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Dickel 1997 Cross Country Rally Report - Chapter Two

The Dickel Diary

by John Ford and Bill Terry-"The Dickel Brothers"

April 9, 1997

Up at 0600, limped across the KOA camp and fell into the rain locker (shower). Higbee was making coffee in the Dickel Trickle Truck, Ray danced out to jog two miles, and Bill sorted through boxes looking for a bear claw.

Ron S. (SEAL Team 2) dropped in to say "Good morning" and to wish us well before he broke camp and struck out for Doyle, California. It was good to see him. We all wished him well too.

J.B.P. and his young wife Dawn of Round Pond, Maine entered our perimeter. J.B. had seen Oscar's George Dickel signs and approached out of curiosity. Turns out, he used to spend months in the Antarctic dry valleys doing geologist stuff. He related sweet memories in a tent, with George Dickel listening to "Talking Heads". Now why can folks get Dickel in Antarctica and not in California?

J.B. also told us about freeze dried seals they would find 450 miles inland. Apparently the seals get lost and begin to crawl and crawl and crawl. Jeese! 450 miles!

We broke camp early, refueled and hit the road leaving Holbrook behind for Gallup, New Mexico. Along this segment of Hwy 40, the high desert flatlands spread seemingly endless in all directions. Dark, weathered, flat-topped mesas jut up into the horizon here and there, without rhyme or reason. Vegetation is sparse and takes on a gray-green appearance.

South of Hwy 40, off in the distance, we watched a segmented, flickering silver thing follow along parallel to us. A passenger train snaked it's way through the distance in ghostly silence.

High above us, countless contrails traced the burning blue sky in all directions. White, lenticular clouds (an indication of high winds aloft) well to the south, reminded us of dolphins chasing into some unseen current from the west. We're getting warnings of weather approaching.

What drives people to love a piece of soil? An occasional weathered wooden building, or one built of stone, or an isolated mobile home, dot this desert accompanied only by an unpaved road and a line of power poles leading to and from nowhere. God must have a special reward for those that watch over these parts.

Right at Mile 312, on Hwy 40 (Route 66), an Arizona Department of Transportation road maintenance crew waved to us from their worksite as we passed by. Oscar was dwarfed by their yellow road grader. Come to think of it, Oscar's dwarfed by a Volkswagen.

Off in the distance we can see brilliant colors fused into massive cliffs. Ray and I argued whether or not it was the painted desert... who knows. If it's not the painted desert, it's at the very least a preview. Reds, pinks, purples, and all shades of browns interspersed with splashes of white and black... incredible. All of these earthy, yet vivid, colors are contrasted with spent, straw-colored grasses and clumps of gray-green plant life proudly sporting tufts of brilliant yellow flowers.

We passed by a hitchhiker sitting in the gravel beyond the paved road shoulder rolling a cigarette. He was completely oblivious to our passing, yet his dingo-like dog sitting on an overturned suitcase followed us with a head-cocked interest.

I kept looking off to the south to watch a hypnotic streak of silver follow us along like the earlier passenger train. This new train, however, had no substance; it was the brilliant reflection of the sun dancing the tops of the worn rails.

Boulders! I thought I had seen boulders before. These things lay scattered in disarray at the feet of ridges and mesas like children's toys in a sandbox. Many are the size of cars, houses, and even apartment buildings. Relative size seems to have lost all meaning out here. These things are gigantic, solid stones that have tumbled like pebbles everywhere.

The winds aloft have found the surface. It's fairly steady with an abrupt, disconcerting gust from time to time. Dust is beginning to pick up and blow in the distance. Anything moving on unpaved roads, or out in the desert itself, stirs up a cloud of yellow ochre dust that can be seen for miles.

We saw a boney, horned cow plodding toward a water tank over her sparse pasture. A puff of smoke-like dust would take to the wind with her every step. It was almost as if her hooves were hot branding irons burning a dotted path across the surface. I was reminded of the song "Ghost Riders in the Sky" and of the devil's herd that ran across the ragged sky and up a cloudy draw. May she find her water in peace.

Dire Straights are playing on our tape player; perfect accompaniment to this visual symphony through which we are moving. Our senses are on the verge of overload... Lord, how peaceful all this is...

Should you ever travel Hwy 40, be prepared for massive sandstone formations near exit 359. High on a bluff, south of the roadway, you can see a shelf. Look up to see a stack of boulders perching on one another. The top rock is larger in diameter than the lower... like a stone hat. Video and photographs cannot do this scenery justice.

In this same area, huge sandstone caves have evolved over time. Look carefully into these gaping mouths of rock to see dark streaks of mineral deposits carried there by seeping water from countless tiny springs. These seeping fingers have etched out these sandstone caves over millions and millions of years; some of which could easily swallow five and six story buildings.

We arrived in Gallup, New Mexico just before noon, mountain time. We stopped at the "Kountry Kitchen" and had lunch. Ray raved over his lamb stew with hominy and accepted Higbee's extra salad. Bill and I had sandwiches and lots of water.

Local weather alert forecasting winds to 68 MPH! We decided to blow on out to Albuquerque, New Mexico. We could use a two day crewres (crew rest) anyway. 100 miles a day doesn't seem so bad, but remember what we're driving and in what kinds of wind.

The speed limit is 75 MPH and the truckers take it seriously. A good safety procedure is to signal a passing truck, once clear of you, with your headlights. They return a "thank you" with their taillights and pull into the right lane again. This is a good practice that helps everyone out.

A right, rear, quartering tailwind has picked up and is shoving the large and small about within their respective lanes. We're glad we left Gallup when we did. Maybe we can beat this storm to Albuquerque.

The last elevation sign I saw indicated 7000 feet. Off in the east, a distant, snow-capped mountain imposes itself even much higher. According to our AAA atlas and dead reckoning, we think this is Mount Taylor at 11,301 feet above sea level. Distances are difficult to judge here. References are unreliable. For instance, trees are dwarfed due to altitude and climate and boulders range from basketball size to as large as ships. As I have already mentioned, relativity seems to have lost meaning here.

We're all glad we pushed on... weather beginning to breakdown. High cirrus have spread over the tops of white, cumulus clouds that build before your eyes. Virga (falling rain that evaporates before it hits the ground) can be seen from even lower, dark stratocumulus clouds. Looks like we may be in for rain or even snow.

Just east of Grant, New Mexico, we noticed an abrupt change in vegetation and geology. The Earth's surface has taken on a rolling, folded, and broken look. All of this is igneous (volcanic) in origin. Thick, folded blankets of cracked, blackened rock remain as testimony to an earlier, hostile era. What is mind boggling is the enormity of the area these formations cover. One can only imagine the forces and energy required to do this. A little farther east we saw columnar lava formations, and a gigantic basalt plug the size of a mountain that forced itself through a crustal rupture during this same period. Then we saw what appeared to be sedimentary bands that had been heated to such a temperature that they have turned a dark, purple and black color. I am reminded of the color soil takes on after baking under the coals of a hot campfire. What kind of enormous, relentless heat could bake an entire system of mountains like this?

While observing this aftermath of creation, I began to suspect that perhaps these mesas and flat valley floors may not have eroded as much as perhaps the valley floor sank following some ancient volcanic collapse. Who knows? Dry, geologic answers take nothing away from the stark beauty of this area of America.

We finally arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our convoy made it's way to Kirkland AFB and checked in for the night. We're all bushed and long for a dance in the rain locker and a dive into feathers.

Tomorrow, another adventure.