exploit our understanding. Sandia National Laboratories and nearby Kirtland AFB were front and center of the development of nuclear weapons. Research and development were being done on the peaceful uses of atomic energy, like the EBR-I reactor I visited earlier on the trip.
The Atomic Bomb quickly became part of Americana, as evidenced by Miss Atomic Bomb and some of the toys available at that time. It meshed nicely with the Space Race and the environment I grew up in. No wonder it appeals so much to me.
Dave told me that he ate at a restaurant called El Pinto when he was once visiting on business. I tried it – it was killer good, and the setting was very unique. They have a factory next door where they make salsa.
Petroglyph National Monument
I left early by myself to explore the petroglyphs. They allowed dogs but only on certain parts of the trails, excluding the petroglyphs. I decided to go to Boca Negra Canyon, out of the three different trails.
The park sits on different pieces of land in western Albuquerque. The Boca Negra Trail was in sight of a housing development! The trail consisted of concrete steps and paved surfaces that let you get right up to the rocks.
It is estimated the petroglyphs were done primarily between 13o0 and the late 1600s by the ancestors of the Pueblo people. They were created by scraping the rock varnish off with a hammer and chisel. The feature images from nature and daily life.
The Freeway Dash
On my way back from my exploration of the petroglyphs, I saw a most interesting sight.
It was clear from the moment I got here that Albuquerque is a dangerous place—lots of barred windows and gated communities. The RV park has an all-night security guard and a closed gate after hours.
So I wasn’t all that surprised as I neared the exit to see a tall young man jump over the Interstate fence carrying two large boxes. As I sped by at 75 MPH, I looked in my rearview mirror to see him dart across five lanes of traffic carrying the boxes. He would have then had to scale another fence and cross the other five lanes of traffic in the opposite direction, scale the last fence, and make his getaway.
Yes – a dangerous place indeed. And apparently full of idiots.
The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History
This is one of the best museums I have been to in a long time. The exhibits were very good, and you could tell from the many sponsorship plaques in evidence a lot of money too. Their collection was unique, like the Palm Springs Air Museum I visited at the beginning of the trip.
The displays and exhibit take the viewer through the scientific minds and discoveries made that led to the testing of the Gadget. It does a remarkably good job of explaining the science.
I was in tears when I entered the room showing the experiments the scientists did to verify their research.
From here, there was a large collection of exhibits leading up to Hiroshima, including a B29 Bomber used to drop the bomb.
This included a replica of the Trinity test stand. This held the Gadget when it was tested on July 16, 1945, about 100 miles south of here.
A series of exhibits and displays discussed the cold war and the numerous ingenious ways we had to ensure Mutual Assured Destruction.
Around this time in my young life, we practiced air raid drills at elementary school during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember thinking to myself, ‘What good is it going to do if I am sitting under this desk and they drop a nuke on us.’ Yes – an exciting time to be alive.
Many years later, I was working at Boeing. I had to get a security clearance because they were working on Cruise Missiles in the building our lab was located in.
There were a lot of schoolchildren at the museum. There were a number of exhibits designed for children as well as exhibits on the atomic age in popular culture.
The was a special exhibit on the Uranium Cube. This is a five-pound chunk of pure Uranium made by Nazi Scientists who then hung over 600 of them in an array to achieve a chain reaction.
Most of the cubes are unaccounted for, but very few remain and are among the amazing exhibits at this incredible museum. This experiment was located in Haigerloch, Germany, near where I lived in the late 1980s.
Another part of the museum was dedicated to the current technology of atomic energy for power production. A series of displays on the work that is being done with Thorium based reactors moderated by liquid sodium.
Nothing new here – I was very interested in doing this when I graduated from college. I tried to get a job at Gulf General Atomic, which had built a similar design reactor at Fort St Vrain in Colorado.
Outside was an extensive collection of aircraft, missiles, and other items. The Matador was a flying rocket, much like the original V2 Buzz Bomb built by the Nazis. My Dad worked on this during his time with Goodyear in Alamagordo.
I could not believe all of this was in a place like this. It touches on a lot of things that I am very interested in now and over the course of my life. I was crying at several points it touched me so. Go figure.
The rest of the day was spent either heating up in the hot tub or cooling down from the 100+ F weather!
The next day we left early for the final stage of the Miss Atomic Bomb tour.
The Trinity Site is located here. About 100 miles or so south of Albuquerque, just south of Highway 380. There is a marker to the northeast of the site. I was told there are often protestors there, and the marker gets frequently damaged.
How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer’s deadly toy?Gordon Sumner aka Sting
There is no monopoly on common sense
On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology, regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too
Next stop – Aliens!
Never fuck with a backed-up septic drain unless you are prepared to deal with the shitty consequences!
Jake says “Oh boy – even better than garbage juice”
News at 11 🤣
Jake got the morning off on our first day when I went on to explore Sante Fe. It was a good thing because it was a beautiful city with hot, narrow streets. I headed for the center of the town, the central Plaza of Sante Fe. The buildings were uniformly one or two-story buildings finished the same color. Adobe Pink?
In the center of the plaza was a place where a monument used to be. I learned that whatever was there was torn down by protestors and replaced with an ugly box painted the same fucking Adobe Pink. On the nasty box was a faded message from the city council explaining that it had been removed. Then there was a QR code you could barely see anymore. Supposedly this would tell you what was there and why it was removed.
Other than that, the town was full of beautiful people walking around looking at their phones instead of all these beautiful Adobe Pink buildings. Inside these buildings were art and specialty stores with very expensive and very nice stuff. Whatever you wanted: Art of all persuasions, an oxygen bar, chic clothing, very upscale-looking restaurants and bars. And lots and lots of beautiful people. My time to leave – but first merch! I found some very cool and unique merch.
This collection of two-lane roads leads to Taos through the southernmost Sangre de Cristo Mountains. We left early to beat the heat.
The Sangre de Cristo Mountains is the southernmost range of the Rocky Mountains. This part of the drive went through Badlands and the Carson National Forrest.
There were many pueblos along the way, many with histories dating to the 1700s. The area was very rural.
The lower part of the road had scenic pines and juniper trees that look so splendid against the light brown hillsides.
We came across several graveyards. Many of the graves were colorfully decorated. This must be the tradition that is reflected in the highly colorful figurines made by native craftspeople.
The final part of the road took us through Carson National Forrest and some spectacular vistas.
Taos itself was a huge disappointment. Like a smaller, crapper version of Sante Fe. In addition, instead of just having a monument destroyed, they destroyed the whole fucking plaza in Taos, it seems!
Another weird town with a weird vibe. I mean, the whole place looks like it’s in a bit of a state of disrepair or something.
We took the low road back. Highway 62 winds down the long Rio Grande River Valley. It would have been a pleasant drive except for sprawling desert towns with strip malls and lots of stoplights designed to slow you down. The section along the Rio Grande gave some good views of the rapidly flowing water.
Pecos National Historical Park
Our last day turned out to be the best as far as exploring. We visited the park on advice from an AI (Google in this case) who listed it as #1 and close by. The reviews looked good, so off we went, early as usual.
The valley we are staying on is part of the Sante Fe trail. This was a well-used wagon train trail and then a railroad line that opened up this part of the West. The Pecos Pueblo had been abandoned by that time.
The original dwelling dates back to the 11th century. Because of its location, this pueblo was large and successful by the 13th century. There were estimated to have 2000 inhabitants.
Then the Spanish came and built a church. The Native Americans revolted and burned it down.
They built another one—manifest destiny. Same story as everywhere else the Europeans and then Americans eventually subjugated the native people.
Eventually, their proud society – known originally by the name “500 Warriors” – has all but vanished. The pueblo was abandoned in the early 1800s. The descendants still celebrate their heritage. In recent years, they successfully returned sacred artifacts from the archeologists who removed them. The museum spoke to that, and I found it incredibly moving.
The Hollywood Actress Greer Garson and her Oil Barron Husband eventually became the owner of the land near the Pueblo ruins and donated it to the state to become the park. The staff was very friendly, and the exhibits were some of the best I had ever seen.
An enthusiastic ranger told me they had recently reworked the exhibits to tell the story of the Native Americans as well as the exploits of our Foundering Fathers.
Yes – it is officially woke – and I enjoyed every fuckling bit of it. Thank you very much.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing, shopping for some New Mexico Herb (expensive), and doing some house cleaning. The weather was perfect in the afternoon with clouds, a breeze, and temps in the mid-80s.
We drop down into the desert tomorrow and forecasted temperatures over 100F 🥵 for the coming week.
July 4th – we headed for New Mexico for the last leg of this year’s incredible adventure.
Our first stop was a 5-mile detour to see four corners. I visited here in the 90s during my tour of the southwest but decided it was an easy detour and a good opportunity to pick up some merch. Like Monument Valley, the land is part of the Navajo Nation.
I have no idea what the deal was then – but now it costs $8 bucks to get in – the same as Monument Valley. I guess the Navajo elders decided on $8 as the going rate! There was a tour bus full of Asian tourists – Chinese, I think. It seemed fitting somehow on this 4th of July! Everybody else was standing in line to get a selfie on the X! However, there was good merch to be had! God Bless America 🇺🇸!
We stopped for the night in Farmington. The RV park was small and tucked away in an industrial area. Jake didn’t care much for the fireworks later that evening!
The next morning we made a trip to a nearby park along the Animas River. The water was flowing swiftly!
We left early and made our way to Sante Fe. The trip took us through a variety of terrain as we made our way back into the mountains. Outside of Sante Fe, our campground is in a beautiful setting, surrounded by the small evergreen trees growing here.
We talked to Brother Dave and decided to make a stop at their home in the North Carolina mountains on the way home. This will change our route taking us through some new territory in Texas and Oklahoma. It will also take us through Memphis again. A side trip to Graceland seems appropriate after visiting Elvis in Las Vegas!