Sunday, 1 November 2009

New Mexico to Colorado

It may only have been for one night but in the end we did stay in Texas! The town of Dalhart is in the top west sliver of Texas sandwiched between OK and New Mexico. We had a good night’s sleep after a great burger in a local eatery full of men in cowboy hats. Back on Highway 54 the next morning we soon crossed the state line into New Mexico. After a flattish start it opened up into mountains but once again it was the sky that seemed to dominate everything. We got into Albuquerque on a beautiful evening with low cloud just hanging over the Sandia Mountains which sit at the eastern end of the city. 

We actually came in on the New Mexico part of Route 66 which still constitutes Albuquerque’s central street. Lined with shops and motels there are a lot of classic old signs and some very distinctive buildings. There is a unique merging of Art Deco and Pueblo Indian architecture so you get a lot of single story traditional sandy coloured houses with rounded edges

The Old Town at the western end of the city is full of old buildings and an ancient church protected by huge bunches of chillies hanging each side of the door.

We stopped off in ABQ for several days to get a break from the road, to go hiking in the Sandia mountains and to have an art, music and book shop fix. Although our first hike took us up through cacti, huge rocks and the start of a fir forest, we didn’t get all the way to the mountain ridge so for the next hike we took the tramway up 10,000 feet instead.  There was snow all across the top and magnificent views across the city on one side, plains and more mountains on the other. A hike through the snowy forest on the ridge was magical but needed a lot of breathing stops. At that height you really start to notice the change in the air.  The mountains are called 'Sandia' (which means watermelon) because some of the rock can look very red. We noticed this in evening particularly but also when we were up close in the cable car.
 After our one dedicated night on the town, we went to the Standard Diner for a huge and excellent breakfast burrito which cleared our rather fuzzy heads. The diner had a lot of interesting photos and paintings including a series of retro atmospheric, neon-lit motels some of which were excellent but rather absurdly overpriced.

The rest of the day was spent roaming around town on foot or by bus and included a visit to the very impressive Albuquerque Museum of Art. It was lucky timing because there was a special exhibition of contemporary Albuquerque art. Some very, very good stuff but no cameras allowed and no catalogue either so I can’t give any samples. Out of about 40 artists only 5 or so were actually from Albuqerque. The others were from all over the US with a few international artists too which is a good advert for the city's art scene. The museum also had an excellent permanent collection of art from New Mexico. It was fascinating to see how 20th century art movements and styles had been interpreted through the prism of this area and how much the landscape plays a central and unifying role.

On one of the Sandia hikes we got chatting with a couple who had lived in ABQ for 17 years and they invited us to stay with them. After some rather dubious motel experiences we were delighted to accept their offer and had a really nice evening in their house before retiring to our detached motel suite in their yard. (Thank you!!) They also gave us some great advice about the next stage of the trip and I will be eternally grateful for their suggestion that we take Highway 285 all the way to Denver. What a fantastic road! It went past mountains, plains, small towns, sand dunes and even had a ‘mystic road’ section which is apparently the location of choice for visiting UFOs.

Into Colorado

There had obviously been overnight snow in Colorado and much of the route after crossing the state line looked like this.

The first town we stopped at was Antonito which sits under a mountain and has a very old (and famous) light gauge railway. We got chatting to a guy who had saved us from getting a parking ticket and he said that most people in Antonito were from families that had been there as far back as 1598.

There was a mural showing the history of the town which could have been the history of America and there was another painted all around two huge silos. Unfortunately my camera battery died after the first few pics but we walked around for some time and probably met half the people who live there in the process. There was definitely something special about Antonito. 

From there we went to Salida which is on the Arkansas River and is surrounded by mountains. It has some of the oldest original buildings in the area and is a really pretty town although it hasn’t always been like this. Apparently it used to be a bit of a dump but artists started to move in during the 70s and now it is stuffed with galleries, arts and craft shops so I guess there’s hope for Paducah yet.

One place in particular, the First Street Studio, had a great space out back with a sculpture in progress made from dentist’s equipment by John D. Auclair who we had an interesting chat with. The gallery in front also had some very good sculpture by Chris Byars (gallery founder and first artist to move into Salida), as well as excellent photographs and some other odd and interesting things.

The next morning we got back on the beautiful 285 and started seriously hitting the mountains ..

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