The ride west from Amarillo to New Mexico is a stone drag: dead flat and straight, not a damn thing to look at except the occasional wind farm, and the endless boring plains, and the Interstate baking under the High Plains sun. The wind wasn't nearly as bad as usual in those parts, but that's about the only good thing I can say for the ride.
And New Mexico didn't bring any improvement, either, except for the speed limit going up from 70 to 75. Just beyond the state line was a large and elaborate "welcome center" with only one teeny problem: no drinking water. Fortunately I had my own, but still, shit!
I-40 rolled on westward, swinging around Tucumcari - always a good thing to do - but then turning into a nightmare of construction and detours near Santa Rosa. I clenched my teeth, and something else, and rode through it, making a note not to return by this route.
Free of the construction zone at last, I turned off for a short break at a place marked "Newkirk." As far as I could tell, this is what Newkirk consisted of. Even out in the middle of nowhere, there was no getting away from that Route 66 nonsense....
Back on the Slab, I felt fatigue rising up through me and reaching for my head; the heat and the blinding sunlight and the monotony of the landscape were getting to me. Some way down the road an exit announced Highway 3; I took the turnoff and paused to consult my map. (The welcome center had had plenty of them. Just no water.) Apparently Highway 3 ran north to hook up with I-25, which in turn proceeded to Santa Fe; in fact it looked to be a shorter route than the one I'd intended to take.
Highway 3 turned out to be a narrow streak of gnarled and cracked blacktop, but I didn't care; anything was an improvement after that damned Interstate. I took it easy rolling northward, enjoying the view; here, there was scenery to look at, and up close, not just vague shapes in the distance.
After some miles, the road got interesting as it wriggled down into a valley and then squirmed back up a precipitous grade. In fact it might have gotten unbearably fascinating if I'd met anything of any size coming the other way on some of those snaketrack turns; but there wasn't any traffic at all.
Finally I rolled into a little place called Villanueva. It looked like a Mexican village, which of course it was. I learned that there was a state park with a campground nearby. That sounded good; it was a little early to knock off for the day, but it wasn't all that far to Santa Fe and anyway some black clouds were starting to form up to the northwest.
Villanueva State Park is a pleasant, not too heavily developed little place down in a canyon on the banks of the Pecos River. It was already almost full, with the weekend approaching, but I got an excellent campsite away from the others and settled in for the rest of the day.
The Pecos is one of the important rivers of the American West, but up here it was just a shallow stream, not much more than a creek. It made a nice riffling sound in the background. I was really getting to like this place.
A local resident came up to the edge of my campsite, no doubt checking me out as a possible source of handouts.
When I didn't come across, he looked a trifle annoyed. After a few minutes he scurried off into the brush.
That night thunder rumbled and grumbled off to the northwest, in the general direction of Santa Fe; and some of the storms came close enough to touch the sky beyond the cliffs with flickers of lightning, but nothing fell down in the canyon.
NEXT: Canyon Interlude
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