After a couple of days exploring Santa Fe it was time to head west back toward Phoenix. But first was an important stop in Gallup, New Mexico as it’s the gateway to Route 66!

Now to get to Gallup from Santa Fe you have drive via Albuquerque on Highway 25, after this it picks up Highway 40. So why are Highway numbers so important you might ask???

Today’s Highway 40 is the old Route 66. If you’ve read some of my prior stories this has been one of the trips that has been near the top of my list since I was a young boy.

It was another glorious day when as I headed out of Santa Fe, with the countryside becoming much less mountainous, in fact by the time you reach Albuquerque its downright flat! 🙂

The almost 320 km (200 miles) to Gallup is a fascinating drive as you catch vestiges of Route 66, with signage and detours all along your journey.

Route 66 takes on an authentic air when you enter Gallup, New Mexico.

The main road into town, after exiting the highway is lined with old motels from the golden era of Route 66. Yes, many dating back as early as the 1930’s and 40’s…. 🙂

One of the most famous is the El Rancho hotel and motel. Built in 1936 by R.E. Griffiths, brother of the famous Hollywood Director D.W. Griffiths. Little did anyone know at the time but it would become the unofficial home for stars and film crews working on Westerns for generations.

Its played host to movie stars including John Wayne, Spencer Tracey, Errol Flynn, Ronald Reagan, Katherine Hepburn…the list goes on and on.

It’s a rambling Southern Plantation style building and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Although its heyday is long since gone it’s a fabulous place to explore as you make a distinct step back in film history.

If you stay, you’ll definitely be staying in a room where a movie star has slept, which is pretty cool!.

In addition, to the El Rancho you have a host of old motels, some operational others not. Memories from a bygone era, such as the Colonial, the Sea Breeze, Hacienda, El Capitan, Arrowhead Lodge…

Yep, this is just the tip of the historical record when it comes to Route 66.

I remember as a boy being totally enamoured with the movie the Grapes of Wrath. This 1940 B+W movie is an absolute classic!

The original Pulitzer Prize winning story was written by John Steinbeck and published in 1939. Surprisingly, the book was banned by the censors shortly after it was released as they believed it depicted Californian farmers incorrectly…. Wow! 🙁

Fortunately the movie was still made, directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda, it tells the story of a family leaving their drought stricken farm to take to the road and head for California in search of a better life during the depths of the depression.

Over the years I’ve watched this movie a number of times and with each viewing I see more texture and nuance – pretty cool really!

Definitely worth a watch if you haven’t already seen it.

Another of the classic buildings in Gallup, is the El Morro theatre (207 W Coal Ave). Situated on the actual main street it is a throw back to the golden era of this town. Built in 1928, it’s still in operation to this day and serves as the town’s movie house. Looking good at 92!

It’s the only example of the Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in Gallup and quite unusual for this part of the world. That being said it’s a gorgeous building!

After spending the day exploring this fascinating town, it was time to move on and get back on the road.

Given that it was the depths of winter and bone chillingly cold, I left early the next morning in a blizzard with visibility down to less than 100 meters and a strong and gusty winds (120 Kph – 75 mph).

To say I was white knuckling the steering wheel would be an understatement especially over snow covered roads…

Fortunately for me it only lasted the first 30 minutes of my drive and soon found myself basking in blue sky and a clear road once again.

My last real stop was the Petrified Forest National Park, located some 110 kilometres (70 miles) from Gallup.

This was definitely worth the stop, especially given the great views. There are two things that are “must see’s” when visiting this fabulous NP.

The first was the 1928 Studebaker (photo above) abandoned on the side of the original Route 66. Yep, its been there quite sometime!

However, the best was Newspaper Rock, which is located 11 miles south of the Ranger station and entrance to the park.

This small canyon is home to two large boulders that have petroglyphs engraved onto the rock faces. You need to be patient given the viewing area is about 100 meters from the rocks themselves. You’ll need to use your “where’s Waldo?” skills for sure!

Incredibly, Newspaper Rock is dated from between 1000 and 1499 AD. It is unknown as to who the actual carvers were, but this area is deep in Apache country, so my best guess would be their ancestors.

Incredible! I can finally check this part of Route 66 off my list. 🙂

I started my day in -11C blizzard and ended it in Phoenix later that afternoon at a warmish 16C. A welcome +27C change in temperature!

It was an awesome week of adventures in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, and a trip I would highly recommend.

Until next week