Monday, March 15, 2010

The Drive to Los Alamos via the North Pole

We left sunny and hot central Texas shortly after 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 14th, with almost 700 miles and what we assumed would be 12 hours of driving ahead of us. We would arrive at our son and daughter-in-law's late, but with three dogs and two hawks in tow, a night in a motel would be more bother than it was worth.

We made good time to Lubbock, TX. True to form, we were half-way through the miles and still well inside Texas. The flat, flat flatness of west Texas is a sight to behold--for 200 miles. By the time we ate some supper and ran the dogs a bit it was pushing nightfall, even after springing our clocks ahead an hour for daylight savings' time the night before. We had to assume that after we passed Muleshoe, TX and Farewell, TX, and pushed into New Mexico that the scenery didn't really change all that much. One expects a big blue line splitting the landscape, with dry, hot Texas Mesquite on one side and dry hot New Mexico desert on the other, but the maps are deceiving in that regard.

They are deceiving in another regard. It seems it just takes forever to get anywhere in Texas, but once in New Mexico, although the state is 400 miles from north to south and just a tad shorter east to west, it just seems things are much closer. The drive from Amarillo to the state line takes what feels like a week, whereas from the line to Albuquerque is something you would do before dinner. (Well, not quite, but you get the drift.)

So having crossed the line we knew that, though it was 10:00 p.m. by then, it was not a cause for concern. We wended our way through Clovis to Fort Sumner, and north toward Santa Rosa. It sprinkled on us a bit, but we weren't worried, all the really important stuff was in the cab of the truck. But as we approached Santa Rosa the wind picked up considerably. More than once tumbleweeds tumbled across in the headlights ahead of us. Traffic was light, so we enjoyed the time talking and otherwise just watched the miles appear in the headlights and drift off into the night.

At Santa Rosa we got up on I-40, knowing now that the time was short. Only 150 miles to go--until it began to rain in earnest. The rain turned in a space of about 5 minutes max to hail to sleet and then to a blinding, thick wet snow. We slowed our pace to 30 miles an hour, and I kicked the truck into 4X4 for good measure. Before you knew it the road began to accumulate the white stuff, and I began looking for semi tracks to help me plow what was quickly pushing 3 inches. When the last exit for Santa Rosa drifted by I wondered if we shouldn't have bothered with a motel for the night and challenge the elements in the morning when they'd spent their fury, but I let it drift on by and thought I'd get off at the next exit...well, that was 6 miles down the road, about 20 minutes' white-knuckled drive with the fog lights on, and by then we figured we were committed anyway. Leni told us we should be driving out of the snow soon enough, so we chose to soldier on.

Clines' Corners and our exit lies 54 miles to the west of Santa Rosa. At about mile 20 we came to a halt. Cars and red tail-lights lined the road ahead for as far as we could see in the snowfall. We sat, we talked, we discussed crossing the median and heading back, and finally we figured the dogs needed to relieve themselves once more and that I should brave the elements to offer them some relief. I dug my frozen boots out of the back and crammed my toasty toes into them, and let the dogs out--well, they as much as burst out of the box, it was all I could do to keep them in line long enough to leash the larger two. They romped in what had now become 6 inches of snow, I saw at least one do her business, and then Karisse yelled, "We're moving!" I had the key on my belt, she couldn't move the truck, and besides, if we were really moving I needed to be in the truck, not outside of it! So I dashed back, crammed the poor dogs into their box once again, and jumped in the cab--and drove 20 yards and stopped again....for another 30 minutes. Finally, an hour and a quarter after we had stopped, a state trooper released us to move forward, one at a time so we didn't cause another problem, and we were on our way again. The snow slowed, and we actually got up to about 50 miles an hour. I actually took the truck out of 4X4 for a while, but then as we approached Clines' Corners it began to snow in earnest once again, and when we got onto highway 285 that road had not been plowed. Clines' Corners is only a glorified truck stop, so we had to see what we could do.

We drove into the night, thankful for a relatively heavy vehicle and four-wheel-drive. In no time at all we left all other traffic behind us. I kept checking the temperature outside, fearful most of all of the sudden appearance of black ice on the road. The temperature hovered at the freezing point, and, thanks be to God, there seemed to be enough heat in the ground to keep the roadway itself ice-free. Bridges, on the other hand, were another matter. The wind whipped in from the north-east driving snow across them in drifts. My white-knuckled grip on the wheel would then get downright intense until we drifted off onto terra more firma. At one point tracks led over the edge of the other side of the road into a gully. We had no idea whether it was a ranch-truck tending to cold cattle, or someone in desperate trouble. But we whizzed by them before I thought to stop and check, and with the advancing hour and the cold I turned more cowardly than noble. Finally the snow stopped altogether and we descended toward Santa Fe, I actually turned the brights on for the first time since Santa Rosa, and at 2:00 a.m., just to hedge our bets, we stopped for gas.

We threaded our way through a very sound-asleep capital of the state, and called the kids when we were at the turn-off to Los Alamos. At about 3:30 we finally collapsed into a toasty bed, and slept well into the morning. When I went out to get the final stuff from the truck in the morning I figure we were carrying 50 lbs. of extra ice and road gravel stuck to the various parts of the vehicle! But we had arrived safe and sound, the dogs were thrilled to once again be released from the box, and we were ready to begin our days with our kids in a very beautiful land!


Charlene said...

Glad you made it safely. It's a darned shame you missed Santa during all of that. (He was having coffee up the road) Jo

Kes said...

Sounds disconcertingly like our drive through Illinois back just before Christmas.

ceshaw said...

I liked the picture of the miles drifting off into the night. :-)