Has it been long enough for a Greatest Hits?

I insist we have no official schedule for the Big Trips, but if there was, sometime-in-2021 would have been the season. But used cars are hard to find for cheap at the moment and I wasn’t in the right place to swing a two-week outage this fall anyway. But we wanted to put an adventure together regardless, so we have what Evan has lovingly dubbed a “backtrack.” Of all the ideas we debated on where to go, we decided a “Best of the Southwest Offroadtrip.”

Has this band really been together long enough to cut our first Greatest Hits album?

But how could we not? That trip made me fall in love with the high deserts of the southwest. And thanks to a couple climbing trips, I’ve made several solo trips back to Death Valley since. It really would be fun to go back as a team.

Also, George has started saying worrying things like “Titus Canyon is on the Renegade’s Bucket List.” It’s a 2016, it’s not only the newest of the bunch, it’s brand new. And then there’s the matter of Nutter Twists Road (real name), that obstacle I really thought we were going to die on that probably isn’t as big a deal now that I know how to drive.

We also didn’t get nearly as much time as I wish we’d had in the Grand Canyon area during that trip. And on the way back from Covid Climbsgiving, I drove straight across the top of Arizona and made some notes on places to check out, too.

So we’ve got a little over a week. How much can we do? We’ve got pins on a few fantastic places:

  • Petrified Forest National Park (maybe, it is on the way, ish)
  • Death Valley National Park
  • Valley of Fire [Nevada] State Park
  • Gold Butte National Monument
  • Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument
  • Grand Canyon NP North Rim
  • Vermilion Cliffs – Paria Canyon National Monument
  • Monument Valley
  • Shiprock

With evenings in Flagstaff, the Casino-Hotel-Denny’s at Beatty, Furnace Creek (Death Valley), the CasaBlanca at Mesquite, the covered wagons at Bar 10 Ranch, Page, and Taos.

For part of the voyage, we have a special guest! Our UTulsa friend Andrew will be joining. In a very new, very interesting, very electrified vehicle. The Rivian R1T, an all-electric 4×4 pickup, which I am incredibly excited to see in person. I passed one on the highway back in Colorado but that was definitely pre-production. Andrew works in cybersecurity there — and thanks to his referral, I nearly did, too! Although they and I both ended up going in different directions, I really enjoyed every conversation along the way and met some awesome people. So I’m pumped for them that they launched the R1T and for Andrew that he scored one so soon — the 19th produced for public sale.

And he’s bringing it with us.

A skyscraper and my eardrums almost get split in half by lightning right in front of me on the way out of town. Then sloshed my way through city streets with 4-6 inches of standing water in them. So we’re off to a great start.

But this morning, there is coffee in the stillness of lake mist before work.

Lunch Break

Warm sun, cool breeze, and 68 degrees. How am I supposed to stay inside on an afternoon like this? So I decided to cash in my lunch break for a run around town.

I knew El Paso was near mountains. Forgot that El Paso is kinda in mountains. My usual neighborhood route is superflat…


Our pre-game night split into two parties. George, Evan, and Andrew made their way from Tulsa to Amarillo this evening. Apparently some lessons were learned about EV estimated range and charging. I am definitely excited to see how this all works. Whatever it is, it’s likely a longer range than the Renagade.

Meanwhile, I closed up the El Paso office on my hotel’s roof patio by the pool. 68 degrees, brilliant sun, and light wind — I couldn’t stand to be in my room one more minute. After extricating myself from the workday, cousin Kylar (the city’s new Tourism Development Manager!) and Jordan showed me the town. We started with a big walk around downtown that ended in a very art-deco-with-southwestern-flare hotel bar, Paso Del Norte, a hotel which dates back well over 100 years. Our bartender there explained how both the margarita and the burrito originated in this city. … Right.

After an Old Fashioned to ring in the vacation week, we headed east to Los Bandidos de Carlos y Mickey for dinner — a famous Tex-Mex joint which Kylar says his group sends all the visitors to and artfully described as “Well everyone comes here for the margaritas and tolerates the food,” as he ordered a margarita in a fish bowl for himself and one for me.

I dunno, I thought dinner was great, but how should I know? By that point I’d had a margarita in a fish bowl. They told me the restaurant is mostly known for their fajitas — and I’ve leaned to follow locals’ instructions on such matters. After dinner, we took the scenic loop over the southern foothills on the way back to downtown. I had not realized how much of the metro area extends into Ciudad Juarez, so from the mountain looking south over downtown, the whole city seemed to extend endlessly.

We’re playing tomorrow mostly by ear, but the tentative plan is to meet up near Petrified Forest National Park and then head into Flagstaff for the night.

I am not usually the one running late, don’t tell the boys. But I think I can catch up? Always good to be back in New Mexico.

Oh hell, why did my tire pressure warning light just kick on?

Third Quarter in Gila National Forest

George and I are both bouncing between the Tulsa / South Florida and Texas / Oklahoma State games on the radio. In third quarter tradition for both Texas and OKST, Xterra Radio presents the Wabash Cannonball. In this tiny spot of cell service, I made sure to text George a link to the song. Recorded by the Longhorn Band of course.

Texas is currently winning. Tulsa is currently not…

United at the Petrified Forest

I left from El Paso this morning headed up toward Petrified Forest National Park. Despite my worry that I got a late start, I quickly deduced I was well ahead of the other group so I got to take a bit of a scenic route to our meeting point. US-180 weaves over the mountains of Gila National Forest along the San Francisco River. It was a long drive, but absolutely beautiful and much more fun than roasting myself on I-10.

Tulsa ended up pulling a last-minute upset in the game against South Florida, which I missed while listening to Texas lose ground to Oklahoma State. So with a win and a loss, I switched back to my music and continued speeding toward the park. I’d never been there before and I was able to do a little exploring.

I didn’t know much about the park beyond its deposits of petrified wood. It’s a desert steppe with grasses but very few trees, and colorful badlands formations everywhere. Out of all of these, chunks of petrified wood emerge, scattered across the landscape.

I did the scenic loop and nature walk at Blue Mesa, one of the park’s top recommendations. The road is a spur off the park highway and runs atop the mesa with overlooks of the badlands, hoodoos, and petrified wood deposits.

Next stop was Newspaper Rock, which seemed to be about the same concept as the Newspaper Rock outside Canyonlands. Petrified Forest’s Newspaper Rock displays over six hundred petroglyphs created by ancestral Puebloan people living, farming, and hunting along the Puerco River between 650 and 2,000 years ago. Some of the creators may have lived at Puerco Pueblo, located less than one mile north of this site.

I checked my phone again and saw the boys about an hour out, so I headed to the north end of the park which overlaps Interstate 40. I’ve driven this stretch of 40 before and hadn’t realized that it unceremoniously bisects the park.

Turns out, there’s a placard about that. The Petrified Forest National Monument was created in 1906 by Roosevelt, and its boundaries have expanded multiple times in the last 100 years. It looks like I-40 would have clipped the north edge of the park when it was built in Arizona in the 60s to parallel much of historic Route 66. The northern expansions of the park seem to have happened after.

I sat down at one more stop to watch sunset over a beer. I figured 8 hours of squiggly-road driving and my intense hike one mile paved nature stroll earned me a beverage while I waited.

When the Park Rangers finally chased me out for being in the park after hours, the boys were about ten minutes out, so I sat by the freeway entrance and jumped into the interstate fray as they passed. We had a dinner and charging stop a few miles down the road and then finished the trip together into Flagstaff for the evening.

It was fun to see the Rivian R1T on the highway, even in the dark. Sounds like we’ve learned a lot about the particulars over the past two days. But a 650 mile day in an EV is a pretty significant achievement, and Andrew has only had it a few days. I look forward to seeing more of this vehicle tomorrow in daylight. I’m proud of Andrew for bringing a vehicle not only still clad in temp tags but still receiving OTA updates from his company, seemingly based (partially?) on reports and feedback he is submitting as we go.

Over a nightcap, Evan and I recounted our own automotive preparations for the trip. Turns out that while my battery was definitely toast in WaKenney, the positive terminal was in terrible shape as well, which caused the Xterra to fail to start a several times before I was able to order a new one and swap it out.

I replaced it a couple weeks back, easy peasy. But Nissan, can we talk about what a chicken-shit connector that is? That thing is designed to wear out because it’s so thin. And it’s extra cute that they’re made of unobtanium that only comes from authorized dealers or weirdo Amazon Marketplace vendors I probably shouldn’t be trusting. Give me a big ol’ hunk of zinc like the battery terminals in the old truck, please.

Evan, however, took upon himself many tasks, far more involved…

How much more than the purchase price of the Disco do y’all think I spent on repairs and maintenance before this trip?

A great deal more: new brake master cylinder, he had the roof repainted, paintless dent repair on hood and doors from hail damage, windshield cowl, new windshield sprayers, new rear propshaft, he fixed an exhaust leak, and also replaced two of the four oxygen sensors.

Tomorrow we finish the hell-ride west, arriving into the fancy Inn at Furnace Creek in Death Valley sometime in the evening. It’s been a long way out here for all of us — most of all for Andrew who started his trip at the Rivian factory in Illinois — and we’re excited to get to the fun stuff.