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Day 2: Flagstaff to Albuquerque, New Mexico

Wednesday, 8:30 in the morning. I didn't mean to be up this early - but my internal alarm clock had other ideas. Oh well, it's up and out on the road I go.

I pass by a couple of cinder mines (the San Francisco Mountains are actually the worn-down remains of a single large volcano), loop around a hill, and find myself in Winona - which I didn't forget. Winona is sort of a suburb of Flagstaff - if you can call a town of about two-hundred a "suburb" - and oddly is the only place "out of sequence" in the song. It should be west of Flagstaff, but is in fact a couple of miles east.

Apart from a nice Route 66 bridge, it's a pretty dull little place. Not even any motel/diner remains.

Route 66 now disappears into the 40 as I start to drop down towards a more classically desert Arizona. About twenty miles southeast of Flagstaff, the forest cuts off as quickly as it started to the west. Soon, I'm traveling through a flat, empty desert landscape, heading for my next tourist stop: Meteor Crater.

Twenty-four years ago or so, on one of the last "family" vacations for me, my dad absolutely refused to turn-off the highway for Meteor Crater because it would foul up his schedule (my father was very big on tight vacation schedules), so a quarter-century delayed, I finally made the turn-off myself and drove the whole six miles up to the crater.

Meteor Crater, ArizonaThe gift shop/museum/lookout is perched on the northern rim of the crater, and it's eight bucks to get in. The crater's been a tourist spot for decades, long before they finally gave up the idea of mining for the nickel-iron meteor Barringer was sure was buried somewhere in it (actually, it pretty much vaporized on impact). All I can say is that it's an awfully big hole - a classic crater, still reasonably uneroded, nearly three-quarters of a mile across. You wouldn't want to have been anywhere within a hundred miles when this thing hit 50k years ago.

(though the view from a hundred miles would have been cool)

Leaving Meteor Crater, I soon am able to get off the 40 and onto another stretch of intact 66. This one runs down the center of Winslow. Winslow looks like it was a major town - especially judging by the size of it's railroad station - but it's now (IMHO) dying pretty quickly. Many of the buildings are boarded up, and there's just this air of decay through the whole town. I didn't stop.

Thirty miles down the road (mostly on the 40, but some 66), is the town of Holbrook. Another railroad/Route 66 created town and it seems to be doing much better than Winslow. The town has made 66 a major tourist attraction, and still has such 66-era motels as the "Wigwam Motel"Wigwam Motel - where you can sleep in one of the many concrete wigwams that make up the "rooms" of this motel (there's another motel like it out west of San Bernadino - but it wasn't in nearly as good a shape when last I was by there). After passing through the town, I turn off onto the 180 and head up to the Petrified Forest

As lonely as Route 66 and the 40 were as they cut through the Arizonan desert, they at least had the occasional company of a town, or gas station, or whatnot. The stretch of the 180 I was on didn't have even that: Just me, as strip of asphalt, a few clouds in a deep blue sky, and miles of empty on all sides. If you look in the dictionary under "lonely road" you'll find a picture of this highway.

Eighteen miles later, I'm stopping at the gift shop that's at the entrance to the Petrified Forest. If you're in the mood to a) spend lots of money and b) lug several hundred pounds of rock around the rest of your trip, you can buy surprisingly large sections of petrified logs (actually, I thought the table made with a slice of one as the top was quite nice - just not $2,500 nice ). Most people, however, will satisfy themselves with one of the couple of dollar marble-sized pieces.

Petrified ForestMe, I just took a picture.

I discover that it's another eight dollars or so to actually enter the Park and drive though it back to the 40/Route 66. Now, my funds have been going somewhat faster than I planned, so instead I backtrack to Holbrook, and rejoin the 40 there. Soon, I'm nearly up to where the road through the Park would have brought me to the 40 and I stop to get pictures of one of the abandoned bridges that makes up a dead-end for the current piece of Route 66.

After the pictures, I continue driving, passing the Painted Desert off to the north, heading pretty quickly now towards the New Mexican border. The hillsides around the interstate start rising and becoming low, but scenic, mesas as I near the border. Actually at the border, I get off the 40 and stop at the "Welcome Center" (read: Large Rest Stop with Tourist Information) at the base of some bare red-rock cliffs and make myself lunch. It's now beginning to cloud over a bit. Oh, not socked-in gray, but large portions of the blue sky are now white with drifting strips of clouds.

Soon after the border, I reach Gallup and some more driveable Route 66. Gallup - like Flagstaff - is another town dominated by the railroad and is basically a long narrow strip of city running for several miles down both sides of the tracks. It's also another town that is using Route 66 as a tourist draw - and apparently doing a pretty good job of it, too.

The cliffs and mesas on both sides of the road continue to rise as I get deeper into New Mexico. Soon, I reach the Continental Divide, and a Route 66 era gift shop resting right on it. This marks the start of another long section of intact Route 66 that will run until Grants, about thirty, forty miles down the line. After Grants, I rejoin the 40 as the mesas close in on both sides of the road and it starts to wind its way through them. At one point, I pass an actual working Stuckeys, point and shout "Nutlog!" (Earthworm Jim reference - heh, heh, heh)

Soon after, I'm passing Acoma "Sky City" (the oldest inhabited city in North America) about fifteen miles to the north. I vaguely toy with getting off to go visit it, but it's starting to get into late afternoon, and I want to hit Albuquerque before it gets dark, so I can have a look around (and - having learned my lesson in Flagstaff - get a motel room). At this point I'm about an hour away, so I stay on the 40, and gun it for the Rio Grande.

It's about five in the afternoon when I reach Albuquerque and pull off just west of the Rio Grande (yes, it's the same Rio Grande that will end up in Texas) in an area of many motels. This will be about as far east as I was going on this trip. Finding a motel takes a bit, but once in my room, I start looking at another miniature city map. Oh, it's larger than the Flagstaff map, but not a lot more detailed. One of the motel advertisements was for a restaurant in "Old Town" which sounded interesting and going by the map it was only about a mile, mile-and-a-half walk from my motel, some of that on Route 66. So I thinks, "okay, twenty minutes, tops, I can walk that easy, it'll still be light by the time I get there, and if there's any interesting sites I can photograph them."

The map proved to be somewhat inaccurate

The next day, I measured the route: It was more like three miles than one. The "twenty minutes, tops" went by and I still hadn't reached Route 66 and the bridge over the Rio Grande - that took twenty-five all by itself and it was only the half-way point. The sun was just setting as I crossed the bridge, so the sole photos I got were of it going down over the river.

Not that I saw anything worth photographing apart from that.

Albuquerque - at least the sections I saw - is a scrungy, seedy, rather depressing little city. Rather like Azusa, a suburb out here L.A. way. Most of the houses/buildings are in need of repair, trash is everywhere (the park around the Rio Grande is full of it) and it all looks like nobody cares very much. Now, I stress, I only saw a small part of the city - but some of that part was the "Old Town" section which, quite frankly, merely looked like a bunch of old (but not too old) buildings with nothing special about them. Yet, this was considered worthy of marking on the map! Bad sign...

Finally, a few minutes before seven, I reached the restaurant and had, what I must admit, was a nice fajita dinner. But then, I had to walk back...
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