02Pilot SuperDork
3/31/19 12:30 p.m.

A couple months ago, with a long-awaited spring break approaching (in academia, spring break becomes “long-awaited” the day we return from the holiday break), my girlfriend and I planned a week in New Mexico. After the bleak winter months in the Northeast, a week in the sun was just what my inner reptile needed to recharge a bit. We would fly into Denver, get in the car, and drive south.

We left hours after the work week ended, staying overnight in the city to make the early Saturday flight a little easier to manage. After the inherent misery of La Guardia and the sadistic efforts of airline accountants to make the process of flying as unpleasant as possible, we emerged dazed but mostly intact into the western light late Saturday morning. The rental car office was a bit swamped, as several flights had arrived at the same time, so we waited impatiently to get started.

A word about the rental process is in order. When I booked the car, the cheapest option Enterprise had to offer – by a considerable margin – was a convertible. The only logical reason for this I can fathom is that there is little demand for open-top cars in Denver in March. I’m not a big fan of convertibles myself, but paying more for a penalty box, and even more for something I wouldn’t actively hate for a week, didn’t compute. I booked the convertible and hoped for the best.

When we finally arrived at the head of the line, I chatted with the guy directing people and ordering cars. Talk turned to his growing up in the Midwest, doing handbrake turns in the snow in his old Saturn. This seemed an opportune time to inquire as to what he had on the lot. He said the pickings were slim, but he’d see what he could find. In the end, we did not get a convertible. We got this.

Keys in hand and luggage stowed, we headed south. Loudly. Avoiding the interstate, we headed down smaller routes toward Santa Fe. Traffic was light and the weather was good. We stopped for dinner in Alamosa, CO. The main drag looked little changed in many years – the J.C.Penney’s – still open for business – had a sign indicating had been there for over 100 years.

We finally arrived in Santa Fe later in the evening, parked the car at our charming little hotel just outside the city center. Fourth-generation family-owned, it sits along the pre-1937 alignment of Route 66. We lit the fireplace in the room and settled in for the night.

More to come.

02Pilot SuperDork
3/31/19 1:56 p.m.

The next few days were spent wandering about Santa Fe. Neither of us had visited before, so this time was just getting situated and discovering our surroundings. The historic city center is touristy, especially around the plaza, but you only have to go a few blocks away to get away. Most of the tourists had gone by the evening; it was the middle of the work week, so not especially surprising. I’m sure things are busier on the weekends.

Out for an early morning walk, the streets were almost deserted. The quality of the light was particularly noteworthy; it was easy to see why New Mexico has attracted so many photographers and painters over the years.

After a few days of this, interspersed with liberally sampling the many and varied margaritas available throughout Santa Fe, we decided to head out to explore a bit. We drove down the Turquoise Trail toward Albuquerque. There a few small towns along there, but Madrid – the one we expected to be most interesting based on what we’d read – was overrun with tourists, so we kept going. We drove up the east slope of Sandia Crest to the top, which was covered in 2-3 feet of snow and afforded panoramic views of Albuquerque thousands of feet below.

That was as close as we got to Albuquerque. We headed back to Santa Fe, knowing that we’d be leaving soon for Taos.


02Pilot SuperDork
3/31/19 2:05 p.m.

Obligatory artsy photograph interlude. We're both photographers, so a fair bit of time was spent taking pictures. Most of what I shot was on film, which will take time to develop and scan, (well, we both shot film, but my girlfriend shot instant exclusively, so no developing necessary), so these are just the few that I happened to shoot with the phone (usually because the camera was empty and I hadn't reloaded it yet).


02Pilot SuperDork
3/31/19 9:10 p.m.

Time for a few words about the car. 2019 Challenger R/T, just over 9k miles on the clock when we picked it up. It had been a long time since I drove anything like this; the closest thing I ever owned was my old 73 Challenger, and that was decades ago.

The new one looks a lot like the old, obviously, which is a plus, as I always liked the way may old car looked. Too bad this one was in a rather boring dark metallic grey rather than Sublime Green like my 73. Still, I’ve seen many modern cars that look a lot worse.

It was apparent from the get-go that the car made nice noises. Even a gentle prod at the accelerator produced rumbles and burbles, and more assertive stabs were accompanied by slightly embarrassing levels of V-8 goodness. The sound was honestly the best thing about the car.

From there things got a little less good. It’s a big car on the outside, and just like my old Challenger, it makes appallingly poor use of that on the inside. The doors are extremely thick, limiting interior space, and the trunk is shallow and narrows considerably at the rear wheels. Forward visibility is fairly limited, and it does not improve as you move back. It was a terrible car for looking at scenery, which is a fairly significant shortcoming in Colorado and New Mexico.

While fast, the weight of the car is inescapable. It carries an astonishing amount of momentum in every direction. Without using the flappy paddles it will coast for days in 8th gear, which is where it almost always wants to be above 40mph. Turning feels more like steering a ship than a car; it will turn, but it doesn’t like to be hurried, it doesn’t like mid-course corrections, and if you’re not smooth, well, you’ll know. After driving it, my girlfriend referred to it as a “lumbering oaf of a car” - she did not intend this as a compliment.

In spite of the limitations, it was a fun car to have for a week and just over a thousand miles. The noises were entertaining, and being just the two of us the limited space wasn’t an issue. It wasn’t bad to drive as a touring car – the ride was surprisingly controlled, given the mass and the 20” wheels – and it even managed acceptable fuel economy (we averaged just under 23mpg, and saw 29mpg after one long, mostly flat, sedately-driven stretch). That said, I cannot imagine living with it. Too many years of nimble European cars, high-revving inline motors, and precise manual transmissions have spoiled me. But it was fun to mash the pedal on on-ramps and listen as it drowned out the rest of the world for a few seconds.


02Pilot SuperDork
4/1/19 8:10 p.m.

Back to the trip. We headed out of Santa Fe for Taos via Los Alamos and Abiquiu. Didn’t have a lot of time in either place, but we did get to see the Los Alamos History Museum and the Georgia O’Keefe Welcome Center respectively. The road into Los Alamos was stunning, and made it very clear just how remote a place it is even today; it’s hard to imagine getting there in the 1940s.

Walking around Abiquiu (which is tiny and dusty) to take a few photos we ran into an elderly man out for his daily walk who pointed us to Georgia O’Keefe’s house and told us about her – as a life-long resident and her neighbor, he’d known her for many years. This is not the O’Keefe house (it’s just behind this ruin).

We finally rolled into Taos and headed straight for the hotel bar for dinner and margaritas. Another neat old hotel, this one has live music every night of the year, and the lobby was once the town plaza; the old well still provides water for the hotel.



Powar UltraDork
4/2/19 8:41 a.m.

Great photos, and your opinions on the Dodge echo what I've heard from a couple of others.  Thanks for sharing!

02Pilot SuperDork
4/3/19 12:03 p.m.

Thanks for reading along.

With limited time remaining, we set out to discover the area around Taos. We took a loop that I believe is referred to locally as “the high road” - if I’m correct, this is a rather baffling moniker, as the road is rather lower in elevation than the alternative.

In any case, off we went. The route runs through the Rio Grande Gorge, then out and over it on the way back to town. The road is narrow, twisty, and mostly empty, at least in March. We cruised along the river, which is little more than a broad stream at this point, until we got to a bridge. A bridge that led to the other side of the river, and thence up the north wall of the canyon via a series of steep switchbacks. Oh, and the pavement? It ended at the bridge.

Having little choice but to backtrack, up we went. The ride was rough, but the road wasn’t awful, and it was totally dry, so there were no issues with mud. There were, of course, no guardrails – you wouldn’t want to mar the view. I resisted the temptation to powerslide around the corners. The road was being graded, so we got to maneuver around the grader on a 180deg hairpin.

It was probably a couple miles total to the top, where the pavement resumed. From there it wasn’t far to the Rio Grande Gorge bridge, which seemed to draw a lot of tourists, far more than we saw down in the much more scenic gorge earlier. We dutifully got out and walked across, taking pictures that will look just like everyone else’s, I’m sure.

On the way back we diverted briefly to see something called Mothership, an experimental and supposedly sustainable community where everything is built from repurposed trash. It reminded me of something out of The Road Warrior, which may well have been a design influence. There was, sadly, no sign of The Humungus or any boomerang-wielding children, either of which would have made the whole thing considerably more exciting.

We finally swung back into Taos for beer and burgers. Tomorrow would be the drive back up to Denver in preparation for departure back to the depressing realities of normal life.

02Pilot SuperDork
4/3/19 7:43 p.m.

And now, a classic car interlude. As one might expect, there are myriad old vehicles in (for someone from the Northeast) astonishingly unperforated condition roaming around New Mexico. A very large portion of them is made up of pickups. For the most part I didn’t try to take photos of these, as to document them comprehensively would have occupied most of my time. Instead I just grabbed a few shots of things that were interesting.

This Bus was parked in the lot of our hotel in Taos. Nice to see that someone is still using one of these for more than car shows.

Parked less than a block away was this Mini. I think it was a Clubman; it had the extended back with full glass all the way back. It didn’t move in the two days we were there.

Finally, I had to at least include one pickup. This one probably hadn’t moved in quite a while, but it was more photogenic than most.

We’ll wrap things up with the run back up to Denver.


APEowner Dork
4/3/19 8:13 p.m.

Thanks for writing this up.  I'm enjoying reading it.

One of the things I noticed when I first came to NM 10 years ago was the large number of old pickup trucks running around.  Not collector vehicles just old trucks that people are still using.

02Pilot SuperDork
4/5/19 3:02 p.m.

With our time in the West drawing to a close, we had a last breakfast in Taos, checked out of our hotel, and rolled north by east, cutting across the mountains one final time before picking up I-25 north to Denver, our overnight hotel near the airport, and in the morning, home.

Winding through forest as we climbed, things quickly became much more alpine – the architecture, the foliage, the piles of snow tucked in every shaded corner. Much of the way was clear road, but eventually we caught up with a semi (thankfully unloaded), which slowed our progress a bit.

Having descended into the high mountain valley around Angel Fire and Eagle Nest, I spied an unusual construction atop a bluff near the road. A sign indicated a Vietnam War memorial – curious, I turned in. What we found was quite a spectacular monument, combining a chapel, visitor’s center, sculptures, and walkways, all with a spectacular view over the valley.

There was also this immaculately restored gate guard.

Once back on the road, we turned into Cimmaron Canyon State Park, which was a very nice drive along the narrow, heavily forested floor of the canyon. Unexpectedly, the latter part presented a starkly different landscape, as the area had clearly burned very recently, with huge areas of nothing but denuded, dusty land and blackened trees. It was hard to imagine fire on such a scale, but the evidence was clear.

Soon we were out and into the plains, hammering north on I-25. It was a pleasant enough drive, but ever so slightly anticlimactic after the scenery of the past week.

Occasionally something broke up the flatness: wind turbines, freight trains, decaying ranch buildings, and this peculiar knob. There was an associated historical marker, which we did not stop to read.

We finally stopped for lunch in the small town of Walsenburg before continuing our journey. Google showed an accident near Colorado Springs, so we diverted off onto a parallel route. Soon after we did, it started to rain. It was 41F. As we headed north, the precipitation continued, and the temperature dropped. By the time we rolled into the hotel it was snowing a 31F. We checked in, threw the bags in the room, and my girlfriend stayed to order dinner while I took the car back to the airport and caught the shuttle bus back to the hotel.

This was our view the next morning. Within hours we would be on our way back, reluctantly, to the real world. We both really enjoyed New Mexico, and have already agreed that we will be returning. Thanks for reading along.

APEowner Dork
4/5/19 4:41 p.m.

Thank you for the writeup.  I enjoyed reading about your visit to my adopted state.

02Pilot SuperDork
4/5/19 9:52 p.m.

In reply to APEowner :

Glad you liked it, and thanks for your suggestions back when I posted the research thread - they were very helpful.

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