Just west of Amarillo, the near perfectly flat highway passed some cattle feedlots. A stench briefly took over my car. A grain tower long out of use grew rusty holes and unkempt colors. A wind farm appeared north of the interstate and stretched for a few miles.
It went on like this until about 50 miles outside Amarillo, just a few miles east of the New Mexico border, when after a gentle rise, the highway sloped downwards over a ridge and revealed a vast plain below and a series of plateaus to the left. Untamed grassland with some scattered shrubs stretched as far as I could see. The next number of miles were like this – long stretches of gently rolling slopes, endless vistas, few cars.
I crossed the border into New Mexico and entered Mountain Time.
By Tucumcari, sandstone ridges had begun to appear. They’d form mounds, gashed here and there to reveal orange, pink, red streaks. Rarely over a hundred feet high, they were enough to break the monotony of the landscape.
I exited here to grab a quick lunch. I drove through the quaint Route 66 pitstop where motels lined the main strip, some rather colorful and clearly historic. Diners stood alongside, and even a Chinese restaurant could be seen. I drove further into town and spotted a lone wind turbine above the minimal skyline. It stood still despite the windy day, and I found out why – it was part of an in-progress construction project at Mesalands Community College.
Heading back into town, I stopped at Kix on 66, a handsome looking diner where a very friendly waitress got me a nice salad but was flummoxed when I asked for an iced coffee. “Just coffee over ice?”
The road continued west, becoming increasingly more interesting. Stone ridges became more frequent, the scrub became more dry and desert-like and we occasionally crossed a railroad track or meandering stream. Finally, I saw the turn I needed to take for Santa Fe but I was disappointed to see a long flat road. Santa Fe was supposed to be at 7,000 feet – when was I ever going to get off these plains?
A few miles later, a low ridge appeared far off in the distance. The road was lonely; I didn’t encounter a single car coming in the opposite direction or see one in my rearview mirror for miles. Open grassland stretched for miles on both sides as the dead straight road gently rolled.
Soon the rolls grew more eventful and the road began to curve. The ridgeline grew some texture and got closer. Now I could even see some mountains in the distance! Were those whitecaps?
They were. The road began to climb and drop, climb and drop. It curved alongside a tall ridge with evergreens growing along its sides. It looked upward at a series of peaks in the distance growing ever closer.
Just as things got considerably hilly, I had to turn left onto the interstate to get to Santa Fe. Now the road dropped into a valley again. After a long slow descent, it turned back to the northwest and steadily started to rise. A ridgeline ran alongside to the left; to the right a forest gave way to a snowy series of peaks.
Lone houses had now turned into small settlements. I saw a sign that said Santa Fe was only 8 miles away but I couldn’t see any major buildings, no big suburbs. Was I really that close?
I drove right by my exit, thinking there was no chance that could’ve been it. I couldn’t see much of a city at all from the highway, just a few roofs peeked above the treeline.
I took the next exit and found out that Santa Fe’s not like most other towns.
View pictures from the drive here.