Saturday, January 17, 2015

Road Trip 1987, From The Wayback Machine Files

So a few posts ago, I made reference to the "way back machine," in one of his subsequent posts, Shaun (the Naval Air Cowman) called it by it's proper name, "The Wayback Machine." As operated and utilized by the team of Mr. Peabody and Sherman. (Mr. Peabody was the dog with the bow tie and glasses. They were a featured cartoon on Rocky and Bullwinkle. Hands down, the best cartoon of my era. Perhaps of all time. Boris and Natasha, Rocky and Bullwinkle... Whoa, big guy. Digression warning! Pull up, pull up!)


Well, I'm not sure what triggered this post but it may have been WSF (or Maytag if you prefer). It's nothing he said or did. But he lives in Colorado. Seeing a comment from him made me think of Colorado. Which took me back in time to when I drove from Fort Collins down to San Antonio in January. Then did the reverse in April.

The weather was actually better in January!

This was back in 1987.

The Air Force wanted me in San Antonio. As it would be a longish TDY* assignment, I elected to drive to Texas. How hard could that be? In the dead of winter...

So there I was...**

Truth be told, the drive to San Antonio wasn't that bad. Sure it was bitter cold out when I hit the road but the sun was shining with no snow in the forecast. But good Lord, was that a long and lonely trip. For I was by myself, The Missus Herself and the progeny remained behind.

I-25, about 35 miles south of Pueblo, Colorado (Google Street View)

See those mountains up there? Picture snow on the ground, all the way to the horizon in every direction. The sky was very much like the picture, a washed out blue with high scattered cloud. There was not much wind down on the plains but those mountains had lots of snow on the tops and the wind was definitely blowing up there.

Photo by Lance Trumbull CC

Okay, not exactly like that (that's Mt. Everest in the photo) but it gives you an idea of what it was like.

When it's winter and you're all alone, heading farther and farther from home with each passing mile, that's kind of a foreboding view.

I had plenty of time to get to San Antonio, so I took my time. Though it's "only" a thousand miles (or so) and I could have done it in two days, I took three.

Going Up? (I-25 SB, south of Trinidad, Colorado) (Google Street View)

Going over the Raton Pass from Colorado into New Mexico was fairly uneventful on the trip south. Like I said, though it was cold, the weather was cooperative.

Once I got through a very lonely and remote part of New Mexico and got into Texas, I made my first stop for the night. A wee motel just inside Texas. They were open, they had vacancies (I doubt there's a lot of tourist action in the Texas panhandle in January, just sayin'...) so I got a room. A room where the heat had apparently not been on since sometime in September. Oh my freaking word it was cold!

I stood in front of the heater, fully dressed in winter garb until the room began to thaw out. Once it was safe to start removing clothing without danger of frostbite, I disrobed and hit the sack. It had been a long, long day.

Upon awakening I realized something when I looked out the window. I had heard of the "middle of nowhere" but had never really seen it. Well, outside that little motel room was, yup, the middle of nowhere. Miles and miles of nothing, all the way to the horizon.

Except for the occasional passing truck and the long brown grass poking up through the snow, I might as well have been on another planet.

Did I mention how cold it was?

I suited up and headed down the road. Spent a second night in San Angelo, then headed on in to San Antonio, for a very long and painful TDY. Which is a story I might tell someday, but not today. While I like San Antonio, I hated damn near every millisecond of that trip. I could not wait to get the Hell out of Texas and get back home again. (Wasn't Texas' fault, but again, a story for another time. Maybe. We have our demons, I met mine on that trip.)

Finally a clear and sunny day in San Antonio and I had been released from bondage orders to go home. Loaded up the trusty old Jetta and set out on a hot Texas day. Homeward bound!

No stopping to take in the sights this time. No sirree Bob. With lots of caffeinated beverages and a full carton of smokes I was ready to tackle that 1000 miles (or so) in one go.

I mean it's April, the weather is beautiful, should be a great trip. At the end will be my family, breathlessly awaiting my return.

Just before getting on to I-25 for the trip north over the Raton Pass, I stopped for fuel. The first thing I noticed upon dismounting the vehicle was that it was screaming bloody cold. I'm still dressed for San Antonio in the early spring, not the high-plains-almost-into-the-Rockies late winter.

Tearing open my suitcase I put on another 27 layers of clothing. Car is all fueled-up and I climb, awkwardly, into the driver's seat. For I am now approximately the same bulk as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man of Ghostbusters fame.

Once I squeezed into the cockpit, I headed out onto the highway. Started gaining altitude almost immediately. Oh, you know what? It was starting to snow. A lot.

So much for April in Texas. Welcome back to the Rockies muchacho!

Going Up?(I-25 NB, north of Raton, New Mexico) (Google Street View)

 Oh yes indeed, it was snowing like a sum-bitch.  (Oh yeah, forgot to mention it but it's night by now, about 0200 local as I recall.) Visibility is starting to drop but the road isn't too bad. Almost like a plow had just come through. Near the top of the pass, I see a plow turning around and headed back towards New Mexico, I figured he had prepared the road for me. What a swell guy. But now I'm in Colorado, I wonder what the roads are like?

Welcome (back) to Colorado! Yes, we're at 7,800 plus feet at this point. (Google Street View)
They were not bad, not bad at all. Because f
rom that sign to Trinidad, I was following a Colorado state plow. Very pleased I was. Very content I was. The going was slow but I was most content to "fly" formation on the big fellow. Especially as he was clearing a path for me. Thank you very much.

Exit 8, just south of Trinidad. What it looks like in nice weather. (Google Street View)
Exit 8 as it appears today. (Colorado Traffic Cam)
What Exit 8 looked like to me, very near sun-up on the 2nd of April, 1987.  (Colorado Traffic Cam via  here.)

It was snowing like crazy all the way through the pass and just past Pueblo. There it appears that they had not gotten snow as much as having received a "wintry mix," which is fancy talk for rain, snow, freezing rain, sleet and all manner of nasty precipitation.

Driving from Pueblo to Colorado Springs was akin to driving on a hockey rink. Except I was not in a Zamboni! Slow and steady it was until I was through the "Springs" and up onto the Palmer Divide. Up there it was all snow again. In fact it was all snow from there up to Fort Collins, where it seemed they had received a good foot and a half in just the last few hours.

Yes, Virginia, it snows in Colorado in April.

But it was good to be home.

Off to the bedroom to shed those 27 layers of clothing, a nice hot shower and then to bed. The start of a very pleasant and relaxing 30 day leave period.

One final note, if you've never been to Texas, I'm here to tell you: Texas is big.

As a matter of fact, it's freaking huge. Alaska dwarfs my small mind. I'm a man of hills, trees and ocean vistas. Big is okay. The Texans are welcome to it. (I'm sure Juvat might have a word or two to offer on the subject. We shall see.)

Oh yeah, Shaun. Before you start telling us all about the wide open spaces of Nebraska, bear in mind, this trip to Texas was before I lived in Nebraska. Eventually I got used to the wide open spaces (buffalo roaming, antelope playing, though I did hear a discouraging word or two) but once I returned to my native lands, looking back on it, all that space kinda freaks me out.

* TDY = Temporary Duty
** SJC applies.


  1. Ha! Good stuff. Winter driving for fun and profit. But THREE DAYS? I hope you wore your reflective belt the whole time...

    Sorry, Sorry! IKBIL.

    I've made that drive (actually a very similar trip minus mountain driving) six or seven times on excursions to BigXII championship games and the Alamo Bowl. Usually drove straight through except for the two times we had to RON when wx closed the roads. Always had a co-driver though.

    You've reminded me of a road trip from Oceana to Fallon and back in probably 1984. My fellow airwing corpsmen and I somehow convinced our squadrons that we should go POV. What an ADVENTURE! I should probably write about that. The various statutes of limitations have long since expired.

    I feel bad for today's military folks who will never have the opportunity (or even dream such opportunity could exist) to embark on a similar journey of discovery.

    1. IKBIL? I even checked Sarge's official acronym page as well as the font of ALL knowledge Google. Nada!

    2. I kid because I love.

      Frequently used by my niece, who has all the 'tude required to pull it off...

    3. OK, THAT got me to chuckling!

  2. Once or twice a year, I make it a point to take a road trip where the primary vector is between 240 and 360. Once out of the hill country, I can feel my self relax. You may be in the middle of nowhere, but the "see 'em comin' " distances are fantastic. My Dad's folks lived in Denver while he was stationed at Webb. We made that trip many times. I recognized those pictures without any trouble. I remember having tire trouble coming into Raton and having to fork over my hard earned lawn mowing money to buy new tires, cause they wouldn't take check or credit cards.
    Thanks for the memories.

    1. I used to like road trips back when I was younger.

      Of course, the glaciers were still receding back then.

  3. Some of my friends have mentioned being freaked out by the big wide open spaces out west. My niece and younger nephew came up here a couple years ago from New York and part of their trip was via road from Prescott, AZ to Price, UT. They couldn't believe how much NOTHING there was and how little green was included in that! I grew up in SoCal, but spent plenty of time in AZ and made quite a few road trips from SAN to PHX and Prescott. I've since lived in NV and now UT. I like the wide open spaces, but I'll admit to getting a bit freaked out in too big a city where I can't see too far ;)

    1. I got used to them after a while.

      Then Louisiana freaked me out. Too many trees, not enough sky.

  4. It is said that all West Texas needs is a little cool water and a few good people. Of course, that's all Hell needs too.

    1. I've heard that someplace. (Probably not from a West Texan though...)

  5. I'm often puzzled by the lure of Interstate 25 for people traveling to Texas. Guess it is the comfort of four lanes. From Amarillo go North on Highway 287 to Limon, CO. Go North on SH71 to Brush, CO. From Brush, West on I-76 to Wiggins, West on SH 34 to Greeley. If your destination is Ft Collins, stay on 34 to I-25. If your destination is Wyoming, from Greeley go North on US 85. Shorter, faster, and, for me, less tiring. Just remember you drive 48 miles or so in Oklahoma and the Oklahoma State Patrol are wicked good. (Mr Maytag, you are just eight miles from Texas. Do you think you can stay within the speed limit for eight miles?)

    1. While I've never had the occasion to take that particular route, I'm with you on avoiding interstates when possible. The only exception is I-10 W to El Paso. Posted speed limit is 80. Most folks do about 85.
      When I drive to San Antonio, I take TX-16, picturesque, little traffic and I seem to arrive at about the same time a lot less stressed.

    2. The interstates are faster. I have no desire to slow down for every small town along the old state roads.

    3. Agree in general. That said, there is no good Interstate route Dallas-Denver. Most truckers take the route I described. It also avoids the whole Pueblo to Fort Collins mess that is I-25, especially North from the Springs to past Northglenn.

    4. There are very few North to South interstates out west from what I recall.

      Most of the big roads go east and west. Again, if I remember correctly.

      Back in 1987 the only really messy part of I-25 was around Denver, unless you counted the frost heaves going into Cheyenne.

    5. Not exactly. From West to East. I-5 San Diego to Seattle. I-15 LA to Great Falls. I-25 El Paso to Casper. I-35 Laredo to Duluth, I-45 Houston to Dallas. I-55 New Orleans to Chicago. There are a few shorter connector N-S Interstates In there also. Then you get "back East" with I-65, 75, 85 and that godawful I-95 the world's longest traffic jam.

    6. I-95 is bad in two places for me, all of Connecticut and all of New Jersey.

      Hhmm, rather a lot really.

    7. For me, I-95 was bad from DC to Florida.

    8. Never been that way, always headed south into Delaware.

  6. Here's an unfinished tale of a cross-country road trip I took once upon a time. I made it from Oakland, CA to Camden, NJ in just about 4 days time. (Some day I'll craft a finish to this story. Just know that the stop in Rock Island was welcome and one of the best things ever to happen to me.)

    1. That's an excellent tale. You simply must finish it someday!

  7. Driving the West has it's moments.
    My first experience driving in "winter" weather was in April '65.
    A friend and I went to South Shore Tahoe on spring break in my '57 Chevy.
    Somehow, we did have chains.
    It started to snow just east of Placerville and the closer we got to the divide, the worse it got.
    About 15 miles west of the summit the Chains Required signs appeared.
    Mine was the second vehicle they stopped.
    Everything went just fine until we reached Echo Summit (elev. 7382) and started down Meyers Grade.
    We'd caught up to a number of vehicles without chains, that were backed up behind a tractor trailer running on his jake brake.
    Those cars and pickups (particularly the pickups) were all over the road because they had to continually brake to keep from catching the big rig.

    My only other "real" experience driving in such weather was after an October Blizzard on Rabbit Ears Pass.
    Why it was decided I should drive is beyond my comprehension.

    1. Chains, I loved the sound of chains on the car when I was a kid.

      Dad? Not so much...

  8. We train across country to San Diego in a week or two and then we drive back. At our own pace. I'm looking at a middle country approach like the last time but this time in winter. If the weather is bad, I'll take the usual southern winter route and drive through Texas. I don't want to. I'd rather drive up Las Vegas from San Diego and strike out west to Denver and then head up to 80 but if it looks ugly, we're going south and driving up from the soft underbelly of the south. I'm voting for a clean start from Key West!

    1. Can't go wrong with Key West.

      But yeah, I-80 can be iffy in the dead of winter. (Is it the "dead of winter" yet?)


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