a Rabbit Windshield Darkly
Part 1: Los Angeles to Pecos, Texas
Inglewood, California : five minutes to three in the afternoon, Friday the seventeenth of July, 1987. I have spent the last two weeks preparing for my vacation. The last twenty-four hours have been very busy, arranging the last minute things that need to be done: pay the bills, make sure the newspaper is cut off, get rid of all the food that will spoil, etc.
The eastbound traffic is not so good. It's afternoon drivetime, I live on the west side of town, and everyone is going east. Or so it seems. The 91 Freeway is not yet a parking lot, though. I mosey on through Santa Ana Canyon, clearing Corona by five pm. The traffic is smoothing out; the tempers are cooling: I've made it out of town before the worst of it. By Riverside, the freeway is moving a cool 55, and my blood pressure is down to normal; I can put the gun away, too. Didn't you know? We all drive with 'em down here - it's better to be safe than sorry.
It's after six-thirty when I make Indio; the air is not more than 65 degrees and I'm wondering if summer is just a cruel hoax. Here I am in one of the traditional hot spots of the nation, and it's not even room temperature.
Just out of Indio the freeway climbs up out of the Coachella Valley, up the steep and deeply scored fan of alluvium that comes down out of the Little San Berdoos and the Hayward Mountains. It is steep because of the active downfaulting of the Coachella Valley, the north end of the Salton Block; the infrequent but powerful storms work hard to try to fill the valley with alluvium. The freeway heads up along one of the washes, cuts a ridge, then up another; it continues its hop-skip-and-jump up the fan. This badlands is quite spectacular in the waning sun; I imagine what it would be like trying to go east with no freeway, no bridges over steepsided gulleys, no unnatural smooth, paved, gently curving and winding modified limestone conglomerate and asphaltum slab upon which for the little wheels of my truck to so effortlessly roll.
The stretch of desert between Indio and the California border is abysmal at midday, even for a desert rat like myself. The natural colors of the rocks here are pale and grayish, and at midday the intense light bleaches what little color there is left and makes the whole thing a stark, grey moonscape. At sunset or sunrise (I've been here at both times) the rock takes on a richer, more variegated and warmer hue and is infinitely more interesting. The shadows that the low-angle sun induces bring out the texture of the land, and the ocotillo that blooms after a day of rain adds the intensity of bright red and green.
Civilization has its price: it takes a lot of the adventure out of ordinary life; you have to try harder to get back to the before time. Would I go back if I could? I think not: too many creature comforts that I would miss. I like technology and my world. I just wish that sometimes my world would restrain itself in its effervescent need to modify nature. We have so few places that have not yet been hit by the hand of civilization. Can't we keep it that way?
In 1941 General George Patton set up his Desert Training Camp for the Allied Forces out here, halfway between Indio and the River. For nearly a year soldiers were learning how to survive in the desert; they were preparing for a much tougher desert, the Sahara of North Africa. Even today there are the remains of their presence - campsites, a few structures, bits and pieces of history. Probably some unexploded bombs and other dangerous ordinance too...
Blythe: I motor into town just after eight-thirty. Stop at the Steaks & Cakes restaurant (recommended to me by a friend of mine from LA). Could have stopped at a fast food emporium, but it's nice to try the local color. I walk into the restaurant just before they close.
The waitress tells me that the salad bar was closing up - but if I wanted something besides that, it would be ok. First requirement: a big iced tea. It is served in a nice big (quart-sized) plastic tumbler, the kind I'd use at home to drink iced tea.
The weather finally has warmed up a bit. It's about 75 out; about an hour ago it was near 80. More like summer; though still unseasonably cool.
I think I'll drive all the way to Phoenix tonight. It's about 150 miles to go, and then another 50-90 miles I guess to get to somewhere I can pull off and sleep. We'll see how it goes after I eat.
The drive so far has been uneventful save a CHP car shooting past me at 90+ about 12 miles out of Blythe. Probably late for seven with his buddies at the Burger King.
As for the food: I've had better; worse also. I order a grilled roast beef sandwich on sourdough with cheese, fries (of course) and a bowl of chili on the side. The chili comes to the table nicely dressed with sliced onion and cheese floating in the layer of reddish grease on top. So I stir in a bunch of crushed saltines to absorb the grease and after a liberal amount of pepper, I dig in. But it's a good size bowl for two bucks. The sandwich isn't much to write home about, so I won't - the beef tastes and feels like it was kept in a stockpot until needed. Probably was. Well, I'm done. Time to hit the road again. Check, please.
The border rolls past at about 9:30pm. The mighty Colorado River has been whipped and embarrassed into a hundred-yard-wide muddy channel; all of its enthusiasm has been drained off by Los Angeles and now Phoenix. The river no longer can flood; farmers can utilize the land that would have in the past been unusable; they just use a lot of fertilizer. LA and Phoenix get a lot of really precious water to wash their cars and water their lawns. The Mexicans, further downstream, get almost nothing. Except of course what the river towns dump into the slow-moving, silty water.
Eight miles east of Quartzite there is a hill, part of the Plomosa Mountains, just to the south of the road. Not a memorable hill, only eight or nine hundred feet above the road, but visible along the Interstate for 15 miles to the west and 60 miles to the east. The top of the hill has a Sprint communications tower and some amateur radio equipment. There is a low-pressure sodium lamp (we call it the porchlight) attached to the tower on which the amateur radio antennas are mounted. There is also a remote command that can be sent via amateur radio to turn the porchlight on or off, at one's whim. So, as soon as I get in visual range of the hill, I turn on the porchlight. In a few minutes, it is as if a star is rising out of the east - dim at first, but as the sodium vapor heats, the lamp increases in brightness.
Soon I am past the Plomosas, out on the long straightaway that leads directly east from the hill. For 45 minutes the light is visible in my rear-view mirror; as the distance increases the headlights of cars behind me increases but if they can be screened out, the light is still there! Finally, the highway bends a little to the north and the light vanishes.
Just outside of Phoenix there is a state prison; along the side of the freeway they (who are they? You know, THEM...) have thoughtfully posted signs warning the innocent driver, tourist, trucker, etc. not to pick up hitchhikers. In California they (the same) cannot do that because that would be casting aspersions upon the poor maligned felons. After locking the driver door for safety and getting out my aluminum-barreled flashlight for protection, I motor through the area cautiously.
Interstate 10 still is not completed in downtown Phoenix. Five years ago was the first time I drove I-10 through Arizona. The two local ends of I-10 were at the time over 10 miles apart. In just over five years, the ends have drawn to within a mile or so! I think that instead of heavy machinery to do all the hard work, the inmates from that prison are out here shoveling dirt by hand. Of course, to provide a high-speed route though Phoenix may be the last thing the Phoenicians want; that way people traveling through really could avoid stopping in this hell-hole town. I don't know why anyone lives here.
Good morning! The sun rises kinda early around here. Remember that Arizona is on year-round Mountain Standard Time, so local time here during the summer is the same as Pacific Daylight Time. Since Arizona is necessarily east of California, the sun must rise earlier. So do I, I guess.
But what a place to wake up! Outside Florence Junction, along the southern edge of the Superstition Mountains, home of the fabled Lost Dutchman Mine is where I made my bed last night.
Morning comes eclectic! All around me are the flora of the desert; ocotillo, which blooms so red and green in the spring or after a heavy rain, and yet stands now so gaunt and grotesque; the venerable sagebrush; the cottonwood trees, carved by the Indian into the magical Kachina doll; treelike or at least bushlike cholla, abundant with its furry sausage appendages. The everpresent saguaro stand as silent sentinels; a row on a ridgeline here; a solitary one nearby looks prehensile. I wonder if there are beings within each and every one?
The sun is slowly stretching its way up the sky; shielded from me right now by cotton-candy puffs, it promises a perfect day. The bird sounds include peeps, gracks and squawks, with a great variety of each. I haven't seen one of them yet, but the birds make a happy and peaceful crowd noise. They're all taking care of bird-business: getting the kids off to school, going shopping at the local buggery.
No trace of insects as I think about it; I saw a bee about twenty minutes ago, but that's been it. The breeze from the east may be keeping them away; another bee just came to visit. It's six-fifteen now. Time to roll.
The drive up from the desert floor at Florence Junction winds through the Queen Creek canyon. At first, the canyon is relatively broad but with rugged rust-red sandstone buttes, spires and knobs that give it character. Then just beyond Superior, the canyon narrows dramatically and the highway cuts into the mountain-wall, high above the stream that worked so hard for a few million years to do the major earthwork. A perfect steel-arch bridge carries the highway over the creek and the old road, far below. Just above lies the Queen Creek Tunnel; a three-lane (two up, one down) wonder that replaces the older one and a half lane tunnel carved in the rock below. Exiting the east portal of the new tunnel the road is now in the narrows of upper Queen Creek Canyon; the walls are no more than a hundred feet apart, narrower in spots, and the highway seems to be a natural part of it; I marvel at the highway engineers who can lay a highway in a fragile canyon like this, and produce a whole greater than the sum of its parts. The sandstone hoodoos and standing rocks lining the edge of the road and the rim of the canyon remain standing precariously; I realize once again that the highway engineer, given the right canvas and palette, can be as much an artist as any. The highway leaves the narrows at nearly 4600 feet elevation. The valley opens up into a highland area, with hills surrounding; a basin that collects the rain to cut the rock of Queen Creek canyon. Winding upwards gradually through the eastern side of the Pinal Range, the highway makes its way up to the memorable towns of Miami, Claypool and Globe.
I eat breakfast today in Globe: it isn't very good really - a chain restaurant named Jerry's. Don't go there if you don't need to. Passed up a couple of fine looking places on my way here; the most notable was a little place off the north side of the road in Miami. Unfortunately, I don't know the name. But you'd recognize it; kinda earthy and wood-covered; sorta like it was built in the eighteen-nineties.
This whole area is run by the big copper mines owned and operated by Phelps-Dodge Corporation. Railroad tracks, huge tailing piles of unrecognizable grey powdery stuff stand a hundred yards high along the road. In Claypool, the tailing pile has some little trees or shrubs planted on top. Someone is trying to coax nature back here.
The open-pit mine at Morenci, run by Phelps-Dodge, is described by the local residents as being the largest of its kind in the United States. I think perhaps the pit at Bingham Canyon in Utah may be the larger, but I'll not quibble. The Morenci site is massive in its emptiness! A great lack of mountain, slowly nibbled away by man over the course of the last forty years, again for the wealth of copper that hydrothermal alteration secreted here. Next time you turn on your lights or talk on the phone, thank this country out here for its sacrifice.
The highway used to go right up the canyon, but the mine overgrew its boundaries in the search for the elusive copper ores and the road was detoured over the tailings from the pit, around the pit and back into the canyon about five miles north. Freight trains of ore cars operate on various levels in the mine; each string of full-sized railcars and locomotives look like scale models from the edge. The roar of Diesel-powered trucks the size of houses is audible. They creep along the steep roads of the mine with beds large enough to hold four full-sized pickup-trucks.
North of Morenci on Highway 666 (The Devil's Highway; I promise you, it is a devil of a road to drive) the road climbs and falls as it follows the ridge of the high country. At some points hundred-mile views are common; perhaps even further when the air is dry. The ridge is as a saw; the road follows, gaining elevation in an undulating manner to the top of the road at Blue Vista, elevation 9198 feet.
High atop the Mogollon Rim, at the very edge of the Colorado Plateau sits our fearless and impassioned observer: I've cleared the back of the truck, unfolded the lounge chair, put on the shorts and am sunning here in the glorious Arizona sun. The temperature is about 75, but the sun is much hotter than it seems because of the fresh breeze blowing out of the south.
I'm about 200 miles from where I slept last night; vertically, about 7000 feet above. What a great and varied land this is! Early this morning I awoke to the sounds, smells and sights of the desert; now I sit high in a Ponderosa and Aspen forest, at more than nine thousand feet elevation, typing away on my computer! Some people would go hiking or biking around. I'll just sit here and soak it all in.
A little while ago I was able to communicate by Amateur packet radio back into LA; however, the guys I tried to leave messages with had not left their terminals running. I "connect" with a amateur radio packet repeater located about 60 miles from here; it links through a repeater near Prescott, on Union Mountain; from there, the Las Vegas machine relays it through Big Bear, California and finally to Santiago Peak over Santa Ana. All that work and nobody home...
Saturday night: after driving the rest of the Coronado Trail to Alpine, Arizona, the road leads me east through the little village of Luna, just over the border in New Mexico. The road along this stretch is twisty-turny two-lane, snaking along a narrow canyon. Very nice.
At the junction of US180 and New Mexico Route 12 I turn left, toward Datil. First through the little village of Reserve, where the Catron County Fair is held, then on to Aragon. The road climbs up and over the Continental Divide without so much as a whimper (no signs or anything; I knew it, but I read the map) and then gradually down into the Plains of San Agustin.
The elevation here is in the low seven thousands, with a broad, flat valley off to the east and wrapping to the north around a rise. Off on the far east side of the plain, the mountains forming the border have characteristic terraces cut into their sides at various levels, giving me the impression that this was at one time a lake bed.
Question: If it was a lake bed, how large was the lake that cut those terraces, or shorelines? For the shorelines to be so high up required that either the lake was quite deep and thus large in area or that the mountains had risen further since the terraces were cut. Assuming that this was probably a lake formed during the last really wet period in the last few hundred thousand years and noticing the relative lack of erosion that the terraces had undergone since then, I guess that the lake really was quite large. Certainly not as big as glacial Lake Missoula or the lake that covered so much of North Dakota and Alberta, but maybe a couple of thousand square miles. And now, ten thousand years or more later, somewhere out there on the silts and sediment of that ancient lake bed, on these Plains of San Agustin are the twenty-seven dishes of the Very Large Array of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
Finally the junction/village of Datil draws into sight. Not too much - besides the saddlery there is the Eagle Nest. The Eagle Nest is a little cafe/motel/gas station on the southwest corner of NM12 and US Highway 60. It looks interesting and has the proper amount of local color and the proper lack of out-of-state plates on the few cars parked in front, and I am hungry and thirsty, so in I go. The inside of the place has not only a very clean and comfortable cafe/restaurant but also a little general store; the whole thing looks like it is run by one family. The table cloths are made from the seat end of old Levi's before they had worn too much and the glasses are all Mason Jars (I have seen that before). But the service is good and friendly and the food is fine and fresh.
A well-stocked salad bar (out here!?, how yuppie) is included with the dinner and I graze heavily. The menu is most rare; not only does it have the normal average items like burgers and steaks and stuff, but it has things that I would normally think to find on the menu of a Spanish restaurant: fresh broiled sweetbreads, menudo, kidneys... The items that were their regular Mexican offering were quite good sounding, but those things were their Friday night specials. Oh, well.
I camp this evening at the Datil Well BLM Campground, just about a mile and a half from the junction. I think that I was dead to the world by eight forty-five. I almost stay awake long enough to see the stars come out...
I just finished typing three pages of travels, only to shut the power off on the computer without performing the SAVE operation. That is a big advantage to paper. Why do I write with the computer when paper is much easier? My handwriting is very poor; I go back and forth in time as I write and it gets very confusing. Between the hops, skips and jumps of thought flow and the illegibility of the chicken scratches, I find that I will write much more and be more interested in writing when I type it. However, this is a bad morning. So, I'll try it again. I will recap the events or nonevents of the past two days.
Sunday morning I sleep in pretty late. The sun is up at least two hours when I finally awake - the sleeping bag is becoming a Shake n' Bake bag, and I'm feeling like the chicken.
What a beautiful morning! With a full night's worth of sleep finally, I feel really refreshed. I head off on US60 eastbound from Datil, headed toward the Plains of San Agustin and the VLA.
Datil itself is up in the foothills a little, and is probably fifteen miles from there. The road drops down from the hills, continuing in a straight line across the flat plain ahead. I keep straining my eyes to get a glimpse of the twenty-seven antennas somewhere out there. Suddenly, I realize that the small regular objects that are out there are the antennas. I knew that it was spread out but I guess I hadn't programmed that into my shape-recognition program!
The site is in the shape of a Y, with ten-mile long arms going north, southeast and southwest; the highway travels right through the north arm. As I get closer, the antennas take their proper form. It looks like almost all of them are trained on some object about three hours high in the sky. A few antennas are in the stow position, which is when they are pointed straight-up. Where the north arm crosses the highway there are twin parallel railroad tracks; these are used to ferry the antennas back and forth depending on the needs of the particular observations going on.
I seem to be there on a day when the array is at nearly its fullest extent. Like big ears pointed toward some celestial voice, the antennas are an impressive and awesome sight. Each antenna uses a cryogenic HEMT front-end (There aren't any signs proclaiming this; I hear about this stuff through the grapevine at work) to increase its sensitivity. The microwave signals from each antenna are fed back via a microwave waveguide to the central receiver facility where the signals undergo final processing and later analysis.
On the road again, I continue east, climbing a low, wooded rise, passing a sign that proclaims this path that the road follows as part of a historic cattle driveway, from Springerville in Arizona down to the railhead further east. Up ahead is the biggest little town in these parts, Magdalena. It's almost lunchtime. I find a great little place at which to eat.
La Reata is a family-owned place that is really nice; the food is great with a good menu, and the folks are real friendly. I bring the laptop in to work on my travel log and find that it attracts the attention of the proprietor and also (not related) destroys the already marginal television reception from the stations located in Albuquerque, over 140 miles away. So I turn off the machine and talk to the lady instead. It seems that her grandson is a computer whiz, having used an IBM PC for the last five years. He is only fifteen years old and knows more about computers and programming than any of the teachers in his high school! She is very proud of him. Then he comes into the restaurant; the kid is six-feet-three, two-hundred-thirty pounds and has a handshake like a steel vice. Not quite what I expected for a computer type. All in all, a very nice stop.
Now I continue east and south around the east apron of the Magdalena Mountains, the elevation staying about 6500 feet; the road then turns back east and plummets off the plateau, following an arroyo down into the valley of the Rio Grande into the town of Socorro. In Spanish, Socorro means "help", and that's what this town needs. The best thing about it is leaving it. So after watching them clean up after a fatal traffic accident, I do.
Headed down I25, I realize why I never have bothered to drive this road before; the scenery is missing. What's worse, the highway travels through a lot of cuts where the view if any is blocked. So it's not very interesting. However, the road is up on the bajada being cut into by the Rio Grande, and every once in a awhile the freeway must jump one of the many large canyons that cut back into the slope. However, it does so by the aforementioned road cut, where a few million cubic yards of dirt and rock are moved to get the highway down to a level in the canyon where a bridge can be built easily.
Truth or Consequences, N.M.: Not too much of a town. Met up with Jim, WJ5I, who brought out a relief map of New Mexico and showed me where all the repeater sites were in the state and treated me to a big cool glass of ice tea. Soon after, I decide to head west again; this time I'll drive over toward Silver City and probably camp out along the way. Several people suggest the Iron Creek camp on highway 90. New Mexico Route 90 meets I25 near the site of Caballo; it climbs west up out of the Rio Grande Valley onto the apron of the Black Mountains, and provides a spectacular view of the high buttes of southern New Mexico. The road continues winding higher into the Blacks, with the change from desert to forest slow. The crest of the climb is at over eight thousand feet. The drop into the west canyon is beautiful. Well recommended.
I stay in Silver City; I needed a shower anyway. It had been three days in the heat. You would have agreed.
Monday morning I decide to travel out to visit a friend of mine back over the border in Arizona. He lives about seven-five miles away. I'm in his office by ten-fifteen am; he's the line supervisor for the Duncan Valley Electric Power Cooperative. He shows me around the town of Duncan and treats me to lunch at Danny's (not DENNY'S). We get the same thing; a double jalapeño burger, large fries and a large Pepsi. If you're ever in Duncan, try it; it's homey and a real nice place to stop.
It starts to be afternoon. I get on the road again and decide my destination will be Cloudcroft, New Mexico. It's a old resort area high in the mountains above Alamagordo and about seventy miles north of El Paso and about two hundred miles from Duncan. The drive takes me through Lordsburg; I stop there and get some postcards. After writing out some brief messages and using my new stick-on labels, I mail them off.
Las Cruces : I decide to get fuel here. Seems though that there's only one place in town to get diesel.
San Agustin Pass: US70 uses this to get between the Rio Grande Valley at Las Cruces and the Tularosa Basin, where White Sands National Monument is. It's about six pm local time when I crest the pass; the sky is overcast and looks like rain, but nothing is falling. The wind is strong from the south, and the mesquite and wild grass are stretching to the north with the force of the wind. Then I see something that I've never seen before: a tarantula crossing the highway. In fact, I see a whole bunch of them crossing the highway; not in a orchestrated fashion, mind you, but just this way and that. About one every fifty yards or so. Maybe there should be Arachnid Crossing signs put up.
Alamagordo: I can't make up my mind whether to eat dinner here or head on up to Cloudcroft; so I stop at a supermarket and buy a few things, then head out. But before I leave I tour the town; I'd only been down the main drag last year, so I figure that I should see a little more this time.
The climb out of the Tularosa Basin on US70 eastbound is a decided scenic route; the canyon is steep and narrow and the rock is glorious in its ruddy color and stratified texture. The desert flora gives way to the pines of the highland. A abandoned railroad trestle still spans the canyon; the trestle describes a near 120 degree arc as it crosses from the south to the north wall of the canyon.
During the late 1800's, railroad surveyors out in this part of the country noted that even when the heat was unbearable down on the desert floor, the high ridge over 6000 feet above them was nestled amongst the clouds. Traveling up there, they found cool meadows, a refreshing respite from the furnace below. They named the area Cloudcroft, croft being an English word meaning meadow. Over the years, especially before air conditioning, many people sought the heights of Cloudcroft to obtain relief from the summer heat. By the early part of the century, a railroad had been built from the town of Alamagordo up the canyon to Cloudcroft. The trestle is just about the only sign of it now.
Cloudcroft: Kind of like Big Bear or Lake Arrowhead back home except older and much less crowded. The old town itself has been restored. Smack dab in the middle of the Lincoln National Forest at the top of the Sacramento Mountains, Cloudcroft is 8650 feet above sea level. From here to the east it's all downhill. All the way to the Mississippi! I travel south on the road to Sunspot, where the Sacramento Peak Solar Observatory is. It's getting late and I need to find the turnoff to my campsite before it gets too dark.
I'm not doing well. I'm sure I'm lost; several people on the radio attempt to give me assistance, but none of them have been up here in a year or two and the road is being rebuilt and logging trucks have cut new dirt roads into the forest to further confuse me.
Soon it is completely dark and the sky is overcast so I can't see the stars nor can I get illumination from them. Then my radio acts up on me and I'm unable to communicate with my guides. So I give up on finding my intended campsite and locate myself at the Cathey Canyon Vista point. Then it starts to rain. So I sleep in the cab of the truck. Not easy.
About two am the rain quits and I set up the sleeping bag in the back of the truck; I get about an hour's restful sleep and then it starts to rain again. Back inside I go. Finally it's dawn; I head into Cloudcroft for breakfast at the Cloudcroft Inn. When I'm finished with breakfast, I find that the right-rear tire has gone completely flat. What a way for the day to begin!
Thirty minutes later the tire is repaired and I'm on the road again, still eastbound on US70. It's turning into a beautiful morning as I gradually drop the thousands of feet down the Rio Penasco valley to the great flat expanse of the Pecos Valley beyond.
In Artesia I attempt to make reservations to go on the tour of the new cave at Carlsbad; the line is busy. So I get a soda and head south toward Carlsbad. The terrain out here is an undulating plain, punctuated here and there by gradual swales and ridges. The total relief over a fifty-mile radius is probably 500 feet.
About halfway to Carlsbad a great concrete dam is being built to hold in the waters of the Pecos; I see the spillway and center portion of the dam standing like a great grey monolith out in the middle of the river valley and wonder where they will find the hills or mountains to attach to the sides of the dam. It's so flat out here and the dam looks far too tall to fit.
In Carlsbad I call again for reservations: I get a reservation for nine am 26 July, this coming Sunday morning.
The country between Carlsbad and Pecos and beyond is the flattest I've every seen. There's nothing out here except oil rigs and an occasional microwave tower for the telephone company- oh, and a few wide spots in the road that try to masquerade as towns.
Pecos is steeped in its own version of the old west. If you believe the plaques, Pecos single-handedly created, won and finished the West. The town has more plaques commemorating more people than any other town I've ever seen. They even have plaques for schoolteachers and cantaloupes! Always a sucker for a good cantaloupe, I buy a GENUINE PECOS cantaloupe and hang out at the railroad crossing in town where a Union Pacific/Missouri Pacific crew is trying to fix/install a crossing gate. A MoPac train is coming in from the west; I wait with camera in hand to get a picture of it as it rolls past the old Pecos station. The train is moving at about a mile an hour; I wait patiently. The train starts and stops; I search in vain for the radio frequency to monitor their transmissions and find out their plans. Then the silly train starts to back up!
I leave the train still slow-dancing with the crossing. I find that the stretch between Pecos and Balmoreah is soooo flat that if you set a bowling ball on the center of the road it wouldn't know which way was down.