Southwest – Day 3: Ruins!
Posted by clubsodaandsalt on September 10, 2006
Total miles driven: approx. 1500
Total states visited: 5
Looking back on the trip, it seems that every pair of days had a theme of sorts: the first two days were driving, and now, days three and four would involve many, many ruins. (The other themes are going to be a surprise!) I’m not going to say that the Ruin Days were the most impressive days of the trip, but they were the days when my nerdy side (nerdy side?) felt most indulged.
The beginning of day three almost brought disaster. Somewhere between Socorro and Belen, our Jeep Liberty reminded us that we hadn’t gassed it up in a while with a polite “ping” and a light on the dashboard. The story isn’t that interesting in retrospect — we managed to make it thirty miles or so on the reserve and did not end up dead at the side of I-25 — but this is as good a time as any to point out that man, gas sure is pricey, huh? I realize that this isn’t a revelation for most people, but for someone who lives in New York City, gas prices are just an abstraction most of the time. I knew that 3 dollars a gallon was a lot, but it takes driving a few thousand miles to make that really sink in. Especially when you made a somewhat misguided decision to rent an SUV (a small one, I swear! Please don’t take my liberal card away!) for the occasional off-road adventure (number of times we actually got anywhere near “off-road” – two). It’s true what you read in Harper’s, everyone: those bastards really guzzle, even the small ones.
While I’m at it, here’s another sidebar: how weird are all those Border Patrol outposts in the southwest? Turns out that in addition to checkpoints at the border, the BP has set up checkpoints at spots along highways, over 100 miles from the border in some cases. As far as I can tell, the methodology employed at these spots is for them to lean into your window, make sure no-one looks terribly brown (black’s OK, though), and then send you on your way. Are they serious with this shit? What if you’re Latino? Do they require that you show proof of citizenship? Can they (answer: no)? Unless you’re driving an 18-wheeler with immigrants as cargo, I can’t imagine how this prevents anything, especially because the checkpoints are, by all appearances, semi-permanent; i.e., easily avoided with a little research (I can only presume that coyotes would do the minimal research required). Anyway, I found that odd. Back to speaking about the trip.
Albuquerque made a decent first impression. We finally got some use out of Roadfood, and popped in at The Frontier for some breakfast. I heartily recommend the place if you’re ever in ABQ; speedy, cheap, tasty. What else do you need? Next up was Old Town. We toured a church which we’d been told contained a crucified Jesus in a glass coffin. I was unable to spot said Jesus, which was disappointing. I was raised Catholic and all, and our churches are big on the overblown imagery. Glass coffins, however, promised whole new levels of ridiculous.
Next up was a visit to the National Atomic Museum. The entrance to the museum almost turned me off to visiting at all; the place looked oppressively kid-y, all “Our friend: the Atom!” and whatnot. We decided to give it a try, though, and man — this place is not kid-y at all. It lures you in with a pretty sterlie history of the bomb’s development, and then you get to the section on Hiroshima. This section is a lot to take. Lots of pictures of people’s shadows are involved, as well as a kid’s severely charred helmet and tricycle. Before and after photos abound, of course. The hardest part of the display, though, is probably just the explanation of the events leading to the bombing. I suppose that I’d always thought of what happened as a necessary evil. I hadn’t really grasped the extent to which Japan was pretty much on the ropes, and the way that surrender was being held up by just one detail (the emperor’s divinity). I certainly came out of the exhibit feeling as though the end of the war could have come about without the bomb, which I’d never thought before.
Luckily, there was some comic relief available in the form of American incompetence! Did you know that the United States accidentally dropped a couple of bombs on Spain? No, really! The bombs were dropped due to a mid-air collision between a bomber and a tanker. The bombs did not go off, due to safety precautions, but it seems that Spain was pretty upset anyway and requested that the US no longer transport nukes through their airspace. Damn Old Europeans.
After Albuquerque, we set off to begin looking at ruins. The first stop was the Coronado State Monument, a fairly unremarkable set of pueblan ruins. Most of the structures were recreated, and the kiva was closed due to water damage. Not terribly exciting. After that, we had a long drive through Apache country on Route 550, the highlight of which was the stunning view of the White Mesa (pictured here). After a jaunt on some unpaved roads, we reached the extremely remote Chaco Canyon National Historical Park. Again, a big recommendation for anyone who is into ruins — the ruins here ran the gamut from completely excavated to mostly unexcavated, and from massive palaces to smaller village homes. The Pueblo Bonito palace ruin was fantastic, with room after room being well preserved — and you can even walk through the rooms! Huge kivas abound, there are tons of great hikes, and the whole setting (a canyon, as the name implies) makes a fantastic backdrop. It’s very much out of the way, but I very much thought it was worth the diversion.
The day ended with a fantastic sunset in Southern Colorado, and a night spent in Durango, which is apparently a yuppie outpost in the Coloradan San Juan mountains. They make a pretty good burger at the Olde Tyme Cafe, though, and the Spanish Trails Inn was a cheap and better than serviceable option in a rather expensive location.
Next up: Cliff Dwellings, both ancient and modern!