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Episode 2: Motoring past colorful murals, both natural and man-made
Motorcycle diaries: From Gainesville to Las Vegas and back
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Tucumcari is a rather desolate town, until you find the murals depicting Western scenes. They are painted on many one-floor buildings around the downtown area, along the street and around parking lots.

Editor’s note: Bill Rezak, a retired college president who lives in Gainesville, took a cross-country journey on his motorcycle during the month of May last year. The following, appearing each Sunday in four parts, is an account of his 5,200-mile journey alone and on “blue roads.”

On Saturday, May 5, I left Hinton heading west on OK-152, another very pretty ride with almost no traffic. I continued on this road to Pampa, Texas.

Pampa was initially a Southern Kansas Railway telegraph station, established in the 1880s. I had a terrific lunch at the Dixie Café, which was a large, friendly local gathering spot. The food was terrific, the crowd friendly and the servers were attractive women — what more could an old biker possibly ask?

After lunch I headed west on U.S. 60 — straight, flat and boring — to Amarillo. The highlight of this stretch of road was a grand little railroad station in Panhandle, Texas. I wanted to ride farther than Amarillo but learned that I would need to ride all the way to Tucumcari, N.M., to find a decent motel.

So, I checked into a very nice chain motel just west of Amarillo on I-40. The local Harley dealer was a couple of miles away, so I went over there and got a T-shirt.

On Sunday morning, May 6, with warm, sunny weather, I left Amarillo. Since there were no other roads west to Tucumcari, I took I-40. The speed limit was 75 mph and there was little traffic. Needless to say, I made good time.

Tucumcari always conjured up some mystique for me, probably due to the cool-sounding name (undoubtedly Native American). But what a disappointment (I think it must now serve as an overnight stop between Amarillo and Alburquerque) — at least, until I found the old and deserted (at least on Sunday) downtown area.

The main drag through town is historic U.S. 66, which was built in the 1930s and runs from Chicago, Ill., to Los Angeles, Calif. The 2- to 3-mile strip of highway running through Tucumcari is lined with funky motels — about 30 of them! They look like something out of the 1950s, which I guess they are.

I cruised north on what seemed like the main north-south thoroughfare through town. What a great find this was! I discovered several old one-story structures on the north side of town with absolutely gorgeous murals of western desert scenes. There was a terrific “Welcome to Tucumcari” mural, and quite a few others that continued from one building to the next along the street or around parking areas.

I left Tucumcari on N.M. 104 which runs northwest to Las Vegas, N.M. This was one of the most desolately beautiful rides of the entire trip. The speed limit on this fairly straight stretch of two-lane road was 70 mph. Unfortunately, the poor road surface made this speed a bit uncomfortable on a bike. I don’t think I passed more than 15 cars in 100 miles. The road ran atop a plateau at about 3,000 foot elevation. It was true desert wilderness.

At 50 miles out I began to wonder if my cell phone would work there if I needed it — it didn’t, but I didn’t need it, either!

I felt like the proverbial “high plains drifter” riding “through the desert on a horse with no name” as I cruised along wondering what Western movies had been filmed in this foreboding place. I stopped to take pictures and still made it to Las Vegas (New Mexico) in less than two hours. Most spectacular was a 3,000 foot climb up the Canadian River escarpment to 6,000 feet.

I stopped for lunch at Charlie’s Spic & Span Bakery & Café in Las Vegas. This was highly recommended by a local gas station attendant, but I found the steak tough. It was, however, obviously popular with local folks.

From Las Vegas, I took I-25 southwest to Sante Fe, N.M., where I checked into a motel next door to the Harley dealer. I concluded that with a predicted low temperature of 40 F that night and a high of 55 F the next day, I needed some thermal underwear.

Sante Fe is a lovely and lively cultural and arts center. I recommend spending a couple of days there. This was not my first visit, and I had to move on.

On Monday, May 7, with a badly worn rear tire, I took the bike to the adjacent Harley dealer for a new one — you only get 5,000 to 7,000 miles out of a motorcycle rear tire due to the very high loading and torque. While they did an excellent job of servicing the bike, I walked a mile or so to a mall and purchased some high-end thermal underwear — boy was that a welcome addition to my wardrobe!

I left Sante Fe about noon with the temperature in the 50s and headed southwest on I-25 to Bernalillo, N.M., where I picked up U.S. 550 northwest to Farmington, N.M. I stopped in Cuba, N.M. (check out a sunset in this outdoorsman’s paradise) for a terrific burrito at El Bruno Restaurant. El Bruno boasts visitors from across America for good reason — it’s a special dining experience.

After lunch, I continued northwest on U.S. 550 toward Farmington. This was the most exciting ride yet, again at high elevation with incredible views of the surrounding desert. I crossed the continental divide at 7,380 foot elevation while riding on this gorgeous highway. Farmington sits on the San Juan River and is the largest city in the Four Corners area (more on this coming up). I dropped by the local Harley dealer and bought a tank top before checking into a motel with friendly staff.

Tuesday, May 8, was a day of sight-seeing. I left Farmington at about 9 a.m. heading west on U.S. 64 to Teec Pos Nos, Ariz. — talk about the proverbial crossroads! From there it’s just a few miles east to the Four Corners Monument where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico all meet at a single point — the only such point in the United States. Here it is possible to place a foot and/or a hand in each of the four states at the same time.

There was a fellow in line with me at the monument as we waited to take pictures. We agreed to photograph one another on the four corners by exchanging cameras. When we finished, he said to me, “Well, we can scratch that off our lists!” Guess that about sums it up.

The Four Corners Monument is quite large and impressive. In addition to a sizable concrete slab, it features a U.S. flag and the flags of the four states. It is located on a Navajo reservation and is operated by the Navajo people. It is surrounded by rather tacky trinket booths.

I left the monument and headed west to Kayenta, Ariz. There, I enjoyed a terrific lunch at the Blue Coffee Pot Café. This is a fine restaurant in the city that bills itself as the gateway to the eighth wonder of the world — Monument Valley. From Kayenta I rode north to the valley.

This ride gives a sampling of the incredible natural structures to come. The valley itself is breathtaking. This fabulous natural phenomenon is located on another Navajo reservation. There is a 17-mile dirt road through Monument Valley. There are bus tours (two hours long) to be had for $55, or you may drive through at your own pace — by car would be fine, but I wouldn’t do it on a bike, it’s way too dusty.

After leaving this amazing place, I headed south back to Kayenta and then southwest to Tuba City, Ariz., where I spent the night.

Bill Rezak retired in 2003 after 10 years as President of Alfred State College in Alfred, N.Y. Prior to that, he was dean of the School of Technology at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta. He and his wife Paula moved to Gainesville and Paula was diagnosed with lung cancer in May 2004. She passed away in late 2006, but not without maximizing her time on her motorcycle.

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