It’s hard to beat the Southwest U.S. when it comes to alien landscapes, wild west culture and overall weirdness. For our last roadtrip as U.S. residents, I decided to hit all three by driving from Las Vegas, Nevada through Flagstaff, Arizona and on to Albequerque, New Mexico with stops in Roswell and Sante Fe.
We rented a car in hopes of preserving the value of our cars, which we were both planning on selling within a few months. We ended up with a Dodge of some sort which clearly had engine problems and got extremely low gas mileage. Nevertheless, it took us through to Albequerque, where we promptly switched cars through the rental company without much hassle.
The drive from Vegas to Flagstaff was fairly mundane, aside from the near-accident with an elk. The next morning, we got our nerd on before heading out to New Mexico by visiting the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. Admission was a modest $10 USD and we took a free tour of the facilities, which included one of those novel gigantic telescopes. The one at Lowell is particularly famous due to that fact that it was instrumental in the discovery of Pluto (the now defunct planet) and also aided Percival Lowell in making sketches of Mars. The grounds of the observatory were surprisingly large and there were plenty of outdoor exhibits which let us enjoy the Summer mountain air.
After our other-worldly pit stop, we continued on the long road to Albequerque. About an hour East of Flagstaff, on the I-40, we came across a sign for a crater. Continuing with the space theme we started in the morning, we took the hour-long detour to Meteor Crater – one of the best preserved craters in the world. Admission, was $15 USD and this granted us access to the crater rim and adjacent museum. At 50,000 years old, the crater is still looking, well . .. crater-like. Craters may not exactly be my thing, but this definitely ranks as one of the most random and greatest roadside attractions I’ve been too.
Meteor Crater is less than an hour from Winslow, Arizona, which was made famous (in my mind) in the Eagles song “Take it Easy”:
Well, I’m a standing on a corner
in Winslow, Arizona
and such a fine sight to see
It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed
Ford slowin’ down to take a look at me
From Winslow, we drove straight through the day towards Albequerque, passing wild horses, free-range cattle and countless Native American convenience stores.
Upon arrival in Albequerque, we promptly swapped out our rental car and high tailed it to our hotel downtown. The hotel was nice, central and had a great restaurant downstairs. After a bit of a rest we took to the town and were quickly greeted by streets clogged with party-goers, drunks and policemen. We opted to stay close to the hotel and enjoy the offerings of a nearby sushi restaurant which was surprisingly good, despite being hundreds of miles from the ocean.
A visit to Sante Fe was our goal for the next day and we set our early as the drive would be a little under 2 hours. Sante Fe is one of the oldest cities in the United States and has a very colorful history, vibrant culture and interesting architecture. We entered the rather small city not knowing what to expect and within minutes we were immediately surrounded by adobe-built homes, chilli peppers set out to dry on front porches, and charming shopping streets.
The city’s Southwestern flair and both Native American and Spanish heritage make it a unique place to visit. With its history as a main tourist draw, old homes and buildings have been lovingly restored and were a joy to wander through. Many had courtyards full of hand-made decorations and independant shops.
After probably one of the best Mexican meals I’ve ever had, we set out to explore the town further. Sante Fe is relatively small and can definitely be done as a day trip. Exploring the city by foot is probably the best method since it was not a place originally built to accomodate vehicles. Most of the attractions are centered around the old town, where there is an old cathedral, museums, and dozens of places to buy cowboy boots, chaps, turquoise jewelry, etc.
The day winded down and we started heading back to Albuquerque, but I had wanted to stop off at one of the many Native American Peublos that are between to two cities. After getting lost for about an hour we finally reached a Peublo and I believe my ignorance got the better of me. I had assumed that all of the pueblos were historic sites and tourist attractions. But when we drove up to one, we realized that people still lived there. We quickly felt uncomfortable and decided to ixnay to the tour and drive straight back to Albequerque.
The next day would be our last full day in New Mexico and I was determined to make it to Roswell, home of the alleged alien spaceship crash in the late 1940s. The drive was 3.5 hours of straight, empty highway and we were already weary from the previous day’s travel. Nevertheless, as fans of science fiction, we soldiered on.
Aside from the whole alien bit, Roswell is your typical creepy, sleepy small town in the Southwest. It’s dusty, full of mid-century-built ramshackle architecture, one Wal-Mart, one IHOP and one Dennys. However, the alien theme presides over everything here and I began to realize that the city was covered in little green men.
We wanted to go out to the actual “crash site”, but settled on the local Roswell UFO museum since we were short on time and tired. The musuem was only a few dollars and was inside a glorified warehouse. Exhibits looked more like 6th grade science projects, but the fact that were inside an actual UFO museum was more than enough to entertain us. Following a quick pit stop at the local IHOP, we headed back to Albequerque through thunderstorms.
Thus marked the end of our last US roadtrip. It was a quirky adventure that was vaguely space themed, with a dash of the old west. Sort of like cowboys and aliens.