Thursday, August 24, 2017

Roadrunner Reflections - Great Plains to the High Mountain Desert

In the last few weeks of travel we've been able to see the Midwest, central plains and now were here in God's country — the High Desert or northern New Mexico not far from where I grew up.  Every couple hundred miles, the landscape changes significantly and I wish I could take a snapshot in my head and replay it later.  Such are the memories that we make and try to remember.
Our Route the Last Couple of Weeks:  SD to NM

(A.) Sioux Falls, SD
(B.) Farm Island SRA, SD
(C.) Randall Creek SRA, SD
(D.) Seneca, KS
(E.) Dodge City, KS
(F.) Tucumcari, NM
(G.) Albuquerque, NM

Pam and I left our campsite in Dodge City, KS (E.) about 8:00 a.m.  We were up early and took showers, emptied the tanks, hooked up the CRV, said a prayer and got ready to pull out. About then daughter Kelly called and we spent a few minutes talking to her and grandson Brooks.

Nice way to start the day.  We had already picked our route to Tucumcari, NM where we had called the day before to make overnight reservations.  We made our way out of town past the feed lots and onto the Highway 54 toward Liberal KS. I had forgotten that Liberal was the hometown of Julie Garland in the movie 'Wizard of Oz'.

The secondary roads have been a fun way to travel over the past few weeks.  They have been quite good for the most part, plus we like getting out there and seeing more of the backcountry of America.  One thing that astounded us was the sheer number and magnitude of grain elevators across the prairie.  Apply nicknamed, "Prairie Cathedrals" these majestic structures seemed to be dotting the countryside every 10 miles.

Another mystery at times were the crops.  We recognized the corn growing in various degrees of health from South Dakota to Texas.  It seemed South Dakota they were in need of more rain while the corn was more robust and healthy in Kansas which had a lot more rain.

Then there are beets.  In fact, there was lots of beets and corn.  Some of the farmland was wheat, and there was lots of hay.  And a new one we didn't recognize -- turned out it was sorghum.  Pam guessed that one and looked it up on her iPhone.  Sure enough that was it sorghum with the distinct tassels on top.

A little over a week ago, we finished our Habitat for Humanity build in Sioux Falls we traveled to Pierre, SD.  That drive was uneventful and we got a chance to see the Missouri River and some more of the Lewis and Clark Trail.  We are big fans of that and love learning about those explorers.  We found out about the small town of Pierre (pronounced ~ PEER).  For a population of about 13,000 and no major highway near by, it has a pretty good operation going.

While in Pierre, we experienced a little of the remoteness and hilly plains of South Dakota.  Driving from there to our next stop at Fort Randall State Recreation Area, we came across a lot of small towns and wide open spaces.  That stop was a bit too remote from us.  We were isolated with no cell phone or internet access.  We stayed below the dam in an area with lots of trees.  Next time we will camp upstream on the lake portion.

While there for a couple of days, we took in a guided tour of the dam itself which was a first.  We also drove over to Yankton SD thinking we'd see some more history.  It was a fine way to spend the rainy day, but it again was pretty remote until we got into town.  We drove out to the dam and lake and took in some more of the Missouri River.  We found another nice campground on the Missouri River.

Whether it is a day trip or getting from one destination to another, we love seeing different parts of the country and different parts of each state.  Each area has a special uniqueness all its own.

And so it has been the last few weeks since we left Sioux Falls.  We love the miles and miles of rolling hills through the farm land of South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.  Each area is a little different.

Leaving Randall Creek State Recreation Area (SRA), we found highway 281 that runs north/south through the eastern and central part of Nebraska.  We followed it for hours through the cornfields and back country.  It was beautiful and again, the roads were good.

Then we came to Grand Prairie NE, where we took a rock which broke the forward double paned window on the driver's side.  Yikes!  Fortunately, we were able to tape it and continue to our night's destination in Seneca Kansas.

Notwithstanding a broken window, I love driving the Roadrunner.  The ride is very smooth and comfortable and purrs along a steady 62 mph.  It could go much faster, but that seems to be a good cruising speed.  At that, we get 7.4 mph which is pretty good and normal for our 400 hp Cummins engine.  Most days, I drive a couple of hours and Pam takes over for an hour or two and then I'm good for the rest of the way.

A normal day for us is about 250-300 miles.  We use a planning factor of averaging about 50 miles per hour which includes time for Rest Stops to walk around and also for fuel stops.  Our tank holds 150 gallons but I usually start looking for a place to fill up at about the halfway point.  Which means we can go over 500 miles between fill ups with no problem?  Traveling the back roads of the Plains might seem to be an issue, but there were plenty of truck diesel stations all along the way.

Once we passed through Nebraska and just across the border into Kansas, we went through the small town of Marysville.  We saw that there was a historical marker for the Pony Express and in fact we were on the Pony Express Highway.  Cool!  We had a friends travel the whole Pony Express route on his motorcycle a few years ago and here we were on a stretch of it.

Back to the beginning of our day yesterday, we had called ahead the day before and made reservations at a decent overnight stop in Tucumcari NM.  That was about 250 miles and 5 hours.  We like to get into the campground no later than mid-afternoon when we are traveling if possible.  We were making such good time that we were near Tucumcari about 1:00 PM and we gained an hour.

With less that three hours to go, we decided to press ahead and get to Albuquerque.  It made for about a 450 mile and 8 hour drive but we were both feeling pretty good and it was worth it.  We gained another day in there to relax and  see my brother Reid and wife Amy.

As we left Tucumcari and headed west on I-40 I was struck by how big the sky was.  Wow -- the vistas went for miles and miles.  Reminded me of Montana and Wyoming.  It was beautiful!  Breathtaking.  The other thing we noticed about the landscape is that is no longer farming country.  Ranching and cattle is the name of the game out here.  That started to change as we went through Oklahoma and into Texas.  

From Oklahoma and into Texas and as we made our way into New Mexico,  the dirt was more visible and had a reddish color instead of the dark brown.  The cornfields and soybeans of the Great Plains were now a picture of mesquite, cedar, scrub brush, tumbleweeds and green grasses of the desert and High Desert.  The grass is quite different from the prairie grasses of South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.  And I don't ever remember the country side and pastures being as green.  You could tell it has been raining quite a bit in the last couple of months.

The last hour from Santa Rosa, past Clines Cornes, Moriarity, Tijeras Canyon and into Albuquerque seemed to come quickly.  We pulled into the Kirtland AFB Security Gate off Eubank Boulevard and were told from now on, entrance for our RV was available only through the Truman Gate.

They let us through this last time but next time we'll have to travel around town and enter over by the Airport at the Truman Gate.  There apparently was some change in the security posture that happened earlier in the day.  Maybe next time, we'll call ahead and see if the Eubank Gate is open.  Going around to the Truman Gate is going to be a longer trip and not nearly as convenient.  The FamCamp is within a stone's throw of the Eubank Gate.

So here we are for a few days in Albuquerque.
We'll take a day trip up to Santa Fe again and spend some time with Reid and Amy.  And eat way to much Mexican food (promise!).
Thanks for joining us on the Roadrunner Chronicles!


  1. Hey, do I see sopapillas in that "food" picture. They don't look like that in Belmont, so I wasn't sure.

  2. We love the plains:) Been home a few weeks and already to go back!

  3. When you were in Dodge City, you were very close to our family farm, at least by a Kansan standard. We're 90 miles east of Dodge. It would have been fun to host you. Glad you are able to see your brother and his wife. Enjoy God's Country!