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When I rolled out of Silver City that December night in 2000, I wasn’t thinking 20 years ahead.
The new car smell permeated the 2001 Nissan Xterra I’d just purchased at Ridgewood Motors in Silver, the only dealer in New Mexico, or the five states that touch it, that had a model with all the features I wanted: four-wheel drive, CD-plus-cassette stereo, manual transmission and Nissan’s Solar Yellow paint color.
Within the week, I had a printer in Alamogordo (where I was living at the time) make a red Zia symbol decal, which I placed on the back door of the SUV.
The Zia is a little worn, but remains steadfast, like the vehicle itself, which has only had three unplanned repairs in its 253,000 miles, most of those logged in the Land of Enchantment. The Xterra has taken me to the corners of New Mexico -- from Shiprock to Hobbs, from Raton to Rodeo – and many of the cities, towns, highways and byways in between.
My youngest daughter Avalon is almost 18 but was not born when I got the car. When she was 5, we traveled from Alamogordo to Artesia and passed through a small, abandoned-looking town.
“Is this place called Hope?” she asked, reading the highway sign. “Yes,” I replied.
“Doesn’t seem like there’s much hope here,” she said.
I hoped against bad luck in May 2001, as I traveled south down U.S. Hwy. 666, the Devil’s Highway, from Shiprock to Gallup, before the name was changed to the less ominous U.S. Hwy. 491.
I’ve traveled U.S. Hwy. 54 many times, most eagerly when traveling to Carrizozo pre-2010 to eat the world’s greatest-ever green chile cheeseburger at the now-defunct Outpost Bar & Grill. Of course, if you turn northwest in Carrizozo at the intersection of U.S. 54 and U.S. 380, you’re only an hour away from the two originators of the green chile cheeseburger in San Antonio: The Owl Bar and the Buckhorn Tavern are still going strong.
The Xterra may well have saved my life in November 2005. I had just visited the Gila Cliff Dwellings and turned onto N.M. Hwy. 15 when a sudden snowstorm hit. The road was treacherous and I nearly slid down the mountainside before I was able to put it in four-wheel drive for smooth sailing.
Among the New Mexico state highways, I’ve traveled the lowest number (N.M. Hwy. 1) from the Bosque del Apache to Elephant Butte. I’ve also traveled the highest number (N.M. Hwy. 2001), which leads up the hill in Alamogordo to the New Mexico Museum of Space History.
My favorite drive along a New Mexico highway is the 15-mile stretch north from Duran to Encino on N.M. Hwy. 3. Leaving the near ghost town Duran, you’re in beautiful high forest. A couple of miles in, though, the bottom drops out. And you’re faced with a beautiful wide expanse of prairie. My first time, it literally took my breath away. Sometimes, you’ll see antelope. The addition of wind turbines has distracted from the once-pristine view, but it’s still very cool.
At some point, I dubbed the Xterra Rocinante, after Don Quixote’s horse.
I’m a baseball fan, and Rocinante has carted me to professional games as far east as Tulsa, and as far west as Phoenix. As far north as Denver and as far south as, well, El Paso. During a trip back from Phoenix, one of those unplanned repairs happened. The air conditioning went out. In Arizona. In August. I tried to cool down with some hot Kona coffee from In-N-Out Burger in Tucson, and later learned, after much searching, there is no hotel in Lordsburg with a swimming pool. Could have really used a dip in the water.
Alas, this week, Rocinante and I parted ways. I’d been considering selling it for two or three years, but its usefulness kept preventing me. That, and probably an unhealthy emotional attachment.
In a way, though, it’s staying in the family. The new owner, Lanze Hibler, is the son of Elva Osterreich, who has worked with me on and off since 1998. There were several times, when Elva and I were both working at the Alamogordo Daily News, I would be with my daughter Avalon, and Elva would be with Lanze, before either one could talk. The first night I had the Xterra, I drove it to the Daily News Christmas party, where Elva was in attendance. Elva rejoined me in 2016 here at the Bulletin.
Lanze needs a four-wheel drive as he’s moving to Colorado to begin aeronautics school. He’s also mechanically minded, and loves the fact it has a manual transmission.
I doubt he’ll need the Xterra to go another 250,000 miles, but I’m pretty sure it will get him where he needs to go. Godspeed, Lanze and Rocinante.