View Full Version : SE-R 2900 miles from CA to NW NM

07-11-2010, 09:10 PM
I've done volunteer astronomy in various national parks for the past five years. This past month I drove from the San Francisco Bay Area to Chaco Culture National Historic Park in northwestern New Mexico, spent a month there, including a weekend trip to Albuquerque, and drove back to the Bay Area.

My Nissan Sentra SE-R has the 2.5 liter engine that's the base for the larger and heavier Altima. It's got 2008 EPA estimates of 19 mpg city, 24 mpg highway, and 22 mpg combined.

Chaco is the United State's equivalent to the great Mayan civilization that built Chichen Itza and Tulum in Mexico, Altun Ha in Belize, and other stone buildings and pyramids through Central America ~1100 A.D. It's also a contemporary to the great Incan civilization that built Macchu Picchu in Peru, also ~1100 A.D. There are more than 150 Chacoan Great Houses, only some of them inside the park. Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl inside the park each have 400' long stone walls. Bonito has something like 110 rooms, some of them four stories high. Building started ~850 A.D., and continued until ~1250 A.D.

I left the Bay Area 6/7 and overnighted in Kingman, AZ, about the midway point of the 1100 mile drive. I tanked up before leaving, refueled in Lost Hills, refueled in Kingman, and refueled again in Gallup the next day before continuing to the park. There's 13 miles of washboard dirt road north of the park coming in from Farmington. I knew that and the <1 mile drive from the residence area to the Visitor Center for a month were going to clobber my mpg, but it's not good to walk it in the daytime in 90 degree weather, or in the dark with Prairie Rattlesnakes underfoot.

My astronomy volunteer work involves showing people the Sun through a solar scope (which shows them solar prominences [sort of mini-solar flares] and sunspots) in the daytime. At night, we show them night sky sights like the Ring Nebula, Saturn, and the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules through telescopes.

My first three tanks, covering 1401 miles, averaged 38.1 mpg, exactly my average for the previous 16,170 miles. But once I got into the park, I noticed a loose plastic shield which may have cut my mpg. I wired it up temporarily with bread bag wires, until I could get to my daughter's in Albuquerque later in the month. I'd planned that trip to attend my son-in-law's promotion to Full Colonel in the USAF. I figured my daughter would have pliers and hanger wire for a more permanent repair. In the meantime, a month of <1 mile drives was going to murder my current tank's mpg. The best I could do on the downhill drive to the Visitor Center was about 36 mpg, with most drives closer to 32 mpg. The return uphill drives were more like 24 mpg. If I hadn't been hypermiling, I have no doubt that month of drives would all have been in the low teens.

I averaged about 41 mpg driving down to ABQ, but it couldn't make up for a month of short hops. When I got to ABQ, and refueled, that tank averaged 33.36 mpg, my second worst since I started hypermiling.

After the promotion ceremony, and a late dinner of Elk stew, I left ABQ and drove back to the park, arriving after 2 a.m. I took advantage of the lonely road and glided down to 45 mph whenever there was no traffic around (most of the time). Even with the lights on the whole time, I averaged 40.9 mpg. But there was the small matter of another week of short hops before I departed on the return trip.

The return mpg improved over the outbound trip. The ABQ to Chaco to Kayenta tank was 42.2 mpg, and I averaged 40 mpg on the return. Still, the 33 mpg killer tank haunted me, and I only averaged 37.9 mpg for the 2900 miles on this trip. It wasn't enough miles or poor enough mpg to haul down my lifetime average for the SE-R, which remains 38.1 mpg, 173% of the '08 EPA, for 20,000 miles.

A little information about the drive. I left the Bay Area on I-580 over the Altamont Pass, and went south on I-5 nearly to Bakersfield, crossed over to US 99 and took CA 52 to Barstow. I joined I-40 to Gallup, took the old US 666 (since renumbered, for some strange reason) to Farmington, and went from there to Chaco. The reason I go to Chaco is its dark skies, and the reason it has dark skies is its distance to the nearest cities. It's 90 miles from Grants or Gallup, 70 miles to Farmington, and 150 miles to ABQ.

It's not everybody's paradise, but it's mine.

Right Lane Cruiser
07-12-2010, 06:17 AM
Sounds like a nice trip. :)

I'm grateful for your son's service to our country. :flag:

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