I'm not sure when it happened but I got old, I used to jump at the chance to fly out to Vegas and hit the bars with friends. Maybe it's because SHOT Show is actual work for me but Sin City just doesn't get me excited anymore, the decision to make it a road trip is what makes me smile. Yes, 4,806 miles in a week is a lot of driving, there is no denying that, but there's also no denying the beauty of this amazing country. You can't click a button and have the experience delivered to your front door, you have to put forth the energy to see all that this country has to offer. I love having the opportunity to see the sunrise over Missouri and then fell asleep somewhere in Texas knowing each minute is a new adventure that I'll remember forever. So, let's get to the trip.
With the store dealing with some lingering construction/renovations it was a difficult decision to make this drive and I left later than I wanted to because of it. I ended up hitting the road late on a Saturday afternoon, my predetermined timeline was absolutely shot and it didn't really bother me. I have some holdover ability to stay awake well over 24 hours from my days in law enforcement, it definitely helped to get myself back on track timewise. I made Amarillo early the next morning and decided to relax a little. Texas is always fun for me, I have to admit I do enjoy south Texas the most but Amarillo is so unique I always stop when I can. In one little stretch of of I-40 you can hit Whataburger, Walmart, Cavenders Boot City, and even check out some new RVs without going more than a minute or two off the highway. If you're coming from Oklahoma and just passing through to New Mexico, you are going to see a lot of...well....nothing. Open, flat prairie is beautiful in its own way but there isn't much else for a very long time until you hit Amarillo and then poof, there's nothing again for a long time. If you are a "point A to point B" type of person you will miss a lot of interesting things along the way. Those of us that actively practice tourist nerdism know there's a little hidden gem out in that open prairie just west of Amarillo, the Cadillac Ranch.
Now, most people interested in road trips probably have heard about it and actually seen pictures somewhere on social media but it is worthy of a stop to see in person. You have to know where to exit I-40 or you'll definitely drive right by, you also have to understand Texas frontage roads and make sure you are follow the lane markings because they go from one-way to two-way traffic with little notice. It is truly in the middle of an open field with a couple vendors to sell you paint cans and some cool trinkets if you want to partake in the tradition. Go ahead and get an up close look at the cars, they have thousands of layers of paint from the years as an attraction, they actually change over time.
Once you've restocked snacks, saw the ranch, and are now sporting a Whataburger stain prominently on your shirt (can't just be me), that open road to west seems like it goes on forever. There's a lot to see in northern New Mexico, there's even a Las Vegas, NM but it's not the one I need to be in within a couple of days so I pushed on to one of my must stop locations. I finally made it to Flagstaff in the dark and I was within an hour or so of where I wanted to be, I wanted to wake up in Grand Canyon Village and explore a little before continuing on. It doesn't feel like it but you gain a lot of elevation getting to Flagstaff and it turns out they get snow...A LOT OF SNOW! I've made this journey a few times before but I never knew it snowed that much in the southwest desert. The roads north to the canyon were closed, scratch that off the list. I was irritated and then remembered that's why I chose the freedom of the road trip over flying, I simply changed my return trip to include some things that have been on my travel bucket list for a long time. I think the saying is make lemonade or something like that. I knew I couldn't add more before the show but I was not hindered by much on the way back. More on that after I hit SHOT Show.
One of my favorite parts of doing this trip is getting within a couple hours of Vegas where the landscape changes from scrub brush to seeing the mountains across the horizon. This particular time it was a unique experience for sure, it was raining where it never rains in that dry desert area east of the Colorado River. I was basically batting .500 at this point, yes on Amarillo but no on the Grand Canyon so I added a quick stop before Vegas.
I absolutely always stop at the Hoover Dam and walk around to see how the water levels changed over the years, this time I decided to change it up and go to the source. I saw so many videos about how Lake Mead was dropping, I had to see it for myself. I was amazed at what I saw and a little disheartened about my age, seeing the sign of where the water level was in 2000 when I was a rookie police officer made me come to the realization that I had indeed become an old fart. It was also unreal to drive down to the water's edge knowing that it used to be under 50+ feet of water not all that long ago. That entire area was beautiful and I made a commitment to myself that I would stay at one of the campgrounds in the future.
Knowing I was a short distance from the strip I took my time and even met some nice people from Kansas. Between Lake Mead and Las Vegas is Boulder City with it's rich history and shops, get out and walk around for the true experience. That was a great morning and I was now in the Vegas traffic hell that I dreaded for the last 30ish hours of driving, it's always a false sense of hope because you can literally see the strip for so long before actually getting close. Eventually I ended up on the strip itself, I know my way around and could avoid it but come on, it the Vegas strip so I endured more traffic just to see it again. On this particular trip I had meetings and also knew about some upcoming changes in my life, I had no intention of partying even though I should have indulged a little more. I'm obviously writing this a couple months after the fact and the diet I started as I left Vegas is still going strong, I left alcohol and carbs behind as the glow of Sin City faded in the rearview mirror. Now I wish I would've had one more over the top dinner.
I accomplished what I had to and this trip back was sort of celebratory to me, I wanted to see some of the things I knew I would never get to as a standalone trip. I was racing the sunset once more, damn you daylight savings time, I'm a few miles outside Tucson and the light is fading fast. I knew this one was a one time only side trip and I was going even in the dark, I have always wanted to see the airplane boneyard where all of the retired military aircraft go to sit incase we ever need them again.
At that point the side trip was just that and I had no other plans to go to that part of the country again for a long time, if ever. Then I saw the Pima Air & Space Museum (closed because of the time) and I knew I would have to go back and see it again when I could explore every inch. I pulled off the road and took a picture as the evening won the battle. In my excitement and rush to see everything before dark, I put myself into yet another timeline paradox. I was only about an hour from my main stop on the entire trip back to Ohio and it was so late I wasn't sure what to do. I was exhausted from driving but also so excited about being in an entirely new place that I just drove on to Tombstone.
Heading east on I-10 there is truly only one route to head south towards Tombstone once you hit the city of Benson. I should have just stopped and found a place to sleep for the night but I foolishly turned south onto 80 and kept going the 30 minutes until I hit the legendary town of Tombstone. Guess how much there is to do and see in a major tourist stop in the middle of the night outside of tourist season, yes, that answer is absolutely nothing. I turned around and headed back up towards Benson for a few hours of sleep. It was more of a nap because I couldn't wait to see the O.K. Corral, the very place Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday had one of the most famous gunfights in old west lore.
Of course it was early and I had to wait for the attraction to open, I strolled down the dirt of Allen St where all the action took place in town and imagined what it must have been like. There's plenty to see around town, you can even watch a reenactment of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral then hit all of the shops within easy walking distance. The Birdcage Theater is a great stop too, the place where Curly Bill killed Marshall Fred White is right out front. I had a great morning wandering around Tombstone, every few feet was another history lesson, I highly recommend making the stop. Spend the money for the tours and patronize the shops, that's how they keep going and how we preserve another historical place for future generations.
That was technically all of my "must sees" on this trip but I wasn't going to be this far south and not hit a few more stops on the way back north towards Ohio. I found myself back on I-10 east with no real timeline set, I figured I'd just let the day play out and see how far I could get before planning the last few stops. Once I get the destination set in my mind I will usually decide against some of the quick stops like scenic overlooks, I am still trying to overcome that flaw. I checked the route again and determined I could make Roswell, NM and reassess again. It was a great decision because it took me through the White Sands area where the first atomic bombs were tested and countless other military munitions have been developed. The pure white sands are extremely out of place considering the surrounding landscapes, another leg of the trip that was supposed to be a "one and done" but its now added to the "must see again" list.
Once you cross the valley and make it to Alamogordo, civilization appears again out of nowhere and I saw something I never knew I needed to see as I headed north towards Tularosa, a giant pistachio at McGinn's Pistachioland. The second part of this leg that I wasn't expecting at all was the drive through the mountains heading east on 70. All I can say is wow, what a gorgeous part of the country. This is the area of the Lincoln County War that made Henry McCarty famous, those of us that grew up watching Young Guns know the story. There's more about that in a minute, but first, lets see where the aliens crashed in 1947.
Roswell is well known for the crash even though the actual site was a fair distance away, I had my eyes on the final prize of the day as I did the tourist pass through of the city. It was cool and worthy of another stop next time I'm in that part of the country but the usual foe was creeping up, sunset. Heading north on 285 out of Roswell I eventually had to make a decision to play it safe and take another day to finish this leg or just go for it to have a chance for more exploring the next day. I turned east on 20, also known as Ft Sumner Rd, this was the direct route to the day's final destination, Fort Sumner.
The road was wavy and had an odd speed limit of 40mph even though there was NOTHING on either side except open plains, the road barely even curved left or right.
I could see miles ahead of me and it was obvious the sun wasn't going to cooperate with my final mission, the burial site of Henry McCarty. If you are wondering who Henry McCarty is, his aliases include William H Bonney or the well known Billy the Kid. Of course it was almost completely dark by the time I walked into the cemetery and of course I wasn't about to wimp out even though I thought about it a few thousand times. I didn't want to be disrespectful, it was sunset which was still early in January and I had to see what I came for. I used my phone flashlight to find my way to the cage that surrounds the presumed place Billy the Kid was interned.
I know it sounds weird but the week of travel to that point checked off some bucket list items, I grew up watching the movies Tombstone and Young Guns, I know hollywood does their thing to make things more spectacular but these were the real places the actual events took place and seeing them was something I dreamed about as kid. I headed north towards Santa Rosa feeling great, the business end of things went well and I just visited the places I spent countless hours daydreaming about as I was growing up. I figured I could stay off crazy backroads and head back to Ohio, but that little freedom bird started chirping in my ear again. I mean, I was already heading in a northeasterly direction, I had to cross into Kansas at some point so why not add Dodge City, KS as quick final stop before being stuck in the store for an unknown amount time between trips. The city of Tucumcari was a literal fork in the road for me, I could have continued east on I-40 and go back the route I followed on the way out or take a turn onto 54 which was the most direct route to Kansas. The cool part about that leg was how it took me from New Mexico through Texas and Oklahoma before hitting the Kansas line. After some more uneasy backroad night driving I eventually made it up to Dodge City in the early morning, it was snowing pretty good and I couldn't wait around for the Boot Hill Museum to open so I did a little exploring as best I could then got back on the road. I guess I could say it was a little disappointing way to end the attractions part of the trip but I could never complain about all the great things I saw, and more importantly, all the really cool people I met along the way.
In the end, the journey was definitely more important than the destination. If you get on social media or watch the news, you can start to feel negatively about things. The cure for that is a road trip across this amazing country, see the places and meet the people that truly make America what it is. I can't wait for the next trip.