Laissez les bons temps rouler! Bon voyage Jerry…

Jerry Mouton, immediately after ascending Moki Dugway in Utah.
Jerry Mouton, immediately after ascending Moki Dugway in Utah.

I learned earlier this week that my friend Jerry Mouton passed away. I’m quite shocked at the news. Jerry was truly a gentleman. Always gracious, always helpful. Eternally smiling. I’ve known Jerry for over fifteen years, and he never hesitated to lend a hand or good advice, especially with regard to helping me keep my old E-type Jaguar running. Jaguars are how we met and it was the core of our friendship. Jerry and his wife Kate graciously hosted Christopher and me at their home in Palo Alto during our father-son roadtrip in 2009 and I would often meet him and other Jaguar friends when I was visiting the Bay Area.

He drove his Jaguar. On tours. At autocrosses. He drove it hard… as it was meant to be driven. It inspired me to drive mine.

Jerry has also been the driving force behind the “Oil Leak Tours” that a group of E-type Jaguar enthusiasts attend every year. I’ve been on one (and part of another) but Jerry never missed one, and in fact passed away while attending the latest tour.

Jerry's Jag on a switchback of Moki Dugway
Jerry's Jag on a switchback of Moki Dugway

The “oil leak” crowd have collectively decided to change the name of the tour to the “Yearly Mouton Memorial Vacation” aka “YMMV”. I know Jerry would get a kick out of that.

I’ll miss him. Laissez les bons temps rouler…

Jerry's Jaguar.
Jerry's Jaguar.

Vanishing Point. Focus Point.

The road to Area 51 in southern Nevada
The road to Area 51 in southern Nevada

I hate Las Vegas. 

Actually “hate” is not quite the correct term for my loathing and aversion for that place. Vegas is a blight on the otherwise wonderful intermountain west. I can appreciate what Las Vegas represents; a manifestation of liberty. A sort of place where the concept of “sin” is embraced as an alternative lifestyle. 

I’m not at all a religious person. Philosophically I reject the claim that there exists any sort of deity that rules or judges our lives and behavior. Virtue is its own reward, not some e-ticket to a post-mortem amusement park. So it isn’t the “Sin City” aspect of Vegas that repulses me. No, it is something far more simple than that: Las Vegas is just a revenue-extraction machine on a grand scale. It steals from the people who love it. 

Recently I attended an event in Vegas. It was one of those rare gatherings of far-flung folk with whom all of our interactions are online. Vegas was chosen as the location primarily due to it being a relatively cheap and easy place to get to. The organizers/hosts are from Los Angeles, but attendees came from all over North America. The SoCal contingent drove, but most folks flew in and made a long weekend of it. I’m still seeing all their photos posted on Facebook. Famous Vegas locales where they went, things they did, etc. 

Me? I drove. I drove there, I attended the event and a bit of socializing afterwards, then I drove back. 

It is about nine hundred miles from my home in central Oregon to Las Vegas. Why the hell did I drive it? Well, because it is some of the last remaining true wide-open driving territory left in America. That is why. 

The Great Basin

If you look at a map of the USA, the Great Basin is just sort of a big empty space. A blank part of the world that ancient cartographers would have filled with dreadful monsters and nameless fears. Terra Incognita. “There be dragon here” To the west lie the Sierras, to the east lie the Rockies. The philosophically polar opposite cities; Las Vegas and Salt Lake City lie at its edges. In between there is seemingly nothing. Interstate 15 cuts across it’s right side marking a route from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City via Las Vegas. Interstate 80 is the sole artery that dares to go directly through it east-to-west running from Salt Lake to Sacramento via Lake Tahoe. Otherwise this vast emptiness is devoid of superslab. It’s few small towns and settlements connected by a thin web of two-lane highways through giant valleys devoid of civilization. Empty blue highways. 

Perfect driving country. 

Before 2000, my only times spent in Nevada were an adult-league hockey tournament in Reno, and a middle of the night layover in the Las Vegas airport. It wasn’t until I drove Martin Swig’s crazy “La Carrera Nevada” car rally that I discovered the real Nevada. Not the smoky, white-trashy, sleazy Vegas or smoky, white-trashy, slightly less sleazy Reno… but the wide open and largely beautiful Basin & Range territory that makes up the rest of Nevada. It is vast. It is empty. It is awesomely scenic in its austerity. 

It is also the last place you can truly “stretch your legs” in an automobile. Yes, there is the autobahn, but no, I don’t live in Europe. I do live at the very northern edge of The Great Basin however. 

Safety Nannies might clutch their pearls and gasp, but… fuck ’em. Hemingway famously said:

There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.

True mastery comes from standing at the edge, looking into the abyss of death, and backing off just enough to truly understand where that edge lies. I’ve played two out of Hemingway’s three sports, and a failed at the basic task of herding some cattle into a pen before being branded, so I’ll take a pass on walking into a ring with an enraged bull.  Suffice to say I have a good handle on my limitations. I know and trust myself behind the wheel. 

What I can’t trust are the other humans on the road, who are so bored to tears that they have abandoned the act of driving so much that they yearn for self-driving cars to allow them to stare at their phones as they are shuttled from place to place. 

Out here in the American Outback, the roads are empty. Those drivers-who-would-rather-be-passengers are all either west of the Sierras, East of the Rockies, or are droning across the Basin on the Interstate. 

I chose my route to avoid even US highways  where I could and stuck to the most remote of the paved roads, state highways and county roads. It was bliss. 

Empty roads. Empty skies. Objective hazards measured largely in open range cattle and roadkill-feasting buzzards. 

There were stretches of road I traveled where I never saw another vehicle for hundreds of miles. I was utterly and completely alone for most of the trip.

What this sort of driving brings to the driver is FOCUS.

Well, that is if you choose to actively participate. One could set the cruise control and pass the time the same way I did in my childhood rides across the west, watching out the windows into the sagebrush for Pronghorns and Jackalopes. (I saw plenty of the former, and none of the latter.)

Or you can DRIVE.

I drove.

Due to some scheduling issues my trip to Vegas was split over two days. Friday I drove from Prineville, Oregon to Ely, Nevada, then Ely to Las Vegas Saturday morning, to attend the Saturday afternoon event. On Sunday morning I woke up and drove the entire return trip in one go, with only about an hour’s stop midway for lunch. Mapping software said the trip should be over thirteen hours long. I set out to see how many hours I could shave off that estimate.

I arrived home after about 10.5 hours of driving, alert and feeling fresh. How? I drove in a manner that many would describe as “reckless” or “dangerous” but is in reality exactly the opposite. I focused like a laser on the simple act of driving.

I played by a very simple set of rules:
1. When in or near any town, drive at or very near the speed limit.
2. When near any other vehicles, drive at or near the speed limit.
3. At all other times drive at the maximum comfortable speed I felt confident doing.

Given that well over 90% of my drive was on empty, well-paved, two-lane highways, with visibility often measured in tens of miles, it was very easy to drive the car at 80% of its true capacity. Being a modern, high-performance machine with tires rated well above my speeds, I felt very confident driving this way. I think I could have shaved more time off my trip had my car had a larger gas tank, or at least if I knew exactly where I might find gas along the route. Fuel consumption at higher speeds and “next gas in XXX miles” signs (which turned out to not be factual) forced me to slow down on two segments. It also rained on me for a short section through mountains in southern Oregon… for that I slowed down to well under the limit. Limited visibility and wet pavement is not the place to go fast.

Otherwise, I only made stops for fuel, food, and bio-breaks.

When I arrived home I felt oddly energized. Not at all tired. It was those hours of 100% focus. They don’t even allow you to become fatigued. So instead of covering ground at such a slow rate that the driver becomes bored, distracted, and fatigued, perhaps we should raise speed limits rather than keep lowering them.

It’s all about focus.

The Coupe is now on BaT.

The Coupe on BaT

After our road trip, and some attempts at cleaning the New Mexico Road Construction Dust out and off of the car, it has been listed on

As I predicted the wheel whiners came out in force, but have since settled down. With a day to go, I’m not sure yet who is serious and who is just a lookey-lou, but I’ve been trying to be helpful as possible to all questions, online and off. Really hoping this one goes to a good home.

For the folks wanting a serial re-telling of the trip from Texas to Oregon, here is a clickable menu that takes you day by day, with each in a new broswer tab:

Day One: Houston to Comanche.
Day Two: Comanche to Lubbock.
Day Three: Lubbock to Santa Fe.
Day Four: Santa Fe to Kayenta.
Day Five: Kayenta to Ely.
Day Six: Ely to Home.


Texas to Oregon in a classic Mercedes 280se Coupe: Day 6, Ely, Nevada to Powell Butte, Oregon

No matter how you look at it, we have a long drive ahead of us today. The space between Ely and home is vast, largely empty, and unavoidable. Both of us are feeling a tad road weary as well. We can “smell the barn” as they say and really want to be home. I’ve done drives of this distance many times before, but not since the Cannonball Classic in 1999 have I done them in serial, day after day after day. Mind you this car is far more comfortable than any car I have ever driven long distances, with the possible exception of my 2007 BMW M Roadster. But comparing those two cars is very apples-to-oranges. The BMW is a modern car, built with modern materials, and most differently, it is a very small GT/sportscar. This car is a luxury coupe. Sort of a class that no longer exists. If you think about it, how many two-door cars even exist anymore, outside of the sports/muscle/pony-car realm? The traditional manufactures still make luxury cars, but all of them I can think of are four-door cars. They even have the gall to call these four-door cars “coupes” Back in the day however, two-door luxury coupes ruled the roads, like Tyrannosaurs. Cadillac Eldorados, Ford Thunderbirds, Buick Rivieras, and of course BMW 6-series, and Mercedes-Benzes such as this one. Big, V-8 power, seats that would feel at home in your living room. Indeed, a living room on wheels. Our road weariness doesn’t come from the car, so much as hotels, and that unsettled feeling that comes from staying in them. While there is a daily routine, it isn’t our daily routine. Our longing is to be home and back into our normal day to day lives.

The route

If you are at all familiar with the region displayed above, you know there is a whole lot of nothing along that route. The largest towns along the way are Winnemucca (~9000 people), Burns (~3000 people), Battle Mountain (~2000 people), and Eureka (~900 people). The area between Winnemucca and Burns is vast, and once to Burns, we’re just two and a half hours from home.

Add to this, the weather doesn’t look good either:


We could stay and wait it out, but the forecast doesn’t look any better for a few days. The last time I drove through this area I was towing a race car to Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, and I was caught is some serious hard rain… so much rain I abandoned the tow and waited it out in a hotel. However, this doesn’t have the look and feel of that sort of storm. After some thought, I decide to continue.

Like yesterday, we have an early start, and plan on getting on the road and getting breakfast on the way. In this case in Eureka, NV about an hour away. The Hotel Nevada has a Keurig coffee maker in every room, so Testa Rossa can make herself a cup for the road. I’ve never developed a taste for coffee, and honestly never drink the stuff, but she is one of those “coffee people” who can’t get going in the morning without a cup. I find her very amusing, because she often will fall asleep holding a cup in her lap. Go figure.

I go and load up the car, and check the oil. I do this every morning and despite its age, the engine doesn’t really consume much oil. It is about three-quarters of a liter down from when we left Houston. That’s roughly 1900 miles of driving, via the route we have taken. Not bad for a forty-five year old car. I top it up and get ready to roll. Testa Rossa has her coffee to go, and we hit the road.

US 50 is our route today, at least as far as Eureka. Then Nevada 278 up to I-80. Testa Rossa snoozes away the miles, while I carefully eye her coffee cup to make sure she doesn’t let go of it in her slumber. It rains on and off, but never very hard. The sky is broken clouds, rather than ominously dark, so I’m cautiously optimistic.

Arriving in Eureka, we looked up a good breakfast place and were pointed to The Pony Express Deli. As it was still very early it was uncrowded, just a few construction workers in there finishing their breakfasts. It was a delightful choice as the ladies there make everything from scratch. The home-made bread was amazing. I bought a jar of hot pepper jam to bring home as well. Very tasty!

Nevada Highway 278

Leaving Eureka, we take Nevada Highway 278. I’ve driven this road before on the La Carrera Nevada with my father in his Jaguar XK 120. That car is gone now. Come to think of it, I helped him sell that car on eBay, when that was the preferred marketplace for selling vintage cars online. Nowadays it is BaT, and that is precisely what I’m doing here; bringing this car home to help sell it online. When he sold the 300sl he used a well-regarded restorer/dealer to handle the sale (I told him then, and still do, that he sold that car too early. They spiked in price shortly afterwards to nearly double. Oh well.) as that was an ideal venue for such a specialized and unusual collector car, but this one is far more pedestrian, and so onto Bring a Trailer it is going. Before that can happen though, we have to get it home.

After some time on 287, I’m feeling a bit drowsy and ask Testa Rossa, now fully awake, if she’s up for some driving. She gladly accepts and carries on while I snooze.

Testa Rossa driving again.

She pilots the Coupe onto the Interstate and west towards Winnemucca. I ask her to wake me when we arrive. She ends up waking me at one point before that to learn how to operate the windscreen wipers, but I fall right back into my slumber and manage to stay that way all the way to Winnemucca where we stop to get some gas.

After the car is filled with gasoline I say that we should find some lunch to-go. It is still before noon, but after we start heading north, there won’t be another sizeable town for many hours of driving, and the chance of finding food is pretty near zero. In my head, I consider whether even our twenty gallons of gasoline will get us all the way home, and plan on a fuel stop in Burns. I have friends that have driven through Burns and not stopped to fill up who later regretted that as the long road towards Bend sucked their tanks dry… out there in the middle of nowhere is not the place you want to run out of fuel.

We stop at a sandwich shop and buy two for the road, then strike out north on US Highway 95. I thought about driving via Steens Mountain, which I did on my return trip from Utah towing the racecar, but I realize that is even more remote than 95, and at that time I had the benefit of multiple 5-gallon jugs of race gas in the bed of the truck to keep me moving along. Better to stick to the more well-traveled roads for this section.

The rain comes and goes, and occasionally gets moderately heavy, but never enough to make driving difficult. We also get quite a few sun breaks along the way. In all, the weather is nowhere near as bad as I’d thought it would be. A while later just before we cross into Oregon a small store appears beside the road. I head in to take a restroom break and buy some cold drinks to eat with my sandwich. The place looks deserted, and the selection is pretty slim. I buy a couple of diet Pepsis, not because I like them, but because they are the only thing available. Back in the car I eat half my sandwich and then continue on.

Southeastern Oregon

The landscape of southeastern Oregon is not that much different than the rest of the Great Basin topology, except that it likely receives a bit more precipitation, and that mostly in the form of snow. The sagebrush is more dense, certainly. The mountain ranges are here, but unlike further south very few, or no roads go through them. Certainly no paved highways. There are vast cattle ranches here, but no sign of them is seen, other than some occasional stock and maybe one gate in one hundred miles.

I tell Testa Rossa that when I drove this road once before in my M Roadster, I would just floor it and go as fast as I could until I spotted another vehicle. No matter if it was traveling in my direction or opposite, I would slow the car down at the edge of visual range to something moderately close to the speed limit, which was then 55 MPH, but is now 70 MPH. Once past the other vehicle I would ramp it back up to as fast as I’d dare. It makes the long drive through the Oregon Outback go much more swiftly. Today however, we’re poking along at the limit, and sometimes even below it, as the weather and a forty-five year old car dictate.

At Burns Junction, which isn’t really a town so much as a weigh station, and an airstrip, we branch left onto Oregon Highway 78 towards Burns. This road is even more remote, and has far less traffic than US 95.

On Oregon Highway 78

On Oregon Highway 78

On Oregon Highway 78

At a wide spot, in a break between light weather squalls, I stop, finish my sandwich and snap a few shots of the car out in this landscape. This is America’s outback. The middle of nowhere, and I live just west of it. It is another four hours of driving from here to home, and to be honest there isn’t much more to tell about it. We fill up the car in Burns, and soldier on to Powell Butte over several hours. Finally home, I pull the car into the shop and wonder at how well it has driven. How comfortable it has been. And most of all, how my parents came to love this car and hold onto it longer than any other.

At home, in the shop.

It is good to be home, and Testa Rossa (with far more energy than I) heads off to the store to buy a few things to make dinner, breakfast, etc. It is great to be home, with all the contentment that it brings; sleeping in my own bed, cooking in my own kitchen, and admiring the view I love so much.

In the morning the sun is shining so I pull out the car and take a parting shot for you:

The Coupe, at home

It will be listed online for sale soon and I’ll let you all know when that happens. Stay tuned!

Texas to Oregon in a classic Mercedes 280se Coupe: Day 5, Kayenta, Arizona to Ely, Nevada

The Middle of Nowhere

We have a long way to go today, so I set an alarm for pretty early. We hit the road without breakfast, and based solely on our experience last night, why would we torture ourselves further? The plan is to head for Page, Arizona and have our breakfast there, then check the weather and adjust our route. The roads to Page are US 160 and AZ 98. This will be my first time on the latter. Always love ticking off another blue highway off my list!

Leaving Kayenta

AZ 98 is a fun road. Virtually no traffic, except for a long parade of big yellow School Busses heading into Page. These kids must spend half their days on a bus! The other oddity I notice is an electrified railroad running alongside US 160, and again later it joins AZ 98 for a bit. I’m confused what purpose it serves, until I note that it leads to a coal-fired power generation plant just outside of Page. (Research after the fact shows that it runs a loop to-from a coal mine SSE of Kayenta to the plant just east of Page. See for yourself via satellite imagery.) Seems odd to me to have a big coal plant next to a huge Hydro station (the Glen Canyon dam) but I guess leveraging the tranmission infrastructure makes some sense. I imagine this is similar to the coal plant at Boardman, Oregon, which sits amidst the greatest concentration of hydropower dams in the USA.

In Page, we seek a good breakfast place via typical online tools. We start zeroing in on one and then begin the terrible comedy of GPS turn-by-turn directions that have us spinning in circles in what is clearly a residential area, but is just a block or two off a main retail strip. After the damn GPS lady has us perform two laps of u-turns with nothing like what we’re looking for appearing outside our windows I do the manly thing and say “fuck it, I’ll find my own food, zip over to the obviously main street of town and pull into the first place that is clearly open and serving breakfast. It is nothing special really, and is in fact a fast-food place, but not a national chain or franchise. It is some local joint, drive-in kind of place that was everywhere in the USA before McD’s took over and put all these sorts of places out of business. Testa Rossa has a breakfast burrito, and I have a breakfast sandwich with some onion rings on the side. We split the rings and look at the weather. Things still look pretty bad to the north. Truly awful up in Oregon, but Utah is also covered in sqalls and storms at the edge of this larger system up north.

We have two options if we choose to continue west-bound. US89 and US89A. The latter swings by the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Testa Rossa tells me she has never seen the Grand Canyon, so I suggest we head that way. Doing the South Rim will add a full day to our drive as we’d have to go all the way around to Las Vegas befiore going due north, so I nix that… but I have no idea when the North Rim opens for the year. We choose to head that way anyway and take a chance.

US 89 out of Page is a very pretty road. I remark to Testa Rossa that if any of these rock formations were located in any other state, say Kentucky or Iowa, they would be world famous, but as they are located here, among thousands of other such stunning rock formations, they are just another rock formation. Go figure.

Just another (mind blowing) rock formation amoung the other thousand rock formations we see here.

US 89 runs along the edge of Marble Canyon, which is the canyon on the Colorado River upstream from the Grand Canyon. It drops down through a divide blasted into one of these rock formations down into Marble Canyon, at which point we turn onto US Highway 89A, and double-back north to cross the river at Navajo Bridge, and then through the Vermilion Cliffs area. The location is pretty spectacular to be honest. At a particularly scenic spot, we stop and soak it all in…

Testa Rossa, in a good mood.

She’s in a very good mood. Bolting out of the car into the cool sunshine and dancing all around the rocks as I slowly gather myself and my camera gear. I can understand why she feels this way. This is a spectacular place, and the weather is perfect. Puffy little clouds. Cool temps. Amazing scenery in every direction, but most of all to the north where the Vermilion Cliffs tower above us. Everything is red. Red rocks. Red dirt. Red cliffs.

Red is, after all, her color.

I set about shooting some pretty pictures of the coupe:

Vermilion Cliffs

Vermilion Cliffs

Meanwhile, she’s pirouetting about with wild abandon.

Testa Rossa

She has such a lovely, optimistic outlook on life, and I have to admit, it makes her wonderful to spend time with. I could do a lot worse. I’m stalking angles and seeing the world through a viewfinder. She is dancing, singing, and delighting in the moment. Laughing, she lays herself in a pinup pose across the coupe’s front as I snap away. Let’s just say that image isn’t going to make it onto this family-friendly website, but I will share this more composed and comported version:

I think I’ll keep her.

Back into the car, we get underway, and very soon our bundle of energy is sound asleep. Go figure. I just quietly drive on while she snoozes for a good ninety minutes or more. Throughout this time we’re climbing out of the canyon country and higher into some greenery and mountains. The temps cool, and the vegetation goes from sage to dense juniper, and then into Ponderosa Pine forests. It starts looking a lot like home, meaning the area around Bend, Oregon. Higher and higher we climb, and the car, as always, stays cool and runs well. So well, and so smooth that my snoozing passenger stays comfortably asleep, even as the road switch-backs up some steep sections.

We pass the North Rim entrance to the Grand Canyon, and large signs inform me that it remains closed for the Winter despite being well into Spring. Oh well. Next time. I don’t even wake my slumbering companion. A few dozen miles later however, she awakens and I let her know about the status of the park, and how we’ll have to come back some day so she can see it. Showing no disappointment, she gladly picks up her knitting and continues a project she’s been working away at for this whole trip. At one point I note something in the rear view mirror and say to her, “You know how this car is so evocative of style, and dignified class now watch this.” I slow down and allow a modern day Mercedes pass us. It is a “dust buster” style minivan/crossover ugly thing. She laughs and agrees with me that Mercedes-Benz may have lost the plot recently.

We’re dropping like a rock down out of the mountains and into a large valley floor. The trees are now behind us and we’re in sagebrush country once again.

The knitter and the driver.

We pull into Fredonia, AZ (which I ponder if it was named before, or after the Marx Brothers movie) and then turn north into Utah. We’re now clearly heading into some weather. Dark clouds dominate the sky to the northwest. The scenery changes from sage to red rock canyon and back again a few times, before we begin to climb into some mountains and then it arrives. Not rain, but snow. Not enough to stick, but the air and ground are being vigorously scoured by pellets of snow in the strong winds. Normally I love snow and seek it out, but not when I’m driving old cars. Thankfully it never snows enough to be a real threat to driving conditions. Down out of the mountains we’re also out of the storm. Up ahead I see a car whose silhouette I instantly recognize. It is an R107, or as it is known to most, an SL Mercedes. Specifically this one is a 560sl, the last of the R107 cars that were built and sold from 1973 until almost 1990. They are great cars.

560sl, near Bryce Canyon

I wave as we pass. It sports Wyoming plates, so another wandering tourist in a classic Mercedes-Benz.

The weather comes and goes. Rain. Sun. Occasional whirlwinds of that pellet-type snowfall. As we pass through Panguitch, Utah, I spot a an unlikely name for a restaurant:
“Tandoori Taqueria”.
As I ponder the scenario that created such an establishment (now closed, for reasons I find easier to grasp) I realize that it is about lunchtime, and since I’m hungry I imagine Testa Rossa is as well. I see an open place, with the more appealing name of “Cowboy Smokehouse” and hang a u-turn to put us in front of it. With visions of BBQ in my head I’m a bit disappointed to find only sandwiches and burgers on the lunch menu. Go figure. The service is provided with excellence by a very friendly waitress, who possesses the widest hips I have seen in recent memory. As one would expect, the place has the look and feel of an 1880s saloon, however, being in Utah, it is far tamer than what you are imagining. The burger is damn good, and I wash it down with a bottomless glass of iced tea.

I’ve been driving for four and a half days straight, and today is going to be our longest day so far. Testa Rossa volunteers for a shift behind the wheel. I’m feeling a bit tired, so I’m totally OK with taking some time in the right seat. I warn her though that I’m a “car sleeper” if I’m not driving and will likely be out like a light. If the weather gets crazy, if she needs navigational assistance, or if she gets sleepy, she is to wake me and let me take over.

Testa Rossa Driving the Coupe

Sure enough, I’m zonked out seconds after we get underway. Boy, is this car a comfy cruiser!

Oddly though, I sleep lightly and wake up enough to help her make the required turns; onto Utah Highway 20, then north on Interstate 70, and then west on Utah Highway 21. I occasionally wake up and snap a photo. Or chat with her for a while. But mostly I’m happy to get some rest.

Storm we went all the way around.

The weather continues it is on-again/off-again thing, but Testa Rossa has some odd luck and I don’t think a drop of rain nor flake/pellet of snow ever falls on us while she drives. At one point we actually drive counterclockwise three-quarters the way around a storm cell that is clearly producing a LOT of rain. Odd luck indeed.

Inside the Coupe

Utah Highway 21 turns out to be one of those amazeballs western roads, like US 50 or 95. It traverses the Basin and Range landscape of western Utah into Nevada. These areas make for really fun driving. Think of it as long long drag races (basin) connected by twisty road courses (range). The road never fully reaches the vanishing point, as just as it begins to, a mountain range pops up and provides some driving entertainment. Once through the range, you drop down again onto this usually laser-straight road, which races towards the horizon to where yet another mountain range awaits.

At one point I ask Testa Rossa if she will indulge me an unusual photo opportunity. She agrees. We stop the car, right in the highway. Odd right? Well, there are no vehicles in either direction, as far as the eye can see, which is pretty damn far in this case…

Utah Highway 21 through the Basin & Range Topography of western Utah.

I can only imagine how mind-blowing places like this are to Europeans, or easterners. The landscape is usually utterly devoid of any indicators of humanity, except the road of course. Sometimes you’ll see a fence, or a far away ranch building. Maybe a bush here and there. Occasionally some power transmission lines. But mostly these valleys are absolutely empty.

Except cattle.

Free range cattle

Just before the above photo was shot, three of these cattle were actually ON THE ROAD. We stopped reasonably far away, and waited for them to leisurely wander off the asphalt. They are few and far between, but they ARE out there, so you must stay alert. In some ways I’m glad we’re piloting a cruiser, rather than a sportscar, as we’re ambling along rather reasonably, not pushing limits and the pedal to the metal.

Entering Nevada

The road finally reaches Nevada, and becomes Nevada Highway 487. In a short distance we meet US Highway 50, aka “the Loneliest Road“, and head west towards our destination for the day, Ely.

I’ve driven this road a couple of times before. It is much the same as Utah 21 in terms of landscape, but now we have a tiny bit more traffic. The car I recall the most is a Toyota Camry, which I pass not long after we merge with US 50. As we go up and over the next mountain range, it catches us, and I let them by. Then again, on the long flat valley floor, we pass the Camry again. In the next mountain range, as I’m slowly navigating the twisty road, and steep grades, the Toyota overtakes me again. We continue this leap-frogging all the way to Ely.

At Ely, we are staying at the Hotel Nevada. It is something of a landmark with quite a bit of history. All we are looking for is a bed, some wifi, and a dinner.

Hotel Nevada

We check in, but a few blocks away I noted a car wash, and I really want to wash all that dust we picked up in New Mexico off the car. So after I drop the bags in the room, I zip over to get that job done.

Car washed!

The trunk and interior are still dusty but at least the outside is clean!

We grab a drink, dinner, and have a wonderful night’s sleep.

Texas to Oregon in a classic Mercedes 280se Coupe: Day 4, Santa Fe, New Mexico to Kayenta, Arizona

I didn’t sleep very well last night. Between the GI distress and being a tad weary after driving for three days… and then there was this:

Outside our hotel window

Did I add that it was backlit by a strong light. Right. Outside. The window.

I guess this serves as decor in New Mexico.

Speaking of which, the one decoration I DO appreciate are the Ristras strung up everywhere. They make for a nice color accent and backdrop as I’m out prepping and loading the car for our journey today.


Feeling better, we enjoy the hotel breakfast buffet, and I peruse the weather on our proposed route up into Colorado. Specifically we want to head to Durango, then up US 550 (aka “The Million Dollar Highway” to Ouray. I’ve traveled this route before in the Colorado Grand tour, and it was also recommended by my friend Frank Barrett as we enjoyed a lunch together a few weeks ago in Bend, Oregon.

However, it was clear that the entire west of the USA was being blanketed by a major storm system. My weather radar app on my phone showed precipitation across the entire Pacific Northwest, Intermountain West/Great Basin area, and the Rocky Mountains… except New Mexico and Arizona. Given the elevations involved, the likelihood of being snowed upon is really high if we drive north to Colorado, so I decide to head west. I look at the map and find a few roads I have yet to drive, linking with a few that I have driven, and we calculate our destination in eastern Nevada. We plan to cross the mountains just west of Los Alamos, NM, then head up to the Shiprock area, then west to Monument Valley, then northwest through Utah and into Nevada.

Arriving in Los Alamos

We take a leisurely route through and out of Santa Fe, via a twisty road through a canyon north of town. It is filled with the usual Santa Fe things: fancy galleries, fancy restaurants, and fancy homes (all built out of adobe of course) and of course fancy cars, several of which give us thumbs up as they pass us. We amble our way towards Los Alamos, a place I can’t recall ever visiting, despite all the time I’ve spent in the area. It is up on a series of mesas at the base of a mountain range. Really a pretty place, but unusual in that it is clearly a “Company Town” with the company being the Los Alamos National Laboratory. There is a lot of history here, at least recent history since the town was created in 1942 to serve as the headquarters for the Manhattan Project. Since it is the last largish town we are going to be in for a while, we stop to pick up some things, hit a restroom, and most importantly get some coffee for Testa Rossa. We find a grocery store with a Starbucks inside, and I park the car a good distance away in the large parking lot. I often do this just so I can get some exercise. I also do this because parking lots are likely the most hazardous places in the world to drive a car. The risk to life and limb is near zero while you remain in the car, but the risk to the car is very high. I REALLY don’t want to get any dings or dents in this car, as the whole plan is to sell it as soon as possible after we get home. I just get out and start walking, without bothering to lock the car. As we enter the store we split up, with Testa Rossa beelining for her coffee, and me making a restroom stop, and then grabbing a few groceries for the road. After I check out I find Testa Rossa and she says she wants to head back to the car since it is unlocked. I stay behind and snack a bit, and I think about what she just said… and think to myself “why on earth is she so worried about the unlocked car? This town is populated almost entirely by PhD Physicists!”

I return to the car and tell her my thoughts and she laughs and agrees with me. Of course the car and its contents were intact and left unmolested while we were in the store.

Getting underway, we wind our way through and out of Los Alamos. There are clear signs of the nature of what goes on here, in many odd, both subtle and blatant ways. For example, most of the homes in and around the town that we see are quite modest, but virtually every home has a nice car parked in the driveway. The most hilarious one I see is a tiny bungalow, which looks a tad run down, but has a Tesla Model S parked in front. Nice cars are driving around everywhere, and there are large signs here and there that state that all vehicles are subject to search at any time. The Lab has several sites and entrances all with clear and present physical security. As we leave Los Alamos and head into the mountains the roads, despite it being a Monday, are crowded with road cyclists, and the trail head parking lots all contain cars. After about 30 minutes of driving west, things settle down to normal, western landscapes again.

Valle Grande, west of Los Alamos

Highway through the mountains, AFTER the construction.

We are rolling along a nice wide highway through the mountains when all of a sudden we come around a corner and encounter road construction. The pavement has been removed, and it is down to dirt. In fact, the actual road pathway has been blocked and a temporary bypass road has been made through some cones. I gingerly maneuver the car through this area, and after a few turns find myself completely blocked by construction equipment. We wait for a while, and it becomes clear that they are actively clearing out a path for us to go through the zone. Eventually they wave us through and we find ourselves on a very dusty section. The car is surrounded by a cloud of dust, and it is getting into the passenger compartment in volume. I had no idea this was on the menu for today. I can’t recall seeing any sign warning us of the impending construction, but too late now, we are in it deep. Soon we once again have our way blocked by heavy equipment. I get out of the car as we wait and ask the workers how far the construction goes ahead. They reply that just “three bends up the road” the way has been graded as of last week and it should be clear driving after that. They tell me, “you’ve got balls bringing that car up here” to which I respond “I had no idea this construction was up here.” I ask how far before we’re on pavement again, and they universally shrug their shoulders… they have no idea. We wait likely thirty minutes before we’re able to continue (we had to wait a bit for traffic coming the other way first) before we continue making progress again. Sure enough, just a short distance from our stopping point the road surface dramatically improves, though it is still very dusty. About four miles later we’re back on excellent pavement again. I’m a bit dumbfounded by how they can perform this near total repave of the section with pretty much zero signage until we’re right upon it. Oh well, New Mexico! The delay has cost us a LOT of time, so I figure we’ll have to readjust our ambitions on where to stay tonight.

We exit the mountains and head down towards the Farmington area, and stop for a pee-break, an ice cream sandwich, and a chance to survey lodging possibilities. We consider either Monument Valley/Kayenta, or Page, Arizona. I’ve visited the former, but haven’t been to the latter. I’ve driven most of the roads in this part of the world, between my college days climbing road trips, and the 2011 Southwest Oil Leak Tour. Feeling some time pressure due to our construction delays, we get moving, but the relatively populated area stymies us with stop lights and traffic from Bloomfield, through Farmington, and into Shiprock. It seems to take forever to get through this part of New Mexico. We finally break free of the congestion west of Shiprock as we approach the border with Arizona. I point out the Four Corners area to Testa Rossa, referring to the “Breaking Bad” episode where Skyler visits the monument after Walt’s “I’m the one who knocks” speech. We don’t visit the monument, but the general area is visible to our north.

Approaching the Monument Valley area in the Four Corners region.

Our cumulative delays have us choosing to stay in Kayenta. This will allow us to check in, get gas, dash up to Monument Valley in time to catch the sunset, then grab a dinner at The View hotel overlooking the Monument. It is cloudy, but there are breaks in the clouds that just might make for a spectacular sunset, in what is clearly one of the most spectacular landscapes on earth.

Plan in place, we begin to execute. While we’re getting gas, Testa Rossa checks for hotels on her phone. She sees the one that is right across the street has a good price, so we drive over and check the quoted price at the desk versus the one online. The price is the same, so we check in and go to our room, and unload. I grab my camera and we head north to the Monument.

The Coupe in Monument Valley

I’ve been here before, but this is Testa Rossa’s first time. Unlike my last visit which enjoyed clear weather, the sky today is heavily overcast, with some slight clearing to the west. The valley is beautiful to behold, as always. I start by parking the Coupe in a scenic spot and snapping the photo you see above. Sure, it’s dusty from the construction zone, and has bugs splattered all over the front, but it still looks good. Afterwards I park it and we walk around, soaking in the view as the sun sets. It is surprisingly empty of people… just a few European and Asian tourists here and there, as well as a few other Americans. I have my whole camera bag and swap lenses on the camera a few times trying to get the essence of the place. No lens ever comes close, as it seems is always the case. The setting sun fails to break through a properly placed opening to illuminate the monuments, but some interesting light plays on the clouds and the mountains in the distance. Satisfied that it isn’t going to change for the better, we head in to the hotel to sit down to dinner. I had eaten there before, specifically breakfast on my last visit and I thought it would make a better choice than Kayenta, which seems to have just fast food. Unfortunately the restaurant only serves hotel guests for dinner as a matter of some policy, which is absurd, as the place is not even half full. Turned away, we head back to the car and back to our hotel a bit to the south in Kayenta. Turns out our hotel has a restaurant, and it is still serving dinner. We get a table and again note that just about everyone around us is a visitor from overseas. Brits, Germans, French, etc. A lot of motorcycle tourists as it seems like riding a Harley on Route 66 is a big deal for Europeans. Go figure.

The food and service at the restaurant is terrible, and very… VERY… slow. The insult to injury is that alcohol is banned on the Reservation, so you have to endure all of this sober. I can only imagine the disappointment all these overseas visitors are feeling. The place is empty before we are able to clear out. We head back to our room and I sleep like a log.

Monument Valley

Texas to Oregon in a classic Mercedes 280se Coupe: Day 3, Lubbock, Texas to Santa Fe, New Mexico

Levelland, Texas

“Soft Lubbock Breezes” is what I have always called a 20-35MPH wind since I first visited Lubbock in 1981.The wind blows here all the time. In the four years I spent there I can only recall a few hours when there was no wind. Then of course when the weather got interesting the winds would really crank up and get insane. Dust storms, thunderstorms, tornados, snow, and even snowy thunderstorms! I used to say that since there was nothing to look at in terms of landscape, the sky offered all the entertainment. Thankfully today is merely “breezy”, meaning a stiff ~20mph wind.

Two mandatory stops are required before we leave Lubbock; coffee for Testa Rossa, and gasoline for the Coupe.

Feeding the beast

When I lived in Lubbock I spent every moment of my free time either out of Lubbock, or getting out of Lubbock. I usually was headed west or northwest, towards the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico and Colorado. Skiing in the winter & spring, as well as climbing all year round. One of my enduring memories from my time in Lubbock was walking out to an empty area of the Tech campus, and watching the western sky at, and most importantly after sunset. About 265 miles due west of Lubbock are the closest mountains. Due to the curvature of the earth, they were invisible at that distance, but due to their over 12,000 foot altitude, they would – under certain atmospheric conditions – cast shadows upwards onto the sky that were visible for a few minutes after the sun sank below the horizon beyond them. Much like the “green flash” that people watch for at sunsets over oceans, the mountain shadow was something that brought me comfort during my time in The Unbearable Flatness of Being in Lubbock.

I’ve driven just about every road in eastern New Mexico on my various travels to and from the mountains, but I was able to find a route for a portion that I’d never driven before, Highway 114. I combined it with NM 330/267, then onto the familiar routes of US 60, I-40, & US 285 to Santa Fe to round out our day.

Underway, we struck out due west on 114, and I searched out a good location to catch the dawn light to get a few more photos of the car. Near the aptly named Levelland, Texas, I found a farm to market road that took us out onto a nice featureless bit of farmland, with excellent morning light…

Out near Levelland
Out near Levelland

Texas Highway 114 is like every other state highway we have traveled in Texas. Frequently four lanes and divided. Wide, paved shoulders. Excellent signage, including the best sign seen on any road in America: “LEFT LANE FOR PASSING ONLY”. Well, this is all going to come to a very swift end, as we are approaching the border between Texas and New Mexico…

New Mexico Highway 114

As soon as we cross the border, the road loses its paved shoulders, narrows dramatically, and the surface appears to be worn, neglected asphalt. This is the way New Mexico have always been. I recall a very rural highway in New Mexico I used to drive often in my college years whose speed limit signs had never been updated, even a decade after the national 55 MPH speed limit was enacted. It still had sections posted for 60 and 65 MPH. I was driving a naturally aspirated Diesel car back then with a whopping 45 horsepower, but you can be assured I would wind that thing all the way up and push it to 65 MPH gleefully. Diesel fuel cost about 59¢ a gallon back then and I could drive from Lubbock to Denver for about $5. Ah.. memories. Today however, the 55 MPH limit applies on New Mexico Highway 114. Given the wavy, poor-quality asphalt I have no problem adhering to the law today.

As the plan is to list the car for sale on BaT as soon as we get home (at which point I’ll have a chance to grab some photos of the car’s underside on the lift) I’m always looking for a scenic spot to put the car into and get some photos. I’ve brought along my trusty Lumix G1 M4/3rds camera and a handful of lenses. As we traversed Texas, including this recent crossing of the Panhandle, I saw a million oil well pumpjacks and hoped to find one as a backdrop. Sadly all of them seem to require too much “offroading” to get to, and I really want to keep the car clean. But suddenly we stumble upon the archetypal South Plains image as a backdrop, but with a modern twist:

Windmills, old and new.

A running joke at the Texas Tech Department of Art was “It ain’t art until there’s a windmill innit”, so I had to grab a quick Instagram video with the same caption:

"It ain't art until there's a windmill innit."

A post shared by Chuck Goolsbee (@chuckgoolsbee) on

So there you have it: Real west Texas art (from eastern New Mexico.)

I’m actually quite happy to see these large wind turbines all over the South Plains. It makes so much sense to harvest this near endless energy source for the production of electricity.

Our route zig-zags north and west through Elida, Melrose, to Fort Sumner along the Pecos River, then to Santa Rosa on Interstate 40, which is the modern replacement for the old Route 66. Along this stretch is where the Rocky Mountains come into view. I have a nose for snow. I never fail to spot a snow covered mountain as it comes over the horizon, and point them out to Testa Rossa, who at first insists they are clouds. But as we get closer they resolve into what I know they are, mountains!


From here all the way home we will have mountains with us the entire time.

Taking US Highway 285 into Santa Fe I glance down to the dashboard and see that the reserve light is on for our fuel status. Not sure how long it has been on, I’m taken by surprise. I take the first exit into the city and start seeking a gas station. Of course there are none to be found! We resort to using technology, and find a station a mile or so away. I fill up the car and, if I assume the car has a 20-gallon tank, figure that we had about a pint left. I kick myself and make a mental note to avoid this situation in the future.

I am an idiot

We find our hotel, and Testa Rossa zips off to the nearby Georgia O’Keefe Museum while I stay behind and do some work.

Later, she meets with a family friend for drinks at the hotel bar. We’re both feeling a little ill from our lunch, and miss out on the joy of New Mexican Cuisine. I can’t even finish my margarita, and head back to the room and hit the sack.