One of these things is cooler than the other. Even if, curmudgeon that I am, I still prefer my normal keys. (This is his backup, he’s got a fob for normal use.)

Returning to Death Valley

Today was a long run from Flagstaff to Death Valley by way of charging and refueling stops in Kingman, Las Vegas, and Pahrump.

We’re shooting to keep a healthy buffer on the batteries given we’re still learning how heavy mileage days affect range and that the punishment for running out of battery-gas is “someone has to tow you to a charger.” And as with its petrol-based buddies, the Rivian’s estimated range is severely affected by mountain climbing. But unlike we three, descending from the top of a pass can actually restore a bit of additional range, which is pretty sweet. And today’s total altitude loss was about 7000 feet, as Furnace Creek is below sea level.

Ultimately, managing charge level and expected range in an EV is a little more of a dance than I had realized, particularly since several of the chargers in the Death Valley vicinity have been reported by other drivers as broken. But each charging stop has been fairly short and given us enough time to get gas, run errands, eat, use the bathroom, or raid the snack boxes in our trunks.

By the time we rolled out of Pahrump, it was already getting a little later than originally hoped, but that just meant a colorful golden-hour approach toward our final mountain range before the park, so I thought it was fantastic.

Given the time, we figured we had enough daylight for something more fun than the main park highway, but not one of the big trails. So we set out for Deadman Pass, rewinding our steps from that trip in 2017. That was our exit from the park last time. It’s a simple unpaved road with some bounces and sandy swerving, but nothing too difficult. So it was a great first overland run of the trip, and welcome after so many miles on the interstate.

I hate my music. There’s a sound effect in it that sounds like a failing u-joint.

Evan.

Unfortunately, it gets dark very quickly out here. As the sun set, the almost-full moon rose. Thankfully this is an easy one to run at night, so we were able to enjoy the view.

Oh no! The receipt paper I keep wedged between my radio and my air conditioning to keep it from squeaking seems to be missing, so everything’s squeaking and it’s terrible. I think one of you stole it.

Taylor.

I will say, between the R1T’s fancy independent air suspension with “off-road mode,” brand new chonky tires, electric motors on all four wheels, and a driver ready to jump in and have some fun — the Rivian was entirely composed with an ever cheerful expression on its anthropomorphic light-face. While Evan and I bounced across the washes, Andrew seemed to be able to run it all without too much drama, as narrated by George who could see all three of us.

It was really fun to return to Deadman’s Pass as a group. Try as I might, I can find nothing of the history of this pass other than our own — though no Jeeps perished in the making of today’s adventures. Whatever its origin, the pass tracks a wide gap between two mountains at the edge of the vast expanse that is Death Valley. Much moreso than a park highway, it gets you in the mood for truly being in the dried up middle of nowhere.

We also decided to put in for an upgrade in our accommodations since we’ll be here two days. The Inn at Furnace Creek is the resort side of the park accommodations, a swanky step up from The Ranch where we stayed last time. It’s actually listed on the Historic Hotels of America registry. The inn originally opened in 1927 to serve visitors coming in on a borax mine magnate’s railroad as he attempted to increase revenue by building a tourism business in Death Valley. It has been operating almost full-time since. I love the shared balcony arrangement.

Though George seems to appreciate the expansive parking area in which to examine the rust on his rock-rails. It’s time to go to bed, sir.

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.

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…

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?

Pregaming

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.

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…