This is winter, remember. Much like for the ‘cutting through Yosemite’ jaunt, the warnings for anyone attempting to go due east are fairly easy to spot on your average map. But, no matter. We travelled 1hr 45 minutes north from Flagstaff to the east end of the Grand Canyon South Rim. The vague plan was then to visit Taos, New Mexico, which, according to the GPS / SatNav (AKA The Lady), was 1hr 45 minutes south to Flagstaff and then five hours along on the I-40 to Alberquerque and then two hours north again. Well that seemed wrong. I thought we’d cut across.
I suppose the first inkling of unease was when the white boulders scattered across the high plains turned out to be snow. There was a ratcheting up of anxiety as it continued to get darker, and higher, and colder. The robotic New Mexico weather warnings done in the style of war-time radio communiques to resistance fighters behind enemy lines weren’t encouraging: Snow expected on the high plains. Repeat Snow expected on the high plains. Just before I lost network coverage I semi-casually looked up the travel advice on the National Weather Service and found this useful piece of information:
“Travel in winter can be extremely dangerous. The best thing to do is cancel any travel if winter weather will occur. However if you must travel, make sure you plan ahead. Make sure other people know your travel plans and know how to contact you. Travel in convoy with other vehicles if possible. Keep a survival kit in your vehicle. This kit should include items which include non-perishable food such as can goods or candy bars, extra clothes and blankets, a battery powered radio, a shovel, and sand. If stranded, the best thing to do in to stay in the vehicle. Tie a bright colored cloth to the antenna so rescuers can find you.” Oh well.
It was perplexing how this highway with a proper number (64) could have gone from flat and boring to steep, winding and shimmering under a thick pack of corrugated ice. And where was everyone else? UK weather is nuanced. US weather is big and mean and serious. Rather like me in fact, refusing to see the funny side as we slithered sideways past Deer Trail and Elk Drive and Frozen Creek and on and on and on.
We finally hit a town of sorts – Dulce – which, incidentally, according to some, has aliens living beneath it in government-run tunnels. Didn’t see any, but I wasn’t really looking. I’m not against the notion of aliens per se, and quite frankly after a few weeks in America, I’m not surprised they come here, but I had more important things on my mind than alien breakouts. I now had no interest whatsoever in climbing higher and further to Taos.
I didn’t care that it was where DH Lawrence wrote The Plumed Serpent. I only wanted to stay here in Dulce at the Apache Nugget’s Wild Horse Hotel and Casino, the only place open, and eat chips. Actually the gas station was also open. And However, in one of those aggravating man-to-man conversations by the pumps, a local truck driver with 4-wheel drive and winter tyres, grit and shovels told Dave we ‘might’ be able to make it through to the next town, Charme. and if we did get to Charme, there was a fairly good chance we’d make it to Santa Fe, 100 miles away.
It’s really awful driving along deserted mountain roads in the dark knowing you only ‘might’ make it to your destination. We survived but, much like Night of the Living Dead, only to find ourselves in deeper water – or in this specific case, snow. Santa Fe had had a snow storm and most streets were impassable. One of the few that wasn’t led to the bar at Inn of the Governors (where they serve a very good margarita). Stayed there, but didn’t use the pool.