Sunday, June 5, 2016

Carlsbad, NM to Flagstaff, AZ

The Journey

Two days from Carlsbad, NM to Flagstaff, AZ. 
This is the minimum amount of time to allow if you only want to scratch the surface.

The Route 
Carlsbad, NM > Hwy 285 to Roswell, NM Hwy 380 State Road 1 to Socorro, NM > Hwy 60 to Eager, AZ Hwy 180 to Flagstaff, AZ

*Yes, I know this last map image shows some interstate travel.  Hwy 180 merges and runs contiguously with I-40 from Holbrook, AZ west through most of the rest of the state.  More on this below.

The relatively short trip from Carlsbad to Roswell, NM will be rewarded with several photo ops of the town famous for the 1947 UFO incident that has launched a thousand conspiracy theories.  I cannot promise that you will have a close encounter of the 3rd kind, and certainly not the 4th or 5th, but maybe the 1st or 2nd.  

Roswell probed its way into American lore in the summer of 1947 when an unidentified flying object, observed to be shaped like a flying saucer, crashed near town.  A local farmer was working in his crop field soon after when he came upon unusual aircraft wreckage.  When he reported it to local authorities, he soon had FBI agents at his property collecting all the wreckage and providing no satisfactory explanation.  Flying saucers, government conspiracies; it all began with Roswell...

As we arrived in Roswell, we spotted a saucer shaped cloud (or was it?) in the distance.

The town displays its unique place in the American conscience in various ways.  Most prominently, it is home to the International UFO Museum & Research Center.  We did not tour the museum, but found the various newspaper articles displayed in the windows, reporting unexplained disappearances and supposed abductions from around the world, interesting reading.

But the highlight and hidden gem of Roswell is Big D's Downtown Dive.  Thus far, this is the best restaurant we have stumbled upon on our travels.  

Right up the street from the UFO museum, Big D's is in the heart of Roswell's sleepy downtown.  You can sit at the bar along the wall-sized window facing out to main street, or at one of the few tables in the small dining room.  We felt like we had found the perfect travel stop, with the license plate lined walls and the map-covered tables.  

But the star of Big D's is the food.  My wife had "one of the best burgers I've ever had" (she's a red-meativore, and eats a lot of burgers) and I had a great steak sandwich with green chile (popular ingredient in and on all sorts of dishes throughout New Mexico).

After lifting off from Roswell, you travel West on Hwy 380 along mountainous roads and past several otherworldly places, including Valley of Fires and the White Sands Missile Range.  The Missile Range is home to the Trinity Site, which holds the distinction as ground zero of the world's first detonated atomic bomb. 

The sun went down, and we stopped for the night in Socorro, NM.
*One interesting feature of roads in New Mexico is the occasional dip that drops your car a few feet then bounces it back up.  Fun, but hard to spot in the dark. 

Just west of Socorro, in an otherwise empty meadowland plain in a valley guarded by mountains, sits the Very Large Array.  

This collection of 27 giant radio antennae, spread as wide as 22 miles across, "looks" deep into space outside our solar system, and even outside our galaxy.

 *All pointed toward something many light years away

*Here you can see the railroad tracks the antennae sit on.  They are moved along these tracks into different configurations to adjust their resolution (spread out further equals higher resolution looking deeper into space).

After a self-guided walking tour of the Very Large Array, we traveled back into the mountains past the Continental Divide to Pie Town, NM.  Pie Town is a one-horse town, but with several pie shops.  We stopped into the Homestead Cafe and had some great baked potato soup, and slices of pecan and strawberry rhubarb pie.  

We shared the small dining room with Bill, a local cowboy, who told us a bit about the surrounding area and recommended we stop by Western Drug & General Store when we reached the Arizona border.  

After another hour or so of travel, we crossed into Arizona.
*Western Drug in Springerville, AZ is a cowboy's Wal-Mart on steroids.  In addition to everything else under the sun, it has the largest, most lethal collection of guns and knives I have ever seen under one roof.

Hwy 180 west from Eager, AZ unfortunately merges with Interstate 40 as they run together to Flagstaff, AZ.  But the attractions along this stretch of road are not to be missed, beginning with Petrified Forest National Park.  The petrified wood in this park is spread among a red-tinted landscape of painted hills.

West of the Petrified Forest, Hwy 180 (I-40) also merges with Historic Route 66.  
*Route 66, "The Mother Road," has been an iconic thread in the fabric of Americana since before the Great Depression; never more poetically than in John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath. We will weave on and off of Route 66 from here to the Pacific Ocean, and will (much) later pick it up in Chicago, IL and follow it faithfully to Oklahoma City, OK.

Following Route 66 on a short diversion from Hwy 180 & I40, we found ourselves "standing on a corner in Winslow, AZ."  If this quoted phrase doesn't sound familiar, then take a listen to the Eagles song Take It Easy (written by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey, famous also for songs like Doctor My Eyes and Hotel California).  
*The flowers and candles at the statue (which is actually of Jackson Browne) are in honor of Glenn Frey, who passed away in January of this year.

Continuing west, you come to an indisputably real site of an alien landing on earth (no offense to Roswell).  Meteor Crater is a 550 feet deep hole in the earth; a colossal dimple in the flat red landscape of Arizona.  Over 2 miles in circumference, it was formed by a meteorite about 150 feet wide that survived Earth's atmosphere and made contact with the ground at a speed of about 8 miles per second.  This impact occurred before any human being had set foot in North America (luckily for human beings).

Just west of Meteor Crater you will arrive in Flagstaff, AZ.  From here, you are within an hour's driver of several of the most beautiful places in America.

Stay tuned as we travel from our base-camp of Flagstaff to Sunset Crater Volcano, Hopi Indian lands, The Grand Canyon, & Sedona, AZ.
*Lava Rock in Sunset Crater 

*Hopi Indian Lands 

 *The Grand Canyon

*Sedona, AZ, self-titled "most beautiful place in America."  Hard to argue with that.


  1. Roswell "probed" its way into American lore .... :)

  2. Now I regret not eating at Big D's :( nice entry!