Trentham Stormchasers 2009 USA Roadtrip

"America at 100kmh ... 120kmh" !!

30th April, 2009: Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma

Report: Clyve Herbert

Today we left Flagstaff at 6.20am with frost on the ground and ice on the roads. We decided first up to head for Meteor Crater, 55kms SE of Flagstaff, touted as one of the best preserved meteor impact craters in the world. We arrived around 7am to find the entire crater fenced off, gates closed and not opening till 8am. We decided not to hang around......

We continued on passing from Arizona to New mid morning, the sun had burned off the frost and revealed an arid country with patchy scrub and occasional gnarled trees. No matter what time of the day, the behemoth trucks continue to ply the I-40, sometimes in groups of 5 to 10. One can imagine the hundreds and thousands of trucks extending along the I-40 at any one time. Occasionally, near a railway, an almost 2km train would pass, double stacked with containers, 5 or 6 locos at the head. Not only is America big, but so are its feeding tentacles.

New Mexico appears to follow its namesake - Mexico.   It comes across as a rundown, poor state, however everybody seemed to own a Ford F150 or a giant Silverado - they appear to be the mainstay of the driving public in America's mid west. Despite the aridity, the New Mexico sub desert region beckons your eye to unusual geological formations with coloured strata from grey to red, and dry river beds. You forget you are on a plateau almost 6,000' high.

By late morning, we are pushing deeper into New Mexico and need fuel.....we discover every fuel station in America, no matter where, requires you to swipe a debit or credit card at the pump, the LCD readout instructs you how to do it, however, this often doesn't work the way it should.....and occasionally spend up to 5 minutes trying to get the damn things to work.This is usually followed by a terse message over the PA near the pump....from a real human telling you step by step on how to make the thing work. We also discovered that Americans are difficult to anger, and remain composed and cordial, no matter how much you wave your arms about trying to get the infernal pumps to operate. We were also in need of a caffeine fix...and we discovered that cappuccino is not an art of coffee making in America. We pull over to a McDonalds in Gallup and order 2 cappuccinos....the attendant asked if we wanted any particular type of flavour..."aah, just coffee flavour thanks mate".  This seemed to puzzle the attendant, apparently in America you can get cappuccino in a number of flavours, from beef jerky <g> to Irish Cream....we ended up with a foul grey looking muck which resembled the taste of sour goat's milk and made me sick..the concoction was thrown into the next bin. From here on in, it was black coffee....percolated!

Back on the road, we approached Albuquerque, with a backdrop of fantastic rocky looking mountains reaching over 8,000'. Despite temperatures near 30C, the northern part of this range is still snow capped setting a strange contrast between the grey dry desert and the snow capped mountain tops. The I-40 zips through Albuquerque and pretty soon we are into the east of New Mexico and approaching the west Texas border. The remarkable change comes pretty soon into west Texas - the ramshackle homes of the New Mexico desert are is obvious that Texas shows its prosperity, or pride - not sure which takes No 1 place. We discover on the sides of the roads in almost every town, fireworks supermarkets, often placed next to Baptist churches. The countryside changes dramatically by the central Texas panhandle, with green fields dotted with freshly budding oak trees. It's interesting to note the peculiarities of roadkill...armadillos, deer, strange looking dogs, tortoises and coyotes, and the ever present buzzards circling and growing fat.

We stop at a Route 66 garage and buy a southern chicken wrap...$1.49each - food and bottles of coke are cheap, unlike in Australia where we are ripped off with ridiculously inflated prices. Surprisingly the $1.49 chicken wrap was brilliant!! and 40,000 truckers can't be wrong!

We push our Dodge Charger back onto the highway pointing east, forgetting that we are actually here to chase weather, and later in the day across the green fields of the Texas panhandle we see our first developing storm in western Oklahoma. We pull off the road at Shamrock to photograph a developing supercell, and were immediately accosted by a local farmer wanting to know what we were doing. We told him we'd come from Australia to chase storms.....the cocky looked positively stunned but it broke the ice. We had arrived in Tornado Alley.

3004JON010t.jpg (12186 bytes)

View from Meteor Crater looking back to wards Flagstaff and the snowcapped Rockies.

3004JON035t.jpg (16076 bytes)

Small town eastern Arizona - they appeared stuck in the middle of nowhere with dead cars and bits of furniture often littering the gardens

3004JON044t.jpg (12557 bytes)

Sometimes its hard to believe that you are on a plateau between 6 and 7,000' - eastern Arizona

3004JON047t.jpg (9996 bytes)

The coloured strata - western New Mexico

3004JON058t.jpg (11328 bytes)

River cut geology, New Mexico

3004JON064t.jpg (29721 bytes)

River cut geology, New Mexico

3004JON065t.jpg (38645 bytes)

Fake Indian teepees everywhere, usually made out of aluminium

3004JON070t.jpg (29498 bytes)

More New Mexico geology

3004JON074t.jpg (4779 bytes)


3004JON075t.jpg (5013 bytes)

The skies of America are full of planes...sometimes you can see 4 or 5 in the same area flying in different directions

3004JON077t.jpg (26812 bytes) eastbound Amtrak train passes us at 140kmh, New Mexico

3004JON099t.jpg (28458 bytes)

The Indians have their own big spending ideas...a tent casino, New Mexico

3004JON121t.jpg (26975 bytes)

A typical New Mexico country home.

3004JON170t.jpg (21665 bytes)

New Mexico appears full of haphazardly placed settlements - they must be there for a reason.....

3004JON174t.jpg (35132 bytes)

A typical Mexican looking homes of New Mexico

3004JON187t.jpg (13799 bytes)

The never-ending and never stopping I -40 interstate...formerly Route 66

3004JON188t.jpg (23485 bytes)

More Casinos....the horses are real.

3004JON191t.jpg (17135 bytes)

The mountains loom behind Albuquerque

3004JON193t.jpg (18480 bytes)


3004JON198t.jpg (19182 bytes)

Even here in Albuquerque the formidable freeway interchanges intimidate travellers from outside America

3004JON205t.jpg (15066 bytes)

One of the few bends in the I-40, New Mexico

3004JON218t.jpg (37786 bytes)

America is a land of churches

3004JON229t.jpg (15550 bytes)

The change in the outlook across the flat, fertile plains of Texas is stunning compared to New Mexico

3004JON236t.jpg (13750 bytes)

Occasionally, the natural grasslands appear in the Texas panhandle

3004JON238t.jpg (13717 bytes)

Texan ranchers take pride in their properties

3004JON243t.jpg (10784 bytes)

I'm not surprised that Texans like Australia!

3004JON244t.jpg (13369 bytes)

Texan windmill

3004JON251t.jpg (14361 bytes)

Ploughed fields, Texas panhandle

3004JON257t.jpg (6051 bytes)

Texas panhandle...cropping country and silo

3004JON262t.jpg (9310 bytes)

A giant cross!! Texas

3004JON266t.jpg (11182 bytes)

The leaning water tower of Britten, eastern Texas panhandle

3004J022t.jpg (18265 bytes)

What we are travelling for - a distant thunderhead looms in Oklahoma - Shamrock, TX

3004J054t.jpg (22831 bytes)

Curious horses, Shamrock, TX

Stay tuned for the next day's episode...

Back to Australian Sky & Weather