Day 10. Albuquerque - Gallup
Dec 19, 2009
|Having decided to move on in our journey a day earlier than scheduled, we dragged our unwilling carcasses out of our plain but warm Motel as early as we could manage. After returning our key to the stone-faced mother of the owner, we hit the Albuquerque main street and headed back east towards the mountains. Albuquerque is home to not only the Sandia Peak Ski resort, but also the Sandia Peak Tramway (cable car to us) the world’s longest tramway line.
We arrived at the foot of the mountain and stood staring agog and slightly nervously at the cable car wires disappearing up into the peaks. We secured ourselves a military discount on the price of the tram, and took our place in the line to board the car. The trip up the sheer face of the mountain lasted 15 minutes, climbed 20ft per second and spanned 2.7 miles. It was in equal parts magnificent and utterly terrifying. We would have liked to have pointed excitedly out of the windows at the ever receding sweep of Albuquerque, but plumped instead for gripping the hand rails with bony, tense knuckles. The moments of passing the towers and feeling the car sway from side to side 950ft off the mountain face were especially exciting.
Upon reaching the peak however we were compensated by stepping out into bright, crisp sunshine and breathtaking views of New Mexico. The mountain is first and foremost a ski resort, but also offers wonderful hiking trails and viewing platforms. The shaded side of the mountain was thick with snow and had little paths leading in all directions. We popped into the visitors centre and read about the history of the mountain and its usual wildlife (none of which you would fancy bumping into). We mooched about soaking up the terrific vistas and pointing out places we’d been and were still to go. Once we’d seen enough and began to feel chilly, we headed for the Peak restaurant -High finance. High finance is a very apt name for an establishment with prices as high as this, but luckily we had already guessed this would be the case so we eschewed the lunch menu and headed instead straight for the bar and two steaming cups of peppermint Patty hot chocolate and Baileys coffee with whipped cream. After our warming treat we made our way back to the tram point and boarded the car for the descent back down the mountain.
It was approaching lunch time now and a quick study of the map showed that we had a further 100 miles to cover before our next stop, so we made our way towards downtown Albuquerque to grab a bite before hitting the road.
Downtown Albuquerque was surprisingly lovely. They have embraced the route 66 heritage through the main strip and the streets were lined with pretty buildings and well preserved old businesses, including the route 66 diner which is housed in an old 1920’s service station and is replete with memorabilia from the road, including a fully working Wurlitzer jukebox playing old 45’s. The main street was beautifully decorated with Christmas garlands and strings of lights so we decided to pull off there and pop into Lindy’s, a family run diner since 1937, for a tasty, hot lunch.
Leaving Albuquerque via the nine mile hill out of the city afforded some wonderful ‘pull off the road’ kind of views back over the city with Sandia Peak behind it. Another treat on this stretch of road was spotting an old vintage motel sign, complete with neon cacti, advertising the Westward Ho! Motel. We tried, but failed, to find out the history of the motel and whether it has any roots in the Devon town.
From nine mile hill we were delighted to find some wonderful old stretches of the old route 66 that threaded away from the interstate and took us through the most magnificent scenery that looked like something from an old Western movie. We are heading right for the heart of old cowboy country and it’s impossible to describe the landscape that’s so huge and awe inspiring, yet so familiar from a thousand films and old TV shows of our childhood. It’s no country for old men, as the film said. You can so easily imagine coming face to face with some Wild West outlaws or gun toting cowboys, and when the winter sun gets low in the sky, the landscape glows golden yellow in the light, with an awesome backdrop of red rock formations. Utterly amazing. We even left a trail of dust clouds for about a mile behind the car as we rumbled across the deserted plains.
We drove until the last of the light was fading, through stretches of uninviting mining towns shrouded in darkness, until we finally pulled into our destination for the night -the utterly western sounding town of Gallup. Gallup, the town where the West meets the Indian country, has been used as a location for many Hollywood films, westerns and TV shows due to its proximity to such vast expanses of perfect scenery. The watering hole of choice for all those Hollywood stars of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s was the El Rancho hotel. This was where we pulled up in Gallup, outside the brightly lit and quite remarkable facade of the El Rancho. The blinking neon sign hailed it as El Rancho, home of the movie stars, and the sign above the door read ‘charm of yesterday, convenience of tomorrow’. Built in the 1930’s, it’s a registered historic site and has been respectfully restored to retain the ambience of its black and white Hollywood heyday. The rooms in the old wing of the house are all named after the Hollywood actors and actresses that stayed them, and we are in the Robert Taylor room with a door leading out onto a small veranda, bedecked in coloured lanterns.
The lobby is quite a magnificent sight, in a wagon wheel-ish kind of way, and the walls around the gallery are full of signed black and white photos from the Hollywood elite. A lovely story we heard told of a time when Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn were alleged to be an item (a fact which the film producers had hotly denied) and were staying at the El Rancho for a movie they were filming. The film company went out of their way to prevent news of the stars staying at the hotel together getting out, but it leaked out that they were there, and staying in adjacent rooms. Years later a local man became convinced that they had been an item at the El Rancho, despite the best efforts of the producers to keep them apart, and went looking for clues in their rooms. It was then that he discovered, right in the very back of a walk in closet, a small panel held in place with a few tacks which when removed allowed access from one room to the other with no one ever knowing. So they had been an item there and the El Rancho hotel had had a hand in aiding the couple’s secret love affair.
We’ve had dinner and a few drinks in the bar now. We’ve met a man travelling the opposite way on the route, from west to east, with whom we raised a glass, and now we’re heading back to our room to read up on tomorrow’s adventures. Next stop Arizona.