Before the dawn of the interstate highway system, our main national thoroughfares were the "US" highways that connected the Jammed freeway from side road states. US 66 was lined with motels and gas stations. It's been replaced by Interstate 40 across much of the southwest, and the newer motels and gas stations are all located at the interchanges. But lots of towns made a virtue out of necessity, and as a result there's a "Historic Route 66" association which tries to pull the traffic along the old road and through the towns.
Still nothing can stop the advance of time. Old Route 66 doesn't really exist as a road you can travel from beginning to end, because in lots of places I-40 simply replaced the old road. So you can be driving along the old road and expect to see a Pavement Ends or No Outlet sign at any time and be turned around to return to the interstate until the next exit. In places the pavement is gone but the old highway, now a dirt road, is still marked by signs here and there. It's fascinating to see how Our favorite kind of restaurant sign quickly a seldom-used road is conquered by the vegetation which breaks up the highway. We still stay off the interstate whenever we can, and we use a detailed road atlas to figure out where we can! We're not going anywhere in a hurry, so we don't need to share the interstate with the more aggressive drivers. We were delighted one time to be waved across the road at a place where a seasonal wash was full of water; the folks on the other side had carefully tested the depth before driving across.
Of course Route 66 was the main drag for every single town along the highway. On one side of each little town there's an exit, clearly marked as Historic Route 66 and Business Route I-40, which leads you along the main drag, sometimes stretching for 8 or 10 miles to the freeway entrance on the other side of town. As a rule, this road is marked by dying businesses, closed-down gas Kachina display, Gallup museum stations, motels which have fallen into disrepair and may be used as low-cost apartments until they are finally razed. And the old towns seem to stretch out into long, narrow strips along the highway.
Gallup, New Mexico is such a town, but more travelers get off the interstate here because of the dozens of stores catering to Native American handicrafters. There are three kinds of stores in Gallup: those that sell Native American arts and crafts to tourists, those that sell crafting supplies to Native Americans living on the nearby reservations, and pawn shops. It seemed to us that there were about the same number of each kind of store. While some of the craft stores have very low-quality items for sale (including a lot of imported look-alikes), Gallup is also-known for the high-quality pots, rugs, jewelry, kachinas, and just plain gorgeous art work that is on display.
The Navajos, both men and women, love to dress colorfully, adorned with the beautiful silver and turquoise jewelry for which Statue of Navajo Codetalker their tribe is famous. Many of them build traditional octagonal hogans, with the main door facing East. They raise a few sheep and weave some of the lovely rugs on homemade looms, using dyes made from local plants and animals to color the wool. Most of what we know about Navajos we learned from reading Tony Hillerman. Seeing the racks and racks of Hillerman novels in motel lobbies, convenience stores and gift shops, we realize we're not alone.
In the middle of Main Street we found the Gallup Cultural Center. The second floor is a fine small museum of Native American art and culture. Display cases along the corridor include a collection of Kachina dolls and various historic objects and photos, and a separate gallery shows works by local artists. During World War II the U.S. army employed Navajo soldiers as "code talkers"; the language is so distinct from any other that they could speak to each other over radio in Navajo without the enemy understanding the sentences. During the first 24 hours of the battle of Iwo Jima, according to the museum, Code Talkers transmitted over 800 messages without an error. The large and impressive Memorial to the Code Talker was intended to be placed near other memorials in Washington, D.C., but *political problems* prevented this. Hmm..mm.
This was one of the wettest winters in recent years, at least in the American West, and the payoff is wildflowers, wildflowers, Blow on it wildflowers. And the color green to replace the more familiar southwestern brown. In Santa Fe we visited our friend Austin and admired his new house which is almost ready for occupancy, then we three drove into the National Forest in the mountains east of town. The hillside was bright yellow-green of newly-leafed aspen dotted with the much darker green of confers -- Austin taught us that conifers cannot grow without shade, so after a forest fire other trees, such as the aspens, recover first. Once they are large enough to provide cover, the longer-lived conifers begin to take hold. The hillside we had seen had been burned in 1880 and is just now beginning to recover its earlier botanical balance, with the dark green needles emerging through the canopy of lighter green aspen leaves.
We came to Albuquerque for the wedding of Elsa's lawyer niece Sara and her lawyer husband Joaquin. We spent a busy and happy week tying little bows, driving out-of-town guests around, and running the occasional errand, but mostly admiring the Pueblo Cultural Center organizational ability of the young couple who had anticipated every possible detail of a party for nearly two hundred guests. (They were helped enormously by the groom's family, who provided the wedding site, much of the preparation work, and all of the delicious food!) We wish the newlyweds all the joy and happiness the world can offer.
While we were involved in our one wedding, we were amused to observe the June weddings at our hotel. Both weekends the hotel hosted four to ten weddings or wedding receptions, and the weddings often took place in the main lobby of the hotel, under the watchful eyes of guests on all floors looking down the atrium at the festivities.
Albuquerque also has its Historic Route 66, which passed right through Old Town, including one motel celebrating its 70th anniversary! We toured the colorful old square, surrounded by the church and many New Mexican restaurants and gift shops. We saw examples of many different kinds of pots, including intricately painted bowls and pots from local artists and from a tiny village, Mata Ortiz, in northern Mexico. We learned that while most of the yarn for Navajo blankets is now commercially dyed, some weavers still make their own colors, by grinding the shells of the cochineal beetle for red and purple, mixing pine pitch Sandia Peak Tramway and ashes for blacks and greys, and including the naturally brown and black wool of Navajo sheep.
A visit to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center included their good and growing museum featuring displays of many different pueblos, each with their own distinctive styles of decoration, from Escher-like designs to images of animals and birds.
The Sandia Mountain tram rises almost a mile in altitude, traveling almost three miles from its base to the top of Sandia Peak. Sandia mountain is over 10,500 feet, and the views of metropolitan Albuquerque are spectacular. It's also a lot cooler on the top.
One of Albuquerque's most popular events is the annual fall balloon festival, and we were treated to a little preview on the morning of the wedding, when we looked out our hotel window to see a couple dozen hot-air balloons taking off and drifting southward.
We even contributed a few dollars to the local economy at the gorgeous Sandia Casino just north of town.
Albuquerque remains one of our favorite cities, and we're glad we'll have an excuse to visit the city when we stop to see our niece and nephew.