Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Jetta'ing Across New Mexico

Once upon a time, I had a love affair with New Mexico.

When younger, I often dreamed about landing that high-paying job or hitting the lottery and buying a ranch there. I even had a name for it: Renova. As it has become ever more apparent that neither of these things was likely to happen, I had to instead settle on NM as a place to retire.

In the ensuing years my enthusiasm for spending my golden years in the "Land of Enchantment" has waned. Moving to the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in South Carolina a few years ago cured my NM wanderlust for good.

Don't get me wrong, I still love it, but I no longer see myself a desert dweller. For all intents and purposes I did live there for more than six months right before moving to South Florida more than twenty years ago. Some might argue with my characterization of "living" there because I slept on my sister's sofa in Las Cruces during that period, but I was living there nontheless.

I've never lost my enthusiasm for all things southwest; much of my house is furnished and decorated in southwestern motif; but the desert no longer holds an irresistible appeal to me.

Because my sister now lives just south of Albuquerque and I still love visiting NM, I was doubly happy when Volkswagen chose Santa Fe as the site for its press introduction of its all-new 2013 Jetta Hybrid.

A key word is missing from the official name of this terrific car that VW sums up as "efficiency without sacrifice": turbocharged.

Jetta is an important vehicle for VW, representing about 34% of its total sales. It made sense to use it as the company's springboard to hybrid technology for its cars. It already had a hybrid version of its Toureg luxury SUV.

What makes the Jetta unique among hybrids is its 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine -- the only turbo on the hybrid landscape. It, with an electric motor, delivers a combined horsepower total of 170 ponies. Channeling this output to the front wheels falls to a slick, seven-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission. Getting to 60 miles per hour from a standstill takes 8.6 seconds. Impressive for a mid-level hybrid.

Although it has yet to complete fuel economy certification, VW says fuel economy will also be impressive, tossing around an estimated city-highway-combined mileage of 45 mpg.

VW hosted us at the Four Seasons Resort -- Rancho Encantado just north of Santa Fe.

It's a magnificent property sprawling over several acres and consisting of a spa, restaurant and 65 individual guest casitas. VW reserved the entire property for the four two-day waves of the Jetta Hybrid event.

Our 150-mile drive took us from the resort to the trendy snow-skiing town of Taos. Curvy mountain roads and heart-stopping landscape best describe the route to and from Taos. The Jetta had no problem mastering the twisties. It is quiet, comfortable and nicely equipped.

On the morning route we had a driver-change stop at the Classical Gas Museum.

It is an eclectic collection of all things related to old gas stations and pumps. Imagining all of the rotting old barns, warehouses and sheds that must have been mined to come up with the thousands of items strewn around this place is mind boggling.

It was fun seeing old gas pumps with prices below 30 cents for a gallon of gas.

Despite my familiarity with most areas of NM, I had never before been to Taos. You can spend days crisscrossing the state without ever tiring of the views. The area surrounding Taos is a beautiful as any in the state. It is truly amazing.

With my driving partner needing a pit stop, we found a state-sponsored restroom on the edge of a scenic pulloff. Upon finding the doors locked, my buddy adjourned to its far side to consummate his biological imperative.

By the looks of the door, a previous visitor attempted a more direct approach. Ya gotta love the American West!

I'm winding up my NM stay. This latest visit hasn't changed my mind about remaining in South Carolina, but it has reminded me of all the reasons I fell in love with the desert in the first place.

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