What NOT to do

I finally got around to going through the in-car footage from the free track day at HPR a couple weeks ago.

I feel there’s an argument to be made that driving a car on a race track is the safest place you can do it. Nobody is on the phone or texting; everybody is going in the same direction; people wave colored flags at you if anything unexpected has happened in front of you; there’s no debris on the road; even if you go off the track there’s nothing to hit, and so on. Mind you, I’m talking about a track day, not a race. We all understand there’s nothing we’ll do during a track day that will make our cars more valuable and there are no F1 scouts looking for the next Lewis Hamilton.

Every track day I’ve participated in has begun with a drivers meeting. At each meeting we’re told the same things we’ve been told at all the other drivers meetings we’ve attended. “This is a yellow flag. When you see a yellow flag, slow down. No passing until the next manned corner station.”

Still, it seems some folks get on the track and get a bit too excited. These words appear to fall on deaf ears. When watching the video, keep in mind that the camera has quite a wide angle – the yellow flag is much more obvious in person than on the GoPro.

One of the drivers in the video is a student. I can only assume there is no instructor in the car, as I’d expect the instructor to notice the yellow flag. I understand that this car, this student, was involved in car to car contact during the session. I’ve never known of any contact at any other track day I’ve attended.

I see the case of the red Porsche as even less forgivable. The yellow flag has been out here for at least two laps. Did he not see the stricken Corvette two minutes earlier? Had he already forgotten? Even worse is that he passed me in that turn. The normal line is to begin way on the outside, then cut sharply to the apex. Had I not seen him, I’d have followed my line and we’d have occupied the same space. If I had any way to positively identify this guy, I’d make my case to track management that he is in need of remedial action. At every drivers meeting he’s attended, I’m sure, he’s been reminded that the car being passed gets to keep his line – it’s the responsibility of the passing driver to go around him.

San Francisco

I just finished an engagement that had me in San Francisco twelve weeks since last October. It was like visiting an old friend. My first consulting job, starting at the end of 2006, was there. Then, it was something like sixty four weeks over an eighteen month span.

22nd floor, Parc 55 Hotel

22nd floor, Parc 55 Hotel

When I returned back in October, my first impression was that the place had changed quite a bit. The structure of the place hadn’t changed, all the buildings and streets were familiar, but many of the restaurants – familiar haunts – were gone, replaced by strangers. After a couple of weeks, though, that sensation went away. Lori’s Diner and the burrito place were still there, just at different addresses.

2016-01-26 07.24.29sI stayed in various Union Square hotels both times. This time I worked in the financial district and last time was City Hall. Then, we ate lunch at dozens of little places in the Tenderloin, Little Saigon, and Hayes Valley. This time the client had catered lunches every day. I only went out to eat a handful of times and gained about a pound a week during my stay.

2015-12-16 19.01.41sBefore starting that first gig San Francisco eight years ago I would say I had a fairly limited experience when it comes to food. At the end of my first day of work my colleagues and I discussed where we’d eat: Thai or Indian, they asked. I’d never had either and was out of my comfort zone. Now I’m much more open to variety. I ate at some nice Thai, Indian, Chinese, Italian, and even American restaurants. I also managed to take in some live jazz a couple of nights and went to see the Golden State Warriors beat the Dallas Mavericks.

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California Street

Although I didn’t have to leave the office to get a good lunch, I tried to get out for a walk a couple of times a week. I did a little loop that took me through the southern end of Chinatown. From the office on Market, I went up Bush Street past Dragon’s Gate to Stockton. To the right, Stockton climbs steeply. I generally took Pine back down but sometimes strolled past the Ritz Carlton to California. Here you’re high enough to see Coit Tower to the north and one of the towers of the bay bridge to the east through the canyon of California Street.

It would have been nice to stay another week. The city is getting all dressed up for the Super Bowl. The Pro Football Hall of Fame has had exhibits on display in the airport the whole season. Although the game is something like fifty miles from downtown, this week they started hanging banners from the streetlights and placing interactive kiosks on the sidewalk of Market Street. “Enter a code, watch highlights of past games!” The kiosk in front of the office had three of the Broncos blow-out losses. No thanks, no need to watch those highlights!

2016-01-27 14.44.12sMy second or third week there I took the GoPro and tried to get some time lapse action. I got nothing worthwhile and never bothered to try again. I missed a fine opportunity this week when they spent a day and a half plastering a giant likeness of the Vince Lombardi trophy on the building across the street from my office.

I flew into SFO on eleven Mondays and a Tuesday. It was raining every one of those Monday mornings. It felt like it was about 52 degrees the whole time: day, night, sunshine, or rain.

There are homeless everywhere – more now, I think, than seven years ago. There are also quite a few street buskers. One fellow stood below our fourth floor window, day after day, and played is sitar through a little amplifier. He had a limited repertoire. We joked that somebody should go downstairs and give him twenty bucks to move a block down the street. I will admit that he was less annoying than the trumpet player we had outside City Hall. He was louder, not as good at his craft, and because it was summer at the time we had to have the windows open.

Although I never got together with any Golden Gate Lotus Club members, I did learn they’re going to have a few track days this year. One of those will be at Laguna Seca (near Monterey) on July 18. I’ve penciled that in on my calendar and we’ll see what sort of trip I can put together around it. Perhaps I can do some hiking in Yosemite along the way.

HPR Customer Appreciation Day

Today was HPR’s much postponed free day.

I have never seen so many cars on this track before. When I registered they said there were 122 online registrations. The final count was 179. To say there were a hundred Porsches there would be an exaggeration. But there might have been 79.

I was one of three Lotus. Zach and Margarite ran their Exige in the slow group. Sarah was there with her black Elise; it ran in the fast group with me, but I don’t think she was the driver.

I was one of the first ones there and I got a pretty good spot in the paddock. I was surrounded by BMWs. One was a 335, four wheel drive, wrapped in a satin blue, running on Blizzak tires. These weren’t stealth Blizzaks – he was sporting the half inch tall lettering on the sidewalls. I wasn’t the first to ask them if they brought other tires. It was two kids, not long out of high school. They ran two laps, twice.

I gave them both rides. The first kid was the friend of the one who owned the car. He was pretty excited. He told me it was his first day at the track. I was kind of slow getting to the grid and when I entered the track the engine still wasn’t warmed up. I took it real easy, on the lookout for snow or water alongside or on the track. Even so, I go four wheels off in the hairpin. With four off I need to stop at the black flag station. I didn’t even complete a lap.

Exiting the track, my rider is saying, “That was great, thanks!”. He thought that was the end of his ride. “We haven’t even had a fast lap yet.”

In the drivers meeting, Pettiford said there was water in turn 4. There appeared to be a fairly dry line through the turn, but it was very narrow. There was a coating of slick mud on the outside. By the fourth session, there was too much water to be any fun so I quit after a few laps.

There were way too many cars. Too many questionable passes. I was passed three times under yellow. One of those cars was involved in contact with another car during that session. I wasn’t the only one who went off – most cars were muddier than mine. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the track limit registrations to something like 120.

Blizzard Warning

Saturday, December 26

We drove to Phoenix for Christmas vacation. The weather was fine on our trip down, but it was a different story for the return. There was a blizzard warning for much of New Mexico – high winds and up to two feet of snow. Travel through the area was definitely not recommended. Our usual summer route takes us over Wolf Creek pass. I generally avoid Wolf Creek in the winter, as the ski area there gets more snow than any other in the state. And, looking at the forecast, Wolf Creek would be the only place in Colorado with a blizzard warning. This left us thinking the best route would be through Moab, up to I-70, over Vail pass and through the Eisenhower tunnel. The weather map had this route covered with a couple hundred miles of winter storm warning.

When the chain law is in effect, you are required to have either adequate snow tires (studded) or tire chains. We have all season radials and don’t own chains. If you get stuck on the road and obstruct travel when the chain law is in effect you face a significant fine. I found an auto parts store in Flagstaff that had chains in stock and a place for breakfast next door.

We were on the road by 5:30, in Flagstaff by 7:30. The moon was nearly full, and the pre-dawn was fairly bright. A few miles before reaching Flagstaff, a very light snow was falling from a cloudless sky. It wasn’t cloudless for long. By the time we got to Flag, it was near-blizzard conditions: cold, windy, snowing.

We didn’t dilly-dally – bought our chains, ate breakfast, fueled up, and hit the road. We headed north on US 89. There must have been other bad weather around the Grand Canyon as the electronic informational signs on the highway mentioned closed entrance roads. But a few miles north of Flagstaff, the skies cleared and the only snow in sight was already on the ground.

The wind continued to be fierce. Between Tuba City and Kayenta I started thinking I was playing some sort of hyper-realistic video game: dodge the tumbleweeds. At irregular intervals, tumbleweeds would blow onto the road. Sometimes they were coming straight at me. After a bend in the road they came diagonally across the road. Oncoming traffic increased the degree of difficulty.

In Kayenta we headed north on US 163 and into Monument Valley. It would have been nice to be able to take our time, pause here and there to enjoy the view, but every extra minute spent here added a minute after dark through the mountains on I-70. As it was, I didn’t have the good camera with us. All the pictures below were shot with a cell phone from a moving car.

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Monument Valley

As we headed north, the snow on the ground got deeper. While we were gassing up in Blanding, a number of folks pulled up to the air station to inflate their inner tubes. There must have been a fun place near by to go snow tubing. On the highway north of Blanding, the driving got a bit treacherous. The wind whipped the snow into sheets across the road. The plows were out, scraping and spreading gravel, but they were having a hard time keeping up. After about twenty miles of this, things cleared up.

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Wind whipped La Sal mountains

Although the roads were clear again, the wind was still ferocious.

We stopped in Moab for a quick lunch. From there, we took Utah 128 through the canyon alongside the Colorado River. When we were last here with LoCo it was in the neighborhood of 100 degrees. Then, the river was running quite high. Today it was closer to 10 degrees, but the river seemed still quite high; pale blue instead of the summers muddy brown.

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We took advantage of modern technology and kept checking the weather radar. The route ahead looked clear. It looked like we wouldn’t need our chains. Better safe than sorry.

I find the cliffs to the east of Grand Junction generally not that interesting, particularly compared to the terrain to the west, the Colorado Monument. But today they were stunning. From the looks of things, the snow was blowing from the northwest as it fell. The details of the terrain stood in stark contrast – white on one side, snow-free on the other.

Rifle was our last fuel stop, and we were in full darkness soon after. The forecast winter storm evidently didn’t materialize – roads were dry and snow free. The only snow on I-70 was the last few yards of road before entering the Eisenhower tunnel. I wondered what we’d see on the other side; often the weather can be radically different on one side of the Continental Divide than the other. Exiting the tunnel, instead of bad weather, we saw the no-longer full moon peaking over the mountains to the east.

Coming down Genesee mountain we could see the lights of Denver spread out in front of us. Almost home! About a mile and a half from the junction with C-470, we were stopped in our tracks. There was an accident and all three lanes were blocked. We were stuck there for an hour.

After having the pleasure of being able to take my time getting from Point A to Point B, being able to avoid interstate highways, it was a bit of a drag making this trip in a single day. But we didn’t want to take half our holiday break getting to and from. Sometimes you just have to grin and bear it.

It was a long day, but we’re happy to be home and sleeping in our own beds.

Emich at HPR

“I am the Stig!” At least that’s what I told Michael when I got home yesterday after spending the day at HPR. My head is so big now I have trouble getting it through the door.

The event was sponsored by Emich VW and was a bargain at eighty bucks for the full day. Having attended their spring day earlier this year I knew pretty much what to expect: the morning would be really crowded, and there would be loads of novices. But I couldn’t resist.

This was my first real run with the good tires. I’ve been using my street tires for the last few seasons. When I first started timing myself, I was putting in laps in the low 2:20’s. I had a set of used slicks that came with the car. The first time I drove on them (and the last full day), I improved my time from 2:22 to 2:14 and change. Gaining those eight seconds all at once was a bit of a shock. I recall describing the day as “scary fast”.

In the last few years, though, I’ve been learning the track and have quite a few hours under my belt. On the cheap street tires I’ve managed to match that “scary fast” time of 2:14 and change. I don’t think there’s eight seconds difference to be had with these tires, but it’s important to set goals. So my goal for the day was to take four seconds off my personal best. I hoped to log a 2:10 (and change).

I generally ask how many cars are entered but didn’t bother this time. It was a lot. They break us into two groups – fast and slow. Each session is a half hour, so each group would get three sessions in the morning and three more in the afternoon. In the spring, I ran in the slow group. In retrospect, I think I was on the cusp – one of the faster cars in the slow group, or one of the slower cars in the fast group. With the good tires I decided to play in the fast group. Worst case scenario, I’d switch to the slow group if I felt I was getting in everybody’s way.

The rules differed between the groups. The slow group was only allowed to pass in three or four places, and only with a point-by. If you catch up to somebody and he doesn’t wave you by, you don’t get to pass. The fast group played according to open lapping rules: pass wherever and whenever, with no point-by required. My only concern with the fast group was that a number of novices were included. A novice in a fast car might be fast, but he’ll still be a novice and may be unpredictable.

The slow group was out first. They started the day with a session of “follow the leader”. An instructor led several cars around the track, and at the end of each lap the car immediately behind the instructor would get out of line and rejoin at the back. Even with a handful of instructors, it took a while for everybody to follow right behind them. So the fast group’s first session got started late and was a bit abbreviated.

Both the first morning and afternoon sessions began with a couple of laps with yellow flags at all corner stations. So, a couple of laps to get everybody accustomed to the track. In that first morning session we only got five laps (plus out lap and in lap). Much to my chagrin, my fastest lap of that session was the very first, under yellow flags. And that turned out to be 2:28; quite a bit slower than I had hoped.

In the second session, Chad (running in the slow group) gave me a ride in his Mini, looking to get some tips. I’m not an instructor. I don’t feel qualified to tell anybody how to get around a track. And between the helmet, the engine noise, and my admittedly sub-par hearing, I find it difficult to communicate. So I figured the best policy would be to holler at him if he did anything blatantly wrong and save my constructive comments until we were out of the car. Hopefully, he found my free advice worth every penny he spent for it. With a little practice, I have no doubt he’ll see big improvements in his lap times.

After I rode with Chad, he rode with me, with the intent he’d see my racing line. The highlight was my repeated attempts to take turn 3 flat out. A couple times I got a bit sideways on the exit. On what turned out to be the in lap, I thought I’d finally do it, but ran a bit wide and dropped the left wheels off the pavement. When you get two wheels off, you’ll find those wheels have much less traction than the two still on pavement, so instead of being able to straighten it out and get back on track, you sort of get pulled farther off the track. So I put four wheels off at HPR for the first time in years.

In that second session, I came to realize that these tires would cause me to essentially re-learn the track. All my braking points were different and I was able to carry enough speed through some turns to cause me to adjust my entry to the next turn. Even so, I was pleased to have improved my personal best time to a 2:12.25. Woo hoo!

Quite a few folks only ran half days. More ran their half day in the morning, so as the day wore on, there were fewer and fewer cars on the track. In the afternoon sessions I was able to get long stretches without encountering any traffic. And the bulk of the traffic was cars I was catching, as opposed to being caught and passed.

In the crowded morning sessions, I often came up to folks who weren’t paying enough attention to their mirrors. One guy was particularly annoying. He was in a blue Corvette with a giant wing and a big ’99’ on each door. I easily caught him in the turns, to the point of essentially tailgating him from turn 10 all the way to the pit straight. There, instead of pulling over to let me by, he put his foot in it and opened a big gap. After the session, I wanted to suggest he check his mirrors more regularly but never did find where he was parked.

I attained my goal of a 2:10 and change in the third session. Sitting here doing the math I discover that the difference between a 2:14 and a 2:10 is a bit more than two miles per hour. Unless I’ve messed up the math, a car doing a 2:10 lap will gain almost four hundred fifteen feet on a car doing a 2:14.

The practical effect of doing a 2:10 is that, instead of being one of the slower cars in the fast group, I was one of the fastest cars. I’ll have to go to the video to verify, but I think the only time I got passed in the last two sessions was by Mike Pettiford, a driving instructor with 30 years experience driving highly prepared (not street legal) cars. Instead of getting eaten alive by Corvettes, I was doing the eating.

In the last session I managed to break the 2:10 barrier, recording a 2:09.83. The next lap I was going a fraction of a second faster until I caught a slower car.

So now I’m that big-headed guy who goes around saying “I am the Stig!”

I used the Fitbit again yesterday. It give some odd results, along with some results that make sense to me. Oddly, it credits me with steps when I’m driving. I first noticed this during the summer, when I’d get to the trailhead for a hike and find I’ve already logged a couple thousand steps. The sessions recorded yesterday don’t tell me how many steps it thinks I walked while driving the car, but it does say I managed to walk 1.5 miles in my last session. Aside from not actually walking, it makes sense to me. In that last session, my pulse exceeded 110 for 24 straight minutes. To do that on my morning walk, I need to keep up a pace of about 3.5 miles per hour. Twenty four minutes at that pace is 1.4 miles.

Let’s put it another way. The day was sunny, clear, and in the low 60’s. I ran with the top off and the windows down, so I was well ventilated. I wore my driving suit with just a t-shirt and briefs, plus gloves and helmet. By the time the session was over, I had worked up a good lather. In that first slow session, it was like driving to the grocery store. Running in traffic doing 2:16 or 2:18 wasn’t much more taxing. It seems to me it takes quite a bit of physical effort to shave those last few seconds off my lap time.

It’s been my belief for years that some of the fittest athletes in the world are race car drivers. I’ve discussed it many times with stick and ball sports fans but the general feeling is that drivers aren’t athletes. Because everybody has driven a car, and everybody knows it’s not much more strenuous than sitting on your couch watching football.

I know how much effort I expend driving my car at the track. I’m sitting here the next day with slightly sore muscles in my upper chest and arms. I have tender spots on my hips and spine from the seat. If I didn’t wear a knee pad on my left knee I’d have a giant bruise there. And my Fitbit tells me a fast session is an aerobic workout. All this driving a street car. I can only imagine what it takes to drive an F1 car for an hour and a half, where your longest rest is a 2.8 second pit stop.

I did manage to get video of most of the sessions. I didn’t bother with one of the morning sessions, and messed up with one of the afternoon ones, but I did get the final session and my best lap. I’m still dealing with the fallout of upgrading my phone. I didn’t realize until after the fact that I hadn’t synced up the OBD-II dongle so the only data I have is GPS data. And I’m working out of town this week so I won’t get to edit an upload a video for a while. So the three people who actually want to see another lapping video will have to wait a while.

Albuquerque Gallery

Here are a few of the more interesting photos from the trip.

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Inside, looking out

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Yoda and Darth

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Mass ascension

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Under the cow

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Angry bird. There was a red one, too.

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View from below

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Astronaut

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No passengers allowed

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Flight of the bumblebees (red, blue, purple)

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Mr and Mrs Penguin

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Mk 17 thermonuclear weapon – the largest ever deployed by the USA

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B-29 tail

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B-29

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“Amusing… Fascinating… Fun for Everyone” and “Bomb Japan”

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Balloon glow

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Starting to launch

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Fill ‘er up!

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Launch director in action

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Colorful balloon with pendants

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Old time merry-go-round

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Mostly launched

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World balloon

Albuquerque, Day 3

Sunday, October 11

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Light it up!

I woke up at 2:30 with a head cold. Not a good start to the day. I managed to get back to sleep, but we needed to be up by 4:30 again. I really wanted to get a bit of an earlier start so we could check out of the motel and be on the road a sooner than yesterday to miss some of the traffic. As it turned out, traffic wasn’t quite as bad. We parked in the same lot again, being comfortable with routes in and out. When we pulled in, they recognized the car. “You guys park for free today!” One advantage of having a cool car.

Although it didn’t seem so, perhaps there were as many balloons today as yesterday. If so, fewer were actually launched; quite a few were static. With the first few launches it was obvious that the box wind wasn’t working. I think there were fewer spectators as well. Yesterday, we pretty much stayed in one spot. As all the balloons are assigned a grid spot, we went to a different area than yesterday to be surrounded by different balloons. After the first wave launched we slowly made our way across the field toward our exit.

We’d seen everything we needed to see by 8:30, so we headed out. Egress was much easier than either time yesterday and we were out of the congested area in minutes.

IMG_1992sFor our return route, we again wanted to avoid interstate highways. We also didn’t want to retrace our route from Friday. So today we’d head to the east side of Sandia Mountain and head to Santa Fe via NM 14. We did have to take I-40 a few miles east to get there, but that’s a small concession. NM 14 heads northeast through what I think of as typical New Mexico desert – sparse pinon pine on rolling terrain. We go through a series of small, artsy towns: Cedar Crest, Golden, Madrid, Los Cerrillos. They call this the Turquoise Trail.

The landscape flattens out; the road straightens and heads mostly north. When we approach Santa Fe, we have the choice of going directly through town or taking NM 599 around. I opted for the bypass route. From the maps it appears we’d be on the outskirts of town. Instead, we’re only technically in Santa Fe. The road is four lane divided highway with limited access – like an interstate – with no services at any of the exits. We didn’t see any signs of civilization until rejoining US 285. We stopped for fuel at one of the many small Indian casinos along the way.

US 285 (conjoined with US 84) takes us through Tesuque, Cuyamungue, Pojoaque, and Sambrillo before we get to Española. It’s a four lane divided highway, fairly heavily traveled. On one of the uphill sections we came across an old Volvo sedan from the 50’s, struggling with the incline. We waved at each other as we passed. The were headed toward Taos; we passed them again later.

In Española if you keep going straight on the main drag you find yourself on NM 68 headed to Taos. Most folks want to stay on US 285; to do that you need to make a left turn and cross the Rio Grande. This navigational error is how I first visited Taos. For today it’s the intended route and not an error. At this junction, we were about two thousand feet from where we left US 285 for Los Alamos on Friday.

Our visit to the old church in Colorado was somewhat disappointing. Jerry had visited a much older church in or near Española many years ago. We’d done some internet searching without results but were open to a side trip if we saw any promising signs. In Velarde, Jerry saw a sign he thought was familiar so we went to investigate. Our Lady of Guadalupe was built in 1817, according to the sign outside. But everything was locked up tight. I was a bit surprised, seeing as it was Sunday, but so it goes. (Are all Catholic churches in this part of the world called Our Lady of Guadalupe?)

Up to now, NM 68 has been a four lane divided highway running in straight lines. In Velarde, it narrows to two lanes and begins to run alongside the Rio Grande. It twists and turns, passing a number of small wineries and art studios. After several miles, it climbs out of the canyon and rises to the top of the plateau. The Rio Grande cuts a deep, narrow, dramatic gorge from here north for several miles. We’d get a nice look at it from above a bit later.

Once on the plateau the road straightens again for the run into Taos. It was lunch time – time to visit another brew pub. We found the Eske Brew Pub in the old town section. It’s a few yards off the main drag with an obscure address (we continued our “no GPS” policy) but well marked. The building has character: it’s in an old house. Lots of seating outside, small dining rooms inside. We sat with a view of the kitchen which is not much larger than a residential kitchen.

After our short break we continued on our way. A few blocks north, NM 68 makes a bend to the left and becomes US 64. Four miles later, we exit the somewhat verdant Taos area and return to the desert plateau. US 64 runs nearly due west here. Not far from town we arrive at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. I’ve been here twice before, the first time due to missing the turn in Española and once on purpose. It’s a bit of a surprise tourist destination. Vendors set up tables by the road selling jewelry, crystals, leather goods, wood carvings and other trinkets. Lots of people like to walk across the bridge. It’s evidently a hot-spot for suicides as there are a few hotline call boxes on the bridge.

IMG_2035sWest of the bridge are a number of environmentally friendly houses. These are Earthship Biotecture homes. They’re made from unusual materials and use the landscape to reduce heating and cooling requirements. The idea is that they have a zero carbon footprint, can harvest their own electricity and water, need no fuel to heat and cool, and can product a significant amount of food.

At Tres Piedras we rejoined US 285 for the trip home, now retracing our route from Friday. I won’t repeat myself and will only add that I couldn’t help but notice that there wasn’t a single flake of snow on either the Sangre de Christos or Collegiates. I don’t think I’ve ever seen these mountains like this before. Of course, it’s probably because I seldom pass by them this time of year.

I pulled into the driveway just before 8pm, sixty one hours after leaving.