No sooner did we (Elayne Bendel and Jim Ayres) get back from the annual Mike Cunningham Wine Country Picnic in Sonoma on October 13th than we were off again on another long-distance road trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the LCOC (Lincoln and Continental Owners Club) Western National Meet.
Leaving the usual sunny and warm weather of Southern California we began our trip on Tuesday October 16th by heading eastward to interim stop Flagstaff, Arizona. There we intended to meet Western Region board member Jim Higgs and his wife Carol at the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel.
As we hummed along effortlessly in Jim Ayres’ new-to-him 1988 Mark Vll we encountered little traffic leaving town. The route was fairly simple once we got past Interstate 15 and merged onto the I-40 toward Flagstaff.
“Wouldn’t it be something if we ran into the Higgs?”, Jim asked. Not long thereafter, that came to pass. We overtook Jim and Carol and the two Jims traveled together in their black Mark VIIs until both cars stopped for gas at Newberry Springs, California. They had time for a brief meet and greet and some picture taking at the gas pumps before each car went on its way.
Driving long distances to meets is old hat for Jim Higgs but a leap of faith this year for Jim Ayres, since he only purchased his vehicle a few short weeks prior to the meet. Ayres couldn’t help hoping for the best but planning for the worst throughout the journey. Nevertheless, his car cruised along sweetly, averaging over 20 miles to the gallon on the way to Flagstaff while climbing up and over some steep grades.
We passed a lot of interesting desert landscapes on our journey and found the scenery much more exciting than driving through the central valley of California on the way to and from Sonoma.
As we approached Flagstaff things got a bit more interesting than we had planned. Temperatures plummeted as we rode along in our light California duds. We ran into rain and then snow along the route. The temperature read 33 degrees in Flagstaff. Brrrrrrrrrrrr. Nevertheless, both we and the car arrived safely at our hotel where we joined up once again with Jim and Carol and had a great and well deserved dinner at the nearby Coco’s restaurant.
The next morning after a pleasant breakfast we filled our tanks and were off and running again. The weather improved slightly but we were still under a canopy of foreboding clouds. However, the beautiful Southwest scenery made this part of the trip very enjoyable. A target of opportunity popped up as we drove, which was the world-famous Meteor Crater. When we discovered that it was only 6 miles off the main road we couldn’t resist the chance to stop and have a look. It was well worth the detour and we spent a fascinating hour touring the visitor center and looking down into this enormous artifact caused by a meteor hurtling toward our planet some 50,000 years ago at a speed of 26,000 miles an hour! The meteor exploded before hitting the ground but the concussion caused the huge crater to form. The fragment in the photo with me is one of the largest pieces of the meteor that was found. I’m sure glad I wasn’t around when this visitor arrived!
Another potential detour popped up as we continued down the I-40 and that was the Petrified Forest where trees from a bygone era had turned to stone. John Walcek who stopped there said it made for some great photo opportunities, but we were anxious to get to Albuquerque so we kept on moving.
Entering New Mexico fantastic red rock plateaus appeared on both sides of the road and we marveled at the strata exposed and speculated about their geologic history. Then directly in front of us a huge mountain stood tall and disappeared in the clouds. We were approaching Albuquerque so we guessed that the city had to be nearby. The low clouds and erratic sun patterns made for a very surreal sight as you can see from the photo below. We later learned that this mountain is called Sandia which means watermelon in Spanish because the rocks often turn pink in the sun. As we got closer, we realized that the City of Albuquerque lay at its base. We got to inspect this mountain via the tram at close range the following day but that is the subject of another story.
At around 6:15 p.m. we arrived at the headquarters hotel for the meet, the Crowne Plaza, Albuquerque, and were greeted by something as fabulous as the scenery. Parked directly in front of the hotel like the queen she is was a gorgeous black 1956 Continental Mark II owned by Dan and Jacki Flanagan of Prescott, Arizona. Immediately our cameras were clicking and you see the results below. What a way to begin the meet!
To be continued…