Home to Albuquerque, New Mexico
On top of the year we have all spent dealing with COVID, I have some major surgery coming up later this summer, so the need for some adventure has grown strong. I gave into the yearning, and began planning a trip for the last few days of May into the first week of June.
One of my car show buddies had recently made a trek down to Arizona to drive part of the old Route 66 with some other car show folks as a memorial to a deceased friend. That trip intrigued me, so I decided to take my own Route 66 adventure, but starting from an entirely different area.
The plan was to drive from my home in Utah down to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and then take Route 66 west to Flagstaff, Arizona. I would then head north towards home via Kanab, Utah. This was to be my big summer adventure, and I had planned in lots of interesting stops along the way.
Before I get into all of that, I want to clarify a few things for this series of posts. First, I am not sure how many posts will be in the series – it will be as many as it takes to tell my story. Second, this trip ended up being a real learning experience, so in addition to my usual photography, I will be sharing my experiences and thoughts in more depth than is typical for me.
The first day was pretty uneventful; I just drove from my place in Highland, Utah to Cortez, Colorado. The route took me right past Arches National Park and into Moab. Then southward past Canyonlands Needles District, and then over into Colorado.
Why Cortez and not all the way to Albuquerque? I have done the entire route to Albuquerque in 1 day, but its long and brutal. Almost the entire journey is on two lane roads with lots of mountains along the way. Plus, there were a couple of things I wanted to do near Cortez anyway.
There is a really cool brew pub in Cortez called Main Street Brewery. They have excellent food and really great beer. My favorite beer is “Schnorzenboomer Amber Dopplebock”. It is a dark amber lager with a smooth texture and some kick. I haven’t been to the pub in years, so I figured a stop over would allow me a good reason to have dinner there.
Additionally, not far from Cortez are some very well preserved native ruins in Aztec, New Mexico. My father had been there many years ago, and I wanted to see them.
From Cortez, I drove east to Durango, Colorado past Mesa Verde National Park. Then south out of Durango crossing into New Mexico and on into Aztec.
Aztec Ruins National Monument is right on the edge of town. The ruins date to the 800s, and are incredibly well preserved.
These ruins are older than some of the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde, and at least 400 years older than the huge settlement at Chaco Culture in New Mexico. However, many of the cultural and social features are similar.
Aztec has a reconstructed kiva, a ceremonial room. Besides the finish and decor, I was struck by how cool it was inside the kiva on this hot New Mexico afternoon.
One of the features that most astounded me was the fact that many of the pueblo rooms still had a significant amount of intact timbers. Remember that these dwellings date to the 800s – that’s wood over 1200 years old!
In fact some of these rooms are so well preserved that we are permitted to go inside. Again, down in the pueblo rooms, it was quite cool. Were these North America’s first “green” buildings?
This Aztec Pueblo lies only a few miles southeast of the numerous ancient settlements at Mesa Verde, and somewhat less than 100 miles almost due north of the huge complex of settlements at Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico.
According to the rangers I spoke with at Aztec, current thinking on what was known as the Anasazi (the ancient culture ones) is that these were the same peoples as occupied Mesa Verde, and the Aztec occupants were the direct ancestors of the Chaco people. Climate change is likely what drove these folks southward. This is evidenced by the tree rings visible in the pueblo structures along with carbon dating. The rangers surmise that the current occupants of the pueblos and reservations near Albuquerque are likely the direct descendants of these Aztec people.
After Aztec, I completed the trek to Albuquerque via US 550 passing through the little hamlet of Cuba. When I first started traveling this road while in college, the route was a tiny two lane road designated as US Highway 666.
As US culture changed from the 1970s, that “666” designation became unpopular as some people consider 666 to be associated with “the devil”. Thus the route was renamed as US 550.
My hotel in Albuquerque ended up being only a couple of blocks off of the old Route 66 – good maps and a bit of planning. In the next installment I will go through a bit of history on Route 66, and why it is known as the “Mother Road”.
There is a lot more to come! I traveled a bit over 1600 miles, 1605.3 miles to be exact (2583.5 kilometers); I shot 342 photos, and was in the truck for almost 32 hours. And I visited 2 private preserves and 5 national parks or monuments.
Even though I have not yet made it to Route 66 in this installment, I hope you have enjoyed my first part of the journey. And as always, thank you so much for taking time to visit my blog.