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Alps on the Road

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national highway 1:
Good luck with your trip, Steve! Hope your photos will make it onto Alps Roads!

several weeks of paperwork.  might need access to a fax machine.  there is a fairly large hold on your card while it is resolved.  otherwise, not too much of a hassle.

I think I'm happy with LDW the way I have it. Especially with the things getting spilled in the interior (In N Out, red Arizona dirt) and the stick-throwing hobos and the things I keep hitting apparently (I hear them, I don't see them even if I stop and get out). And all the back roads will kill the suspension, and an oil change will be overdue by the end of the trip.

Day 4: Holy crap, the scenery. Holy crap, a road with a WHITE CENTER STRIPE. Old 66 delivers on every account. It makes my day when I get a train to whistle at me, so count two consecutive made days. As soon as I get into Arizona, I see the first roadrunner on this trip. Way to be predictable. It's not too long before I see a tumbleweed, either. Later on, a tumbleweed closes a ramp all by itself, daring anyone to challenge it and get to the overpass.
The road starts curving east of Oatman in a rather dire way. Oatman is kitschy, the curves are surreal. I'm more than 15 minutes late coming out of just the first leg of the trip thanks to all those curves, but I'm okay with that. It's an amazing mountain/canyon road with spectacular scenery and challenging curves that need to be ridden hard. The 15 minutes can basically be attributed to stopping for more and more photos of canyons, mountains, and buttes. Hehehe, "buttes." Now, why didn't NM build the road in the flats where I-40 now runs?
AZ 66 has an incredibly long straightaway from Kingman northeastward. It could challenge the record for longest, especially for longest without traffic control (anything past the airport is free-moving). At least 20 miles all told, starting from downtown.
After Hackberry, the road climbs up the Cottonwood Cliffs. It's clear the road will only continue to (slowly) climb from here, on up past a mile in elevation. Welcome to the plateau! The scenery to the north looks like the Grand Canyon - not surprising because it's just on the other side of the Music Mountains.
AZDOT erected fake Burma-Shave signs on old 66, for dozens of miles east of the end of AZ 66 (Yavapai County line) on a few different open sections. I like the idea, but the implementation ruins it by preaching safe driving instead of being funny. Hire Gilbert Gottfried? AZDOT also annoys me by using demountable copy on newer signs, which has a tendency to look like button copy from long and short distances. My camera's always at the ready and I snap a number of photos that I have to then reject once I see there are no reflectors. If you're going to use demountable letters, go the full monty and make them button copy.
I SEE SNOW! It snowed Sunday night across the plateau of Arizona and New Mexico, so there's still a coating on the ground despite temperatures in the 50s. Tastes good, fun to throw. My first immersion in it is along I-40 near Williams, which is at least 6,000 feet in elevation (Williams is at 6,762' and other towns are above 7,000'), and then it's all along the dirt part of US 66 after it splits off. I owe a shout-out to Avis for giving me a free upgrade for no apparent reason - I hate to imagine what it would be like to operate a Focus at this altitude, given how much the Galant engine is feeling the effects of thinner air.
Ah, the dirt part of US 66. It's east of Exit 167 and runs for several miles through the pine trees. With a red dirt road, green pines, white snow, and a blue lake, the scenery is closer to Maine than Arizona. I stopped my car and got that same eerie feeling of loneliness I did east of Chambless, although in this case there was a distant hum of traffic from I-40. I shouldn't have stopped to write my impressions in the one spot along the lake with a horde of flies... (Note: Route 66 was not a dirt road. Dirt sections such as this are flanked by asphalt or concrete sections. It seems pretty clear that the original pavement was simply torn up. In this case, the dirt road is county-maintained, so it's easier and cheaper for the county to rip out pavement and regrade it every so often versus trying to keep up concrete quality and eventually having to regrade that.)
The directions said to visit Walnut Canyon and U-turn. I couldn't see anything from the road really, so I decided to stop into the visitor center and see what was to be seen. After hearing what I was missing, I decided to pay my money and time and take a quick jog around. (Do not attempt jogging unless you are in extremely good shape. 200 stairs up and down.) It was worth the $5 and 45 minutes to see not just a beautiful canyon (though no match for others in the state) but also ruins of former native dwellings carved into the hillside. I'm a fan of parks that let you go in and experience things without guiding you away from real ruins into fake replicas, so this was a perfect diversion and I still made Albuquerque in plenty of time before sunset.

The miles of nothing east of Winona are mind-expanding. Every few hours brings something new in terms of scenery that further validates every reason I had to take this trip with this itinerary. Around every turn, I'm exclaiming aloud, "This is extraordinary! This makes the trip! I can't beat this scenery!" If I went back to California, I might yawn now after what I've seen in Arizona and New Mexico.

Blake's does a good job pretending to be an old Route 66 fixture, but once I saw two of them I realized they're just a chain. Now I'm annoyed. I had in my notes that Winslow, AZ has fake button-copy US 66 signs. I've seen photos, too, but I sure didn't see any on my trip through, and I drove all three old 66s (EB, WB, and the original alignment to the south).
Now, in eastern Arizona, that there isn't button copy on every sign, I find myself wishing there still was. As tired as my hand and arm were getting in California, at least I got a lot of good photos out of it. Never take reflectors for granted. The NM/AZ border area is criminally beautiful. It's worth a day trip for anyone remotely close just to see the canyon scenery on I-40/old 66 in that area (Exit 359 in AZ at the Welcome Center). Well, actually, the beautiful scenery extends over 100 miles into New Mexico, almost up to Albuquerque. Well, actually, it extends back in Arizona too to the beginning of the Painted Desert. Make it a full weekend trip.
In the middle of following I-40 to Exit 149 west of Albuquerque, there was a Route 66 sign for Exit 140 to the historic Rio Puerco Bridge. Now, I like historic bridges, so this was a no-brainer. Problem was, there was no sign on the exit ramp, just a roundabout and a casino. I made my way into the casino-branded travel center and asked the clerk where I might find such a bridge. The friendly shopper in line explained that I had to cross over the highway toward I-40 west, but turn right instead of left onto the highway, and I'd see the bridge. Still not sure what I was going to be able to see, as he made it sound likee there were just a few remnants, I obediently went over the bridge and looked to my right, and saw a beautiful shiny metal truss sitting alone between the frontage road and I-40. Thank you, NMDOT, you made my day. Well, along with train whistles and scenery. This is the best truss of the trip so far, and probably will be outside of Oklahoma. I have high hopes for the several trusses planned for Friday.

Route (AZ-NM): Old 66, strung together by I-40 as necessary.
Clinched: AZ 66, NM 118, NM 122, NM 124; old US 66 in AZ
Notes: Maps still show old 66 east of Flagstaff as US 180, but it's definitely not anymore. If you couldn't tell from signage, the pavement condition is a dead giveaway. Bicycles are allowed on I-40 in Arizona, at least east of Exit 355 (where there was a sign as such). I'm not sure if that's ever been a discussion topic in this forum, but it's come up in my own sphere before from Michael Summa's Utah photos, where bikes can use the Interstate because I-25 took over US 85/87. Well, in this case, I-40 took over US 66, so same deal. Old 66 widens in Gallup to four lanes with a double-wide center left turn lane. I wonder if this was either once six lanes or had a median, because this is much larger than a standard five-lane road. I'd guess 6 lanes, given that Route 66 has some 6-lane stretches still in some not-too-large cities.
The stretch of old 66 that heads east from NM 124 in Lagune will be one of the highlights of my road exploring life forevermore. It proceeds as the northern frontage road to I-40 for a few miles, winding sharply around colorful sandstone walls before settling in parallel to the WB side of 40. But it doesn't stay there for long - it crosses over on a diagonal. That's where the fun begins. The road curves left on the south side of 40 and starts to diverge. At this point, you have some very broken pavement with a layer of dirt and gravel on top. Peer through that layer, and you'll see a faded dashed line in the middle. Obviously, a center passing stripe, but it seems to be white. As you continue, the stripe comes into greater prominence until you're certain it's white. Then, as you come toward a hillcrest, a yellow solid center stripe kicks in next to the dashed line and there is now proof that it was white, because it sure isn't yellow like the stripe. So, yes, here is one road still existing with a white center stripe, just because no one has touched old 66 in this area since the 1960s at the latest. I wouldn't bring a regular car on this road if you own it, but a rental car or anything with body-on-frame construction would beg you to take this. Be warned that the last mile west of NM 6 widens out into a four-lane road, but it's all rutted, grooved gravel. I was able to take the badly cracked paved road at 55 MPH, but had to slow to about 35-40 for the end. There's supposedly an old bridge a mile east of NM 6, but the road looked like it became someone's driveway at that point, and may have been chained across. My Mitsubishi Galant is not about to attempt tire ruts for a bridge that isn't even visible above scrub grass. Even with LDW.


--- Quote from: AlpsROADS on April 12, 2011, 12:42:41 AM ---East of Barstow, old 66 does something I've never seen before. I guess because it rains so infrequently out here, rather than have culverts or short bridges the road just dips down into the wash and back out again. (There are a few stretches of 66 with short wooden bridges, though, such as down toward Amboy.) The dips are highlighted by the railroad next to it, which crosses a bridge every thousand feet or so. Noting where the bridge is tells you where the next dip in the road is. Most of the dips can be traversed at 55+ MPH, but at least one was signed at 40 MPH. Railroad crossings are signed at 20 MPH when you can go 40, but there's one at 10 MPH that you'd better go 10 over.

--- End quote ---
I saw a lot of that on US 95 between Blythe and Needles as well.  Those washes had concrete shoulders, on a road where the shoulders are otherwise soft and sandy, so they were good places to stop for "roadside relief" when (as usual) no water is flowing over the road.

Day 5: No Internet tonight, the price I pay for staying in San Jon (where there is only one motel) instead of the more populous but further west Tucumcari. (More on Tucumcari later.)
I was going to spend some time at Old Town but it's about 98% shopping and restaurants, and not an old town at all. 10 minutes was all I needed, and I was done before it opened at 9. I was going to see the Atomic Museum, but not only were the clerks inside pushy, it's $8 for a bunch of written history and reproductions of atomic bomb casings. Surprised it stays afloat with a price like that. So the first real stop was the Coronado Monument on US 550. It's interesting - a 1930s reproduction of a 16th century pueblo that was not maintained, so it's actually weathered into ruins itself. Since I'm into legitimate old things, the only interesting part to me was the original murals lifted from the kiva (underground meeting room) walls, transferred to a semi-permanent wall. There were layers of paintings, each one covered by more mud plaster and then painted again - on the order of 100 layers with on the order of 15 paintings per kiva. Many murals were lifted intact from one kiva and are on display here. That in itself may be worth the $3, but what definitely justified the admission was talking with Deborah. She enlightened me about the history of the Pueblo people, the settlement, and the murals. The time spent talking to her about the exhibits far outweighed the value of the exhibits alone - which was not insignificant.
After that, I still had over an hour left on my hands from the failed attempt at Old Town. Deborah had mentioned some things to see farther north, and two that caught my eye were Gilman Tunnels (former rail tunnels blasted into cliffsides) and the Valles Caldera (a gigantic volcanic caldera in the middle of New Mexico). I estimated the time difference and decided that the northern loop would just about fit into my schedule, so off I went. I do recommend seeing those two sights. The tunnels are a few miles up NM 485 in a beautiful if small canyon, and you can hike or bike the trail further beyond its end. The caldera is along NM 4 and there are plenty of photo opportunities. It's really obvious when you're in it - the scenery changes and you have miles of open space where trees can't grow. There was definitely more to see along NM 4 than by poking around Albuquerque or Santa Fe for an extra hour, at least the way I value my time. Once again, I saw amazing and unique things that continued to excite me.
New Mexico is so high up, I filled up with 86 octane twice today - on NM 4 and again in San Jon. The latter one made me pause just a bit, but even traveling east below 5,000 feet, I'm still (typing this from Texarkana) well above 3,000 and probably was above 4,000 when I refilled with 87. I thought the altitude and cold temperatures resulted in a faulty low tire pressure reading, but it turned out I had a small leak. Somehow I drove the whole day and still wasn't sure that was the case. Some nice Indian truck stop owners helped me out while I ate their food (it's the only restaurant in San Jon, I think) and so far the patch is holding - never seen anything like it, though. I was supposed to spend another half hour sightseeing in Santa Fe, but I never wrote down what there was to see, so I never ended up spending that time. Was I supposed to go into the capitol? Or get out and see St. Francis Cathedral? Or walk around the square at the Palace of the Governors? Oops. Hope I didn't miss anything special.
East of Albuquerque, the scenery degenerates into a monotonous, yellow, grassy plateau plain. There are peaks rimming the horizon, but nothing worth photographing. They're not even close enough to come out if I wanted to photograph them. On the plus side, the land is so flat that radio waves travel for a hundred miles from the source, so I can latch onto a station and get a good ride out of it. There's plenty of time to fiddle with the radio and write short blog blurbs (blurgs?) because I have nothing to pay attention to. Oh, wait, the road. The scenery does return to some degree well east of Santa Rosa with some colorful bluffs, and the dry grass and brush (essentially desert) is starting to become grazing pastures. That's how I know I'm getting near to Texas - the cattle are visibly dense. Santa Rosa has some scenery of its own - a "blue hole" fed by underground springs (or an aquifer, not quite sure) - but I only found out about it on the radio as I was passing through and didn't have time to detour. Without SCUBA equipment, looks like I wouldn't have had much to do there anyway.
Clines Corners has a trail of painted ponies. This instantly catches my interest - ponies! - but then I start seeing sign after sign for this "world famous" stop. It's looking like another South of the Border so I wave goodbye to the ponies and ride on by. (Now that I've googled them, it's just a bunch of figurines. Oh, am I so glad I didn't stop for that.) Then I see it's just the size of an ordinary truck stop, or even somewhat smaller. Talk about overhype. Flying C Ranch at the next exit east also tries to overplay their (very similar) hand, but their ads are a muted tan instead of outrageous yellow, so I judge them the loser. Why can't there just be a plain old truck/rest stop? There must be plenty of demand, as there are no other services at any of the exits. Speaking of exits with services, I-40 has reduced Tucumcari to nothing more than a series of chains on the east side of town. The actual original town of Tucumcari, spread out for miles along old Route 66 / current Business 40, is pretty much entirely dead at this point. Write it off. The town only has one commercial radio station. Hope you like pop-country-rock. At MP 320 of I-40 I notice my odometer is also reading 320. Pity I have to leave the highway again.

Route (NM): Looped through the I-40/25 interchange (Big I)-Old 66-NM 556-NM 313-US 550-NM 4-NM 485-Forest Road 376-back to NM 4-NM 5002-US 285-Santa Fe-NM 14-I-40-Old 66 (including NM 333)
Clinched: NM 4, 14, 333, 485, 556; old US 66 in New Mexico
Notes: Albuquerque has well-designed freeways. I-25 and I-40 have so many lanes, it seems impossible to have a traffic jam during rush hour except for a backup leading into an exit ramp (40 EB-25 NB in the morning).
I was able to make good time on NM 4, which is a fun road with plenty of curves and hills to be driven at 50+ MPH. Pass liberally. There are many more opportunities to pass than there are passing zones - passing zones are designed for the speed limit (55), while tourists are driving around 30-40 MPH on average. It's up to you what you choose to use.
Route 66 disappears for long stretches in New Mexico, either overlaid by I-40 or ending up in someone's ranch as a private, gated road. I noticed at one point (Exit 284) that cows were actually grazing on old 66! Stop eating the road! So I'm spending a lot of the afternoon on I-40, noticing that some exits like 239 just have a 1-mile advance sign and a gore sign, not even a regular exit sign. There's no street name, so no indication whatsoever of what's at this exit, just a number. I wonder if ranch addresses read "#2318 Interstate 40, Exit 239, NM" or "#2 Exit 239, Westbound, Nowhere, NM."


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