Ironically, first time since I began my road trip, I woke up rested. I had to make a few adjustments of course—such as putting something under my sleeping bag so the ribs of the cargo bay would not hurt my back—but I felt I may have found my semi-permanent sleeping place on the back of my truck.
I packed up my gear and, after a quick wash-up in the gas station’s restroom, hit the road. With the sun already up, the previously hidden landscape finally revealed itself to me. I could clearly see the hills surrounding me. Apparently I was right last night; I did reach the southernmost slopes of the Rocky Mountains—though these hills were very tiny compared to the peaks of the real Rockies farther north.8:00 a.m.
On the way to Santa Fe, I drove through a nice, scenic route. The small hills provided a beautiful panorama with small, typically New Mexican, adobe-style houses. It was interesting to see the locals keeping so closely with the traditional look of New Mexico.
Santa Fe came as a bit of a shock to me. Though I knew the New Mexican capitol was far from being a large city, its almost small town look surprised me. I could not see skyscrapers, a common sight in every American city I had visited. Instead, I was greeted by conventional adobe-style houses and small streets paved with bricks. Yet, it was even more surprising to see the large franchises keeping up with the traditional look of the region. Target, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, they were all housed in the familiar, sandy looking adobe buildings.
The layout of the streets, however, was a bit confusing; so, I had to ask around in order to find downtown.
Downtown Santa Fe turned out to be a wonderful experience, a real cultural mecca with strong traditions and lots of history. When I first got out of my truck, I felt as if I had temporarily left America and entered into a foreign country.
Old churches and cathedrals with statues of saints and various Indian persons surrounded the buildings. Art galleries, museums, small coffee shops, and Native American craftsmen offering their merchandise on handmade rugs occupied the street corners. The whole city had a peaceful, tranquil atmosphere; not to mention it was very clean. The locals obviously took good care of their environment, proud of their history and heritage.
Another thing that particularly caught my attention was the biker-friendly mentality of the locals. Santa Fe encouraged the use of bicycles in a way I had never seen in any other American cities. Signs and bike lanes were dominant in almost every street, and it was nice to see the people of Santa Fe adopt such an admirable and environmentally friendly mentality.
I really did not know what to expect from Santa Fe before I arrived, but I left the city with very warm feelings.Further pictures: #1, #2, #3.
While still in Santa Fe, I stopped at McDonald’s to get some caffeine. Though many people despise this franchise—I too am not a huge fan of their unhealthy food—but McDonald’s had become a huge help for me on my trip. Whether to refill a drink, to recharge my electronic appliances, or simply to get some ice, I had always found the employees of McDonald’s at my service.
I also stopped by a Post Office and got two large flat rate boxes. They were free and provided the perfect surface for my truck to lay my sleeping bag on.
On the outskirts of Santa Fe, I passed through a more rural area, when I noticed movement on the ground. I pulled over only to discover a sizeable prairie dog settlement. The little animals were everywhere, looking like large tailless squirrels and not at all afraid of me. I was glad that I could add prairie dogs to my list of wildlife I had seen on my trip.
I stopped by the local mall and spent a few hours in the bookstore. With the temperature peaking outside, malls provided a cool and comfortable refuge until the noon heat passed.
Driving through Albuquerque, it became apparent to me that the people of New Mexico do not like skyscrapers, which of course is by no means a bad thing, just a little unexpected. Even so, Albuquerque did not make a very good first impression. Maybe it was because I spent two hours looking for a Wal-Mart, thinking I can get cheap gas there, and when I finally found one it was closed due to some technical problem. Or, maybe it was because the part of Albuquerque I drove through was very uninteresting, just miles of chain franchises and outlet stores.
The city probably would have made a much better impression if I visited downtown, but after my “Wal-Mart hunt,” I did not want to spend more time there. It was getting late and I had a long drive ahead of me. In any rate, I was happy when I finally left the city behind.
The terrain was turning more mountainous, with beautiful mesas and canyons crossing my way with every mile. It felt like as if I had just entered the setting of an old western movie. So, I was very disappointed to notice that, after the intensive use in Santa Fe, my camera was running out of battery after only taking a few shots.
Unable to bear the thought of passing through such beautiful country without making physical memories, I stopped by a gas station to recharge my camera (just enough to take a few shots). The attendants, all Native Americans, were very nice and let me hang around while my camera was recharging.
After leaving the gas station, I turned on a service road to have a better view of my surroundings without the noise and distraction of the freeway. The road was overgrown and clearly out of use for decades, and I could not help but wonder if I had just stumbled upon a strip of the real Route 66. Well, at least what was left of it.
I just got pulled over by a New Mexico Ranger for violating tribal law! Apparently, I was on Navajo land, where taking pictures is prohibited. But the officer turned out to be really friendly and decided to let me go—something that never happened in Texas…
Afterwards, we got to talk, and he explained to me that the mountains I was taking pictures of held special significance in the lives of the natives. Those were sacred hills, and the Navajo believed that taking pictures takes away the spirits that live among the peaks. I felt a little ashamed for being so inconsiderate. Nevertheless, the officer let me keep my footage as long as I promised to keep it for my personal use and it did not wind up on the Internet. While I appreciated his offer, I decided to delete the pictures out of respect for the natives.
I reached Gallup, New Mexico. Unfortunately, it was already dark so I could not see much of it, but judging from what I did see it was not a big loss. I drove through it several times looking for a cheap place to stay—something that of course I could not find—and it was like any other town I drove through earlier: a bunch of chain franchises and motels, many of them with a Route 66 theme.
After it was obvious that I was not going to spend the night in the town, I stopped by McDonald’s to get a Dr. Pepper and recharge all my electronic devices, at which I was again surprised by the kindness of McDonald’s employees. The restaurant actually closed at eleven o’clock, but the employees let me stay until after midnight, saying that I did not bother them and that I looked like someone who could use a little rest. Nice people!
After all everything was fully charged, I continued my way westward looking for a suitable place to spend the night.
The Arizona state line sneaked up on me unexpectedly. Since I did not want to miss possible roadside attractions, I decided to pull over at the nearby welcome center and rest area to spend the night.
It takes a special mindset to be able to sleep while people constantly come and go around you, and it did not come easily for me either. But exhaustion slowly wore me down, and I fall asleep in the back of my truck, snuggled up in my sleeping bag while using earplugs against the constant noise.
|Distance covered on the fifth day|