Day 11 Miles: 140

Albuquerque, New Mexico to Gallup, New Mexico

Just west of Albuquerque, on the frontage road that takes you to the gaudy Route 66 Casino, lies the Rio Puerco Bridge. This truss bridge across “The Pig River” was erected on Route 66 in 1933, and amazingly remained in use until 1999. It is being maintained by the New Mexico Department of Transportation in remembrance of Route 66.

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Many times during this trip I have seen the original Route 66 petering out into dead ends. It would have been too dangerous to pull over and take photographs. Finally, at this bridge, I was able to photograph a prime example of these abandoned original Route 66 alignments.

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I was not fully prepared for the wreckage and ruination I have seen on Route 66. Of course I knew that many of the sites were crumbling, but seeing them in person and photographing what remains has been depressing. I am looking forward to Palm Springs and its revitalization and preservation efforts. I suppose many people drive this route every day and never notice the desolation; it all depends on your point of view.

Take, for example, an abandoned Whiting Brothers gas station outside of Grants, New Mexico. I had not intended to stop there on my way to Gallup, but the signs, so large and prominent, beckoned me from the interstate.

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I had never heard of Whiting Brothers before this trip. Here is some history from legendsofamerica.com:

It was during the same year that Route 66 began to be built that the Whiting Brothers discovered that with just a little lumber from their father’s mill, they could easily construct a profitable gas station. Originally founded in Saint John, Arizona in 1926, Whiting Brothers Station soon became a familiar sight all along Route 66, as well as other areas in the Southwest.

Extremely profitable, the brothers continued to expand their empire, adding souvenir shops, cafes, and Whiting Brothers Motor Inns to many of their stations. For years and years, the Whiting Brothers businesses were a staple along the Mother Road, along with Stuckey’s, Burma-Shave signs, and Indian Joe’s Trading Posts.

Alas, along with so many other profitable businesses along Route 66, the Whiting Brothers ended in the 1990s. Today, with the exception of one remaining Whiting Brothers Station in Moriarty, New Mexico, and a few buildings that have been utilized for other businesses purposes, all that’s left of the Whiting empire are its fading yellow and orange signs and crumbling buildings. Soon, these too will most likely disappear, ending another chapter of Route 66 history.

Nestled in the triangle of the two signs and the abandoned gas station is a house. I did not take photographs of the home out of respect for its inhabitants. But, imagine living at this site day after day. They probably do not even notice the signs anymore.

Arriving in Gallup, I saw more placards in storefront windows and on the sides of vans, which I had been seeing throughout New Mexico: “Pinon for sale.” I had no idea what a piñon was, so I consulted the trusty inter-webs. Pine nuts! This is the time of year that pinenuts are harvested from the trees in the Southwest. They are sold in stores and on the side of the road, roasted. I plan to pick some up today.

Being in the Southwest has made me feel like a stranger in a strange land, in my own country, and I love it! I often lament that Americans do not travel enough, especially internationally, to gain a perspective that is less myopic. Well, you don’t have to get on a plane to have a new experience. Take Gallup. While I was shopping in trading post yesterday, Navajo was being spoken on the radio! I really do love this country.

Gallup was founded in 1881 and got its name from a railroad employee. The population is 37% Native American. It is often called “The Indian Capital of the World” because it is in the heart of Native American lands, including Navajo, Zuni, and Hopi. Because of this confluence, there are over 100 Native American trading posts in Gallup, selling local craft and art.

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At many of the restaurants in Gallup, local craftspeople are allowed to walk by your table to display their goods for sale. A polite “no thanks” will send them on to the next table. Vendors are required to have ID tags and certifications to sell. If you are on your way through New Mexico, take my advice and wait to buy native jewelry until you are in Gallup. You will save yourself a lot of money, especially when compared to Santa Fe (although wholesaler Skip Maisel’s in Albuquerque gives Gallup a run for its money).

I did not realize that Gallup had such beautiful scenery!

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They also have a quaint downtown area, and it is apparent they are doing their best to revitalize that area.

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After taking photos of Gallup’s wonderful old neon, which I posted on my Instagram page, I headed to the El Rancho Hotel.

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The El Rancho opened in December 1937, and many film stars of the day stayed at the hotel during filming of movies in the area – mostly westerns. At the time it was said that the brother of the movie magnate, DW Griffith, founded the El Rancho. Curiously, old DW never had a brother named RE Griffith! Raymond E. Griffith was a silent movie star, comedy writer and producer of no particular talent. It seems he is still pulling one over on the public, as even the El Rancho brochure lists him as the brother of DW.

I was all a-twitter to see the El Rancho, and the interior did not disappoint. It is decorated in that American lodge style so popular in the 1930s.

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But where were the people? I knew I was visiting in November, which is not exactly tourist season, but the lobby, bar, gift shop, and restaurant were completely empty. When I pulled into Gallup I had envisioned dinner at the El Rancho, possibly dressing up and wearing some of my fabulous new jewelry. I asked the front desk clerk if I should make a reservation for dinner, and he looked at me quizzically. He said, “No, we’re pretty slow today.” I think he wanted to laugh at me. (I was too deflated to eat dinner at the El Rancho. I opted for a great Mexican restaurant near the RV park, where I shopped for jewelry while I ate.)

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The 49er Lounge (voted by Esquire magazine as one of the best bars in the country) was not yet open, but I was able to snap a couple of photos. I think it is unfortunate that dollar bills have been pasted all over this once grand Southwestern style bar.

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I passed through a nightclub-style theater on my way into the lounge. It was too dark for photographs, and I was not about to ask anyone to light up the place, because I don’t think I was supposed to be there in the first place. There was a stage with red velvet curtains. The chairs were up on the tables, and it was chilly. It looked like it had not been used in years. I time-traveled in my mind with my eyes closed, imagining all the famous Hollywood stars in their finery listening to an amazing jazz singer.

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Did I mention this trip is depressing me a little bit?