The Teamsters’ Nightmare
Tuesday night, I stopped off on the way home from work to pick up some groceries. Pat had taken the day to go south and help Zorro with various boat-related tasks, so I was driving Gerald’s Jeep, the Gila Monster. For those who haven’t been following this blog long, I’ll give a description: It’s a Cherokee, four-door, approximately 1991 (I’m sure Gerald can correct me if I don’t have the year exactly right), originally jungle green, but somewhat faded now, and equipped such that it would be at home on the Serengeti, with a heavy-duty equipment rack on the top, an elevated suspension, big desert-worthy tires, and a whole lot of other rugged equipment.
Normally, especially when I don’t have a lot of groceries, I’m perfectly happy carrying my own groceries out to the car, but because it was late at night, the store staff insisted that I have someone carry my groceries out for me, presumably also providing some security.
We got to the Gila Monster, and as I was struggling with the balky remote-unlocking mechanism, the kid said, “Wow, nice Jeep!”
“It’s my son’s,” I said, as I finally got at least the driver’s door to unlock and reached inside to unlock the back door. “He’s away at college, and it costs $800 to park on campus there, so now I get to drive it.”
“Cool,” the kid said as he put the groceries in the back seat. “You take it off road?”
I didn’t have the heart to admit I hadn’t actually taken this off-road-worthy vehicle off-road, but the idea did trigger memories …
(cue glockenspiel arpeggios and wavering images, shifting into a view of the past)
Before Gerald was born, Pat and I had a Toyota Corolla. This was not the sort of car that nowadays bears the name of Toyota Corolla. This was a small car, but it was built like a truck. It was rear-wheel-drive, not front, and it had body-on-frame construction, not unibody. It had tires far larger than any small car has nowadays, and it used truck-sized windshield wipers. When I bought a steering-wheel cover, the car size didn’t fit; I had to exchange it for the truck size.
One beautiful fall day, Pat and I had been shopping in Albuquerque, and we decided on the way home to stop by Dixon’s Apple Farms near Cochiti Lake. We were out of luck on the apples – that year’s harvest had been slim, and Dixon’s had sold out by the time we got there. But it was a gorgeous day, with golden sunlight coming out of a bright turquoise sky, bringing out the fire in the leaves of the cottonwoods along the valley. The air was not so much cold as crisp, with the sort of tingle that I would have gotten from a fresh, tart apple, had Dixon’s not run out. We decided that a scenic drive was in order.
We had a Forest Service map, and it showed a road that went up Bland Canyon, through the ghost town of Bland, and eventually to the highway that ran through the Valles Caldera. There were some squiggly bits along the road just past Bland, but they didn’t look too frightening.
The road to Bland was nice and straight and smooth, except for one rock sticking up out of the road like a dinosaur’s tooth. Instead of going around it, Pat straddled it, and it gave the car a jolt. Ironically, that one rock in the smooth part of the road was the most serious damage the car took during that day’s drive. It dented the skid plate (yes, did I mention that car was built like a truck?), and it even nicked the bottom of the oil pan.
Past Bland, things changed. The road became very steep, and very rocky, and there was a hair-raising series of switchbacks. Pat quickly learned that the way to make progress was to keep the tires on the highest rocks. We soon realized that once we had started up, there was no turning back. Our valiant little car could crawl up boulders, but, even if there had been some place we could turn around, the journey down would be harder than continuing to go up.
We made it to the top, and we were rewarded by some awesome scenery of fantastic fall foliage. New England may have gazillions of colors, but the mountains of New Mexico have the brilliant fire of the aspens, bright yellow as if we’ve borrowed a bit of the sun.
I later learned that the route we had traveled was known as the “Teamsters’ Nightmare,” from the early mining days when mule-drawn wagons would bring ore into Bland from mines higher up in the mountains. The steep and rocky road, with its tight switchbacks, was the scene of many accidents, killing dozens of men and mules. Nowadays, it’s popular with four-wheel-drive enthusiasts.
(cue glockenspiel arpeggio and shifty visuals again)
It would be fun to take the Gila Monster up the Teamsters’ Nightmare. Maybe I could sneak off sometime. Or maybe when Gerald gets home for winter break, he and I could go together, a sort of parent-child bonding. I wonder how many other young people have moms who would enjoy off-roading with them. For that matter, it would be cool for Gerald to say, “My mom did Teamsters’ Nightmare in a Toyota Corolla!”