Into The Southwest

This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, May 29, 2007 was originally posted on May 31, 2007.

DAY 5:  Little did I know when I woke up that morning at the less-than-stellar La Junta Inn and Suites in La Junta, CO, that I’d be typing commands into a DOS prompt:

C:> ipconfig /release

C:> ipconfig /renew

I was only doing so because I had suggested “releasing the DNS” in our morning briefing, when tour leader Bill’s laptop couldn’t get online to get the latest weather data.

“I don’t really know my way around a PC [anymore],” I told him.  Luckly, Rich, the IT guy from Texas stepped in — although something wasn’t right because even he couldn’t get on-line, hardwired or on the wi-fi.  (It probably didn’t help that hotel owner Pete Patel figured he could fix the wireless router by banging it a couple of times.)  Fortunately, one of the owner’s cronies brought over a new router — a Linksys since I told him that Netgear’s a piece of crap — and Rich was happy to set it up.

Of course the rest of the class was just standing there, waiting while all of this was going on.  “Anyone want some canned cheese?” I asked everyone.  In an attempt to go one bar lower in my junk food binge on this trip, I had bought a can of Easy Cheese the day before.  “Now that’s the breakfast of champions!” Brett our driver and former Navy Seal said.

I don’t know what was going on with the network, but Rich still couldn’t get Bill’s PC on-line — and we couldn’t go anywhere without weather data.  Of course this prompted all the Mac nerds in the group to chime in and say how “this would never happen on a Mac,” as Mac nerds often do in accordance to the cult they belong to.  (In fact, both Brett and I were able to get on-line earlier that morning with our Apple laptops.)  The day was progressing and we didn’t have a plan yet, but eventually we just did the briefing on Brett’s MacBook.  After all that was said and done, weather data forecasted that nothing was really going to happen that day stormwise. 

“Looks like today’ll be sightseeing day,” Bill announced. 

THE GOAL OF THE DAY was to get into prime position for the following day, into the southwest, where tornado chances were predicted on the two-day outlook by the NWS’ Storm Prediction Center (SPC).  We weren’t in an incredible rush, so we just hung out at the hotel for a bit, where I killed some time throwing a little football around with Kinney, and interviewing the other guides with my little camcorder, asking the burning question:  “What is your opinion of Al Roker?”

“Al Roker, the weatherman?” Bill answered.  “Um, well I rarely see him because I’m rarely up that early.  But he just seems to be a TV guy and not a real weatherman.”  He continued by telling me that he actually met Al Roker once, during a hurricane chase in Naples, FL, where Al slipped and fell on his ass.

“I haven’t thought about him,” Keith answered.  “I don’t think about him.  I really have limited comments about Al Roker, I’m sorry.”

“Al Roker?” Brian said.  “I only ever met him in person once, but he was a model… we were at a wax museum.  He’s entertaining.  [You can] watch him every once and a while in the morning, as long as you don’t want to know exactly where to go film your supercell or tornado.”

“He’s an interesting guy, an interesting TV personality… kind of entertaining,” Bob answered. 

“What is your opinion of him as a weather man?”

“I have a PhD.; he doesn’t even have a degree, so I really don’t have an opinion.  My opinion is zero.”

You heard it first right here, folks:  Al Roker is a douchebag.

BEFORE HEADING SOUTHWEST, we had enough time on our hands to actually go to a real sit-down meal at a local eatery first:  Boss Hogg’s Saloon (a.k.a. Hogs Breath Saloon), where they served up Snake Eggs, Texas Toothpicks, and Rocky Mountain Oysters amongst other things.

“Erik, look at the back [of the menu].  They have Frito Pie,” Rob informed me.  My eyes lit up. 

“Oh my god, they have Frito Pie,” Stacy said.  Leisa got giddy.

“Are you so excited?!” Jenna the writer said.  She was a fan as well.

“I’ll have the Frito Pie,” I ordered the waitress.  I smile and waited while drinking Buds with older Brits Peter and Mel, Manchester James’ jovial aunt.

“Rich says it’s not as good as the Frito Pie in Texas,” Stacy told me, sitting at another table.  There was so much hype over the simple dish of Fritos, green chili and fixin’s, that it was really disappointing to hear the waitress say:

“I’m sorry, we’re out.  I’m the last to know.”

I had to settle on a juicy, rare steak instead, bred right there in Colorado Cattle Country.  (Poor me.)  I ate along with everyone else, as more locals came in to see our crew take up half the restaurant.  Our group of twenty-seven attracted attention (again) and the locals were asking questions.  “Storm chasers?” one guy said to me.  “When I see a tornado, I drive the other way!”  Rob had overheard others:  “Storm chasers.  What a bunch of idiots!”

“They’re just jealous,” Brian said, before starting an inspirational storm chasing soliloquoy that I wish I wrote down verbatim.  “They probably want to do it too, they just won’t admit it.  [People nowadays work and live in a cube and just do what they’re told.  I used to work in a corporate office, but realized there was more to life out there.  I’m retired now and now I do this.]”  Storm chasing, for some people is the ultimate expression of freedom, with life on the open road, chasing, but respecting Mother Nature.

WE GASSED UP and took to the open road, southbound through eastern Colorado, where the terrain still remained flat and started to get dry and desert-like, with cacti and cacti flowers.  On the way, in a secret location in the middle of nowhere, the guides took us to a ghost town they had stumbled upon once on a previous chase — an actual abandoned place, not a tourist attraction.  “I guess we should be on the lookout for scorpions, huh?” I asked.

“And snakes,” Texan Ruben said, much to my chagrin. 

However, no such animals were present at the ghost town as we wandered around with our cameras.  It was an interesting place with plenty of photo ops: old gas pumps, an abandoned cafe, a shot up car, some trucks a junkyard with an old rail car, and a slanted little shack that looked like it was not quite demolished by a twister.  There was also a pile of cow skulls, one of which Keith and Ruben “borrowed” to mount on the lead white van (picture above).  We wandered in the mysterious, abandoned place; Ruben said it was the beginning of the makings of a horror movie; all the elements were there.

“Look in the cafe,” Stacy told me.  I opened the door in typical horror flick fashion to see the interior of dusty run down place where people once worked. However, the refrigerator wasn’t exactly run down — in fact, it was still running.  “I think someone’s still here,” I said ominously.

“Open it.”

Inside were mysterious packs wrapped in white paper, possibly meat.  “Maybe it’s for a butcher shop,” someone speculated.

“But there are no butcher shops around here!” Dan said.  We were miles away from anywhere, and the terrain around us seemed too dry for cattle grazing.  Were they drug packages?  Were they body parts?  Was the killer still in the house?

We didn’t hang around long enough to find out and continued down the road. 

ROUTE 10 BROUGHT US southwest towards the fringe of the Rockies, where Spanish Peaks greeted us at the horizon.  We stopped in the little mountain town of Walsenberg, CO — a place with a trading post, a courthouse, and little cafes — and rested for some ice cream at a local convenience store.  Jenna the writer used her ice pop to interview Sacramento James, a meteorology student and aspiring TV weatherman who would knock Al Roker’s socks off.  From there we drove towards the mesas of the southwest, passed the horse and llama farms, through the city of Trinidad, CO — the last city before the southern border, boasting, “We’ve saved the best for last” on a billboard.  After an outhouse break (horses not included) at a little shop/art gallery, we finally crossed the border into our sixth state, New Mexico. 

We drove around the volcanic district, dominated by the former Capulin volcano (now a National Monument), wary of the free-range cows crossing the road.  We stopped several times on what was more or less a relaxing afternoon, to take photos of the landscape, and the cloud towers and updrafts of the stratosphere.  For our southwestern sunset, Bill and the guides took us to the “magic tree,” where a rainbow appeared in the east.

IT WAS ONLY ABOUT NINE O’CLOCK Mountain Time when we arrived at our hotel, a relatively fancy Days Inn with a pool and fitness room.  The Kitschmobile Krew was excited that we arrived so early — usually we are on the road until late and don’t arrive at a motel until ten or eleven — and speculated if maybe, for a change, we’d actually get some dinner other than the greasy and junky American food we’d had for the past five days.  Just then, my phone rang and Blogreader Steph, who is obsessed with Chinese dumplings (amongst other things), mentioned she had dumplings for dinner — which gave us the idea to look for Chinese food. 

Unfortunately the closest Chinese restaurant was 75 miles away, and everything else around was closing, so I had to settle on convenience store food again.  Luckily I had a microwave in my room, which allowed me to make a makeshift Frito Pie since I missed out earlier at lunch.  I ripped open a bag of Fritos and poured microwave chili on it — which apparently wasn’t enough according to Jenna; I should have at least put my Easy Cheese on it.  No matter, it was sufficient for the time being; I’m not expert on making Frito Pie anyway — I think that’s something that perhaps Al Roker might be actually be an expert in.


At lunch table with the Brits Peter, Mel and James, I posed the question:  If we say “to-may-to” and they say “to-mah-to,” do we say “tor-nay-do” and they say “tor-nah-do”?  (They say “tor-nay-do.”)

Next entry: A Game Of Chess

Previous entry: The Perfect Storm

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Comments for “Into The Southwest”

  • GREETINGS FROM AMARILLO, TEXAS!  We arrived at around 1 a.m. local time here, at the Quality Inn… I’ve spent all morning trying to get this up, be happy. 

    Stay tuned… the next entry (about yesterday, the 31st) is a doozy!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/31  at  06:28 PM

  • I am also obsessed with chinese dumplings.

    Who knew tornado chasing would be a fun road trip with strangers too?  I’m still hoping for a scary tornado for you!  But not as scary as your cholesterol levels after this trip…you should have done a before and after!

    Posted by sara  on  06/01  at  01:03 AM

  • Oh, Erik - I forgot to say - When I was in Africa, I spent last New year’s at Mayoka Village on Lake Malawi.  I picked it because I remembered reading about it on your other blog!  The same people you mentioned still work there - it was fun.  I copied you.

    Posted by sara  on  06/01  at  01:13 AM

  • GREETINGS FROM SOMEWHERE!  I think I’m in Shamrock, TX because we’re at the “Irish Inn”... we arrived here at about two in the morning and I still can’t think straight.  I’m backed up on entries after two long, exciting chase days, but I’ll write and post them ASAP, hopefully before the WHMMR…

    Stay tuned!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/01  at  04:21 PM

  • I finally had time to catch up on all the entries.  Again, great writing!  I felt as excited as you when chasing bad weather!  Looking forward to the new entries!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/02  at  06:59 PM

  • GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO as I continued my journey around the mid-west!  Please be patient, the next entry is a long one.  I hope to have at least that one up for the WHMMR…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/02  at  07:15 PM

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This blog post is one of nine travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Twisted," which chronicled a tornado chasing tour of the American midwest in the late spring of 2007.

Next entry:
A Game Of Chess

Previous entry:
The Perfect Storm


Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

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Stupid o'clock: any time of the early morning that you have to wake up to catch a train, bus, plane, or tour. Usually any time before 6 a.m. is automatically “stupid o’clock.”

The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

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1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.

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