Day 1 took us to Morrisville, TN. I wanted a short day so that we could practice the load and unload of the trailer, basically getting our act together for the longer haul. I lucked out and found a nice long parking spot for the night. Reloading in the morning took about 45 minutes. From there, we went to a car wash. To my wife, I was just being prissy about my beloved GTI. The truth was that I was sneaking her onto the Tail of the Dragon (TOTD), where I knew the car would be photographed. She had balked at riding on the TOTD in the past because she was certain that it’s a dangerous road that would make her sick. I took a risk and was on the Dragon before she could protest. HAHA! Her experience was good.
After stopping at the store, we ate lunch at the Tapoco Tavern and then drove the Cherohala Skyway. From there, we drove to Chattanooga to take a photo at the Volkswagen plant. I was able to shoot on the weekend when the plant was closed during my previous visit. This was also when the plant was building only the Passat. It was very peaceful. On this night, the parking lots per packed and we clearly arrived during shift change. People were driving like absolute maniacs, probably because they were late and panicking for a parking spot, and the workers flooded the roads and sidewalks like ants. I found a decent spot to shoot a photo, which happened after sunset since we didn’t arrive as early as we had hoped. That was thanks to the long lunch stop, but the food was worth it.
One of our goals for the trip was to visit my brother’s home in central Texas. My dad’s birthday was two days away and I planned to surprise him. Sure, the old man knew that we were driving to CA, but he thought we were taking the most direct route. My wife’s mug collection endeavor helped to bring us far enough south to make their place an easier option. Dad was surprised, especially since we arrive ON his birthday! No pictures of the family, though. We just enjoyed the moments and moved on. But I did capture this sunset photo on my brother’s property.
The next day, we departed for what I expected to be one of our coolest photo stops, White Sands National Monument, near Alamogordo, NM. We left my brother’s place and headed west. The “fastest” route to Alamogordo, NM is along I-10. The speed limit was 85 mph the last time I was out there. It’s very easy to cruise along at 110 mph and barely see other cars. BUT towing a trailer means slower travel speeds. Therefore, I-10 was no more advantageous over the “slower” highways that went through the middle of the state. I also wanted to enter Alamogordo through Cloudcroft since I hadn’t been there in a while. I was hoping to make it to White Sands for some sunset photos, but that didn’t happen.
The drive through west Texas was boring, but relaxing. The trailer speed limit in Texas during the day is 70 mph. I drove the posted speed limit of 75. The car pulled the estimated 1000-lb trailer just fine. I was certain my fuel economy would suffer because of the higher speeds and the fact that the upper deck bag was like having a parachute behind the car! 😀 We drove through miles and miles of pumpjacks and oil fields. I had taken a small amount of pride in using only top tier fuels in my car over the years. They may have played a part in why my intake was relatively clean at 106,000 miles. But there are no top tier fuel stations in this part of Texas, which seemed ironic when considering the huge supply of raw material.
With the parachute in tow, my fuel gauge plummeted faster than expected. With no top tier fuel stations nearby, I had little choice but to refuel at a Pilot truck stop. That’s when I discovered that I was no longer in the land of 93 AKI… 91 AKI only. My fuel economy was 19 mpg. Yes, NINETEEN! I need to slow down! I did a casual stunt-park job so that I could go inside. As I came out and took some photos of my bride waiting at the car (above), then walked around the trailer to check my straps, I noticed a screw in one of my new tires. UGH! My tires are screw magnets no matter where I drive! HAHA! I have a warranty with Discount Tire, but there are none around here. Good thing I carry a plug kit and air pump in the trunk. I hadn’t lost any tire pressure, not enough to trigger the TPMS, anyway.
We continued west and were amazed at how many pumpjacks we could see. They stretched as far as we could see. I drive with satellite imagery enabled on Android Auto. I think each of these white spots is a gravel pad with a pumpjack. Areas like this are the lifeblood of our country, perhaps the world. It’s amazing how people who never drive here can take it for granted. Nearly everything we use comes from petroleum. It’s not all about fuel; plastics come from petroleum, too. Anyway, I wanted to see if I could find a pumpjack to photograph with the car. I didn’t have much luck finding any that weren’t fenced-in or far from the road. I eventually captured a bad photo of a small pumpjack far behind the car. It wasn’t as impressive as a photo that I had taken of my Mk3 with a pumpjack years ago. But I took the photo just to say “Got one…”
Later, as sunset was approaching, we passed a large pumpjack that was closer to the road and on an open corner of land, meaning we could drive right up to it without entering a fenced area. “We’re turning around for that one.” I knew it would be our last chance to get a decent photo of the car with a pumpjack. The tire puncture and search for fuel earlier in the day had already put us behind schedule. So, we weren’t going to make it to White Sands before sunset, anyway. I decided to spend more time taking this photo than I would have if I was simply after a quick snapshot.
It was plenty-dark when we arrived in Cloudcroft at 8500 feet in elevation. That place was shutdown and DARK. As we descended the mountain, we were startled by a HUGE elk on the road. The two-lane road cut through the mountain, basically creating a “chute” for us to drive through. The elk was casually walking up the mountain in the oncoming lane. His head was down, no glowing eyes and no light reflection from his coat… he was just a huge mass of “OH ****” in the dark. I estimated him at about 1000 lbs, but darkness adds a few hundred pounds, right? Thankfully, he was calm and held his place. Otherwise, a physical encounter with him might have ended the trip. I didn’t get a photo… I was busy cleaning out my britches! HAHA!
We got settled in our room plenty late and planned to shoot at White Sands the following morning. I’ll share that story and the rest of our trip to California in the next entry.
Ready for Sand,