Route 66 in New Mexico: Pre-1937, Southern Portion

This was written in 2007, so please excuse the early digital photography. With COVID restrictions in place, many people have had to cancel travel plans, so I thought I’d present some vicarious adventure via my old travel blog.

Route 66. The name has an almost magical power. For many people it conjures up vivid images of the 1950s, a majestic period when the U.S. was riding high on post-war economic boom, people were enjoying the golden era of television, rock ‘n’ roll was emerging, bras were extra pointy, TV shows portrayed utopian success, and neon and chrome adorned everything. This is not that Route 66.

This is the Route 66 of the Great Depression, of desperate families fleeing the misery of the Dust Bowl, heading towards California and hopefully to prosperity, or at least survival. From 1926 to 1937 the Mother Road went north to Santa Fe via US 84, down through Albuquerque—mostly along 4th Street— and continued to Los Lunas, then northwest to Correo.

I wasn’t feeling particularly desperate, nor was I fleeing from anything. I just felt like cruising an oft-neglected part of Route 66. In Albuquerque, I headed south from the corner of Central Avenue and 4th Street, the only place where Route 66 intersects itself. Nearly all of the buildings along this part of 4th St. were built after it lost its 66 designation. Just before Bridge Street I stopped off at a neighborhood landmark, Barelas Coffee House, for a late breakfast/early lunch. The service was fast and friendly, the prices low, and my carne adovada breakfast was muy bueno. I paid my bill, grabbed a toothpick, and sought “my kicks” on Route 66.

From 4th Street, I turned right onto Bridge, crossed the Rio Grande, then turned left onto Isleta Boulevard. Route 66 meanders a bit in this area, almost as if it’s following a treasure map drawn by a 6-year- old. In fact, 66 crosses the Rio Grande three times in a relatively short distance. A brief time after turning onto Isleta, I saw a radiator shop with a mobile home on top of it—in the back of my mind, Jeff Foxworthy was making a comment about a redneck penthouse.

Isleta between Bridge and Rio Bravo is home to a number of architectural curiosities. Among them are three brightly painted automotive stores made to look like castles—but castles of the crude, high school play variety. At Goff I had to turn left to stay on Isleta/66, and after passing Rio Bravo, entered an area that is still largely agricultural. A couple miles further on I passed under I-25 onto Isleta Pueblo land. Two miles beyond the interstate, I turned left across the railroad tracks and skirted the edge of Isleta Pueblo.

Isleta can lay claim to being the only Pueblo to have kidnapped a U.S. president. According to Marc Simmons’ book, Ranchers, Ramblers, and Renegades, Isleta tribal member Pablo Abeita was an acquaintance and friend of President Theodore Roosevelt. During a visit to Albuquerque in 1901, President Roosevelt sent word to Mr. Abeita at his store in the Pueblo that he would like to visit with him. The Isleta man hitched some horses to a wagon and rode up to the Alvarado Hotel where the President was staying. Roosevelt asked his friend something along the lines of “Now how will we get out to Isleta without all that crowd following us?” Mr. Abeita responded by disguising the president as a Native by wrapping him in a blanket in the local style, covering the head and face, and smuggling him out unnoticed.

Antique Alvarado Hotel postcard

The pair rode down to Isleta Pueblo, visited, had lunch, then returned to the Alvarado. Mr. Roosevelt was slipped back into the hotel in the same manner as out. Once inside, Pablo “let out a thunderous war whoop” and removed the blanket in a quick viola! fashion—he and the president beaming with pride for their accomplishment. The Secret Service was a little ticked off for having been duped, yet relieved not to be the first presidential detail to actually misplace the president. (If I were president, I would play jokes on the Secret Service all the time, because I’m just kind of a jerk that way.)

Just past the Pueblo, I crossed the Rio Grande again and continued south through Bosque Farms and Peralta. There’s an attractive church in Peralta that dates back to 1879, and another further down the road in Los Lunas that I could not find a date on.

I passed through Los Lunas, crossing over the Rio Grande again, and over I-25. Past the interstate, civilization quickly dissipates into widely scattered homes and then to, well, not much at all. What lies ahead is a vast expanse of dirt, and very little else. One thing that is out here though, is the New Mexico Mystery Stone. Every few years there is a rekindled interest in the stone, fueled by TV news reports and various articles.

The Mystery Stone is a rock that someone carved a bunch of strange ancient writing into, and it’s the identity of that someone that is the source of controversy. Among the suspected authors is a Greek explorer wandering the area 2,500 years ago, a Spanish soldier who was secretly Jewish, Vikings that sailed up the Rio Grande, extra-terrestrials, or college students in the 1930s. The writing appears to be an ancient form of Hebrew, and the popular theory favors the college prank. I developed another scenario simply to amuse myself: a unicorn dropped it there while touring the Southwest with the Loch Ness Monster in a giant flying cupcake piloted by Elvis. Whatever it is, it lends to the character and mystery of our state.

About halfway between I-25 and I-40, I crossed the Rio Puerco, which marks the boundary for Laguna Pueblo land. This part of Route 66 is quite remote and unpopulated, and I found it was easier to imagine what it must have been like for the many people who came out this way in the early 1930s, crawling along a hot, dusty, empty expanse of highway, hoping to not break down. While a bit harsh, this landscape can also be quite enchanting. I’ve seen it in the evening light with thunderstorms receding into the distance, painting a classic view of the West.

Up near I-40 I passed the little town of Correo, where, according to Route 66: The Mother Road by Michael Wallis, a strange, bearded dwarf once resided who would often coax travelers stopping for gas into card games and cheat them out of large sums of money, then disappear to a hiding place in the desert. How gloriously strange is that?! Shortly thereafter I joined up with I-40 and took it to the town of Mesita, where I exited to get back on 66.

This is a great part of Route 66, driving at the base of red sandstone bluffs, and past Owl Rock. The road wound around an extremely tight turn and up a hill, where I spied a little dirt road on my left and decided to explore it. I bounced down a sandy little hill and onto a sandstone wash. I decided that this was as good a place as I was going to find for my late lunch, so I turned off the ignition and opened up my cooler. I sat on my tailgate eating a turkey sandwich and watching a train roll by in the distance, with not another soul around. After my peaceful meal, I decided to wander around on foot. I quickly found myself at the edge of the sandstone bluffs, overlooking a narrow valley on my left, and small canyons on my right. This is a great spot, and I will definitely stop here again.

Route 66 with Owl Rock

The sun was about an hour and a half from setting, so I decided to head back to Albuquerque. After the solitude of my picnic and lonely old 66, the interstate seemed a bit too hustle and bustle, so I drove back along Depression-era Route 66, and back in time a little. As I drifted away from the setting sun, I glanced in my rear view mirror and thought I spied a little bearded man with a wolfish grin, waving a deck of cards.

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