On the road to nowhere - Deming, Tucson and Ehrenberg

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March 27th 2016
Published: May 7th 2016
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We had a lot of miles to cover to our next stop point so we broke them up with a series of one-night journey-breakers. We were almost fully recovered from our colds, and were really enjoying travelling on the desert byways and the landscape and scenery was so different it was fascinating. Bring it on!

We left Roswell on Route 380, heading towards Hondo on a wonderfully empty dual carriageway road beneath blue skies. There were very few signs of habitation and the tiny hamlets we passed through had a mix of falling-down, ramshackle houses or very nice property indeed. Around Picacho and Hondo the landscape began to green up and the terrain became hilly and forested and we drove along part of the Scenic Billy the Kid Trail when we turned on to the I-70. I could imagine the landscape populated with cowboys, outlaws and other desperados. We saw signs warning us of loose moose and telling us not to feed the bears. As if! We passed through the Mescalero Apache Reservation, with signs directing travellers to the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort and Casino. It seems gambling is a big thing here and we saw those signs we hadn’t seen since New Zealand telling drivers which side of the road to travel on because drinking is a big thing there too, and apparently it causes you to lose your bearings. We passed the Holloman Air Force Base which was the birthplace of USA missile development and the Missile Range offered a museum with rocket exhibits. Not our sort of thing ... It was adjacent to the White Sands area which we had seen shining brightly from a long distance away without knowing what it was (it looked like a vast expanse of water with the sun reflecting on it!) and is formed from some sort of rare gypsum.

We kept seeing signs alerting us to a nearby Border Patrol. We thought it unlikely it would apply to us as we had no intentions of crossing the border! We navigated our way through Las Cruces and picked up the I-10 again, where the Border Patrol warnings became more numerous. I fiddled with the satnav to see how close to the Mexican border we were but we were quite a few miles away so we ignored the alerts. Well, more fools us because the traffic began to build, then slow, then stop as we approached. However, it seemed the Menacing Military Man on the checkpoint was just waving the cars through, after a few brief words. Right then, I’m always up for a chat. Our turn came. Steve lowered the window. ‘USA residents?’ asked the Menacing Military Man, waving us through. ‘No’ we said. ‘STOP!’ ‘USA residents?’ he asked again. Still a no from us. ‘Where are you from?’ ‘The UK.’ ‘The USA?’ What is it with the USA thing? ‘No, England, you know, in the UK?’ ‘Papers’ the Menacing Military Man demanded. What sort of papers did he want? Car papers? ESTA papers? The morning papers? Well, none of those things – he wanted our passport papers. I had a quick rummage in The Important File and Steve asked him what ‘border’ the ‘border patrol’ was patrolling? Were we not still in the USA travelling further into the USA? Well, yes, we were, but we were ‘only’ 25 miles from the Mexican border so they did the check anyway. Like anyone wanting to enter the country illegally wouldn’t choose an alternative path and avoid the patrol entirely? Seems not – they’re going to join the queue and declare themselves to the Menacing Military Men on the Border Patrol. So, that was a first for us – we had to show our passports to pass through a border patrol that wasn’t on a border to get from one side of the road to the same side of the same road in the same state in the same country. Most peculiar. I wonder how many illegal immigrants they catch there .....

We passed some interesting shop frontages (so interesting I feel the need to mention them!) at Akela Flats, which was very flat and arrived at another Quality Inn, in Deming (yeah, I know, but it was strategically placed), in the late afternoon. Once again, this was a lovely hotel and we had a super meal in their restaurant where we couldn’t help but overhear the views of the two very loud men in Stetson hats on politics, marriage and the benefits of reneging on their mortgaged properties before they retired so they could get government assisted healthcare in their old age. They were so loud they could probably be heard in the car park – in fact, we could still hear their conversation as they exited the restaurant and went outside to the swimming pool. These were the loudest people we had heard in what I had expected to be a country of loud people. I did wonder if it was the depth of their voices that made them carry or whether it was their Stetsons (which they kept on the whole time) creating a boom box around their heads. Who knows? We retired for a relaxing night in front of the TV and fell asleep to the soporific sounds of the distant trains.

The following day was Good Friday and we decided to call in to the nearby Walmart to restock in case Easter in America was like Christmas in Australia and everything closed. We restocked our wallets too, as we had $10 cash to our name that morning and I thought it was a sign of how we were relaxing into the country, not wondering where the next ATM would be or how much things would cost. I was even brave enough to wander round Walmart on my own as Steve’s back was giving him gip, though I made a point of keeping quiet and not engaging in conversation with anyone (now that was hard!) because I wanted to get in and out of there quickly. A sign on a pickup in the car park told us Jesus was coming and we'd better be ready, so it was a good thing we were restocking to be prepared! The day was warm and sunny (78 degrees), we were back on the I-10 and, after crossing the Continental Divide at Gage (apparently if the rain falls one side of the Divide it flows to the Atlantic and if it falls on the other it flows to the Pacific – you live and learn), we entered what was signed to be a ‘Safety Corridor’. We had no idea what that was but I fully expected it to provide some sort of sanctuary from the dust storms the signs were warning us about, the hurricanes, tornados or even the heavy rain undecided about which way it should flow but, no, it was an area of road where speeding fines were doubled due to the increased risk of accidents. Hmmmm. A bit of a misnomer, methinks. Signs warned of low flying aircraft monitoring traffic speeds.

We crossed the state line into Arizona about 1 pm and saw pecan and walnut orchards near Bowie, where I can only think they liked the semi-arid, desert climate as it looked a prosperous place. We eventually arrived at the University Inn, Tucson about 4.30 pm after a very pleasant journey and after the satnav got a little confused but we were close enough to be able to figure it out ourselves from a map we had (sometimes the ‘old-fashioned’ methods work best!). The motel had a swimming pool and guest laundromat and was situated opposite a very pleasant park. Our room (214) was perfectly adequate but, once again, only had coffee available in reception which was a bit more difficult for me to manage this time as I had to negotiate stairs! I also had to negotiate a very chatty guy in Reception who thought the USA was THE place to be and couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t want to live there – we’d be very welcome! I chatted with a lady originally from Ireland and she said there were two sides to every coin but she had settled happily enough in San Diego with her American husband. I think Tucson probably had things to offer tourists but we stuck with our plan to move on.

Still on the I-10, we drove through Phoenix (yes, Phoenix, Arizona – I still couldn’t believe I was seeing these places!). Our journey continued through the flat desert in the 84 degree heat, but hills began to appear on the skyline and the sides of the roads became rocky. The landscape looked completely barren with no farming, no livestock and no oil wells. There were plenty of cacti though and we stopped at the Burnt Well Rest Area just to appreciate the desert views which were wonderful, though this was another place with poisonous snakes and insects so we didn’t wander too far! We drove through the tail edge of the Colorado River Indian Reservation and arrived at Ehrenberg to be met with the only roundabout we came across in all our miles in the USA. We stopped at a little shop that seemed to stock everything, from fishing rods to food – just my sort of place. An older couple was sitting outside, with a small, nine week old puppy. Apparently, the puppy was called Midnight and had been so named because the man had found her, beaten and tossed aside, one midnight. This selfless, penniless, somewhat careworn couple (they lived in a tent) were nursing her to health and the local community had rallied around them to pay for veterinary treatment. They were determined she would have a good life, after a bad start, and Midnight now seemed a happy little thing with a waggy tail. I bought them some puppy food for her and placed it beside the water bowl the shopkeeper had provided, just for her. I liked Ehrenberg already!

We checked in to the Best Western Desert Oasis Hotel at 4.15 pm, to discover we had gained an hour somewhere and it was, in fact, only 3.15 pm. The hotel had several of those clocks displaying the times in various parts of the world including New York, Paris and, er, Nottingham, England. Doesn’t quite have the same cachet, does it? The girl behind the desk couldn’t explain it either. We checked in to Room 103 and realised we really were in the desert when we noticed that the mesh on the outside of the windows was not there to keep out the mosquitoes, but was there to keep out the sand! We popped out to eat at a nearby Wendy’s. I hoped it would be something like a Furr’s, but it wasn’t .... Despite our journeys being easy and very pleasant, we were ready to just chill out and relax and we did just that over a bottle of beer or two!

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