Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Fort Davis to Deming, and a dust storm to boot

January 30, 2008 -- Fort Davis to Deming

A series of storms that attacked Southern California over the past few days created high-wind conditions at Fort Davis and all around West Texas and the southern part of New Mexico. As far as I was concerned, it was another in a long string of bad things that have been coming out of California lately. We'd seen what we wanted to see here in the Davis Mountains and were anxious to get going. However, I also didn't want to drive in winds gusting to 60mph -- not with this big ol' slab-sided bus. So we watched the weather, extended our stay by a day, and watched the weather some more. By carefully analyzing the governments best forecasts and applying a little common sense (very little), I thought I saw an opening... a small window of opportunity between two systems. If we decided to go, it'd mean getting up early and hitting the road right after sunrise in order to do an end-run around the big winds.

We have a very democratic system for making decisions like this... I have a vote, and Dar has a vote. In the event of a tie, the Safety Director breaks the tie. Dar is the Safety Director. It's a good system that's gotten us this far without major incident. And the decision was made to attemp this end-around and get the heck out of Texas. I mean, Texas is a wonderful state, but 50-some days is plenty. At least in my mind, I didn't start this lifestyle just to move to Texas. We'll certainly be back, but it's time for new adventures some place else. Besides, we've got an appointment in late March up in Vancouver, WA., and we've got to get ourselves a little closer.

So we got up early, fired up the big ol' Cummins motor at the crack of 8am, and headed out from Fort Davis. Our route took us south to a litle community called Marfa, and then westward on US Hwy 90. Since we anticipated higher winds later in the day, Dar drove the first 100+ miles, which was clear and calm... a great drive. Soon after I took over, things slowly deteriorated. We stopped just north of El Paso for fuel (3.11/gallon) and we began to see clouds of dust and blowing sand off in the distance. There was no place to stop right there, so we decided to press on. Various RV Parks were along the way if we needed them, but we also were just 80 miles from our destination -- Deming, NM.

Coming out of El Paso, I-10 heads north for a few miles before it turns almost due west. The wind was coming out of the west, hard. During the northerly part of the drive, that wind pushed the bus sideways and we had a lean or list toward the right. I've always heard that the way people get into trouble is by not recognizing the signs that point to trouble and knowing when to say "enough is enough". But we kept seeing other campers and semi-trucks even though they all had the same lean to the right.

I slowed to 50mph when we made the bend toward the west. At this point, we only had about 50 miles to go and the wind was now a direct head-wind. But we pressed on. Now that the wind was directly in front of us, the bus's lean had eased, but the sound of air howling over the roof and sides, past the windows, and around the air conditioners and other gear on the roof was defening. We were moving at about 50mph, but the wind, we later learned, was gusting between 40 and 50mph. Add the two together and we had air rushing over and around us at maybe as high as 90mph.

The wind was only one aspect of that pleasant little drive to Deming. Remember, we're going through the desert. Deserts are made up of sand and dust, and a few cacti and other plants. When the wind blows at 30mph or more, it often picks up bits of the sand and dust and carries it along in huge clouds -- what's called a dust storm. In the worst of these, visibility goes to zero -- you can't see at all; similar to being in a "white-out" during a blizzard in the Midwest. It wasn't nearly that bad on this day, but we did drive through dust and dirt for much of the way, although the visibility never got below a mile or so. So we pressed on.

Finally we were there -- Deming, NM. We found our park, not more than a few blocks from I-10. There was a collective sigh as we put the jacks down and hunkered down for the rest of the night. A jigger or two of medicinal bourbon helped calm the nerves and keep us warm during that blustery night.