The next morning I head downtown to the two UFO museums with much anticipation. After all, this is Roswell, right?
The UFO Museum in Roswell, NM is in an old movie theater downtown and consists of documents hung on pegboards. It has all the vitality of an eighth grade science fair (minus the science part). You sign a guest book when you enter, and there's a checkbox that says, "I came all the way to Roswell to see this". I wonder if at the end of the day they count up all the checkmarks and have a good laugh. I don't check the box. I don't even take a picture. There's a reason it's free, folks.
My next stop is down the street at the Area 51 museum
. The "museum" is a narrow room containing large dioramas with aliens posing in each scene. That's it.
The most embarrassing thing about my trip was not the time I almost dropped my bike onto a gleaming yellow Harley in front of a café full of onlookers, nor when I exhibited flatulence during a quiet moment on the tour of McDonald Observatory. No, dear reader, there is nothing more embarrassing about my trip that I could tell you than the fact that the Area 51 museum got my two dollars. I got taken. Most people don't admit to things like this because they want others to experience the same shame, but I don't mind. Do not go to Roswell for the UFOs. Eating a bucket of KFC chicken while watching an X-Files re-run would be ten times more rewarding.
Roswell, New Mexico. The truth is out there, but it's not here.
Refueling right before leaving Roswell, New Mexico.
The trip between Roswell and Alamogordo, NM is full of speed traps and double fine zones, but as you descend Highway 70, you see the San Andreas mountains from horizon to horizon, and it's beautiful.
Next on the itinerary is the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo. It is very well done and well worth a visit. There is a floor dedicated to rockets, one for satellites, another for a hall of fame, and lots of discussion of the Soviet space program as well. I learn that the reason for the prevalence of astronomy and weapons research in this part of the country is a predictable climate, great visibility from the southern latitude, and sparse population. I also see the grave of Ham the Astrochimp
. You can't go wrong for only $3. Looking back on my Roswell experience earlier in the day, I find it very appropriate that the UFO museum has pegboards while this museum is a modern, four story monument of science and technology.
Next I head to White Sands National Monument fifteen miles outside of Alamogordo. It is a fun little ride in and out of the park. As I'm headed out of the park, I pass a photogenic sand dune and decide I want to go back to take a picture. There is an enormous grey RV approaching in the opposite direction at approximately .032 miles per hour, lumbering along like an elephant. I have about 70 or 80 feet of space between me and the RV, and it is practically crawling, so I make my U turn and pull off to the side of the road. Now the RV and I are facing the same direction. As I'm removing my gloves and unzipping my tank bag to get my camera, the RV stops next to me and the giant door swings open. There are two 50-something guys staring down at me. I'm used to situations like this because I will often pull over to take a picture, and the vehicle behind me will stop or slow down to make sure that I am OK. I'll give the thumbs up sign, and the other vehicle acknowledges me and drives away. Except these guys aren't asking me if I'm OK. In fact, their expressions are totally blank. Stone faced. I'm looking at them, and they're looking at me, and they're not saying anything. I break the ice by giving them the thumbs up sign. They immediately sigh and relax, and the driver says to me, "I thought you were a policeman with all those lights."
They go on their way, and I take my pictures. As I ride out of the park, I can't stop thinking about what he said: "with all those lights". At first I think my yellow jacket and ATGATT makes me look like a cop, but he distinctly mentioned my lights. What lights? I don't have a headlight modulator, so that can't be it. And I don't have any PIAA lights mounted, nor does my bike even remotely resemble a CHP model, so what was it? Then it dawns on me. He thought my flashing Hiperlights were police lights! When he saw me make a U turn in front of him and then apply my brakes, the flashing lights made him think I was a cop! I wish I would have realized what was happening because I would have said to them in a very stern tone, "You boys sure were going fast back there."
Yellow Kilimanjaro II jacket: $300
Pulling over RVs in national parks: priceless.
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico.
After staying in Las Cruces, NM for the night, I take Highway 152 towards Silver City, NM. This road is fun and twisty through the Gila National Forest.
This guy is a clockmaker in Hillsboro, New Mexico, population 129. He gets around town on this 1977 Suzuki 125cc. He says it's hard to find tires for it. Emma the dog looks on.
I get stung by a bee after pulling away from a fuel stop in Hillsboro, NM. It's the first time that's ever happened while riding. I guess the bee got trapped in my touring jacket, freaked out, and decided to sting me on the back of the neck. Luckily, I do not have an allergic reaction to the sting, which is amazing considering fire ants cause me to swell into Mr. Michelin.
The next day I visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings. I can tell the docent is a Texan from his dialect (he showed me the "pitchergraphs" on the cave walls), and he confirms he is from San Antonio.
Gila Cliff Dwellings, New Mexico.
Lizard in Gila National Forest, New Mexico.
Now it is time to leave New Mexico for Arizona. I am looking forward to riding on Arizona's famed highway 191. While entering Arizona on Highway 180, I can't believe how amazing the view from Highway 180 is. It reminds me of the phone commercial where the guy buying the cellular phone spins the wheel of adjectives... "Spectacular!"
I refuel in Clifton, AZ and head up 191 into the mountains. The first 15 miles are open mines with gigantic dump trucks crawling within them like the ones you see in "Modern Marvels" on the Learning Channel. Once I get past the mines, it's time for the twisty ascent.
Highway 191 in eastern Arizona.
When you reach the top, you can't believe you're in the USA. It looks like China with an endless series of misty mountain ranges scrolling off into the distance for a thousand miles.
I underestimated how long it would take to ride Highway 191. I started in the late afternoon from Clifton, and it's almost 6:30pm now. I'm getting tired, and as the sun is setting, critters are going to start jumping out in front of me. I decide to call it a day and camp.
I pull into a primitive campground, dismount, and begin walking around looking for the perfect campsite. I hear a loud "CRASH" behind me and turn around to find that my bike has fallen over. The ground is uneven, and the bike was almost vertical on a sloped grade. The bike must have rolled forward ever so slightly on the downward grade, and the side stand no longer supported the weight. My clutch lever has snapped in half, and I have a nice little dent in my aluminum pannier as a memento. Luckily, I carry spare levers. I don my REI mosquito head net (complete with camouflage yarmulke!), and it takes only ten minutes to replace the clutch lever. Lessons learned: 1. make sure your bike is leaning onto your sidestand, not close to vertical. 2. carry spare levers.
Broken clutch lever.
Setting up camp in Apache National Forest, eastern Arizona.
When I continue the next morning, I discover there is a bed and breakfast about .2 miles down the road from where I camped.
The ride to the Petrified Forest evokes images of Arizona from Bugs Bunny Road Runner cartoons: reddish brown boulders stacked on top of each other and wooden telephone poles lining the road to the horizon. Some of the roads are so straight here that I almost wish I had a sport bike so I could utter "meep meep" and leave a ribbon of tarmac fluttering behind me like the Road Runner.
The petrified forest is interesting... if you majored in geology. I'm not much of a geologist, so I take some pictures at the visitor center before riding through the park. I think the most interesting part of the Petrified Forest is the scenic vistas of the badlands in the northern part of the park. "Badlands" derives from a Native American term (literally "bad lands") meaning eroded yet beautiful.
Fossils at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.
Next is Canyon de Chelly ("de shay"). You can view the canyon from the rim on the north and south sides. If you want to descend into the canyon, you need to hire a Navajo guide to drive you through. I ride along the south rim.
Canyon de Chelly, northeastern Arizona.
Not a single Navajo has smiled at me since I have been here. Whether it is the color of my skin or the fact I am a tourist, I cannot say. I depart Canyon de Chelly north on Highway 191. Trash and large dead dogs line the highway for 60 miles. I am reminded of the Peter Gabriel song, San Jacinto... And the tears roll down my swollen cheek.
This is not a happy place. I have seen trash lining the highways of major cities, but I find it unusual to see it here in such a sparsely populated place.
Junction of 191 and 160, northeastern Arizona.
Despite the negative imagery, I am feeling good about today. I should see some amazing scenery as I dip into southeastern Utah, including Monument Valley. It feels good to not have to grind out miles and just see the sights. Next stop is Navajo Twin Rocks in Bluff, Utah. It is a tourist trap that can be avoided if you are in a hurry. Developers built a restaurant and gift shop at the base of a unique rock formation and piped in Navajo flute muzak.
I ride the dirt road through Valley of the Gods. The canyon walls that surround the formations are almost as impressive as the formations themselves.
Valley of the Gods, southeastern Utah.
I take 261 up the side of the canyon wall. What an amazing view looking down on the Valley of the Gods! At the top of 261, I take a dirt road to see another overlook, Muley Point. The dirt road itself is straight and easy, but there are several washout areas filled with gravel. The gravel is the large kind you see wrapped in mesh along the side of the road to provide runoff and prevent erosion. I ride through the gravel at 35 mph thinking that the speed will help keep me upright. I encounter some obstinate livestock with big horns blocking the road, and I realize that I'm not headed towards the Goosenecks overlook. I turn around and head towards Goosenecks State Park.
Goosenecks State Park, Utah.
Next stop, Monument Valley! I happen to look down prior to getting on my bike, and I see a weird shadow on my front tire. I kneel down for a closer inspection and see this:
Houston, we have a problem.
I must have slashed my front tire on some sharp gravel on that dirt road as I was riding through a washout. I should have slowed down and deflated my tires to get through. Now I have a slashed front tire that could fail at any moment. If only there were a global information network linking suppliers, consumers, and shippers...