New Mexico in Context

Route 285 in New Mexico. This is the busiest the road ever looked.

On the car ride from New Mexico to Texas, I read my boyfriend the post I wrote about Albuquerque. As an urban planner he is trained to look at cities in context, and he had a different perspective. Although I viewed the city’s big box stores as tacky reflections of urban sprawl, my boyfriend assumed that most other parts of the New Mexico didn’t have those services. He told me that Albuquerque is the biggest city in the state and reminded me of a conversation we had with an employee of the funky Flying Star Cafe. When we told her we were visiting the city, she excitedly recommended we visit the Borders a few blocks away. I giggled as we left the restaurant. “Borders! As if that’s an exotic place!” I said (or something equally snobby).

However, the Albuquerian’s enthusiasm made more sense  as we drove southeast through the state.

Most human activity ceased about 45 minutes outside of Albuquerque. For miles all I saw was barren yellow grass. As the car grew low on gas, the desperation for a town increased. Everything was bordered up in the first town we passed through, including the gas station. A trip to Wikipedia told us that, as of the 2000 census, the city had 96 people.

Vaughn’s main street

Vaughn, about 20 miles down the road, was a little better in that it had two working gas stations… but not much else. As I took a picture of a vintage sign outside a motel the motel’s older owner started talking to me. He said Vaughn was established at the turn of the 20th century as a railroad town. It once had 1,900 people, but now is has 500. The man was glad I liked the sign even though some of the neon had gone out. He wants to get it fixed, but it costs $1200 and means he has to ask  someone to drive up from Roswell, which is almost 2 hours away. He has four kids, but they’ve all moved away to Albuquerque.

Another view of Vaughn, with the vintage hotel sign on the right.

As I got back into the car and took another look at the bordered up businesses around us, I thought about how much a Walmart, Sears or, yes, a Borders would mean to the 500 people who lived in the area. Albuquerque looked pretty good now.



Inside the Balloon Museum

Albuquerque was a controversial choice. When considering a stop in New Mexico, Taos and Sante Fe seemed alluring, with their artist communities, rich histories and Georgia O’Keeffe museum. But I heard that Albuquerque is less touristy, which appeals to me.

I admit, fatigue got the best of this traveler and her companion. A late start meant only an hour at the impressive and thoughtful Balloon Museum. An hour was not enough time to experience it in full, but I did glean some interesting facts. Did you know that zepplins were considered advantageous during World War I because the enemy couldn’t hear them approaching? This, despite the fact that they’re totally easy to pop!

Village square in Old Town Albuquerque

We visited Old Town Albuquerque (your standard tourist spot), drove by some adobe-style homes and made two stops at the Flying Star Cafe, but I can’t claim that I really got to know the city. It’s more of a sprawling than I thought, and is brimming with the chain stores you see everywhere. What struck me as unusual is that the city has southwesternified all the typical eyesores of a concrete city. The walls of the freeways are painted warm browns and oranges, public art stands by many highway exits and most street medians are well manicured. The city does a good job of making you feel like you are somewhere, because the gluttony of big box stores and roads make you feel like you are nowhere.

Still, the city doesn’t seem that unusual. Even the funky area near the University of New Mexico reminds me of a less intimate and beautiful and Gainesville. Albuquerque is okay, but next time I’m in New Mexico maybe Taos and Santa Fe are worth a look.

Driving from Phoenix to Albuequrque

Motor Lodge Inn
A few months ago I saw a slideshow about boutique hotels (those internet slideshows are irresistible). The slideshow featured  The Motor Lodge in Prescott, Arizona (Prescott, pronounced like biscuit, as the owner told us.) After our long day in Phoenix, we drove an hour and a half north to stay there.

The Motor Lodge Inn was built in the 1940s and has had various owners. It became very run down and was once a crack den (oooooh!). Joe and Brian bought the place three years ago and have transformed it into a retro haven. I was already sold on the place, but when Joe and Brian sent us off with four warm chocolate chip cookies I knew I would

Our room at the Motor Lodge

Our room at the Motor Lodge

The view from our room at The Motor Lodge

89A: Jessup

Jessup: Remnants of a mining town and ghost town

The owners of The Motor Lodge urged us to reroute and take road 89-A to Flagstaff. This included a drive through the beautiful Sedona mountains and forest and a stop in Jerome, which sits on the side of a mountain.

Jerome has undergone a bunch of changes. Instead of expressing them in a sentence, I will use arrows:

Mining Town –> Ghost Town –>  Hippie Town –> Artist/Gallery town/place to buy fudge

Sedona Mountains. Oy, to die for.

One of the 800 pictures taken of the Sedona Mountains

Route 66

We took I-40 most of the way to Albuquerque. The interstate runs parallel to historic Route 66 and I was eager to experience this famous road. I found it suitably kitschy, but also sad. Since most travelers take I-40 now, many of the businesses that once lined the road are shuttered. It’s depressing. Additionally, as a driver looking to go 80+ mph (sorry Dad!), Route 66’s 40 mph speed limit was off putting.

The route to Meteor Crater. (Not pictured: Cows)

We detoured from I-40 in an attempt to stop at Meteor Crater, the site of a meteor impact outside of Winslow, Arizona. However, when we found it would be $30 for the both of us to experience the Meteor Crater Museum and the actual crater, we realized we didn’t care.

It wasn’t all a loss. The route out to Meteor Crater was barren, yet beautiful (I wasn’t able to get a picture of the cows by the side of the road.) We also stumbled upon the most awesome gas station on the planet. I bought a bunch of magnets and postcards from a woman named Dottie Hanson. I wanted to sign over my savings account, but was ushered out.

Signs along Route 66

Rock Shop along Route 66. It was closed, which is upsetting cos I am fresh out of rocks.