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Across America by Motorcycle

Mark Hunnibell | Published on 3/29/2024
Below is the story of the final stage of Mark's journey. You can follow the entire journey by visiting his Newsletter Link.

Conclusion 2022 Recap Day 5

Day 5: September 14, 2022
Belen, New Mexico
to Holbrook, Arizona

March 21, 2024

2022 Route Map from Belen, NM to Holbrook, AZ

14 Sep 2022 @ 7:45 am in Belen New Mexico:We started the day in Belen, New Mexico, by trailering the bike down I-25 to Socorro where I knew the westbound route to Arizona was over highways that I could safely ride. We unloaded the Red One at the Chevron station on California Street just off the I-25 exit entering Socorro, put gasoline in the bikes and truck, and hit the road!

Belen to Pie Town, New Mexico

As we climbed out of Socorro, as I looked into the hills by the roadside, I wondered which one of the fields we passed could have been the one where C.K. Shepherd had an unexpected late-night encounter with a bull. We rode up and up and up – climbing 2,000 feet over 27 miles – soon reaching Magdalena, which is at the eastern edge of the Plains of San Agustin. In 1919, Magdalena was the railroad head for ranchers who drove their cattle onto railroad cars for rail transportation east to market. After riding west out of Magdalena, C.K. reported encountering a herd of 5,000-6,000 cattle stretching across the road attended by ten to twelve “cow-boys,” probably being driven to the railhead in Magdalena.

Since I had visited Magdalena in 2019, we did not linger. We stopped briefly at the old railroad station (now a library) and then continued west. As I have previously concluded, it seems likely that C.K. had the company of two other motorcyclists at this point of his journey. Edward A. Bradford and H. Bernard Kneisly had ridden from West Virginia, also bound for California, and were with C.K. when they arrived in Arizona.

CK on the desert in Arizona encountered some fellow riders

The Plains of San Agustin is a very broad and flat area and seems to be the most likely location of the iconic photo of these riders on July 24, 1919. They are apparently in the middle of the “highway,” heading west but, since there are no mountains behind them to the east, they could easily have been located right in the middle of the Plains of San Agustin.

Today, the most notable feature of the Plains of San Agustin is theVery Large Array (VLA)of radio telescopes that was built in the mid-1970s. But only flat desert was here in 1919. The VLA was closed to the public in September 2022, but we got close enough to see the dishes and monstrous scale of the operation.

In this photo, the Red One is turned around, facing east. The hills we would soon be climbing are visible behind the antenna array. Each one of those dishes are 82 feet in diameter and weigh 230 tons.

From the VLA, we continued up and up, west on U.S. 60. About half-way to Pie Town, Lloyd announced that we had reached 8,000 feet elevation. I had previously adjusted the carburetor air-fuel mixture to get enough power to climb the grade! We arrived in Pie Town and had hoped to have a snack at the world-renowned Pie-O-Neer café, but it was closed. The annual pie festival had taken place the previous weekend and it seems they were out of pies!

Pie-O-Neer Cafe, Pie Town, New Mexico

We loaded up the Red One and headed west. We stopped in Quemado for a rest and a bite to eat, then hauled the Red One to a few miles short of the Arizona border where we put the Red One back on the road and began riding again.

Conclusion 2022 Recap – Day 5: September 14, 2022: Entering Arizona

We reached the Arizona border at the very same location C.K. had been in 1919. C.K. snapped a black and white photo of the road, signage, and landscape at the Arizona border when he crossed it on July 25, 1919 (some years later, C.K. hand-colored his photo).

In the above photo, there are three “landmarks” of note. The first is sign at the Arizona State Line which doubled as a billboard for Becker’s Garage in Springerville. The second is a unique rock formation that juts up from the horizon to the left of the Arizona sign. The third is a large flat top mound on the right.

Except for the relocation of the Arizona sign to the right side of the road and the rerouting of the road to cut through the ridge to the left of the flat top mound, the two landmarks visible in 1919 remain today, as shown in this photo taken as I rolled up to the Arizona sign on September 14, 2022, proving that we were literally on C.K.’s trail!

From there, we rode through Springerville where C.K. stopped for gas and signed the travelers log book at Becker’s Transcontinental Garage on July 25, 1919.Unfortunately, when we passed through in 2022, I did not realize the Garage building was still standing on Main Street (U.S. 60) where Supai Street intersects (just before reaching the traffic light at Mountain Avenue).Also, just across Supai Street, there is a quarter-acre park of mowed grass identified as Becker Memorial Park. If I had not felt I was in such a hurry to get to Holbrook, I might have stopped and explored. In retrospect, we should have stopped here in 2022, and perhaps I’ll be back some day.

Becker's Garage, Springerville, Arizona
Becker's Garage Log, July 24/25, 1919

So we rode onward, through St. Johns and soon reached the Petrified Forest. I had entered this park in 2019 so we didn’t bother driving through it in 2022, but Lloyd snapped some photos out front of the gift shop near an amusing promotional prop suggesting that a customer had purchased a giant petrified log and loaded it into the back of their VW Dasher. You might note that the weight of that petrified log was justslightlymore than what that VW was designed to carry.

From there it was maybe 20 miles to Holbrook, our stop for the night.

Stay tuned!

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Captain Mark Hunnibell

P.O. Box 663, HUNTSVILLE, AL 35804