Ok.... I’ll go out and say it: Despite my reservations about this trip, it was a lot of fun. The plan was to drive 900 miles to the Trinity Site, visit it, do a little offroading, and then drive 900 miles back. That is what we did, but it was so much more than that.
Friday - Aliens and Speed Limits
Despite adding two hours to the overall drive, we decided to meet Taylor outside of Lubbock so we could visit Roswell on the way in to our overnight stay in Socorro. This meant we crossed from Texas, where the speed limit was 75, into New Mexico, where the speed limit varied from 45 to 65 with no apparent rhyme or reason. Actually, that is not fair... if the road looked in any way “fun” the speed limit dropped and my frustration level grew.
That said, the roads were in excellent shape so... I guess it was a bit of a wash.
Anyway, we eventually hit Roswell and it was... pretty much what we expected. The “UFO Museum” was exceptionally hokey, but for $5 it was worth the price of admission.
Actually I expected the town to be a little more alien crazy, but once you got off the main drag it felt like any other little town. Actually reminded me a lot of off-strip Vegas, for some reason.
We ended up in Socorro around 5PM and were in for a surprise. First... the poor Volvo was going to have to do some off-roading to get the the AirBnB we’d booked. For all the complaining the boys were doing about not being in 4WD for it, I feel like the R-Design Volvo made the ascent just fine.
The AirBnB was insanely cool. Perched on top of a hill, it was the tallest thing for miles and commanded some impressive views.
It was also full of shit.
I apologize. It was full of uhh... collected memorabilia and treasured objects from the owner.
Seriously. Packed to the brim with shit.
We cooked dinner and watched the sun go down. Shit or no, the view of the night sky paired with some good beer made for a unforgettable evening.
Radioactive rocks, vomit, and the unexpected - Saturday
I’ll get to the vomit part in a second. Don’t worry.
We got up and out earlyish to head over the the point of this trip: The Trinity Site.
Open only two days a year, the Trinity Site is the location at which the first nuclear weapon was detonated. At the site you can walk around ground zero, look at historic information, and visit the ranch that was the temporary base of operations during the tests.
To get in, you have to wait in a loooong line of other tourists to get through the checkpoint. After you’re vetted by rent-a-cops, you’re allowed to drive to a large parking lot near ground zero. (Sidenote: the military guys on parking duty were efficient. Best organized parking lot I’ve been to. No joke.)
Ground zero was... well I don’t know what to think. On the surface it is pretty boring. There is an monument to the event and a lot of historical information. Trinitite, the green glass created by the explosion, is still readily found on the site, but you’re not supposed to remove it.
We also visited the ranch house that was used as the temporary base of operations at the time of the test.
It was neat, but as it had been rebuilt following years of neglect and decay, it lacked authenticity.
Mundane as the site is, one must remember the weight of it. Less than a month after this initial test in 1945, the United States dropped two nuclear weapons on Japan, the first and only nuclear weapons used in combat to this day. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed and many more injured. Nothing can be the same after that.
After the Trinity Site we headed back to the AirBnB via the Quebradas Backcountry Byway. Unfortunately it was a this point my body decided it was DONE with today and I became quite ill. Not to be that guy we soldiered on.
From what I remember seeing, the byway was really nifty. The road was in excellent shape, but the surface was very loose, leading to some puckering moments as our convoy occasionally got a little sideways. Though the Volvo was safely resting at the AirBnB, I can’t help but feel like it also would have enjoyed this little road.
Sadly, due to my deteriorating state, we cut the drive short and hit the AirBnB. Luckily a large infusions of drugs, a small nap, Gatorade, and a milkshake (not a euphemism) got me back to fighting shape and we headed out to our last destination: San Lorenzo Canyon.
Despite later finding a brochure for this place in our AirBnB, we went in mostly blind. It showed up on AllTrails and some cursory research said it was kinda cool.
We were not prepared for how cool it was.
First of all, the “road” into the canyon isn’t a road. It is a dry wash.
Second... holy shit.
We drove into the canyon not at all prepared for how awesome this place was.
We eventually got out and hiked around for a bit, getting completely lost and burning all of our remaining daylight getting back to the cars. Gotta love offline maps and big cell phone batteries.
On the way out we ran into another traveler: Donna. Taylor put it very well over on his blog:
As we packed up to leave, another adventurer, Donna, an older woman traveling solo in a new-to-her early-2000s Subaru Forester pulled up where we’d parked. She spoke with us a while, and it was fun to encounter someone else just wandering around admiring the desert like we were. She began a week-long roadtrip for her birthday, and after facing delays for some personal reasons, she was finally on the road. She actually did Quebradas a little earlier in the day, too.
I found it inspiring to meet someone easily double my age doing what we were doing except maybe slightly more hardcore (she was camping). I hope my sense of adventure is as strong as hers when I get to be her age.
Very large things and very cool mountains - Sunday
After checking out of the
nick nack storage facility AirBnB, we decided rather than make the drive on Monday easy for us, we’d dick around in the area some more and then drive to Roswell.
Our first stop was the Very Large Array, or VLA. If this thing looks like something out of science fiction... well it is. Sort of. Since being built it has been featured in a number of movies, most notably Contact.
The VLA is a collection of 27 large raido telescopes arranged on a series of train tracks in a “Y” arrangement. This allows the operators to resize the array every few months to change the angular resolution. At the time of visiting, it was in its smallest configuration, about a mile in diameter, but it can be as big as 22 miles in diameter.
It was awesome.
I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Next up we were off to do some backcountry driving up to Mount Withington. Since it was close to the VLA, we left the Volvo in visitor parking and proceeded only in the Jeep and XTerra.
The weather was doing a bit of a drizzle, but if anything this added to the drama of the ascent.
The views were stunning as we drove up to the fire tower and took a ton of photos.
I bounced between being a passenger in the Renegade, a passenger in the XTerra, and briefly drove the Renegade.
The whole area was a lot of fun and I really wish we’d had more time.
That said, we burned a little too much daylight, and ended up back at the VLA right at the sun was going down for some final pictures.
All in all
An amazing trip that far exceeded expectations.
Despite missing out on of really good backcountry driving, I still feel like I made the right call bringing the Volvo over the Land Rover. My hope is to start taking my non-offroad cars on more little adventures like this one.
Despite the draconian speed limits, I loved New Mexico and we’re already scheming on ways/ reasons to get back. Much like Death Valley, I expected it to be a desolate wasteland and it so wasn’t. Beautiful scenery, well made roads, and delicious food... We will be back.