The following story is approximaitely one fifth of the article that originally appeared in Albuquerque the Magazine, July, 2004. The article contains descriptions of five day trips that may be made from Albuquerque on a single tank of gas in a newer model car, or for the more adventurous, on a motorcycle. These trips are being published in installments one per week over the course of five weeks this is the final installment.
Cruising Route 66
Story and Photos
by Sharon Niederman
Just when you think every drop of nostalgia has been milked from the old Mother Road, along comes another article (like this one) proclaiming the joys of the journey. You dont need a 56 Chevy (though it helps) to connect with the roads enduring mystique. For the full impact, begin at Nob Hill with a slow cruise out West Central, where, sure enough, plenty of classic 66-era architecture remains. I especially like the Old Town segment, where the Monterey, El Don with its newly-restored neon sign and El Vado motels stand as a living legacy to bygone days.
After cresting Nine Mile Hill, youll see the road unfurl into a panorama of blue mesas and rose bluffs crowned with summer sky thunderheads. The distant horizon promises the freedom of the True West. Dont let anybody fool you before you lies the real deal American Dream. You can almost smell the tang of salt water at the coast, and youre exhilirated enough to drive all night to get there.
Exit 140 off I-40 marks the site of your first major 66 landmark, the Rio Puerco bridge. Ironically, to the left is Route 66 Casino, Laguna Pueblos imaginative interpretation of Route 66 nostalgia that leaves no kitsch unturned. Best exit to explore the old road is at Mesita, where you can take NM 117 west all the way to Laguna over a rough two-lane lined with craggy rock formations, sandstone layer cake and a knockout stretch of red rock. Powder-sugared fry bread awaits at the Indian Arts Center, and one of the most photogenic mission churches in all the West is in Old Laguna.
An essential stop along the road is a visit to Acomas Sky City. The Acoma Visitor Center, temporarily located in a triple-wide as the new facility is under construction, is a well-marked 13 miles south off the highway. From there, board a bus to go up to the imposing 350-foot high mesa for a guided tour of the ancient, still un-electrified pueblo and its awesome mission church of San Esteban, the architectural template for much of what has come to be called Santa Fe Style.
Exit 104 brings you to Cubero-Budville. Its your best bet for more great photo ops at the Budville store and the still-lively Mediterranean mission-style Villa Cubero. You can pretty much stay off I-40 and remain on backroad all the way to Grants. The main street through this town is a living Route 66 museum, though Ive never managed to hit it at the right time to order the yellowcake at the revered Uranium Café, with its Cadillac fin salad bar. When is this place actually open, I wonder?
Never mind, I console myself by taking I-40 back to town and ordering the House Special tasty steak fingers with red enchiladas, rice, beans and sopapaillas for $5.25 at the Original Macs La Sierra just east of the intersection of Coors and Central. No friendlier place exists along the entire road.
Entire trip: as far as you want to go.
My vehicle, a silver automatic 2004 Nissan Altima 2.5S has a gas tank that holds 20 gallons, costing,$50.00 to fill at todays price of $2.50 per gallon. It gets 23 miles per gallon in the city and 29 miles per gallon on the highway. At that rate, a tank of gas takes me 580 miles.