Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On the Old Santa Fe trail

Got back from Santa Fe last night. The reason for the trip was not Route 66, but Mike's birthday party. Happy 50th, Mike! And secondarily, the Santa Fe Century. Danny and I brought the Bikes Friday! Very exciting...

Amid the festivities, there was time for a few observations about Santa Fe and Route 66. We rented a Fiat 500 and headed north on I-25 from Albuquerque. About 10 miles from town there's a big hill and the Fiat shifted up and started to make a lot of engine noise. It goes on for a long time, the hill. Now I know that was the interstate version of La Bajada Hill, famous for scaring the bejeebers out of early travelers on Route 66.  If we believe Google Maps, the old road connects Santo Domingo Pueblo to Santa Fe. From other riders I heard it is an almost-impossible climb, a steep dirt road with huge rocks. This was one reason not too many tears were shed when Route 66 bypassed Santa Fe in 1937.

At the end of the Santa Fe Century, riders get on the interstate (I-25) and head west over the camel's hump into Santa Fe. Why not use Route 66 instead? Old Las Vegas Highway parallels the interstate the whole way.... We don't know why.

Remember that on Route 66, the railway and trains kept us company almost the entire time. Route 66 leveraged the railroad right-of-ways. Albuquerque to Santa Rosa was the exception. Just the interstate and the ranchland, no trains. The camel's hump. So where is the railway in Santa Fe? Where is the station for the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe?

The century helped us find it. On US Highway 285 we biked past a little green sign with a drawing of a train platform and a stick figure, pointing northwest toward Lamy, NM. Not Santa Fe!

Why would the railway come to a tiny out-of-the-way place (and you can tell it's a tiny out-of-the-way place) like Lamy? The green sign that points toward the train depot is located at the bottom of a rather significant hill. The hills around Santa Fe, the railway folks didn't quite know what to do with them.

In 1880, a spur line was built from Lamy to Santa Fe. A tourist train and Amtrak buses now run from the Lamy station to Santa Fe Depot. Later, a line was built from ABQ to Santa Fe, and the New Mexico Rail Runner Express commuter trains run on these tracks, parallel to Interstate 25. Easier terrain.

All of which hints at an interesting relationship between New Mexico's two population centers, Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Santa Fe, the older sibling, elegant and beautiful. Lot of history and a little too much ego. Albuquerque, younger, accessible, pragmatic. Poverty and low self-esteem. Even the airlines (and there is no geographical reason for this) fly only into Albuquerque. Neither can really make it without the other.

Our dinner the last night was at Harry's Roadhouse, on Old Las Vegas Highway. Outside of town. Our 20-something waitress claims it used to be a gas station on Route 66. Danny had the ribs and I had the blue corn turkey enchildas. Really good. Definitely a notch above what we experienced on the Santa Rosa Cut-off.

Route 66 came through Santa Fe for 11 years, from 1926 to 1937. The route it took is described here. We saw some vintage motels on Cerillos, like the King's Rest Court Inn. (Where we might have stayed on the trip!) Yet Santa Fe scored a spot on the north-south interstate, I-25. Santa Fe has been a destination for more than 400 years, and once established human habits tend to endure. We continue to  detour, and Santa Fe continues to prosper.

1 comment :

  1. I loved Albuquerque - we only had a day and a half there, and I wish it had been longer. The museums! The food! The hiking! I have a vacation planned for just there sometime in the next few years. :)
    Any ride that includes something called Heart Break Hill sounds... challenging.