I left Albuquerque this morning, and – at New Mexico native Rob’s suggestion (see comments from yesterday), I grabbed breakfast at the Frontier Restaurant. Route 66 is pretty easy to find in Albuquerque – because it is the main drag (Central Avenue), running through the whole city. So after breakfast, I head due west towards the Arizona border.West of Albuquerque, Route 66 follows the Interstate as a frontage road for several miles. Even though you’re seeing exactly what people on the Interstate are seeing, there’s a wonderful bonus. You can actually stop your car at any time, and take incredible shots – like the ones I took at my Facebook page. And, of course, you have small local surprises like the Rio Puerco Bridge – an old (now defunct) segment of Route 66 that I stop and take pictures. Pretty soon, however, I need to get back on the I-40.
I’m now zooming down the Interstate, as the New Mexico scenery starts to take a flat perspective – and I’ve got my CD of University of Oregon On the Rocks playing. OTR is an amazing male acappella group at Eugene that used to come down to Berkeley and perform often when I was there. I harmonize with their songs, as the low hills and yellow sagebrush zoom by. But I yearn to get off the Interstate soon …
By sheer luck, the opportunity to get back on Route 66 happens just as my favorite track on the On the Rocks CD starts playing: Ave Maria. The soaring vocals and tenor harmonies inspire me, as I meander slowly through the almost-gravel roads in the New Mexico desert. Pretty soon, Route 66 follows New Mexico state road 124 – but there are still very few souls around – as I jump at every opportunity to stop the car and take a shot of the scenery. This is a flatter section of New Mexico than yesterday, but it’s still spectacular nonetheless.
As I arrive in Grants, it’s almost noontime – but I don’t feel rushed to get lunch. But I see a small Western gear store, and think – while my cowboy gear is complete, there’s one thing I don’t have just yet. Every cowboy has two hats – a felt hat to keep you warm before Easter, and a white straw hat for the summer to keep you cool. The hat I bought in Amarillo, TX was a felt one and should serve me well – but there have been times in the car where it’s been so hot, that I regret not buying a straw hat. In Grants, a storekeeper is selling them for $15. It’s just too good of an offer to refuse.I figure I can wait until Gallup to have lunch, so I hop back into my car and head due west. With the open road, now is the perfect time to play the Pulp Fiction soundtrack – as I sing along to the iconic film clip of my High School generation.
After a few miles, I come up to the village of Thoreau (as in Henry David) – but the locals pronounce it “thru.” I debate on whether to stop there for lunch, but wonder if it will be another one of these small depressing Route 66 towns. But the Pulp Fiction soundtrack is playing “Lonesome Town,” and Bobby Darin’s haunting voice convinces me to turn right and check out Thoreau. I pass by the Wagon Wheel Cafe, which does not look very inviting on the outside. But as I walk in, I see it’s a local Mexican favorite – and order a beef burrito for lunch. Seriously … they put all those taquerias in the Mission District to SHAME there. I compliment the waitress, as I leave Thoreau with a full stomach.Going towards Gallup, right before having to get back on the Interestate I cross another important Route 66 landmark: the Continental Divide. It is here that all rivers going west end up into the Pacific Ocean, and all rivers going east end up into the Atlantic Ocean. And by chance, I run into the same English couple who was having lunch at the Midpoint Cafe in Adrian, Texas – and they oblige by taking a photo of me in front of the sign. All things considered, however, most of what we have at the Continental Divide is incredibly tacky and touristy – and I am eager to get back onto the Interstate to get to Gallup. After all, Gallup New Mexico is one of the towns listed in Bobby Troup’s iconic song, Get Your Kicks On Route 66.
I didn’t really know what to expect in Gallup, besides grabbing a cup of coffee. When I arrived downtown, however, I found a pleasant surprise: an impressive museum on Navajo History, run by a non-profit that assists the poverty stricken community with basic services such as health care and education. All proceeds in the museum gift shop go to help their programs, so I decided to plunk down $100 and buy an authentic Navajo kachina doll.It goes without saying that what this country did to the Native Americans was genocide. We all learned in school about the Trail of Tears, how thousands of Indians were deported to Oklahoma – only to take that away from them 60 years later. But the truth is even worse: Adolph Hitler was so inspired by the Trail of Tears, that he studied it while developing the Nazi Holocaust. Meanwhile, the Navajo Museum had an informative movie on the Navajo “code-talkers” who used their dialect to transmit secret codes to win World War II. As I leave Gallup, Route 66 west of town is full of trailer homes. It really puts things into perspective, about what the white man has done over the centuries here.
Leaving Gallup, I put the White Album in my CD player – for no reason except that I haven’t listened to the Beatles since somewhere in Illinois. West of Gallup, Route 66 follows both the Interstate and the railroad tracks – while the magestic landscape of yellow New Mexican sagebrush meets the red Arizona rock. It is quite a sight to see, as the road meanders due west to the Arizona border.When I cross the state line, I get a pleasant surprise. Arizona, for some reason, does not have Daylight Savings Time – so it’s 2:30 p.m. (not 3:30 p.m.), which means I will have PLENTY of time to see the Petrified National Forest before it closes at 6:00 p.m. Just like the Grand Canyon, a government shutdown would have precluded my ability to visit the Petrified Forest – so I drive on the Interstate and get there at 3:30 p.m. Route 66 goes right through the Petrified National Forest, which makes it a must-visit when you’re taking this route. I won’t really add much to what needs to be said – you can see all the dozens (and dozens and dozens!) of photos I took over at my Facebook page.
It’s possible to drive through the whole park in less than 45 minutes. But with the extra hour, I just couldn’t help myself – I stayed there for 2 1/2 hours (until the park closed at 6:00 p.m.) And to be perfectly honest, I could have stayed even longer. It was one of the most peaceful and spiritual experiences I’ve had on this trip. There really is something about standing all alone on a cliff and shout “ECHO!” – only to hear your voice travel through the park.I’m now spending the night in Holbrook, Arizona – which is just 20 miles west of Petrified National Park. And here’s the best part: I’m sleeping in a wigwam tonight – at the world famous Route 66 landmark, the Wigwam Motel. Each teepee has its own bed, TV, shower and toilet – but no Wi-Fi connection. Which is why I’ve been here at Butterfield’s, a local steak house two blocks away, where I’ve had dinner. And the waiter has been most patient, as I sit here for two hours uploading all my photos and blogging about my trip. I’m really excited about going to the Grand Canyon tomorrow!!