Saturday, June 25, 2016

Taos New Mexico to Junction City Kansas

Time to go home. Our days here have flown by, which happens when you are having fun with people you care about.

I woke up at 5:15 AM and found Sherm was already up, dressed and texting Lanny about their departure time. Sandy and I were up right away as well. We took care of morning things and loaded our last travel bags in the Equinox while Sherm was putting his gear on the red Harley. As a possible insult by the weather deities, the skies started sprinkling lightly.

After one final goodbye to the early birds, we pulled out of the lot at 5:45 but didn't turn right. The GPS told me there was no fast food and very little food of any kind for several hours in our direction of travel, so we went down the Paseo to McDonald's for coffee and breakfast sandwiches. The Paseo was very passable at this time of day.

On the way back past the Kachina, we pulled into the lot and saw Sherm, Lanny and Penmaker under the covered area in front of the entrance getting ready to leave. With a final wave, we headed out of town on US 64 West.

Final goodbyes

and a last wave

We followed US 64 to where it turned due west, and then took New Mexico 522 north. This was the same road we took on the last two day-rides, but this time we kept going up into Colorado where it ended at US 160. With almost no traffic, the flat land was almost a mile and a half above sea level and was a perfect example of the wide open spaces many westerners talk about.

Sunrise over the mountains to the east

High tech police vehicle

Leaving the Land Of Enchantment

Prime residence in San Luis - Oldest Town In Colorado

When the road, now Colorado 159, ended in Fort Garland (population 433), we turned right on US 160. I had forgotten we had to climb to North La Veta Pass at 9,413 feet before descending to the flatlands. An electronic sign in the pass warned us not to stop on the way down due to rock slides.

Sandy's specialty - trees on a ridge

Descending from La Veta Pass

The tree line is pretty clear

Snow a little higher up

Coming into Walsenburg, we found Brandon on the side of the road facing west. This was odd, since he was returning to Kansas, but he assured us all was well. He had left Kachina while we were visiting McDonald's. There was a 7-Eleven where we stopped for a bathroom break, snacks and more coffee before continuing  east.

On the way out of town, we passed a long string of empty coal hoppers traveling east. It was odd that the head end power consisted of one BNSF diesel and one Union Pacific. These railroads are such fierce competitors that it was notable when they shared trackage rights at the large coal operation in central Wyoming.

Strange trackfellows

Heading east out of Walsenburg on Colorado 10, the mountains faded in our rear view mirror. We crossed a low rolling landscape with many ups and downs but nary a curve and almost no traffic. There was another large wind farm where an entire section of turbines was shut down.

Blindly following the GPS out of La Junta, we paralleled US 50 on Colorado 194 and went past the site if historic Bent's Fort along the winding Arkansas River. For sixteen years from 1833, this post was the only major permanent white settlement west of Missouri on the Santa Fe Trail. It has been reconstructed and is operated by the National Park Service. We learned in Taos that Charles Bent's wife Ignacia was sister to Kit Carson's third wife, Josefa.

The site of historic Bent's Fort

The reconstructed adobe fort

Soon after leaving Bent's Fort we saw a humongous rat run across the road between two fields of crops, reminding us of Romy's story about cane rats. This rodent was big enough that I would have kept medium sized dogs away from it.

Continuing on, we connected with US 50 east again and, just outside Lamar, crossed the Arkansas River. It was a slow moving trickle compared to the mighty river with the Class V rapids that carved the Royal Gorge.

We cross this again

Less awesome than the river that carved Royal Gorge

In Lamar, we stopped at a McDonald's. This was the first golden arches we had seen since leaving Taos. It was in the high 90's and gusty when we got out, with the winds not bringing change but, rather, the smell of feed lots. It looked like a pleasant place but I don't think I could live there. We got twenty McNuggets for $5.00, coffee and a smoothie and were on our way.

We caught up to and passed a unit coal train rolling east (I still think there is way too much coal being used for it to be replaced anytime soon by green energy) and a unit auto train moving west, both headed by BNSF power. Somewhere in the emptiness, we left Colorado and entered Kansas without noticing.

Eastbound loaded coal train

Westbound auto train

Kansas is supposed to be windy

The rumble strips down the centre of the road in Kansas were brutal. The only way someone could cross into the other lane without realizing it would be if they were dead. A determined crop duster caught our eye as he flew under power lines while completing a pass. These weren't big power lines, just the regular side of the road kind and I wondered if he had been doing this for long. A quote about old pilots and bold pilots came to mind.

Somewhere, we crossed into the Central Time Zone. The only way I noticed was because both the car and the GPS clocks changed their times automatically. Going west has the benefit of giving us an extra hour as we cross about one time zone a day. Traveling east we lose an hour, which results in a net two hours less daylight when chasing the sunrise. It isn't a really big deal since we don't usually travel from sunup to sundown in June.

East of Jetmore, we encountered miles and miles of empty CWEX hopper cars being stored on what must have been an unused rail line. The line of cars was only broken where roads crossed the tracks. I did a little research and found these were privately owned cars belonging to Commonwealth Edison and used for coal unit trains bound for their generating plants in Illinois. I could not find anything regarding these surplus rail cars, but maybe the use of coal IS declining in some areas.

Stored CWEX coal hoppers......

.....seem to go on forever

Leaving US 50 for Kansas 156 in Garden City, we eventually came to Great Bend where the GPS took us around town. After passing two police cruisers searching a pickup truck and its occupants and a large number of stored tank cars, we were held up by a long, slow-moving train. The cars carried rough KO reporting marks, indicating they currently belonged to the Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad, although they looked like they were a hodgepodge acquired from other roads.

Someone is getting searched

Stored tank cars

A slow moving train in Great Bend Kansas

There was a small Love's gas station in Great Bend. Love's is better known across North America for its large travel stops, but this must be the way they got started just over the line in Oklahoma. Regardless, gas was only $2.12 per gallon making me a happy traveler.

Continuing to follow Colorado 156 northeast, we came to I-70 and swung due east again. There were rain squalls to the north and a few drops fell as we motored along.

A few showers out there

Folks here don't treat you mean....

It was 97F when we arrived in Junction City and found that the Super 8 was not where the GPS thought it was. Luckily, the phone knew where to go, and we arrived there after stopping at a Subway for a sandwich to bring with us.

Our room on the ground floor had good air conditioning and the WiFi worked well. We met Art, whose wife had taken over management of this property a month ago. She was experienced in the hospitality industry in general and, specifically, with the Wyndham chain, so was brought in to correct problems stemming from incompetent prior management. There were some louder construction workers hanging out near our door but Art convinced them to relocate and keep the noise down.

Tonight's room cost us just $30.00 and 3,000 Wyndham points under the Go Fast program. I booked tomorrow night's room at the Days Inn and Suites in Madison, Wisconsin at a Go Fast rate of $55.00 (because everything costs more in Madison). This would have us get home from Taos in three days of just over 600 miles each.

Today's Route (602 Equinox miles):

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