Mechanical Things and Missed Opportunities

Cortez Travel Blog

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Saturday, April 15th –continued


Looking back, today was filled with missed opportunities. The first of which was Four Corners. There was no helping that we had to take care of the car. So about 40 minutes later, we were in Shiprock, NM. Finding an auto parts store tuned out to be easy, and it did not take long to get a water pump and a few gallons of coolant. We replaced the water for Jessi’s bottles and then headed north out of town. The girls, all three of them, had been great this whole time. You could excuse a nine week old, if she, being hot and miserable cried and carried on. You wouldn’t like it, but you could excuse her. Not a peep. When we sat waiting in the hot car, for the engine to cool, she slept through the whole thing. When she did get up, Margo changed her, fed her, and she was a happy little camper. Jolene, too. She amused herself the best she could, but never whined or complained.


Missed opportunity number two had already presented itself, but we were too worried about the situation to notice. No more pictures. We had film, but as were not news photographers, who somehow have an instinct to film disasters, our first inclination was not to take out the camera to preserve our situation for posterity. So, from the time we went to bed on Friday, we didn’t take another picture. This factored in on missed opportunity number three, US Route 666, The Devil’s Highway. US 666 connects Shiprock with Cortez, CO, where we would be spending the night. It was the road we would travel on for most of an hour. Raised Catholic, I was familiar with the biblical connotation of the 666 number. I thought it interesting at the time, but only in a passing sense. Our car troubles had driven any sense of stopping or spontaneity from me. In other words, there was no way we would be stopping to take a picture. Even though in hindsight, it would have been something to look back on in amusement. Sad, as this missed opportunity can likely not be corrected. In 2003, after numerous complaints about the highway being cursed (Amazing how a drunk having an accident is a curse on one highway, and stupidity on another) and the fact that the highways signs were stolen at a much higher rate than other road signs,  the road was redesignated US Route 491. I doubt there are any remaining signs to take a picture of.


The drive from Shiprock to Cortez was only about 45 minutes. The Nova, as it had all day, ran perfect, but the temp light stayed on. Back in Shiprock, in addition to the water pump, I picked up a set of gauges. One of which would tell me the actual temperature of the engine coolant. Anything over 220 degrees F was hot. Running over 250 for an extended time was risking damage. But, until I got the gauge hooked up, and we ran the car, I wouldn’t know. We pulled into the KOA campground in Cortez, CO. We paid for a night, and I explained to the man the trouble I was having. He said it would be all right if I worked on the car. This was nice of him, as he really didn’t have to. This leads us into missed opportunity number four, Mesa Verde. Mesa Verde is an ancient Indian dwelling, rediscovered in 1888 by a rancher looking for cattle. It had been inhabited from 600 to 1300, and then everyone disappeared. We were not going to get the opportunity to go looking for them, as I would be spending the next several hours waiting for the engine to cool, and then replacing the water pump, and installing a temp gauge. That sucks. Maybe another time. It had been here for more than a millennium, it should last awhile longer.


This sounds very impressive, doing all of this mechanical work, on the fly. But you have to remember two things. A 1973 Nova did not require a degree in computer programming or quantum mechanics to work on. They were pretty basic, and thankfully had a lot of room. Taking a water pump off was really not that big a deal. Installing the gauge amounted to removing a plug in the engine and screwing one back in. Then, attaching the gauges to the underside of the dash. Second, I didn’t have much choice. I had brought a good selection of tools, just in case, and it was now “in case”. I could either do it myself or hire someone to do it. As I was not unfamiliar with the basics, I didn’t think I was in over my head.


I wasn’t. All things considered, it went very smooth. We arrived at the campground, got the pop up set up, and we got dinner. This gave the car time to cool down. I mounted the gauge part under the dash and ran the cable to the engine compartment, to give the car more time to cool. Then about two hours later, it was done. The Nova started up, and the light did not come on. It wasn’t going to come on, because it was now disconnected to allow for the gauge to be installed. It would have to wait for tomorrow, and Wolf Creek Pass, to see if I had fixed it.


In the meantime I cleaned up and we wandered to the KOA office, to see what they had for sale in the vending machines and such. Jolene got whatever treat she asked for, she had more than earned it. I found a book on the old west that interested me. And that was pretty much it for the day. We went off to bed with the thought of starting as early as possible. The cooler it was outside the easier the engine would have it

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photo by: walterman9999