4 nights, 3 days in Albuquerque

My wonderful sister, Paula, in the backyard of her home.

I think of Santa Fe as being the most self-consciously unique city I have ever visited, but, really that fits all 0f northern New Mexico, especially Albuquerque. One could be blindfolded and set down anywhere in Albuquerque, even a restaurant, remove the blindfold, and the blindfolded one would know they were in Albuquerque or, at least New Mexico. That wouldn’t happen in most American cities. The Albuquerque Museum couldn’t be anywhere else unlike, say, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art or the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. They are both superb museums, but they generic and Albuquerque’s is site-specific (for lack of a better turn).

A courtyard in the Albuquerque Museum.
Paula showing Michele the location of her home on a map on the floor of the Albuquerque Museum

  What is the same, however, are movies, and the Mother! we saw in Albuquerque on a rainy Thursday afternoon is the same as the Mother! we would see anywhere. As an aside, I understand from looking at People Magazines in the supermarket checkout line that the director Darren Aronofsky and Jennifer Lawrence are in love, and the movie shows it. There are times when the camera is right in Lawrence’s face, following her around like an adolescent in love. The movie is a mess that is fun to watch in a WTF is going on way and while I wouldn’t exactly recommend it, I’m glad we saw it. End aside.

Now it is on to Amarillo.

Albuquerque mile 1,139.9

We entered New Mexico near the edge of a plateau on the Zuni Indian Reservation.

We started our day in Flagstaff with breakfast at Shift, a restaurant that Michele discovered when we were driving through Flagstaff a year or so ago. and ended it with dinner at my sister’s, 352 miles later, in Albuquerque. Between those two, it was mostly jammin’ down Interstate 40 in darkening skies and then rain. We had had a memorable dinner at Shift and wanted to give breakfast a try. The food was excellent but a surprise in that there was no menu, just a couple of items – an egg cooked on a muffin made with croissant dough, a Quiche, and several sweet items – laid out on the counter. We like to think of  Shift as a California type restaurant but, really, I think these kind of restaurants are a part of a newer collective. Cities are sort of like islands of civility but, in the new internet-connected world, restaurants like Shift are part of a new collective, getting and giving inspiration to other restaurants in small,  cities like Boise ID and Portland MA as well as well-known eateries in the Bay Area.
Flagstaff, itself, has a thriving urban core that reminded us of San Luis Obispo or Durango.  Part of that is that all three are college towns with lots of places to buy college staples like beer or a fleece vest, but they are also part of the bigger national movement of healthy food with Farmer’s Markets and large super-markets featuring organic food, they are also part of the new Urbanization with the appreciation of art and tolerance that living in a city infers

After spending the morning kicking around Flagstaff – and looking for a place to buy  polysporin; I have an open wound between my toes, a result of a biopsy for melanoma, a biopsy I passed with flying colors – we only had time to drive straight through to Albuquerque with a short stop for lunch overlooking the Painted Desert (under very flat light).   

Once we drop out of the mountains near Flagstaff, we drive across a flat plain with a distant view of the southern sandstone buttes of Monument Valley.
We pass a couple of power plants and, as we get closer to the Zuni and Ramah Navajo Reservations, innumerable signs advertising tchotchkes.
The light was flat but the view was still worth the stop, even without lunch.
Just below the black dot – about 1/3 up in the left side of the picture – are a couple of pieces of petrified wood in the Chinle Formation. Michele and I have run into this formation all over Utah.
Going east on Interstate 40.
As we get to the New Mexico border near the Zuni Reservation, the landscape changes dramatically.

The clouds had been darker all day and then we ran into the storm.

As we finally get near Albuquerque, we can see the distinctive Sandia Peak.
We got gas a couple of miles from my sisters and then ended the day with a tasty salmon dinner at her home.

Flagstaff, mile 781.7

Downtown Bakersfield.

We started in in Bakersfield CA and ended the day in Flagstaff AZ, 518.9 miles later. Much of it on back roads. The first part, out of Bakersfield and over Tehachapi pass into the high Mojave Desert at Mojave CA – strangely enough – then down to Barstow however, was mostly on freeways.      

Climbing up, out of the San Joaquin Valley up towards Tehachapi Pass on Highway 58.
Tehachapi Pass, covered in windmills with new, much bigger, windmills filling in the empty spaces.
Tehachapi Pass from the Mojave side.
Mojave Air and Space Port is the center of much of the burgeoning private work on getting into space without giant rockets. Both Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch are leading the charge. Mojave is a strange place in that it is both a dusty out-back desert town and one of the high tech centers of the Universe.
To the casual observer, the most noticeable part of Mojave Air and Space Port is the boneyard of parked planes. Some will be sold and refitted, some poor derelicts parted out.

On Highway 58, driving through Hinkley CA, made famous by Steven Soderbergh’s Erin Brockovich. To my way of thinking, this is the most desolate section of highway in California.
A view of Barstow CA, from the semi-official view spot.
We got gas in Barstow and quickly moved on.

Several miles past Barstow, near the famous Bagdad Cafe, we got on Route 66. The first thing we noticed about Route 66 is that almost all the non-locals were foreigners, “75% French”, we were told by Bagdad Cafe’s Bass Lady Andree Pruett.  Well, that was probably the second thing we noticed, the first was how dilapidated everything was; when the new I40 went in, bypassed most of the towns that had sprung up to service Route 66’s  travelers and the towns just dried up, people just got up and left, taking everything they could carry. The buildings are now old enough to be picturesque but there is still an air of lost dreams. The road was washed out before Needles, so we got back on Interstate 40 and stayed on it until we crossed the Colorado River at the border between California and Arizona, then got back on 66 and wandered through the hills/mountains under impossibly blue skies, through Oatman AZ and, eventually back to the freeway as it got dark. 

Bakersfield mile 262.8

I5 at 5:44 about three miles from home.

After a very late start, passing San Luis Reservoir just after sunset, – high but not full – getting gas during a superb sunset, and stopping for a utilitarian dinner at In and Out Burger,  we got to Bakersfield at about 10;45. We drove I5 in the dark. I5 is not much fun under any conditions and no fun in the dark but we are on our way.