Dateline: June 24, 2014 – Rural New Mexico
We got the band back together, even if it meant a largely pointless 10 hour drive over roads not intended for anything more delicate than a mule.
The road trip spent its third night in a ghastly northern Arizona motel. With three of us, we were constantly challenged by rooms meant for two. Sometimes this was solved with cots, sometimes it involved floors. I luckily avoided the floor in this one, because I am convinced it would have meant cuddling with vermin.
As I struggled to wake up the next day, Martini was outside on the phone with his family. He then greeted me with the single worst morning salutation I have ever gotten, far outpacing the previous winner, 1983’s infamous “Would you like breakfast before I go to women’s rugby practice?”
Martini waved pleasantly and said “If I start uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea, take me to the hospital.” I spat out a bunch of Red Bull and coughed back “Good morning to you too.” Martini smiled. “From the sucker eggs in the stream in Utah – my Dad mentioned that water might have giardia. This made things clear but no less upsetting. Luckily, he was fine.
The majority of our day was spent playing tourist, but let’s face it, if we came through here and didn’t see the Grand Canyon and Route 66, we would have felt like idiots. And yes, at age 50, I had never seen the Grand Canyon. The place was fantastic; even I was left in stunned silence.
Luckily, Marta did not come on this trip, because she would want to hike down into the canyon, which would cut into fishing time.
It’s hard to describe just how BIG of a hole in the ground this is.
Penguito, the official mascot of the 2014 road trip, enjoyed the view.
Of course, there is a fishing tie-in. The Grand Canyon hosts one of the rarer chubs in the US. Martini saw me looking forlornly at this and said “No, no, no. Bad Steve.”
There is still so much of this country I haven’t seen, and in many of the places I have not been, there are fish. So I want to go to those places. Once we finished touring the canyon, we headed southeast and picked up Route 66, that unique bastion of Americana and days gone by when drives across the country were lengthy and personal, going through hundreds of small towns that have faded away since the big interstate highways were built.
OK, we just thought this was cool. I’m usually Fred, but I was Barney in this case.
Williams, AZ. The last town bypassed by I-40. Still a charming tourist destination – we had lunch and watched a World Cup game in a local bar.
Oh, and we also felt that Martini’s rear-view mirror needed some livening up.
The next day’s agenda was complex – we would attempt, for the second time, and fail, for the second time, to get Martini his Apache trout at Lee Valley reservoir. (One of my first blogged species – details HERE) We then headed east, toward Silver City, New Mexico. It was on this long and lonely stretch of road that I first heard what was to become the official theme song of the road trip – Blake Shelton’s “Playboys of the Southwestern World.” Apart from being a catchy country tune and tale of lifelong friendship, it also featured lyrics that were pure poetry – Sylvia Plath-like gems such as
“Learned to drink Sangria ’til the dawn’s early light
Eat eggs rancheros and throw up all night”
Brings a tear to my eye even today.
The next major stop on the road trip was Texas, but getting from Arizona to Texas pretty much requires a stop in New Mexico, and if we were going to stop, we were going to fish. This where “Sexy Rexy’ – aka Silver City-based guide Rex Johnson – comes into the picture. Rex is an excellent guide and a great guy – his only flaw, as far as we know, is a comical inability to estimate distances. (As featured in “Elvis Has Left the River“) I have now gone to New Mexico twice to go fishing, and both times involved Elvis. (Actually, multiple Elvi.) This isn’t as bizarre as it sounds, although only barely. A good friend of ours, Gabriele Elli, lives in New Mexico and joins us on these trips. Gabi happens to be an Elvis impersonator.
Oh, and we got to cross the continental divide.
We drove into town early in the afternoon, and loaded up on a batch of Taco Bell food that was going to make us regret sharing a room. After lunch, we met Rex and headed out for an afternoon trip to a creek that featured a variety of trout and suckers. This area is stunningly beautiful, and we got a number of interesting creatures, including a few Gila trout. If we had caught Gila trout in this spot last time, we would have all been spared a dreadful and underestimated hike.
That’s Rex on the right. He thinks it’s 14 miles from New York to Boston. Did I mention he is a math professor?
Gabi joined us that evening. There is something about the way he showed up in the lobby of a small-town La Quinta Motel in a white Elvis costume that radiates a joy in life, one that transcends the bewildered stares of the night clerk. We first met Gabi in “Blue Suede Sturgeon,” and he has been an angling friend and 1000 fish supporter for years.
Gabi and Martini. I still can’t really explain this.
The next day was supposed to be our big adventure on the water. To be fair, we threw a lot of requirements at Rex. We were looking for new species, but also for decent fishing for Gabi and Kyle, who should not be victims of my obsessive issues. We wanted to keep it fairly close to home, not violate any major federal laws, and to avoid drug lords and chupacabras. Taking all of these requirements into account, Rex settled on taking us to an isolated fork of the Gila River, which he felt was three hours away from Silver City. This area was apparently thick with smallmouth but also held a variety of other fish, including suckers, catfish, and trout. He especially felt that we could get smallmouth in big numbers. It sounded like fun.
Martini showed up ready to fish. He is holding Penguito, official mascot of the 2014 Road Trip.
We were more or less prepared for an ugly drive, and Rex did not disappoint us. It turned out to be five hours, often at 2mph while we prayed our way over boulders.
Some subtle hints that the road would not be good.
Still, we had Gabi’s Elvis CDs, especially the highly-regarded Volume XXII. (Totally overlooked at the Grammies.) For much of the drive, he led us in song through the entire Elvis catalog, plus some country gems like “All my exes live in Texas,” and Mel Gibson’s classic “All my exes live in Vladivostok.” This, and a bunch of Red Bull, kept our enthusiasm up until we were at the spot.
The best guide in the world can’t always tell when the fish are going to bite, and while this area was absolutely beautiful, it was also apparent that this was not going to be a wide-open day. I got a couple of smallmouth right away, but the creek just didn’t have the right feel. Rex assured us that there were some bigger pools downstream – “about a mile.” Recognizing that this could mean walking to El Salvador, I decided to split from the group and work upstream.
The group heads off downstream.
The area was beautiful – low bluffs boxing in the creek against a bright blue sky. There was wildlife everywhere, including a rattlesnake that added some excitement to a bathroom trip.
The scenery. The guys would enjoy it pretty much undisturbed by fish.
I actually had a nice day of fishing. Working from pool to pool, I found a few more smallmouth, then stumbled through groups of small Desert suckers, some much bigger Sonora suckers, and then a small catfish. The catfish looked at first like an ordinary channel cat, but but I took photos just to be sure. Later on, in the car, a quick count of the anal rays told me I had something unusual, beyond the urge to count anal rays. I had a rare relative of the channel catfish known as a Chihuahua catfish, and this thrilled me to no end. I had an unexpected new species.
The Chihuahua catfish. I have one and Paris Hilton doesn’t.
Continuing up the stream until late afternoon, I kept getting occasional bass and suckers. I saw one trout, which made sure I saw it and then bolted downstream, not to be seen again.
Late in the day, I saw a satin cape fluttering it the distance and wondered who it was. The fact that I could be in rural New Mexico and not know which one of my friends was wearing a red cape should tell you how weird this all had gotten. Moments later, it became clear that it was Martini, at a dead run. Barely panting, he trotted up to me and said “Time to go.”
Something you don’t see every day.
Their day had not been as fulfilling as mine – just a couple of bass – and it was time to leave. I was bummed for them, and especially for Rex, who I know tried his heart out. (If you go trout fishing with him, his true expertise, you’ll almost certainly do well.) I took in the scenery one more time, then headed for the car. We would be spending a lot more time in the vehicle, and it was certainly cozy with me, Gabi, and Rex in the back. Then someone had gas. It may or may not have been me, although I had pretty much peaked at a steakhouse two nights before, when what I thought would be a quiet effort to annoy Martini slipped into a polysyllabic thunderclap that terrified everyone, and I mean everyone, in the restaurant.
In a final leap of faith, we trusted Rex’s “shortcut,” ironically back through Truth or Consequences. It was not a shortcut, and just about when we thought we were going to get there, we saw a sign saying we had another 156 miles to go.
Yes, there really is a town named this.
We toyed with the idea of throwing Rex from the vehicle, but decided it would be rude to deprive New Mexico of a fine math professor, so we instead passed the time telling ribald stories, musing about the trout in local streams, and farting.
The evening in Silver City was a quiet celebration involving fried food and Elvis music.
Unwinding over some beers and a private Elvis performance. (We were asked to leave the lobby.)
We had survived the western leg of the journey, and we would be beginning the most fishing-intensive portion of the trip in just a day. Between us and our stops in Texas, however, lay over 600 miles of open road. (135 if you ask Rex.)