Our Tour of the Northern United States (page 5)

June 15   

White Sands, NM, home of the world's largest
                  gypsum dune field. Inset is the Bleached Earless
                  Lizard.We didn't make it to Holloman AFB, NM before sunset as we hoped.  The drive through Garden of the Gods took longer than expected.  We also ran into heavy traffic and reduced speed limits on the two-lane highways.  We made it to Holloman at 9:00pm after 550 miles of driving.  We stayed with our good friends, Craig and Crystal.  We met at a church in Virginia in 1994.  We did lots of traveling around in southeast New Mexico.  We visited the White Sands National Monument near the White Sands Missile Range.  

    White Sands recently had success testing an anti-missile missile.  That's right, a missile that's designed to target other missiles.  I found it interesting that the missile range encompasses State Highways 54 and 70.  Both highways are subject to routine closures while missile tests are in progress.

Giant Formation... The final attraction on our trip was our visit to Carlsbad Cavern.  Carlsbad Cavern is the grand-daddy of all caverns. Surprisingly, the vast majority of the cave is no longer growing.  However, the formations are still extremely impressive. Unfortunately, we didn't get to Carlsbad early enough for the guided tours.  Instead, we took the self-guided tour of "The Big Room."  This room should have been named, "The Stadium."  It is over 750 feet under ground and simply massive, estimated at over four football fields in size.  Luckily, we'll live close enough to Carlsbad to return later in the summer and take the guided tour as well as the tour through the natural entrance. There are other attractions in Carlsbad such as a wildlife park.  

Lechugilla Cave: Off limits to the
                  public due to its fragile environment.Another surprise about Carlsbad Cavern was that many of the most beautiful formations are not viewable by the public.  That's because these formations reside in Lechugilla Cave.  Ranking among the largest caves in the world, Lechugilla Cave is still being mapped and explored.  So far only geologists, scientists, and a few park rangers have been allowed to enter the cave.  It is expected to remain that way for years to come since the growing formations within are made from gypsum which is very delicate.  Our only views of Lechugilla were from a slide show and a few post cards.  

350,000 Bats! The Maternity Ward is
                  inset. Up to 300 bats have been counted in each square
                  foot here. Later that evening there was a Bat Ceremony.  Approximately 350,000 Mexican free-tailed bats fly from Carlsbad Cavern each evening at sunset.  The flight is preceded by a short presentation where a park ranger discusses the bats, their part in the ecosystem, and their danger of extinction due to ignorance on the part of humans.  It turns out that bats are nearly everywhere worldwide and play a large part in perpetuating plant life and controlling the insect population.  The bat population of Carlsbad Cavern lives about two miles into the cavern.  

 They make their "indoor" flight in complete darkness.  The entrance (or exit) to the cave is extremely steep.  Therefore, they spiralled upward as they climbed to clear the walls of the entrance.  After about 20 minutes the sky had clouds of bats in flight.  We stayed for 30 minutes then left.  Sometimes it takes hours for the bats to finally vacate the cave.  The photos above show the bats.  I chose to use the postcard instead of my own photos.  This photo was taken from inside the cave.  Those darn professional photographers always get the best perspective.

Conclusion (with some VW-nut stuff)   

We found our home within a week of visiting Carlsbad.  Our household goods will be delivered on June 17th.  We've found a three bedroom house with two bathrooms that'll work out nicely.  It doesn't have a basement, but it has an attached garage and three small utility rooms.  Foot per foot it's probably only slightly smaller than our old home.  There is a shade tree in the front yard that covers the driveway and another in the back yard that shades the master bedroom.  The only downside is the 53-mile one way commute to work.  But that's why I have a diesel.  The overall location is great.  We'll be within a day's drive of my family members near Houston and Austin as well as family members in Arizona.  We'll be two days' drive from our family members in California.

Logbook ClippingAnd now for the statistics my fellow VW nuts and I love.  Our journey including local travel near each stop consisted of 6,317 miles in 29 days.  We passed through 21 states:  Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming (twice), Montana, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and (finally) Texas.  Our typical speeds were 65-mph to PA, 70-mph to KY, 75-mph to KS, then 80-mph everywhere else (except in reduced speed zones, of course).  I've estimated our payload at about 700 pounds(200 in luggage on the rear rack; 200 in cargo inside the car, then 300 for our combined weight).  

Even with such a load we only used 162 gallons of fuel, resulting in an average fuel mileage of 39 miles per gallon.  Our best mileage was 47-mpg, our worst was 36-mpg.  Most of our high-speed cruising through mountainous areas yielded about 37-mpg.  Having the cargo in the car's draft was the greatest contributor to this high fuel mileage.  The cargo carrier turned out to be a nice addition.  Its only pitfall was the 3-1/2" clearance once the car was loaded.  It did a little scraping in driveways and uneven intersections.  The only loss was about 1/2" from a replaceable bolt. 

The TDI with cover removed. New
                  clamps are identified. The car performed almost flawlessly during the trip.  Once we were in states that embraced a 75-mph speed limit, the tiny diesel held an 80-mph cruise over hill and dale without leaving 5th gear.  The only hill that slowed the car was a long, steep grade just south of Colorado Springs.  The car remained in 5th gear and maintained 65-mph.  It immediately returned to 80-mph at the summit.  I'm not sure if our elevation had anything to do with thelack of power.  By the way, the highest known elevation we traveled was at 8,650 feet on the way to Carlsbad Cavern.  

 The car reached its 5000-mile oil change interval in Denver, CO (I used to drain every 5k when I used conventional motor oil... now I use 100% synthetic and drain every 10k).  I had scheduled an oil change in advance, so I was in and out easily.  Since the car had lost 1-quart of oil during the first 5000 miles of the trip I had the turbo inspected.  I had discovered an oil leak near it before we left Cape Cod.  The dealer cleaned the engine and told me to inspect it again in two weeks.  Two days and 600 miles later, I removed the engine cover and discovered oil leakage on the valve cover.  Apparently it was leaking from the blow-by "biscuit" to the back side of the engine and dripping from the turbo.  It turns out that replacing a couple of hose clamps (pictured) solved the problem... much cheaper than a turbo replacement.  

Well, enough of the techno-weenie stuff.  We are satisfied with the time we spent on our tour.  We have a nice photo album, souvenirs, and good memories to show for it.  We thank those of you who have followed the site and provided feedback and encouragement via e-mail and guestbook entries.  Perhaps we'll do another tour soon.  But the car will be packed differently next time... perhaps with a small trailer.  Until then, perhaps we'll meet at a Texas VW Show.

Take Care,

Scott

A Jetta TDI can drive 710 miles
                  non-stop. Can you? Being used to a car that needs gas every 350 miles, one thing that has always amazed me about our new car is its excellent fuel economy: 49-mpg on the highway.  This Volkswagen advertisement sums up its mileage capabilities pretty well.  The car puts an end to stopping because we need fuel.  Now we stop because we're hungry or need to stretch our legs.  Putting fuel in the car is something that is done just once each evening.

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