Roadtrip: Grand Junction, CO

Driving day.  Northern New Mexico is just completely a postcard–I passed one rockface that had been shaved away to show a “rainbow” of reds and oranges and browns and whites in the sediment layers.

Outcrop north of Albuquerque, NM

Outcrop north of Albuquerque, NM

I’m mostly skipping Colorado as I’ve been here before and as I want to spend the time up in Yellowstone.  I initially thought I’d overnight in Denver, but the interstate, while running directly up from New Mexico, actually bends away from that corner of Wyoming, so I’d have to backtrack a fair bit after leaving Denver.  My go-to on this trip for these situations has been to just see which cities on the route have a decent Airbnb selection, and Grand Junction popped up as one. So I booked and drove, without really researching the route.  Turns out it’s mostly US 550, and I’d inadvertently set myself up for a gorgeous, if rather nervous (90% of the road doesn’t have guardrails, and the drop-offs are nearly vertical sometimes) drive through the mountains.  It’s not a route if you’re in a hurry, or don’t trust your driving skills, with the hairpin switchbacks and the meanderings through the old-time mining, current-resort towns (Silverton looked like a movie set), but man, it’s pretty.  The green of the forests with the blue/brown and white of the mountains, and even the rust-red streaks where the old mines leached out tailings is kind of lovely.  I turned off the GPS clock and stopped on top of Molas Pass (10,000+feet), and ate lunch and looked at all the glazed mountaintops around me.

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The Airbnb I booked is in another mobile home community, not quite as nice as the one in San Juan, but the house I’ve in is spotlessly maintained, and shows the fruits of fourteen years of considered decorating in intensely cowboy-Southwestern style.  And Grand Junction has a pretty four-block main drag with clothes stores and art galleries; I ate at Rockslide Brewery, mostly because Colorado breweries are supposed to be good and the last few times I was in Colorado, I wasn’t drinking age.  They had some interesting brews listed–Kokopelli Cream Ale was light and sweet, with a nice roundedness that wasn’t overly rich–but the food was forgettable.

Brew list at Rockslide Brewery, Grand Junction, CO

Brew list at Rockslide Brewery, Grand Junction, CO

Animal sightings: Two deer standing on either side of the highway, pointed towards each except their heads, which were turned towards the oncoming car (me).  I actually thought they were statues at first, and then they ran off.  And some sort of ground squirrel up on the top of Molas Pass.

Roadtrip: Albuquerque, NM

It’s very flat, and very spread out.  I thought Los Angeles was “sprawling,” but really, it’s still a downtown with skyscrapers and a lot of suburbs.  Albuquerque genuinely just rolls out along the Rio Grande; if you stand atop one of the mesas outside of town and try to pick out the center, it’s not easy:

View of Albuquerque from Boca Negra Canyon

View of Albuquerque from Boca Negra Canyon

As I sit here, I can hear roosters crowing.  I’ve got an Airbnb spot along the old Route 66, a bit away from the central areas, and the regular, everyday houses are weathered (though by and large spotlessly plastered) adobe, and the chickens in the backyard seem normal, rather than a hipster affectation.  A lot of the lots actually are like mini compounds, with a couple buildings clustered together to make up the “home,” rather like old-style Chinese hutongs; my Airbnb is like that, with a main house and what is essentially an entire little guest house attached to the garage, with bedroom, bathroom and full kitchen (if subscribing to the IKEA method of maximizing tiny spaces), and then a miniscule patio with lawn chairs and table.  It’s adorable and ridiculously grandiose for someone just stopping in for the night, and I love it.

I had to start out nearly at lunchtime because I’d signed up for an online seminar that took up most of the morning, so I didn’t arrive in Albuquerque till mid-afternoon.  First stop was the Petroglyph National Monument, right on the western outskirts of the city.  The heat was back on and hitting the low nineties, and I was dripping sweat, but I managed three of the–admittedly, all were under a half-mile–trails, scrambling up and down the steep, rocky sides of opposite ends of the Boca Negra Canyon.  It was so hot that you had to trust to your feet, because if you put a hand down on the basalt boulders for balance, you’d get burned.  But the petroglyphs were amazing, with some startlingly fresh-looking.  It floors me that these carvings have survived hundreds of years, and you can still walk right up to them and see them.

Then I headed over to Old Town for dinner and some quickie souvenir shopping.  Old Town is a square centered around an old church, and it used to be the government center of the city, as well as a residential area.  Pretty much all the buildings have been converted to shops and art galleries, many of which double up as each other; I got a horchata milkshake at a candy shop attached to a gallery that was exactly like thickened horchata.  The building where I ate, Church Street Cafe, is supposedly the oldest residence in Albuquerque.

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It was a little uneven, but then, the two locals I’d asked had recommended it to me for Albuquerque specialties and not Mexican food.  The menudo (not ABQ) had tender tripe, but was otherwise one-dimensional and boring, even with the addition of red chiles.  I’ve had much more complex versions in L.A.  But the chile rellenos with green chiles (ABQ) were delicious, heart-attack cheesy goodness, and the salsa they start you off with was bright and genuinely spicy (judging by the chunks of green pepper and onion in it, I think they grind it in-house).  And the weirdly-named ABQ trolley bell, a Coke with grenadine syrup, was quite nice, with the grenadine smoothing out the Coke sweetness with a nice tart note.