Billy the Kid isn’t going anywhere. So I can see his grave another time. I almost made a side trip to Fort Sumner to see his last resting place but it would have added close to two hours to my day and I was anxious to get as far as Oklahoma City.
If I do any “organized” sightseeing on this trip, it’ll be in the next day or so – Memphis and/or the Shiloh Civil War battlefield. I’m interested in both.
But not terribly optimistic. Places that get a lot of visitors often are reduced to little more than a serious of sales opportunities, which is what many visitors want. I did a travel story once that involved an 8-day bus tour (I think I was being punished for something) of New Mexico. We saw great wonders but most of the people on the bus looked first for a gift-shop. Why look at a place when you can buy something emblazoned with its name?
So Mark Richardson and I have had very different trips – apart from the number of wheels that are carrying us. He’s been taking back roads and making detours to look at things. I’m sticking to the highways and have found them to be both quite rewarding and quite surprising in what they’ve shown me.
The late CBS journalist Charles Kuralt was absolutely wrong when he said: “Thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything.”
Today, for instance, crossing New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle into Oklahoma, I’ve seen:
* A sign for the Continental Divide, separating the Pacific and Atlantic watersheds. I don’t suppose the Divide itself offered much to look at, other than a T-shirt store.
* A casino that offered “chops and eggs” for $5.95; hourly day-care for gamblers’ children; cash incentives to get truck drivers to visit; and “the loosest slots in New Mexico.” That’s almost on a par with the places in Las Vegas that give you a free breakfast if you cash your welfare cheque there.
* A shocking (in more ways than one) pink Camaro. Bad choice, feller.
* A motor-home towing, not a car or an SUV (very common) but the wreckage of a car. Someone will have a tale to tell when he or she gets home.
* A restaurant offering fried rattlesnake (I’ve had fried snake; it’s much better than it sounds, if somewhat bony). Or you can have a 72-ounce (4-kilogram) steak – free. All you have to do is eat it at one sitting without help.
* Elk City, Oklahoma, which proudly proclaims itself the birthplace of Susan Powell, Miss America 1981. Nothing much seems to have happened there since. But, by coincidence, I covered the 1981 Miss America pageant and I’ve met her! I don’t suppose she remembers so I didn't stop to look her up.
* A junkyard with a lineup of ’30s through ’60s cars, some of which looked salvageable.
* Outside Weatherford, Oklahoma (home of Thomas Stafford, one of only 24 astronauts to have been to the moon), a semi-trailer on the shoulder with a pair of wheels denuded of rubber. It’s not uncommon to see retread tires that have come apart on the highway lying there like dead snakes. But I’ve never been a couple of hundred metres behind a truck that had two tires disintegrate and had to swerve around the still-smouldering gobbets of rubber. A new experience. Not to be repeated, I hope.
* A transport truck with a proselytizing message on the back.
Okay, so none of this is the Grand Canyon (been there, done that last year so I ignored the signs for that today, too) or even Billy the Kid’s grave. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I had a fine time. I liked the junkyard enough to leave the highway and double back for a closer look.
On a more mundane note, I kept the air conditioner off as much as possible. What a difference that makes to the gas mileage. About 6.8 litres per 100 kilometres today. I’ve also just found a web site – www.convert-me.com/en/convert/fuel – that puts miles per gallon into litres per 100-k, and vice-versa. Very cool.