New Mexico State Highway 104 begins as 2nd Street in Tucumcari, and heads out of town across the railroad bridge, winding north through sagebrush and low-lying red rock mesas. I sensed the character of the road right away and knew I had a winner. There were broad vistas on both sides of the road and virtually no traffic. I saw fewer than five cars in a hundred miles and most of them tilted a hand back off the steering wheel in the lonely driver's salute. After 30 miles or so, the road climbs a thousand feet along a steep grade and tops out on the high plateau. Here the expansive vistas ratchet up from scenic to vast, where endless stretches of undulating grassy plain sweep away under a huge sky canopy. I pull over and get out and the road is empty for 20 or 30 miles in either direction. The silence is loud enough to hear. My mind slips into neutral as I take it all in. Time flickers, then flits away.
Later, down the road, an old faded storefront appears in the middle of nowhere. I slow down to take it in, and something rings deja vu. It turns out to be the old gas station in the scene from 'No Country for Old Men' where the Coin Toss is played out.
Highway 104 runs out to the west for 30 or 40 more miles, equally desolate and satisfying, before diving off the plateau and on down to Las Vegas, New Mexico, where I'm looking to find some salvage from the town's historic Victorians.