Man In A Suitcase

Albuquerque, New Mexico

The addition of Linux to my technology repertoire led to a quick visit to Albuquerque's Kirtland Air Force Base, home of Sandia National Labs. I was there to deliver a few pithy phrases concerning our plans for the world's most popular penguin-powered operating system. Discretion kept me from bringing a camera onsite with me. (Well, that and the fear of a close encounter with the FBI.) So we'll have to settle for this picture from my departing flight. A pity, really; there were some awfully photogenic aircraft sitting around the base.

In giving me directions to the base, our sales critter didn't tell me to head east or make a left; he said to go toward the mountain. Sandia Peak rises five thousand feet above Albuquerque, itself already a mile above sea level. The peak is home to the world's longest aerial tramway, a fifteen minute journey from the west across some remarkably rugged terrain. There are two ski lifts on the eastern side of the mountain, which weren't getting a whole lot of use on that particular day. I guess skiing over dirt and gravel didn't appeal.

Not having the time to explore the wonders of Santa Fe an hour's drive to the northeast, I had to settle for the old part of Albuquerque. I felt like a native, pulling up to the town square in my (rented) Chevy Blazer, a vehicle that felt like a monster until I made the mistake of parking next to a Lincoln Navigator. I even managed to parallel park on the first try. On the left side of the road, no less! Then I was off on foot to wander among a fantastic combination of old, restored and more modern structures in the traditional southwestern style. Too bad I arrived after many of the stores had closed; I could easily have done some financial damage given a little more time and a little more opportunity.

In driving around Albuquerque, I was surprised by all the adobe (or at least adobe-looking) houses and other buildings. And not just the historic ones, like the 18th century church of San Felipe de Neri that faces the old town's plaza. Maybe my surprise comes from living in California too long, where you see just about every style (and quite a few with no style at all). But even modern houses here look like stylized versions of something Don Diego de la Vega would have recognized. There's something admirable in a place that works so hard to maintains a style but somehow avoids descending into Disneyesque parody.

Monument Valley, Utah

I always wondered where Chuck Jones got the locations for his Roadrunner cartoons. Now I know. Like John Ford and many moviemakers since, Jones was inspired by the utter unreality of places like Monument Valley in the desert between southeastern Utah and northeastern Arizona. I'd left Flagstaff while the morning was still cool, had breakfast in a Navajo town called Tuba City and got to the incredible rock formations of the Valley by late morning. The formations aren't so numerous as in the cartoons. But the sky is as blue, the rocks as red and the feeling of endless vistas just as pervasive. I even saw some roadrunners go rushing by. But not a coyote in sight, with or without Acme paraphernalia.

My plan was to get to Durango in southwestern Colorado by nightfall, so I couldn't dally. A dozen or so stops for forty or fifty pictures later, I was on my way east and out of the Valley. (Which isn't really a valley; it's a mesa. But never mind.) Driving along US 163 I'd pass through the occasional small town, and wonder just why someone would give a place a name like Mexican Hat. The town itself wasn't much, although I was grateful for the general store and its facilities. But a mile or two out of town my question was answered, when a signpost led me down a dirt road to this rather remarkable sight. Now what exactly are the odds of nature creating a stack of rocks like this? I know it happens all the time in cartoons. But real life is generally more practical. (Which in my view is a crying shame. But I digress. And as I'm sure you've noticed by now, neither for the first nor the last time.)

As I'd mapped out my day's traveling, I was to continue east on US 163 until I reached US 191, which would lead back south into Arizona. But before that could happen I saw a billboard (out here, that in itself is a bit of a novelty) advertising the historic town of Bluff, Utah. And I just had to check it out. For one thing, it was only a few miles past my turnoff. Besides, I was still looking for that perfect souvenir stall that would part me with a few of my hardly earned dollars.

Bluff turned out to be one of the day's happier discoveries. Following a route that promised to take me to the historic parts of town, I ended up up facing the amazing rock formations that hover over the Twin Rocks Trading Post and Cafe. Where I found, by the way, that collection of Native American artwork and crafts that I'd been looking for. It's kind of a shame that Bluff is so far from pretty much anywhere. But if you find yourself heading east from Mexican Hat, be sure to stop in.

A bit of Interstate 70

Two days after my drive through Monument Valley, I was back in Utah on my way home. This time my focus was on efficiency; I had to cross Utah, Nevada and the width of California in time to start my new job as something-or-other important sounding at Apple Computer. So I was using the Interstate for this leg, trading any chance to see tiny and picturesque villages for the ability to cover a lot of ground quickly and save some of my remaining time to explore the more interesting (to me, at any rate) towns of east central Nevada. Interstate 70 was perfect for that purpose; it's fast, well maintained and not likely to distract you from your destination. In fact, there's virtually nothing but rock and a little bit of scrub for a couple of hundred miles. They don't even bother coming up with names for the offramps. For over a hundred miles between Green River and Salina, one exit after another had the anonymous designation of Ranch Exit. One presumes that the ranchers remember their numbers; it'd be a long way to backtrack if you got it wrong. The views from I-70 make me appreciate the incredible determination of those early Mormon settlers and their willingness to cross such a forbidding landscape in search of some place they wouldn't be pushed around.

Home / US Index / Back: Colorado / Next: Arizona / Last: Texas

Google Web
 Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California