Today, we had all of the excitement any adventure can offer. The day started innocently enough with us striking out from Tucson at 0700 with the destination of Pancho Villa State Park as our objective, about 270 miles away. Just west of Tucson we stopped at a truck stop to discharge our grey and black water tanks. We were not quite sure when the next sump dump would be so convenient.
Our next stop was the first rest area we came across heading east on I-10. Here, we changed drivers and Mary Margaret boldly moved into the driver’s seat to begin her first experience of driving our beast, LeuC, down a freeway. She drove 68 miles, until we reached the next rest area, and during that distance she was great! It takes some real backbone and some nerves of steel to keep a 40 foot, 40,000 pound bus between the lines of your lane while either passing or being passed by big rigs that are 54 feet long and just inches away from you, barreling by at 65 to 75 MPH. Her anxiety level was pretty high during her stint behind the wheel but she demonstrated to me and, more importantly, to herself that she is up to the task. She has vowed to drive each day for at least an hour so she can become more at ease with handling LeuC down the road. The way she drove today, I believe it will take no time at all before it is just second nature to her.
As we continued down the road, we left Arizona and enter into New Mexico. Whoo Hoo! Our third state that we can caulk up on the “States Visited” ledger.
Soon we left the freeway in favor of drinking in the beauty of New Mexico’s high plains via back roads. As we motored down a narrow two lane road we commented on how the views we were beholding reminded us of sailing across the open ocean. With not a soul in sight, our view was of miles upon miles of flat open range. Only in the far distance were mountains poking up over the horizon like remote islands in the ocean. It was awe inspiring!
We basically had the road to ourselves as it was rare to see an on-coming car or pickup truck. We were skimming along the border between the US and Mexico and we saw more Border Patrol SUVs parked up on bluffs (4 of them) than any other vehicle. Seeing the empty, unimpeded land running from horizon to horizon underscored the folly of Trump and his wall. What a joke!
We were now getting close to Columbus, New Mexico where Pancho Villa State Park is located. Columbus is just a four corner village, filling the intersection corners of State Highway 9, which runs east and west, and State Highway 11 which runs between Deming to the north and the border of Mexico, just three miles to the south of Columbus.
We were only 11 miles west of Columbus when tragedy struck. I was keeping my eye on the pickup truck approaching us from the east. The road was so narrow that we only had about foot between our wheels and the two lines that marked our lane. Thus, passing an on-coming vehicle was time to really focus on keeping LeuC right in the middle of our lane or even a bit to the side.
When the pickup truck was less than a 1/4 mile away, unknown to us, a mule deer was grazing in the tall bush along the side of the roads. As we approached her, she was startled and jumped out of the brush and started running down the edge of the road right in front of us. I veered in bit into the opposing lane to pass her but as I did, she decided to try crossing the road and sprang right in front of us.
With a loud thump, we knew we hit her and I quickly moved LeuC back into her lane before the on-coming pickup smacked into us. We then slowed down and stopped the bus. Since there was no real shoulder to the road, we had to stop in our lane.
The pickup just continued down the road, as nothing had happened. As he faded from view, l tried to see if I could spy the deer in the road. I could not, so I suspect that she was thrown back into the brush.
If you are not familiar with mule deer, you need to understand that they are not like the spry white-tail deer that most people know. These are broad-shouldered, hefty beasts who carry a lot of weight with them. I had vision of the front of our bus caved in with broken headlights. In other words, major front-end damage.
To my surprise, there was no visible dents or dings. The cowling that covers the entire front of the bus was intact. Close inspect did show that the bottom of the cowling was pushed in a ¼ inch and the top edge of the cowling did protrude out about an inch. However, the cowling is attached to the bus with nuts and bolts that slide through adjustment slots so I believe we can realign the cowling so it is once again flush.
Of more concern is that once we started driving down the road we noticed that LeuC was much more sensitive to each little bump in the road. Thus, I stopped the bus once more and inspected the front wheels and underneath the bus. I did not see anything out of place and the wheels and tires looked fine.
The tire pressure monitor that I had just installed yesterday showed that the tires were maintaining their pressure and when we resumed driving again, I felt no wheel shimmy that would indicated a bent wheel or damaged linkage. Nor did the bus pull excessively to one side or the other. My concern now is that the front, passenger side air suspension bag may have been damaged and it not fully inflated, yielding the smooth ride that we have become used to with LeuC.
Thus, we slowly motored down the road to Columbus and entered the state park. Once there, we went to the park ranger’s office and discussed our situation. Martin, the park ranger, told us that there is a good truck mechanic just a mile away and called him. Gabe, the mechanic, agreed to come to our bus at our campsite tomorrow morning. Thus, we wait here in Pancho Villa Sate Park, with our fingers crossed that things will be right and ready once Gabe comes.
This photos shows where the deer hit our bus. I was so relieved that the cowling was not dented or scratched. It just goes to show you have well built this beast we lovingly call LeuC is.
This next photo show how the upper right corner of the cowling was skewed out a couple of inches.
This is the simple but very nice camping site we have. The park was mostly empty.