This was the first day after my accident and somehow it still seemed surreal to me. When I woke up, I noticed that my body was spotted with bruises, patterned like some sort of a fat middle aged giraffe. It made me chuckle a bit, because I looked ridiculous with the bruises and the road rash. I felt some pain in my joints, but nothing so drastic that I could not get on with my day, albeit with a fresh pair of pants.
For motorcycle road trips, I always make it a point to bring at least one extra pair of pants. I’m glad I did, since the accident left my favourite pair of cargo paints a tattered and blood stained mess. As someone who despises shopping, perhaps the worst aftermath of the accident is that someday I will have to shop for a new pair.
Nostalgia For Albuquerque and Beautiful New Mexico Vistas
There were a lot of miles ahead and I was looking forward to spending some time both in Albuquerque and Flagstaff. Also, some of the best riding in the Southwest is between New Mexico and Arizona. It is astonishingly beautiful terrain under azure blue skies. Nothing but infinite horizons and striated mountains and buttes.
Albuquerque holds a special place in my heart as it marks the beginning of my love affair with Route 66. Way back in 2000, when I was living in North Andover, MA., I flew into Albuquerque and rented an SUV to explore Route 66 all the way to Flagstaff. I had the luxury of three full days on the road to travel this relatively short distance. I was able to take time to explore every nook and cranny of Route 66 between Albuquerque and Flagstaff. Indeed, it was a very rewarding trip and it changed my life.
Back then, there was a lot more of Route 66 alive and well in Albuquerque. Within a day of being there, I knew the Southwest was the place for me. I had a room booked at the historic El Vado Motel and ate my first meal at the Route 66 diner. I was instantly captivated by the Sandia Mountains, the Painted Desert, the small roadside towns and the incredible vistas that never seemed to end. The Southwest was in my blood and I made it my mission to live there. Luckily for me, I was able to live in Phoenix for just over 3 years, from 2000 to 2003. Through a series of unfortunate events, I had to move back to Canada, but in my heart, Arizona is still my true home.
So here we are 15 years later and the spirit of the Mother Road is still alive in Albuquerque, but some of it is waning. Historic motels, such as the El Vado and the De Anza Motor Lodge, are no longer in business.
Longing for the El Vado Motel
On a personal level, the closure of the El Vado motel is saddening. It was in business for over 70 years and its historic neon sign with the Indian Chief was enshrined in Route 66 lore. It was the end of an era and a really great motel. Today, the property is fenced off and in a state of decay. The city of Albuquerque purchased the land and removed the neon sign in order to preserve it. Whether or not the El Vado will ever re-open remains uncertain. Similary, I had also stayed at the De Anza Motor Lodge back in the early 2000’s and it will be missed. Here are some shots taken back in 2009 before the sign was removed.
These days, Albuquerque is increasingly split into poor sections in the east and university students in the west. Somehow it just felt different, perhaps it was my distorted perspective after the accident, but there is also the reality of historic businesses going out of business and the subsequent changes to the city landscape.
Back to the 1950’s at the 66 Diner
On a lighter note, the fantastic, 1950’s themed 66 Diner is still going strong. I love this place to bits, it takes one back to a simpler time with great home cooked American food and milkshakes. Perhaps it is a bit kitschy, but it is done right and remains true to its roots. It is a facsimile of days gone by, but it was well done with just the right dose of nostalgic decor and historic authenticity. I expect that the 66 Diner will remain in business for a long time.
After a tasty milkshake, it was time to motor on to Flagstaff, AZ. There was precious little time to really explore and re-discover Albuquerque, not to mention several historic Route 66 places along the way. As I have seen them many times in the past, it was not a great loss, but still, a part of me really wanted to have the luxury of more time and chance to spend at least two more days on the road to Arizona. In a perfect world, I would never leave the southwest 🙂
The distance between Albuquerque and Flagstaff is 325 miles (523 km), not a very long ride, but still one that has to be done in a day. My goal was to be in Flagstaff early evening so I could enjoy a nice dinner and relax for a bit. Moreover, I had to manage my time carefully so I could be in Barstow, CA, by Sunday. A total of 677 miles (1089 km) would be covered in two days.
The Continental Divide
There was time available to make a few stops en-route. I could not resist seeing the Continental Divide again. A continental divide is a drainage divide on a continent such that the drainage basin on one side of the divide feeds into one ocean or sea, and the basin on the other side either feeds into a different ocean or sea, or else is endorheic, not connected to the open sea. More to the point, it is a good photo opportunity set against some beautiful mounts and there is a cool Indian trading post onsite.
Chief Yellowhorse Trading Post
Upon arriving at the Arizona, New Mexico border, I paid a visit to the Chief Yellowhorse Trading Post. It is a place I have frequented several times, both as a tourist and a resident of Arizona. It is a “must see” place for Route 66 travelers and decent place to get some souvenirs. There are many shops there which sell a mixture of cheap souvenirs and high quality jewelery. I bought my girlfriend a necklace and earrings, and I purchased a few cigars for myself.
Riding Westward on I-40
Then it was back onto I-4o towards Flagstaff, it was already after 5 PM and I wanted to make sure there was still time for dinner. There are so many great Route 66 attractions between the border and Flagstaff, but I would have to pass them over and check a few out on the way back home. Nonetheless, it is beautiful countryside and in a way, the voyage across northern Arizona felt like home again.
I made a few brief stops en route to take photos of the setting sun and Humphries Peak on the horizon. It is hard to miss this majestic mountain, after all, it is the highest natural point in Arizona, with an elevation of 12,637 feet (3,852 m). The mountain is situated 11 miles north of Flagstaff.
Arrival in Flagstaff, Arizona
My tank was almost bone dry when I rolled into Flagstaff. After refueling, I rode down Route 66, which brought back a flood of great memories. I was looking forward to dinner at Granny’s Closet restaurant, one of my favourite Arizona eateries. The country style or “down home” cooking is really good and it has an old school ambiance reminiscent of the 1950’s and 60’s. Lucky for me, the prime rib au jus was the nightly special. It was delicious and tender.
During dinner, I made a few phone calls to book a room close to the restaurant and much to my chagrin, all the local motels were booked solid. There were a few rooms available at the Holiday Inn, but for inflated prices. Eventually, I managed to book the last room available at the Western Hills Motel and it was a crappy smoking room. I am no stranger to this motel, it used to be my “go to” place when I lived in Phoenix and made weekend trips to Flagstaff. For the most part, it is basic, clean and right on Route 66. However, the downside is that it borders the train tracks and all night long, you are kept awake by the blast of locomotive horns. Moreover, the prices have doubled since my last visit. Gone are the days of budget summer accommodations on the Mother Road!
On the following day, the mandate was to arrive in Barstow, CA and with that comes a punishing ride across the oven-like heat of the Mojave desert. A far cry from the cool mountain air in Flagstaff.