We’re out of the house box now (and into the tube), traveling northeast. Even though we left a day later than originally planned, we have plenty of time to get up to our destinations in the swamped central states. And once we reached the bright sunshine and warm desert sands of New Mexico, I began to wonder if it was such a great idea to zoom-zoom north and away from this fine weather and scenery.
When we reached Alamogordo NM, we paused at the roadside to talk about this. (Since Eleanor is in the Miata following Emma and me in the Airstream, we have our conferences during rest breaks.) There was a fierce temptation to pause at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park just south of Alamogordo for a couple of days of hiking. There are some nice trails in that park that we’ve wanted to explore since our first visit several years ago.
But we have only a few days available for play on this voyage. Stopping this early in the trip would force us to do more driving mid-week, when I’ll be needing time off for work. Not only that, but we would have to do three or four days of driving in a row, which will make us all crazy. We eventually decided that it would be better to press on and have a break on Monday and Tuesday even though that break will probably be in some dull flat mid-western town where rain will be in the forecast daily.
So we continued on, up Rt 54 through Tularosa and eventually here to the little town of Carrizozo, elev. 5400, pop. 1000. The drive was beautiful but thankfully uneventful. Uneventful is what you want when you are trying to cover miles. The Miata seems to be in fine shape and turned in a remarkable 37 MPG on its first highway tank of fuel. Eleanor is finding it reasonably comfortable for all-day driving, and she’s cocooned in there with a collection of CDs, snacks, drinks, and even a few leftover Mother’s Day mums in a tiny jar of water.
Part of the Miata’s exceptional fuel economy must have been the mild tail wind we enjoyed all day, since the Airstream/Mercedes combination gave us 14 MPG at a consistent 65 MPH. I’m glad for it, since it means we can coordinate fuel stops from here on in; each of us can easily go 300 miles with plenty of reserve.
There’s a steep climb out of Las Cruces heading west on Rt 70 to White Sands Missile Range, which reminded me of the only weakness of the Mercedes as a tow vehicle. It won’t blast up any grade at highway speed. I don’t know the grade percentage of this particular stretch of road, but it felt like 10%. Normally we blow past tractor-trailers on grades, but when steeper than >8% we start to lose steam. In this case we ended up in the “slow lane” at 30 MPH for about half a mile. The Merc’s 3-liter diesel six is very torquey, so it always gets there, but not always at top speed.
This is less of an issue than you might think, since such grades are rare and there’s always a lane for slower traffic. My take is that it’s just a chance to observe the scenery in greater detail. I actually don’t mind this, since our prior tow vehicle (Nissan Armada, 5.6 liter gas V8) wasn’t much faster on hills and either its engine or transmission tended to overheat when stressed. The Mercedes doesn’t seem to have that issue, and the transmission is smart enough to tell the engine to limit power if it is in danger of overheating. So while we weren’t tearing up the asphalt on the way up the mountain, I didn’t have to be concerned about damaging the vehicle.
We are getting back into the routine of Airstream living. It has been nearly 7 months since we last traveled long-term, with only a week-long trip in December to keep our family-coordination-in-a-tiny-space skills in practice. Each time we do this Emma takes up more space, which requires small adjustments. Not only is she physically bigger (now 11 years old and 58 inches tall) but she is more of an individual each time with her own ideas. When she was little she was more like (oh, don’t take this the wrong way) a pet. Now she’s a third person. Fortunately she’s an easy-going third person and isn’t yet trying to tell us everything that we are doing wrong.
We had planned to end up somewhere that was nowhere, and we have succeeded. Carrizozo is not known for much except the large volcanic flow nearby known as either Carrizozo Malpais or more poetically “The Valley of Fire.” Otherwise the major feature we have noticed is the active Union Pacific railway line directly adjacent to the diminutive motel/RV park where we spent the night. The $10 full-hookup price is somewhat offset by the passage of fast-moving Ferromex and UP trains, four or so last night, each of which was obliged to give long and loud blasts of the horn because of the grade crossing nearby. Still, we managed to get a night of sleep. The plan is to swing by the Valley of Fire overlook on our way out this morning a take a few pictures. That will be the bulk of our touristic activities today.
Our route deliberately bypasses the quicker Interstates for a scenic tour through New Mexico, the tip of Texas, a fraction of Oklahoma, and a whole lot of Kansas, along old Route 54. This is a very direct route, which promises to take us through grasslands today. Perhaps not the most fascinating views but we’ve learned to accept that the central portion of the country is relatively featureless whether you travel through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, or South Dakota. You take what you can get, and at least this is different. I bet we’ll spot a few oddities worth mentioning on the walkie-talkie, like the giant pistachio nut in Alamogordo that looks like “Audrey II” from Little Shop of Horrors.