By Phil Undercuffler
Did you know you can see the Very Large Array from at least seven miles away? Maybe further, but that’s the point at which I first noticed the large white disks on the horizon as we drove East on US 60 near the end of the New Mexico Chapter of the BMW CCA 2021 Karl Fox Memorial Fall Tour. The sky stretches far over the Plains of San Agustin, ringed by mountains in the far, far distance, and the road runs straight as an arrow as far as the eye can see. That was a wonderful contrast to the first day’s drive, which packed more twists and turns than I thought was possible into any one given stretch of road. Both were perfect tests for our varied fleet of fifteen BMWs and twenty-four participants, especially with the top down on the Z3 M Roadster.
Day one of the tour started in Truth or Consequences with an early morning meet-up, with some participants taking the opportunity to grab a quick bite before the start. Green chile croissants, a wonderful way to start the day! We roughly paralleled the Rio Grande for the first portion of the drive, before turning Westwards on NM 152 before our first stop at the Black Range Museum public park in Hillsboro. After returning the deposit on the morning’s coffee, we dove into some truly amazing switchbacks West of Kingston, while leader Jason Collin’s patience was tested by a trailer-hauling flatbed truck and long no-passing zones. The truck was making good time but was not quite up to the pace Jason’s M3 was hoping for. Fortunately, the surrounding vistas and rock formations were truly outstanding, and well worth taking the time to enjoy. We made our way to San Lorenzo, where the group rather overwhelmed the only restaurant within a half-day’s drive. The front porch was dog friendly, so we kicked back and enjoyed watching the small-town activity.
Once again back on the road, our route took us by scenic Lake Roberts and then North to the Gila Cliff Dwellings, where we arrived just in time to catch final call before the rangers closed the trailhead. With three minutes to spare the entire group got across the bridge and enjoyed a short hike up to the cliff dwellings where the rangers answered questions about the ruins and the lives of those who lived there many years ago.
With the sun just beginning to set, we took the opportunity for a quick group photo before heading South on NM 15, racing the sunset towards our final stop for the night at the historic Murray Hotel in Silver City.
Day two began with a beautiful sunrise, and once the entourage figured out the right direction to queue up (never listen to me, I have no idea which way I’m going!) we were off through the city streets and out into the rolling hills West of Silver City. The morning’s sun accentuated the hills, and the grasses glistened in the breeze. The Catwalk in the Mogollon mountains near Glenwood was the first stop of the day, where we hiked along and above the Whitewater Creek. Originally built to suspend a large sluice serving a mill in the mining days of the 1890s, the catwalks were rebuilt by the Civilian Conservation Corps as part of our National Forest Service and are truly worth the drive.
This is the point where serendipity steps in. After overwhelming the restaurant the day before, we decided to get smart and phone our lunch orders in early. Our original plan was to dine in Pie Town (because, well, pie). Actually, our original-original plan was to hit the Eagle Guest Ranch in Datil, but it turns out Google lied to us about it being open Sunday. The backup plan was a small restaurant in Pie Town, whose owner earlier said they were up for it as long as we arrived before 2:00, as she had to close early to prepare for a town dinner that night. However, our phone call found her short staffed, overwhelmed, and unable to promise she could serve us all. With that in mind, a Plan C seemed to be in order. Fortunately, Rob Anthony knew just the spot – Ella’s Café in Reserve, NM. The staff at Ella’s were gracious and accommodating, and were able to seat and serve all twenty-four of us within short order after arrival with wonderful New Mexico diner food.
Having eaten, we once again headed out, driving again in the wrong direction. See, you really need to be careful about following my directions, I really have no idea which way is which. Once the nice lady from Google straightened us out, we headed North on NM 12 through Apache Creek and Aragon before turning East on US 60 at Datil, which led us to the Very Large Array. It really is large; you can see it from quite a distance.
We stretched our legs at the array, followed by stretching the legs of our steeds on the wide-opens of US 60 before dropping into Socorro’s Historic Plaza where we said our last goodbyes of the trip. It was a wonderful, memorable two day’s journey.
Photos by Jason Collin
Photos by Sue Johnson
Photos by Phil Undercuffler