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Posts Tagged ‘Albuquerque’


The idea for this trip came thirteen years ago when I bought the book entitled The Blues Highway: A Travel and Music Book by Richard Knight.

But then, as we were on the point of booking the trip, Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans, the planned starting point for the trip. We resolved then that we would wait to do it when life in the city had returned to some semblance of normality.

In 2012, we did finally embark on a road trip, but in a very different part of the country – the National Parks of the South West, covering the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

Setting off from Las Vegas, our expedition took in Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Lake Powell, Monument Valley, Arches National Park and the Grand Canyon, followed by a sizeable detour through New Mexico, visiting Santa Fe, Albuquerque and iconic locations on Route 66 such as Winslow, Arizona (“Standin’ on a Corner”) and Gallup, New Mexico before returning to Vegas.

Numerous trips to San Francisco, Tahoe, Vegas as well as the North East (of the U.S, not England!) followed, as the Southern states, other than Florida, failed to seduce us sufficiently into venturing in their direction. Maybe their racist past (and present), Christian fundamentalism and gun culture all have had something to do with it. Moreover, the scene from Easy Rider where the main protagonists get short shrift in a southern diner still haunts me, and the song by Folkestone band, the Transients, entitled They Don’t Like Hippies in Baton Rouge, only serves to exacerbate the anxiety.

But now, with mid-term elections looming and the divisions in America widening, we have chosen this moment to plunge ourselves into the belly of Trumpsylvania, though a Californian friend’s recent assertion that we were essentially visiting “blue cities in red states” is a comforting and far from innacurate one.

So what is the attraction of this particular itinerary that has stubbornly refused to disappear from our vacation radar?

The Blues Highway, essentially Highway 61, runs, for the most part alongside the mighty Mississippi, from New Orleans  to Chicago and traces the migration of many African Americans from the Deep South to the Northern cities following the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Equally, it charts (sic) the development of the major music genres for which we are so much indebted to the United States for, principally the blues and gospel (Mississippi delta, Memphis, St Louis and Chicago), but also jazz (New Orleans), cajun and zydeco (Lafayette), country (Nashville) and soul (Memphis again, and not forgetting Elvis!).

After an initial overnight stay in Newark, New Jersey (flights from the UK being so much cheaper), we fly to the “Big Easy” for four nights before hitting the road with single overnight stays in Lafayette, Vicksburg and Clarksdale. A three night residence in Memphis follows before we head east to Nashville for four nights, arriving on the eve of my birthday.

From “Music City” we cross country back to the main road for three nights in St Louis, followed by a night in Peoria before arriving in the “Windy City” for another four nights, when we are hoping to be joined for a couple of nights by friends from San Francisco. Two nights in New York City conclude the trip before we catch our return flight from Newark.

The trip has the added bonus of introducing us to seven new states – Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri and Illinois with brief detours through Kentucky and Arkansas. The prospect of experiencing new cultures, historic tours and spectacular scenery is, of course, exciting, but it is the music that is the driving force of the trip. Clubs, bars, museums and street musicians will, therefore, be the major focus of the next three weeks.

And we must not forget the other star of the show – the road itself.

Little thrills the blood more than the thought of exploring this amazing country by car with the radio blaring out the music style that reflects the landscape you are travelling through at the time. I am sure it will reveal some entertaining adventures as this blog grows over the coming weeks.

So let’s get on with the show!

See y’all later!

 

 

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After its day off in Santa Fe, we were easing the car back into action today with the short journey, just 61 miles, to our next overnight stop, Albuquerque. Although it was likely to take little over an hour to get there, we resolved to make the most of New Mexico’s largest city and arrive early enough to get some serious sightseeing in.

Leaving Santa Fe shortly after 10am on an initially hazy morning and 72 degrees already on the temperature gauge, we quickly found the I-25 that would take us direct to Albuquerque. Adobe houses nestled beneath low lying mountains as we passed the southern suburbs, and a small plane came into land at Santa Fe Municipal Airport.

The Spanish / Mexican heritage of the area was reinforced in the names of the principal towns on the route – La Cienega, Santo Domingo Pueblo, Algodones, Bernallio, Corrales and Rio Rancho. Another native american casino gleamed by the roadside in San Felipe Pueblo but we resisted its undoubted allure on this occasion.

After an hour the metropolis of Albuquerque loomed, the first sight we had had of what one could call a city since we had left Las Vegas almost a fortnight before. Indeed, our hotel, the Hilton by Doubletree in downtown, was a far cry from the motels and generally low rise hotels we had become accustomed to. It even had a lift – well, actually, four! And, in one sense, I cannot deny that it was a relief to know that we were staying in a “real” hotel for a change.

We were permitted by the extremely welcoming reception staff to check in straightaway, and left our luggage in the spacious, well furnished room before venturing out into the warm sunshine.

With only a few hours to play with, we had to make a choice between the modern city and the Old Town. This was no contest and we set off walking the two miles along Central Avenue, the old Route 66, in the direction of the latter.

Old Town has been the focal point of community life in Albuquerque since 1706. The layout follows the traditional Spanish pattern of a central plaza and church, surrounded by homes and businesses. Many of the historic homes are still standing, though some have been converted into shops, galleries and restaurants to meet the burgeoning tourist demand.

In need of refreshment after our walk in the heat, we had a light lunch in the Be Be café in a delightful arcade leading off from San Felipe Street, one of the main thoroughfares.

Most people who have at least heard of Albuquerque will associate it with the annual International Balloon Fiesta, the world’s premier balloon event, held at the beginning of October. Although we were a few days too early, we had hoped to see some “rehearsals” for the weekend, but despite the clear, calm weather, there was no sign.  Oh well, something else to build into the itinerary for the next visit.

Old Town boasts more than 150 attractive antique shops, trading posts, galleries and museums selling unique gifts not only from the southwest but also around the world. More relaxed and peaceful than Santa Fe, walking around the streets, arcades and pretty cul de sacs was a lovely way to spend the afternoon.

A bonus for Janet was coming across her other favourite man in one of the western-style stores. He insisted on us having our photo taken together. I would, of course, not presume to suggest which of us looks best in it.

Aside from the main plaza, there are several other colourful, flower-filled squares, overlooked by balconies and arcades. Fountains, wrought iron benches upon which to take a siesta if you wish and live music complete a delightful scene.

The lovely San Felipe de Neri church presides over the north side of the main plaza.

After around four hours we headed back to the hotel, a more strenuous hike in the hot late afternoon sun, especially as we had virtually walked ourselves to a standstill already.

We decided to eat in the elegant hotel restaurant, La Oja. However, on arriving at 9pm we found ourselves its only patrons! Whilst that might sometimes be a bad sign, this was not the case, and not only because we did not have to wait long for our meal!

I ordered rib eye steak for probably the first time in my life, accompanied by blue cheese dauphinoise potatoes, asparagus and carrots, and it was divine. I have it from a reliable source that Janet’s pork chop was equally scrumptious. We were so glad we had included the Colorado and New Mexico legs of the tour in our itinerary – the food alone had been outstanding!

We now had three days driving Route 66 and a day in the Grand Canyon ahead of us before we returned to Vegas – for a rest!

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“Road Trip” – is there another phrase that better exemplifies the heart of the American experience? Apple pie perhaps? Have a nice day? Manifest destiny? No, none of those come close to capturing the same sense of freedom and adventure that is synonymous with the American Dream.

Well, dear reader, as you are a valued friend, I am inviting you to join my wife and I on our very own road trip of the American southwest over the next three weeks. Come with us as we criss-cross five states (Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico) and three time zones.

We’ll hear the siren song  of the slots in Vegas casinos, listen to the mournful wail of country music radio as we glide the endless highways, and gasp at massive, multi-coloured incisions in the earth’s surface.

We’ll meet peoples from the rich diversity of American culture, including Mormons and Native Americans.

We’ll take juddering jeep trips with Indian guides into the heart of their reservation where we will purchase Navajo and Zuni jewellery.

We’ll stand at the only point on the North American continent where four states intersect, and have our photo taken like the dutiful tourists (I prefer the word travellers) we are.

We’ll eat at authentic cantinas and  tacquerias and sleep in beds where once slumbered the the Hollywood stars of yesteryear.

We’ll even find ourselves standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, waiting, or at least I will, for a girl in a flat bed Ford to slow down and take a look at me.

The itinerary?

I write this in our hotel (Mandalay Bay) room where we spent last night after a tortuous 15 hours on a Virgin Atlantic plane and equally frustrating wait in line for the car hire. But a fine meal and live swing band in The House of Blues, followed by a solid night’s sleep, has us ready for the road this morning.

Today we drive to Hurricane, Utah for two nights, the base for our exploration of Zion National Park. We then move on to Panguitch, Utah, close to Bryce Canyon for a further two nights. Staying at Page, Arizona for another two nights will enable us to visit Lake Powell and Glen and Antelope Canyons.

The highlight will be our trip to Monument Valley in the heart of the Navajo Nation, iconic location of so many westerns directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne.  A stay in Kayenta, Arizona that night will predate two nights in Moab, Utah, our base for Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

On the premise that we will be “red rocked out” by then, and that our hiking boots might have earned a rest, we will wind down a little at this roughly mid point. The sightseeing will become more leisurely as we move on to Durango, Colorado and then into New Mexico for stays in Santa Fe (two nights), Albuquerque and Gallup before driving Route 66 to Flagstaff, Arizona.

A two night stop there in which we will “pop over” to Sedona and the long drive back to Vegas, sixteen days after we left it, for the final four nights, the second of which will be my sixtieth birthday.

The rigours of the road will dictate whether we might take short detours to Los Alamos, New Mexico and the Mesa Verde National Monument.

Sounds fun?

So jump in the back seat of the car, tip your hat over your face, but not before grabbing a couple of Buds (or rather Sierra Nevada or Anchor Steam beers), kick off your cowboy boots, sing along to Hank Williams and Toby Keith, and enjoy the ride. It’ll be a blast!

Time to head out on the highway.

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