The Travel Bug Episode 25: Amarillo, Albuquerque, Santa Fe and the drive to Denver

The Travel Bug
PC @ ThoughtsIt only seems like yesterday when Davey came bustling through the Blue Ridge parkway with his Mustang, ripping through national parks, small towns (Cherokee) and through Nashville trying moonshine along the way (not while driving, of course). Other highlights of the last post include tours through the Jack Daniels distillery,  Beale Street, Graceland,  an incredibly warm Austin and a trip to Barton Springs Pool. Our man even checked out the Roller Derby! 
In our first post for the year, Dave goes through Texas passing through Palo Duro Canyon, Albuquerque and through Tinkertown while learning all about the history. Dave also stops by Santa Fe, a place which he has taken a liking to, and experienced Mount Evans National Park – another spectacular must-do destination. But there’s so much more to this post to just that.
And so without further ado..

Amarillo, The Aussie has landed

texas

T

he drive to Amarillo took about 7 hours to complete. 

Texas is a large state the first hour in I was pulled over by a police officer for going 10 miles over the limit which I thought was a little harsh as there wasn’t much traffic.

Fortunately, he issued me with something called a caution (not a fine), honestly wasn’t sure what the point it with bothering with a written caution to slow down and as soon as he left I went back to speeding along the lonely Texas highway.

Besides that, the drive was pretty uneventful, I drove through some run down towns, a lot of them almost ghost like with boarded up buildings and not many people about.

I eventually reached Amarillo.

So what goes down in Texas?

I checked into my hotel and after a nap, I headed out for a few beers. I was gearing up for a big night.

The second bar I went to I met some what I assume were Texan Cowboys and had a good laugh and lots of talk about American politics. They also told me about the area of Amarillo and all the interesting tourist attractions around the city.

Amarillo people claim that it’s the last place in Texas that has the true Texan drawl (accent), they certainly don’t sound like people from Austin or Houston.

My new mates then invited me to another bar, but they did such a good job of talking up Amarillo I decided to turn in early and see what was about the area.

Sightseeing around

The first thing I did was check out the Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the USA after the Grand Canyon (who new?). While Palo is nowhere near as big, a plus is that you can drive into the Canyon itself, there were lots of spectacular landscapes, red earth, mountains and I even spotted a deer.

deer

Next I headed back to town and took in the Panhandle Museum, very interesting (unlike the Alamo) and informative about American History, cowboys, the Civil War and the Comanche Indians.

After that, I headed to the Cadillac Ranch, 12 Cadillac’s buried in the ground in the middle of a field. An added bonus to this is tourists are allowed to spray paint them, I’d been told this so I had purchased some yellow spray paint and tagged me a Caddy, good fun. Not really sure what the purpose of it was but it’s one of the most iconic sights on the great American Road Trip.

cars

Albuquerque

The next night I drive to Albuquerque in New Mexico, not a long distance, a leisurely 5 hours or so including some stop offs.

I checked in my hotel and then headed out again, this time, I ended up in an Irish bar having beef and Guinness pancakes, very tasty.

I met an American and ended up pub crawling around the area, people are friendly in the centre of the USA. I ended up in a rugby bar talking about the Wallabies with some locals, not something I was expecting. The town also had a lot of craft beers to sample, a nice thing to do in the dry desert heat.

Checking the history

The following day I had a wee bit of a hangover, I decided to head to Albuquerque’s Old Town.

I checked out the State museum which had an exhibit of Mayan history and also lots of information to do with the Spanish settlers in the area, 1600’s.

Next on my list was the historical Nuclear Museum, it detailed the evolution of nuclear technology from 1939 to 1945 and advancement during World War 2, the Cuban Missile crisis and the Cold War were also covered. There were many exhibits including an Intercontinental Ballistic missile on display as well as other missiles and planes such as a B52 bomber.

planes

There were some pretty funny items from the 50’s as well such as warning signs like “Duck and Cover”, indicating how to escape nuclear fallout which comes to mind. The second evening I spent the night in as wanted an early start to Santa Fe the next day.

Driving down Turquoise highway

I had decided to drive Turquoise highway instead of the much faster and direct Interstate, it’s regarded as one of the most scenic drives in the USA and it was truly spectacular. It was 140 miles of driving through a mountain range which then descended into a desert, all of which was 7000 feet above sea level including the desert, the drive up was a long ascent..

If you don’t know already the northern part of the USA is at a much higher elevation than the southern.

The first stop was a café for some brekkie at a roadside diner, tasty too much food as always when it comes to the USA.

The town called Tinkertown

The second stop was a museum called Tinkertown, a unique experience, the displays consisted of carved wooden characters inhabiting carved houses, a lot of the parts moved around, kind of like multiple doll house.

The general theme of the place was explaining the Wild West; it also contained a yacht from when the owner sailed around the world. There were also a lot of carnival machines that read fortunes, played music, stamped quarters, an excellent out of the way museum.

Other notable pitstops

Next I drove up Sandia Crest, a 15-mile ascent directly up and climbed to 11000 feet. At the top there were amazing views of the mountain range as well as the city of Albuquerque below, it was also a good drive as I could drop the roof on the Mustang which I hadn’t had much opportunity because of the heat I had encountered further south in Texas, it was much cooler at the higher elevation.

Next were the towns of Madrid and Cerrillos, old mining towns which had turned into art centre’s, not many inhabitants, basically tourist stops with lots of interesting stuff to see.

The stunning Santa Fe

Around 4 hours later I arrived in Santa Fe, a really stunning city.

The centre of town was all rendered buildings painted in a tan sun-like colour which matched the desert colours. It seemed to have a lot of art museums, Native American shopping and the town generally seemed pretty quiet.

That night I ended up hanging out with a barmaid from the local punk bar, doing a pub crawl around the town and meeting many of the locals, mainly more punks, it was pretty hilarious.

punk

I found out later that the cab ride back to the hotel is actually free, all cabs within New Mexico include a free ride home at the end of the night, an attempt at cutting down on drink drive, it was a very nice touch.

The following day involved visiting a local Flea Market, there were many arts and crafts mainly American Indian.

Durango

That afternoon I ended up watching the Euro Cup final with the barmaid I’d met the night before. Again it was an early night as the following day was off to Durango in Colorado.

The desert and the history

Another spectacular drive, lots of desert landscapes, not so much traffic so I could open the Mustang up and go for a quality speedy drive. This involved a drive through Red Rock Canyon and then I headed to the Mesa Verde National Park, the US has so many national parks.

Mesa Verde is very famous in the USA for American Indian history but I had trouble paying attention to it as was suffering sensory overload, the park, however again amazing, went upwards of 8500 feet, again with more spectacular views.

The park is also known for Indian Rock dwellings dating back to the 13th century, I heard more about American Indian culture and the most impressive attraction of all, I saw the Citadel built into the rocks of a cliff, built sometime in the 13th century, a long time before America was discovered or the coming of the Plains Indians.

caves

In the evening I went to a local microbrewery, got drunker than expected due to the altitude (as opposed to too many beers) chatted with some Indians in the bar and headed back to the hotel to sleep.

The drive to Denver

The next morning was a pretty uneventful drive to Denver. There were a few things I wanted to do, in particular, see the band Foster the People in Red Rock canyon. I had purchased tickets to this event around 8 months earlier.
concert

Red Rock is another National Park which also doubles up as a concert venue. The stage is in the middle of rocks creating a natural amphitheater where the sound reverberates off the stone created a very crystal clear sound, all quite surreal.

It was one of the bet gigs I’ve been too.

Mount Evans National Park

Another highlight included the Mount Evans National Park and Sky Lake, this is around 14000 feet high, and is the tallest mountain in North America.lake

I drove up which took a few hours, the air being quite thin and I was fairly dizzy a lot of the time I was up there, I guess that’s what Bob Denver meant when he sang “Rocky Mountain High”.

The scenery was typically spectacular. I also went to the Buffalo Bill Museum and grave, learnt a lot about him but won’t bore with the details.

July 4th

Denver unfortunately, was in a total fire ban due to massive bush fires threatening the State, so unfortunately, there were no July 4 fireworks.

The city was also pretty quiet. Due to this so my first July 4 experience was probably not as exciting as it could have been. I did see an army parade and they fired off cannon I, there were a lot of militaries and ex-military standing and watching, rather sombre I also had a few beers, got drunk rather quickly and chatted with some people and then headed to sleep.

I discovered the next day that Denver also allegedly has the world’s largest Laundromat which was very handy as I had not had time to wash my clothes from all the moving around I’d been doing since Austin.

After half a day of cleaning clothes, it was time to head out again.

The Badlands

I was now off north again, around 7 hours to reach the Badlands of South Dakota, the drive being very dull and at times, I had trouble staying awake.I managed to reach the Badlands safe and sound, long distance driving being an Australian isn’t really an issue.
snakes

The Badlands is an Indian tribal area, home to the Sioux and Lakota Indians, I could drive through the park and as all the other parks I’d been to it was quite spectacular (spectacular is the favourite word now for all National Parks).

There were lots of white rock formations and the desert sand was a mix of red and white. I left the park a few hours later and headed to the town of Wall.

Wall

Wall is famous for having the world’s biggest drug store, it’s also famous for having the most roadside signage in the world indicating this fact..ice cream

The drug store itself which was not really a store so much as a fun park of sorts included various shops selling western themed clothes. It had lots of merchandise for sale but very little in the way of drugs that I could see.

A night in Rapid City

That evening had a good night out in Rapid City, a small town up the road from Wall, this involved a pub crawl with some locals that had never met an Aussie before, it was good being a genuine novelty. I was also invited to a frat party but declined the kind invitation.

The following day was another national park, this time, Custer National Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota, unlike the Badlands the Black Hills was all forest and trees.

It was also the first time I’ve seen wild buffalo, and I saw plenty of them.

bison

Them monuments

I checked out the Crazy Horse monument which I had not heard of. It’s a bust of the Indian chief Crazy Horse, it has been under construction since the 1940’s and was still being constructed, much larger in size than Mount Rushmore.window

It has no government funding and the construction is reliant on visitors to the monument, it’s the largest and tallest man-made monument in the world. After that, I headed to Mount Rushmore to see the bust of the four Presidents, again another iconic American site, very spectacular.

I knew three of the presidents, Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, but no idea who they guy was though I guess I could look it up.

Mount Rush

Deadwood

The following day I headed to the town of Deadwood the home of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and other outlaws who gained notoriety there. The place itself was a very 19th century, the city not appearing to be much different to when constructed, lots of bars and casinos.signs

Deadwood was founded on gambling and prostitution and though not sure on the prostitution was faring nowadays, the gambling, however, was doing a good trade. I had a couple of beers and watched a “staged” shootout in the street, the town is very touristy.

I had a quiet night and the following morning headed to Sturgis, the home of the largest motorcycle rally in the world (think Harleys), but nothing was going on so I headed to my next destination and the last part of my adventures, the spectacular Yellowstone National Park….

 


The Travel Bug

The Travel Bug is a collaboration project that goes through Dave’s travel journals around the world. This series started a while back and finished right here in Deadwood. We’ll be back soon with the last part of his adventure – the incredible Yellowstone National Park!


DavoDave
 is the Travel Writer of the Travel Bug. He is a Technology specialist by day and social butterfly by night.

He just completed another world trip and will be sharing his tall travel tales shortly.

PC @ ThoughtsPC likes getting the job done by day and writes, designs and codes during his spare time. He also enjoys having a drink with Dave and hearing his tall travel tales.

We hope to entertain you with these stories.

 

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