It was time to leave Austin which was quite depressing as I love the city so much, my destination was Denver for the July 4 festivities. To get there I would be making a few stops offs along the way, Amarillo for an evening, New Mexico with a few nights in Albuquerque and Santa Fe before continuing my roam up north.
The drive to Amarillo through the state of Texas was interesting kinda, I was pulled over by a local police officer for driving 10 miles over the speed limit. I thought this was a little harsh as I had frequently been driving on average 20 miles over the limit and there was very little in the way of traffic on my route. After verbally indicating I should slow down, he handed me a written warning indicating you guessed, slow down. I asked what was the point of this to which he indicated best not to find out. As soon as I was out of his jurisdiction I sped back up. If you are not aware of this the USA has many different levels of police forces, Federal 5-0, State Troopers, County Mounties, National Parks etc and it’s quite confusing. The one thing they have in common is the look of confusion when pulling mwah, over looking at my Aussie driving license and warning me, I guess its difficult writing a ticket for a tourist. I continued my drive through a few sparsely populated towns with derelict boarded up buildings,, eventually making my way to Amarillo.
I checked into my hotel and headed out for the evening, after meatloaf at a local restaurant I headed to one of the bars nearby. At the bar were what I assume were Texan cowboys, wearing checkered shirts and cowboy hats. After taking a seat it was easy enough to engage in conversation, mainly consisting at their surprise meeting an Aussie, talking about guns and how “Austin isn’t the true Texas”. I also found out beside the local Cadillac Ranch there was plenty of other attractions in Amarillo so instead of a late night I decided to head back to the hotel and have a look at Amarillo the following day
My first stop was the Palo Duro Canyon which is the second largest canyon in North America forming part of the Texan Panhandle. Its 190km long and averages at about 10km wide, making it much smaller than the Grand Canyon. The canyon itself contained some interesting rock formations and wildlife, due to size it did not take long to drive through. So that completed next was the Panhandle Museum, the largest historical museum in Texas. The museum has many displays and was very informative on the American Civil war, cowboys and Comanche Indians, its also has a great collection of guns which reminded me of the cowboy’s Id met the night before. After finishing there I headed to the reason I’d come to Amarillo, the Cadillac Ranch on the edge of town.
The Cowboys had advised me to buy some cans of spray paint so I could decorate the Cadillacs while I was there. Located along the old Route 66 on the west side of town, it consists of 10 half-buried cars upright that have rusted away over time. The attraction was created in 1974 by a group of hippies that referred to themselves as the Ant Farm as an anti-corporate architectural message which must have resonated in the 1970s. Now its where you can take some interesting pictures and spraint paint your name onto a car which sure enough will be sprayed over, again and again, it was truly bizarre but pretty cool at the same time. It is one of the iconic stop-off points along Route 66 (which Ill write about in a future blog).
It was then onto Albuquerque, another 5-hour drive. I headed to an Irish bar and talked to Americans about the game of rugby union. I was in the local rugby bar, the game is popular in Australia and apparently also in this cool city. Being an Aussie was good enough reason to be taken out on a celebratory bar crawl by the locals, Americans are very friendly.
The following day I went to the Albuquerque Museum, this focused on various time periods focusing on New Mexican history, art and also several Mayan pieces. It was really impressive and the facilities new and modern though I may have appreciated it more if not hungover because of my rugby friends the evening before. I then went to the Nuclear Museum which details the evolution of nuclear technology from 1939 to what goes on currently. World War 2, Cuban Missile crisis, Cold War periods were all covered in depth. There was also an Intercontinental Ballistic missile on display as well as other missiles and planes such as a B52 bomber, there was also some pretty funny signage on display from 1950’s. That evening I spent the night in as wanted an early start to Santa Fe the next day.
I decided to drive along the Turquoise Trail which is known as one of the most scenic drives in the USA, a half day drive between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. I started with a hill climb drive of around 3000m up Sandia Crest for some expansive views of Albuquerque and the desert beyond. I then ascended and headed to one of the Trails famous attractions, the Tinkertown Museum. This was a very unique experience, the displays full of carved wooden miniature figurines inhabiting carved houses with mechanical parts moved the figurines around, it was essentially a museum made up of handcrafted doll houses and the overall theme was the theme was explaining the West. There is a yacht from when the owner sailed around the world and also carnival machines that read fortunes, played music, stamped quarters, in all an excellent tour.
Next I stopped off in the town of Madrid for some lunch at the Old Coal Town Musuem. Madrid is a re-energised former coal mining and ghost town, there are approximately 40 retail shops selling various artistic pieces and is quite a quirky little place. The Museum was part roadhouse so after finishing off a tasty steak I looked around the displays which includes historical pictures of the town, old vehicles, steam engines and a cinema which is still in use, it was a friendly little place
I arrived in Santa Fe, and was amazed by the stunning architecture. Most American cities have some uniqueness to them, typically a downtown area and some adjoining suburbs that have different architecture as those cities/towns have grown and changed over time. This was not downtown Santa Fe, the centre of town’s buildings were all a rendered and tan in colour designed to match the desert colours. The style is referred to as Pueblo Revival, the roofs of the buildings were flat and the walls rounded instead of sharp corners, the place kind of reminded me of the cartoon the Flintstones. There were many art museums and Native American shopping available.
That night I ended up hanging out with a barmaid I met at the local punk who took me on another pub crawl around the town where I met many of the locals, mainly punks, it was pretty hilarious. The following day involved visiting a local Flea Market which contained many Indian arts and crafts, I purchased a couple of rugs, ate lots of tacos and then watching the Euro Cup final with the barmaid from the night before. Football (soccer) is not hugely popular in the USA like it is in Australia and watching something that was not an American sport was refreshing for a change.
I then took a free cab home, if you don’t know this New Mexico provides free taxis. Well, there are a few rules to this, anyone who is out for the evening and decides they want to go home can hail a cab who will not charge you, instead the state government pays for the journey home, you should tip though. This is an initiative to stop drink driving, whilst America has many different police forces, few of them actually have random breathalyser technology which means the police resort to tests like walking a line or word trickery. This leads to a lot of drink driving so good on New Mexico for the taxi service, anyway that’s enough eduction, it was off ot bed and then onto the north….