DOWNSHIFTERS' DIARY: Heading west from Albuquerque

After a restorative visit with long-time friends in Albuquerque, it was time to continue west.

I-40 was the artery of choice for our travels. Back on the road, we marveled at the ever-changing landscape, commenting on how easily even a non-geologist could see the interesting variations in the rock, both alongside the road and in the nearby mountains.

While this particular stretch of the trip involved much more driving and less seeing-and-doing, there were still some things we were glad we didn't miss.

First in Santa Fe then in Albuquerque, we were struck by the high prices of native pottery: often $450 and up for relatively small pieces. Although we try to support local artisans, there is a limit, and that price point was beyond ours. We purchase such items mostly as mementos of our trip and to decorate our home; "valuable" and "rare" - words often thrown about by merchants trying to impress - are not among our criteria.

So we were very pleased when we stopped at a little roadside stand about 65 miles west of Albuquerque and found both a good variety of items and reasonable prices.

We selected a vase made in the Acoma pueblo, reputed to be the oldest continually inhabited settlement in North America. Regardless, it's attractive appearance and the reasonable $45 price meant we couldn't leave it behind.

Heading west, my wife was checking out our AAA TourBook for sights to see in Gallup, which we were fast approaching. As it turns out, there's more to see in this town of 20,000 than you might imagine.

Our first stop was for lunch at Earl's Restaurant, an establishment that's been around since the '30s. It's a funky, local place with a broad-ranging menu and reasonable prices. But the atmosphere at Earl's provided a case in point about the value of AAA Tour Books. Their greatest value, in my estimation, is the tips they provide. In this case, we were advised that local artisans set up tables outside the restaurant and, true to local tradition, roam the inside of the establishment offering their wares to diners. Everyone was polite and a simple, "No, thank you" was all they needed to move on to the next table. No hard sells here.

I note this because, had I not been aware of this beforehand, I would likely have been put off by it. But being forewarned is indeed being forearmed, so no problem!

After lunch, we stopped at the local Cultural Center. Build in the town railway station, it features many historical exhibits including an homage to the Navajo code talkers of World War II. Also featured is amateur art from local school children. Ranging from traditional pottery to photography, the art was quite good indeed.

At the other end of the museum were a variety of exhibits on the history of the areas including sand painting, which I've found fascinating since my childhood in Arizona.

Driving back to the Interstate, we passed the "historical El Rancho Hotel and Motel; home to the stars." Turns out the area east of Gallup was a popular movie location for the westerns of the '40s and many stars - from John Wayne, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Errol Flynn, to Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, and Humphrey Bogart - stayed there while on location.

Crossing into Arizona, we planned to stop in Winslow to see the "girl in a flatbed Ford" on the side of the wall at the "Standin' on the Corner Park" in Winslow. Right now, they're reconstructing the area around the park so getting to it involves detours, ducking under "caution" tape and walking along dusty streets to get to it, but it was worth the effort. When the project - including a large "Route 66" emblem embedded in the intersection - is finished, it will be quite the attraction. Which is good, because I failed to see any other reason for stopping in Winslow.

From Winslow, it was a short drive to Meteor Crater. While the $15 per person admission was the highest of any attraction we'd experienced so far, there is no describing this natural wonder; one simply must see it in person. While visitors used to be allowed to hike down to the bottom of the crater, that practice is no longer allowed. But the views and the option of a hike around the 2+ mile rim of the crater are well worth the short side trip.

In Flagstaff now, our next stop is the Grand Canyon. More to follow.

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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