Friday September 12, 2014 - from Santa Rosa to Acoma, New Mexico
The day started in blackness as I was awakened by the sound of the wind howling outside. The clock said 6:00 a.m. so I knew I was not going back to sleep. And I was curious about the wind, so I opened the window a crack and felt a spritz of moisture. The prediction was true, a storm was coming.
For those of us who ride in cars, this would have been no big deal, an inconvenience at best, but now I'm seeing the world through the eyes of my biker friends and my perception has changed. So far every day has been rain-free (although not always perfect -- some days were extremely hot and windy). Still all in all, for most of the group, it's been a great trip weather-wise. Today, however, was looking dicey! By the time I put on my clothes and zipped up my suitcase to take it to the car, the rain was torrential and the wind had to be 50MPH. I got drenched just taking my bag to the car -- so glad I packed that hooded windbreaker!
Long story short, we left an hour late (at 9:00 a.m.) and by then, thankfully the rain had stopped. We were headed for Santa Fe and the weather channel was showing sunshine by noon, so we were all hopeful! And indeed it proved to be so -- warm and sunny in Santa Fe -- hooray!
There weren't too many landmarks along the morning drive to Santa Fe, but what I was really taken by was the evolution of the landscape. This is one of the things that has so impressed me about traveling across the entire U.S. -- the subtle, incremental changes in the landscape as you move along. Some of the views aren't really anything to write home about, but when you contrast where you just were to where you are now -- and now and now -- wow! This is when I wish I had a geologist along who could explain what caused the outcroppings of rock that rise out of a perfectly flat plain, and then continue to rise and rise and eventually become mountains. Was it the glaciers? Was this an inland sea and we're on the bottom of what once was an ocean? These questions and so many more go through my mind as I take in the breathtaking beauty of the huge sky and the expanse of land that surrounds me 360 degrees.
So today was less about documenting the vanishing roadside establishments (there aren't too many towns out here anyway) and more about the experience of being here now. I had to let go of my desire to find every picture, and just experience the vast nature of the landscape around me. Yes, there is much desolation here, and many abandoned relics from businesses long gone. A book of photographs that I'm sure others have already done.
Santa Fe was a sight for sore eyes. I've been here before, but many years ago. There is something so soothing about the sensuous nature of the classic adobe structures. The landscape and buildings bring out an unexplainable longing in me -- to live in the desert and inhabit these "buildings of the earth." Perhaps it's my love of Georgia O' Keefe paintings and a secret longing to spend some time in this part of the country and just paint what I see. Like so many moments on this journey, I find myself wanting to come back and spend more time here to really explore.
We found the most wonderful spot for lunch called Draft Station. We were attracted to it as we walked around the main plaza and saw a sunny second floor terrace full of people dining. We were not disappointed in the fabulous brick-oven pizza (I had the BLT with avocado and Jen had the Duck, bleu cheese and spinach) and excellent local microbrew draft beers! The group had only allotted two hours in Santa Fe and we really wanted to linger, so we basked in the warm sun and enjoyed a leisurely lunch.
We took our time driving south to Albuquerque. I rediscovered a great app I had forgotten about called Roadside America. For anyone with a similar interest it's a great tool: you type in your city or area and it tells you every quirky and potentially weird attraction and how to get there. I punched in Albuquerque and lots of recommendations came up, but my top two (since it was now getting late in the day) were the giant red arrow that I've seen pictures of, and a strange Muffler Man they were calling a "Mutant Muffler Man" because he lost both of his arms in a wind storm and they never found them! Can you imagine finding a giant arm in your back yard? Someone did and it's now hanging on the wall of their den!
Friday rush hour traffic in Albuquerque was no more fun than any big city -- so we slogged through and found the giant red arrow in the parking lot of Whole Foods. Somehow, this was NOT the one I had seen pictures of, although it was dramatic. Evidently it was originally part of the Indian Plaza Shopping Center and has become the new icon for Whole Foods! Pretty funny actually!
The other attraction (a must see) was the Mutant Muffler Man who is now the calling card for a Vietnamese restaurant (of all things!) We found him, but the light was at his back, so perhaps this was not the best time of day to photograph him. They had painted him with a beard and a hat and the poor guy has no arms -- so it's definitely a humorous and sad version of this American classic. All said however I was really glad to have seen him. Made my day!
The landscape as you drive out of Albuquerque started out completely flat and devoid of any features -- vast desert as far as the eye could see. Then some of those enchanting red hills began emerging to our right and kept growing and growing as we drove west. I was fascinated to note the huge amount of train traffic we observed all along our journey on Route 66, but it seemed more intense in this stretch -- perhaps because there weren't that many other features to take note of.
Our hotel destination for the night was the Sky City Casino in Acoma, New Mexico. We were warned that this is a dry casino and resort, and that there would be severe penalties if you were found with alcohol in your room. Wow -- this is a new one! We were interested to see what kind of a crowd they had. There were many Native Americans gambling and they allow cigarette smoking, so I stayed briefly to watch our friends playing the odds and turned in early. The landscape here is breathtaking -- far from the madding crowd -- unless you're in the casino! Good night all. Tomorrow we will rest our heads in Winslow, Arizona and you can be sure we'll be "standin' on the corner" for a shot or two! Enjoy this shot of the view around Acoma.
Mary Anne Erickson is an artist who has been documenting the demise of our roadside culture for over 30 years in paintings and photography. Her work can be seen at www.vanishingroadside.com and you can follow her Route 66 adventures at www.facebook.com/Rtesixtysix.