December 10th – 21st 2018: Carrizozo, & Albuquerque, NM
Well, the wheel had literally fallen off… and there we were, having been rescued from the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. “Lucky”, the tow truck driver, was also a mechanic and owner of a local junk yard, which was apparently the only show in town. We had actually passed his place several times in our travels around Carrizozo – thinking it was really, quite the spectacle. Who knew we’d wind up needing his services?! He was willing to work on our truck, but he also had to run his towing business, and mechanic shop too, so it was obviously going to take some time to get everything put back together.
Lucky dropped us off at the campground that night, and then went back out with his crew, first thing the next morning to see if they could find our wheel for us. They searched high and low, but it was nowhere to be found. It turns out that our wheel flew off somewhere near the edge of a ravine. The uphill side of the highway was steep, craggy, and full of big rocks and dense shrubbery. The side we had broken down on had a strip of land, several yards wide – full of cactus and stunted bushes, ending in a barbed wire fence with a steep sided, dry-wash down below. That wheel (and the truck for that matter!) could have completely launched into oblivion from there!
We spent the following week, stranded at our campsite without the truck, and trying to nurse our grey and black tanks along. There was a dump station, but we couldn’t get to it without a vehicle to pull us. We had known our tanks were almost full, and had planned to take care of them when we got back from our weekend travels. By mid-week it was clear that we still wouldn’t have our truck back yet. Lucky had gone above and beyond trying to locate a replacement wheel for us, even driving to Alamogordo for parts, and calling junk yards as far away as Albuquerque. There were none to be found, so David and I thought it might be worth trying to go back to search for it ourselves – if we only had a vehicle. In the meantime, Lucky was a total hero — kind enough to get our propane refilled for us, and to bring a truck out to pull us over to the dump station so we could reset the tanks for the rest of the week.
In the midst of all this mayhem, David had a pre-scheduled business trip coming up. He had to be in Alabama, and already had plane tickets to fly out from Tucson – as we had originally intended to be in Arizona by then. We didn’t get the truck back until the day before he was supposed to leave, so he had to change his flight to go through Albuquerque instead. That entailed long drives, hotels, and a 3-day stint on my own, all with the truck having been temporarily repaired. David was finally able to locate a wheel in Gilbert, AZ, but we wouldn’t be getting there for quite some time yet. Which meant pulling the trailer using the spare tire on the truck until we could get the new wheel put on. Not surprisingly, the added stress didn’t do either of us any favors health-wise. We continued to battle exhaustion despite being in a fairly good location.
Because it was such a long drive from Valley of Fires to Albuquerque, we booked a hotel stay so David could catch his plane first thing in the morning. After dropping David off at the airport, I did a little shopping. I’d been there before, years ago, and only remembered that I hadn’t exactly liked it. Now, as I drove around, I realized why. It just didn’t feel safe… everywhere you went there were bars on windows and doors. And signs in parking lots – “beware of vehicle break-ins”. At one check-out counter, I met a clerk who was originally from New York. She leaned in and warned me to be careful out there – in broad daylight – at a major retail store. Like no – REALLY. She wanted me to know that “Breaking Bad” was set in Albuquerque and yeah – its pretty much like that here. Yeah – hmmm… that show I tried watching, but couldn’t because it was too gruesome even in the first couple episodes. Fun times. Get me back to Valley of Fires and the kitties, ASAP!!!
I spent the next few days hanging around with the cats and pretty much laying low while David was gone. It was nice to feel safe at the campground, and already have set routines in place so things felt more normal. I tried to do some short walks, but exhaustion prevailed and I didn’t get very far. There really had been too much stress for the past couple weeks and I struggled to get my feet back under me. The post-exertional malaise was walloping me, and I still had to make the return trip to Albuquerque. It was a solid two-hour drive, and entailed revisiting that long, desolate stretch of US-380!
On the way back from picking David up from the airport, we stopped at the side of the road at the site of the breakdown. It was really crazy to see the terrain in the daylight. We sure had been lucky! Although it was almost sunset, we scoured the area, searching high and low for that missing wheel. We knew that the wheel itself wouldn’t be salvageable, but maybe we could save the tire. Just as we were about to give up, David found the tire on the uphill side of the road, stuffed in some thick shrubbery. Thankfully the tire was intact, but just as we thought – the wheel was a mess, with elliptical holes revealing the tremendous forces which had bent the studs when the lug nuts fell off.
All of this happened because the mechanics at the dealership in Roswell hadn’t tightened the lug nuts properly when they had rotated the tires. Although it cost us a few weeks’ time, and a lot of follow up repairs, we are happy to report that after very little persuasion, the dealer reimbursed us in full for all the damages. We also feel doubly blessed that despite the trauma of it all – things turned out well in the long run. We are ever thankful that no one got hurt, and nothing else was damaged.
In our last couple days before moving on from Valley of Fires, we were able to make a few more trips back to Ruidoso and to Capitan for some more exploration and errands. We were delighted to find Che Palle, a little café in Capitan that was had an extraordinary menu, changed daily. The food was organic, grown locally, and absolutely delicious. Plus, the locals were very welcoming – a real treat. We were sad that we hadn’t found it earlier in our travels – it will definitely be on our list for when we return.
There was also a ghost town we didn’t get to see, a huge petroglyph site that we missed, and the remainder of the Pueblo Missions… not to mention the Lincoln historical site – which turned out to be not THAT Lincoln – but a place chock-full of Billy the Kid lore. Those attractions would all have to wait until next time around. We needed to get it in gear – not only were we being actively kicked out of the Valley of Fires BLM Recreation Area due to the beginning of the “Government Shut-Down” — Christmas was almost upon us, and we were now way behind schedule in getting ourselves further west and into Arizona at last!