THE “NEW” LONELIEST ROAD IN AMERICA

BLOG #32, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE “NEW” LONELIEST ROAD IN AMERICA
August 12, 2015

It was clear back on June 26, 2013, at the tail end of our second National Park Series, that I annointed Highway 50’s seemingly almost empty stretches of mostly straight highway, stretching from Fallon, Nevada to Holden, Utah as America’s loneliest highway. I never thought I’d ever find one to rival it—much less upstage it. But I have. And we were blindsided by its existence. Not the road itself, but its loneliness.

So fast-paced is this life that we live that we rarely take long road trips any more: it’s much easier and faster to fly. But every once in a while we get nostalgic for auto-travel (not interstates but rural roads).

Early in July, we decided to put together a 2200-mile tangent, beginning in Conifer, Colorado, then angling south on I-25 to Raton, NM; angling SE to Amarillo, Texas; then south on I-27 to Lubbock; then angling SE on all kinds of country roads to Austin; then SW on I-35 to San Antonio. We hadn’t ever driven on the back roads between Lubbock and Austin; indeed, we hadn’t driven south of Fort Worth in over thirty years.

My what changes we noticed! First of all, instead of everything being July-brown it was the greenest green we’d ever seen in Texas in July. Reason being the nonstop rainstorms that just wouldn’t quit. And even Texas backroads were generally in fine condition with 75 mph speed-limits being the norm. And what a difference population-wise! I’d heard, of course, about the continually increasing population in Texas, but it was jolting to see how tiny hamlets were now towns, towns were now cities, and cities—well, just take Austin for example. Austin is a city that is growing so fast city-planners have all but lost control. It was one vast traffic jam while we were there—even on I-35. Locals we spoke with confirmed that sometimes it takes them up to four hours just to get from one end to the other! The other big change we noticed was that on ridge after ridge after ridge, as far as the eye could see, virtual forests of white wind-turbines. Connie and I agreed that these days—at least in West Texas—wind-millionaires must be rivaling oil-millionaires.

But then, after seeing how it was almost all city now between Austin and San Antonio, it was time to head home. Not having any desire to re-experience I-35 traffic again, we decided to explore a route we’d never tried before. Perhaps it would be a bit more serene. Little did we know!

Our chosen route was Highway 90 west through Hondo and Uvalde to the border-town of Del Rio. This is wide-open country with relatively few habitations. Only Del Rio of any size at all, no small thanks to being home to Laughlin Air Force Base and the vast Amistad Reservoir. Though I’d heard about Amistad it was something else to actually experience it! It took us well over an hour NW of it to get past it. About the only vehicles we’d see would be Border Patrol vehicles. Another epiphany was that the Rio Grande River is part of the Amistad Reservoir. Yet another was the discovery that the Rio Grande is America’s fifth-longest river (1885 miles long). It is born in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, meanders south through Colorado and New Mexico, then forms the entire 1240-mile border between Texas and Mexico. What a road-trip following the Rio Grande from its source to the Gulf of Mexico would be. Ah! As Lucy Earp would say: “A blessing for another time!” Believe me, I now realize what a daunting challenge it is for Texas governors to police 1240 miles of the river border with Mexico!

Though it was already a lonely road en route to Del Rio, it really became lonely once we left Del Rio. We stayed on Hwy. 90 until we reached Sanderson, then turned NW on the southern terminus of 285 [Denver is its northern terminus]. Then it was on through small towns such as Fort Stockton and Pecos in Texas; and Carlsbad and Roswell en route to Santa Fe, and it is otherwise almost entirely devoid of human habitations. Not until we reached the outskirts of Santa Fe did we get back into much cell-phone coverage.

It so happened that we had to drive through a very large storm front, driven by fierce winds and characterized by one huge purplish-black thunderhead after another. I don’t believe I’ve ever, in my entire life, experienced such dramatic constantly changing sky paintings. It was often difficult to stay on the road, thanks to extremely strong side-winds and torrential rain. But it was grand to experience!

North of Santa Fe, it was a little lonely, but not nearly as much as between San Antonio and Santa Fe.

So, if you ever want to get away from it all in the lower 48 states, I wholeheartedly recommend you take 90/285 from San Antonio to Santa Fe!

Try it!

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33rd ZANE GREY ROUNDUP – Part One

BLOG #29, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
33RD ZANE GREY ROUNDUP
Part One
July 22, 2015

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For the eighth time in 33 years, faithful Zanies headed to Arizona. Our second convention had been held in Payson, in 1984; in 1986, we met in Flagstaff; in 1988, Page; we returned to Payson in 1995; it was Prescott, in 2008; we returned to Payson for the third time in 2007; two years later, we met at Mormon Lake; and now, in 2015, faithful Zanies returned to Mormon Lake for the second time.

Prior to the convention, Connie and I and Lucy and Bob Earp joined a large group of others for a visit to Kohl’s Ranch at Christopher Creek. Sunday afternoon, we caravanned up the slope of the Mogollon Rim to the site where Grey’s cabin once stood before the Dude Fire of 1990 erased it from the map. For me, it was so poignant to revisit a spot I have loved for so long. I first came here in the early 1970s, and returned again and again. Once I spent most of a week here; like Zane Grey himself, at night I’d spread out my bedding and sleep out under the stars, listening to the soughing of the pines. In those days, pilgrims came here from all over the world. I’d see them sitting on the veranda, a far-off look in their eyes as they gazed at range after range of mountains. And how could I forget college coeds, leaning against trees, lost in reading Grey’s timeless Mogollon Rim romances, Under the Tonto Rim and Code of the West. And there in the Cabin, holding court, the inimitable curator, Margaret Sell, to whom the place represented life itself.

Then it was back down the vast mesa to Kohl’s Ranch, loading up the Honda Pilot, and heading up on the mesa to Mormon Lake, there to be greeted by the gathering clan. Of all the places where we’ve met over the years, the Mormon Lake ranch is the most rustic, only the West Texas convention facilities at Fort Davis coming close. But it was its very rusticness [is there such a word?] that so many of us enjoyed so much.

A phenomenon that never ceases to amaze me is the sight of the returning faithful—many (usually a third to half the attendees) arrive days early, so eager are they to get together again. And so it proved to be once more.

In the evening, it was time for our opening banquet in the ranch’s so-called “Steakhouse.” Not formal like most banquets, but western attire the norm. In no time at all, the decibel level, caused by old friends finding each other and catching up on each other’s lives, got louder and louder—not to recede until Friday morning.

The highlight of the evening was the introduction of new attendees (seventeen, to be exact). Each was made to feel welcome—more than welcome: made to feel “at home.”

The food, provided by Scott Gold’s FOREVER Resorts team, was splendid.

Then it was time to head for the cabins and RVs. Tomorrow would be the biggest day of the convention.

TUESDAY

Not until Tuesday morning is over do I ever get to relax at our conventions. Reason being that I put more work and thought into the annual Keynote Address than I do any other speaking engagement. And, naturally, I don’t dare ever resort to anything that is stale or a re-run. Beginning in June of 1983, until now, in a very real way, I have measured my life by Keynotes. Now, here I was with my 33rd consecutive Keynote Address. I titled it, “Light of Western Stars — Why It Stands the Test of Time.” I chose this book for my Keynote because 2014 was the 100th anniversary of this, one of Grey’s greatest books. Also, it has always been one of my personal favorite reads. Those of you belonging to the Zane Grey’s West Society will be getting the full text of the Keynote in your next issue of our magazine, The Zane Grey Review.

I was followed by three fascinating presentations: Harvey Leake’s “From Kayente to Rainbow Bridge: The Rugged Route that Inspired Zane Grey’s Geography of The Rainbow Trail.” Leake is a direct descendant of John and Louisa Wetherill, famed Traders to the Navajos in Monument Valley and who had much to do with the discovery of Mesa Verde and Rainbow Bridge. We always look forward to his behind-the-scenes personalized history of the region.

Next came Dr. James D’Arc’s “BYU Happenings.” D’Arc is head curator of Brigham Young University’s film archives and has had a big role to play in the acquisition of major Zane Grey collections (including my own) and films in recent years. BYU is now the largest repository of Zane Grey archival holdings in the world. Reason being that Zane Grey’s books did more to bring fame to the American Southwest (especially Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico) than any other writer who ever lived.

D’Arc was followed by Dr. Alan Pratt’s “Appalling Beauty, Dangerous Crossing: Zane Grey at Lee’s Ferry.” Pratt, like Mr. Leake, has become a regular in terms of his visual explorations of Zane Grey book and travel settings. Pratt pointed out that back before the Colorado was dammed, during spring flood periods, the silt-laden river ran so fast that if you fell in while trying to cross it, inevitably you’d be swept away to your death.

Mr. Ryan Taylor then told our audience about a new Arizona opera: “Riders of the Purple Sage.”

* * *

I will complete the story of the 33rd convention in next week’s blog. If you haven’t yet joined the Zane Grey’s West Society, I urge you to do so! You will learn so much about—not just Zane Grey (the Father of the Romantic West)—but also this incredibly fascinating West tourists come from all around the world to see.

Our dues are only $35 a year (which includes four issues of our magazine, a veritable treasure of Western Americana). Just drop a line to our Secretary-Treasurer, Sheryle Hodapp, at 15 Deer Oaks Drive, Pleasanton, CA 94588
Phone: 925-699-0698
Email: Sheryle@ZGWS.org

and tell her I invited you to join our extended family. Also you can check out our Society’s website at: http://www.zgws.org.