The new day brought with it a small excitement. From here on, not only would this be new territory for the bike, it’d be new territory for myself as well. During my planning I had put a majority of my focus on the southwest, wanting to see places I had never seen before despite several cross-country moves in my life. I began to think of this as being Part 2 of my trip.
Many areas in the Oklahoma panhandle are open ranges, and after only a handful of minutes from leaving my campsite I slowed to stop. A small herd of cattle was standing on the road, blocking my way. Had I been on a Harley I’d have shut my bike off, fearful of startling them with the noise of the exhaust, but the Triumph was relatively silent. I paused for a moment, watching the cows and wondering what they would do, how skittish they would be, how protective of their young they might be. One or two looked at me, but most stayed concerned with whatever it is that keeps a cow’s interest. I decided to inch my way forward. A short time later I was pass, the cows choosing simply to get out of my way.
Before I left on my journey I had heard stories of U.S. Route 50 as being “The Loneliest Road in America”, but over the first few hours of the day I had passed fewer cars than I could count on one hand and I began to wonder if the road in New Mexico could make a bid for that claim. As I rode across mile after mile of seemingly abandoned roadway, the wind blew hard. Nearly every western film I’ve watched has a scene where a tumbleweed rolls by, and a part of me had always thought it was something Hollywood had staged. I was wrong. Every few minutes it seemed as though another one would bounce its way across the road. I found myself wondering where they came from, how they formed, and if they would just kept tumbling along until they get stuck in a fence or a wagon wheel.
More miles passed, and with them a sign: “Unpaved road, next 17 miles.” I wondered if this was the road if I had been told about the day before, confident in that if a RoadGlide could do it, so could my Scrambler. The road twisted and meandered its way through the mesas, and I could imagine John Wayne riding a horse on the same trail I found myself on.
Enthralled in the landscape around me, I traveled onwards climbing and descending over the terrain, reaching over 9,000 feet on one plateau, eclipsing my previous record of 5300 feet. The bike didn’t notice. I passed mountain goats, deer, and a trio of people on horseback driving a herd of cattle down the road. Again, I slowed not wanting to spook the animals and force more work on their handlers, and one of the trio waved as I passed. I was surprised to see it was a woman, and even more shocked to see she was roughly my age. I was pleased that there were still young people doing jobs like that. Outside of another small town barely large enough to have a post office, I was stopped by a train. A long chain of cars snaked its way around the horizon and I stopped to take a couple of pictures, a childhood fascination resurfacing.
I soon found myself on U.S. 64 for the third time in the trip, having traveled portions in Oklahoma and Tennessee. Unlike in those states, this piece of black top led me through a canyon, closely following the Cimarron River as it twisted its way west into Eagle Nest Lake. It was a taste of what I felt Colorado would be like: tall coniferous trees, twisty mountain-lined roads, and flowing rivers.
Eventually, I climbed up to the top of another mesa and found myself in Los Alamos. It was still early in the day, so I toured around the town after checking into the hotel and removing the gear from the bike. From the courage of those who fought and died, to the technologies used (and still used today, in a slightly evolved form,) and even how those few years shaped the world into what it is now, World War II has always been an interesting subject for me. The chance to see and learn about the Manhattan Project, the development of the atomic bomb that would later be used against Japan, end the war, and save the lives of millions of soldiers on both sides of the conflict, was just too strong of a pull to resist. Unfortunately, the tours and museums had closed a half hour before I showed up. Defeated, I went back to the hotel, knowing I could still see everything in the morning.