A Wrong Turn at Albuquerque

I completely understand how Bugs Bunny famously made a wrong turn here. Before 1937, Route 66 ran north to south, coming down from Santa Fe. After 1937, it cut Santa Fe out, and ran east to west instead. So what did we do? Mainly based on nighttime temperatures at this altitude dropping to the 30s, we decided to skip Santa Fe and stick with the later alignment. We want to see the sights, but we also want to get to warmer low altitudes without delay, since it’s getting cold up here. That’s just one more reason for me to revisit New Mexico later, when it’s warmer on the high plains.

Yesterday was a strictly driving day. There’s nothing to see, and little remaining Route 66 between Santa Rosa and Albuquerque (we drove what we could find and grudgingly took I-40 when it disappeared). There’s also almost nowhere to park overnight in Albuquerque, and the crime and drug scene there is something I don’t want to mess with after dark.

Along the way we saw this amazing Sprinter done up like the Space Shuttle Enterprise. Even the license plate has significance (let me know if you get it!) Why didn’t I think of this?

We stayed overnight at Chateau Walmart in the town of Edgewood, a bit east of Albuquerque. Strangely, the altitude of this parking lot is higher than the peak of Mount Washington, the highest point in New England. I’m continuing to wear my hoodie proudly proclaiming its altitude as a joke.

I did a little research on the town of Edgewood. It was established in 1999. Yes, it’s that new! My New England brain can’t comprehend a town being established within the 20th century, never mind within my lifetime, because the east was all buttoned up hundreds of years ago. I could buy half an acre of land here for $5,000. I have that in the bank! This might be the sort of place where I’d actually do that sometime. But not now. There’s still too much to see, not to mention too much to research to find out if I’d even be allowed to live here the way I’d want to.

I tried my new sleeping bag overnight, since outside temperatures were supposed to get down to the 30s. It didn’t actually get that cold, but I was quite warm in the sleeping bag under my blanket, so I was confident I could handle temperatures down to the 30s for a couple of nights before we descend to warmer weather on the other side of the Continental Divide. The area between Gallup, New Mexico and Flagstaff, Arizona will be the coldest on our Route 66 journey because of the altitude.

We decided on another “every van for itself” day in Albuquerque, because our interests and timing were going to be different, and trying to stick together through traffic lights is always hard even in light traffic.

Route 333 into Albuquerque.

The next morning I finished up some work, then followed Route 66 (which actually exists here, overlaid with New Mexico Route 333) all the way to Albuquerque. We’re finally starting to see some hills and elevation changes, descending to nearly 5,000 feet in the city. On the east side of town were a few sites I was interested in: filming locations for Breaking Bad.

Walter White’s house from Breaking Bad.

I feel really bad for whoever lives in the house that Walter White lived in on the show. Strangers show up all the time and take pictures of the house. It looks nothing like it did on the show at this point, in part because the owners have put up massive fences and gates to keep fans away, and from throwing pizza on the roof.

I was one of those fans (no, not the ones throwing pizza on the roof), but I was as respectful as possible, snapped the pic, and left.

The A1A Car Wash from Breaking Bad.

Walter had a short commute from home to the A1A Car Wash, which is actually this Mister Car Wash. I would’ve taken the van through, but it’s too tall, and I don’t trust any automatic car wash with all my extra gear on the roof.

I even had lunch at Los Pollos Hermanos, which is actually a Twisters. While I got the photos, eating there was a mistake. It took literally half an hour for me to get three tacos which were slightly worse quality than Taco Bell. Gus Fring would never have let this happen on his watch.

This threw off all the rest of my plans for the day, and I missed the Petroglyph National Monument because it closed just before I could get there. This wouldn’t have happened if lunch hadn’t taken way too long. So do yourself a favor: get the photo, then leave.

Old Town Albuquerque.

Let’s back up a little, because Old Town Albuquerque was on the way from the car wash to Los Pollos Hermanos, and it wasn’t quite lunchtime yet. I’d been told not to bother trying to park a large vehicle like my van here, but I had no problem finding public parking, which cost $1 an hour. This is a good place to walk around, with many shops selling tourist trap gifts and Native items. Along the sidewalks many artists, mostly Native, were selling their own jewelry as well. I did pick up an authentic Mexican baja jacket, which is basically what we gringos call a hoodie, but made out of a coarse woolen fabric. I’ve always liked these, and what better place to get one than New Mexico?

Statue of ancient and modern Native soldiers.

After the Los Pollos Hermanos fiasco, I visited the Indian Pueblos Cultural Center. Native cultures have always interested me, and I was visiting their lands, so I took the opportunity to learn more about them. It felt disrespectful to be a shutterbug inside the museum, so for the most part I put the camera away and just took in all the exhibits. They describe their culture and history, from ancient times, through Spanish, Mexican, and American colonization, up to the present day. They pull no punches about the short end of the stick their colonizers have given them, but they’re in no way disrespectful, either. They’re right to call us out on what our ancestors did to theirs.

A Pueblo drum (not from the museum).

I took particular interest in one display describing and showing the steps of building a drum. Years ago I took a drum building workshop and made my own djembe, an African drum. It’s a completely different kind of drum, but the general process of making it was the same as what I did. Drums such as these are central to Native pow-wows and other ceremonies. I brought my drum to many generic drum circles. Between my good rhythm and my drum’s unusually deep bass note (think of that kid with subwoofers in his Civic turned up way too loud), I held many drum circles together by maintaining a steady beat that everyone else could follow and fall into. That drum and I had been through a lot together. The head ripped sometime while it was in the basement at my old house, but I’d hoped to repair it someday.

I lost that drum in the aftermath of the fire.

While studying the Pueblo drum exhibit, a sudden wave of grief overcame me about the loss of my own drum. I put a great deal of my own energy into it, both in building it with my own hands as well as all the drumming I did on it, not to mention all the energy churning through it when we held entire drum circles together. I’d been sad about losing that drum before, but I didn’t feel the full effect of its loss until now, when I stopped long enough to think about it. I wish I’d been able to save it, but I had no space, in the van or in my storage unit, where the temperature extremes would’ve destroyed it even further. It feels like I’ve lost an old friend whose friendship I neglected toward the end.

One day, I will have another drum like it. It won’t be the same, of course. But I will have one, and we will hold drum circles together once again.

On a more positive note, how could I not add this roadrunner to my sticker collection? Especially one on two wheels? I did sincerely enjoy the Indian Pueblos Cultural Center. Other displays showed me how they build their adobe homes, and numerous cultural artifacts. I love learning about ways of life other than my own. So despite my moment of angst, it was a genuinely good experience.

After that, I took an online meeting from the parking lot. When it was over, I found it was too late to drive to the Petroglyph National Monument and see it before it closed. If lunch hadn’t taken so long I would’ve driven there before my meeting, taken it there, and had time to explore afterward. Thanks, Twisters, for foiling my plans.

Instead, I set a course for a Love’s on the west side of town. I was overdue for a shower, and Buffy was no longer around to bring me into Planet Fitness as her guest. It was around 5:30pm when I was done, so I hopped Interstate 40 on a direct course for Grants, New Mexico, where Birgit and Tom were already at our Chateau Walmart for the night. I pulled in soon after sunset, caught up with them, then retreated to the van for the night. It was supposed to be a cold one, so I’ll be putting the sleeping bag to the test once again.

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