Traveling from east to west on I-40 through New Mexico is the fastest way to get to the many National Parks and scenic destinations. Because of the desolate vast expanses of this region, the speed limit on I-40 is 75 miles per hour, which means that the travel time that it takes to cover the long distance through New Mexico is somewhat bearable. It can take nearly one full day to go from one end of New Mexico to the other on I-40, so taking a few breaks is advisable. Most of the scenic landscapes along this highway consist of flat desert grasslands that stretch out to the distant mesas on the horizon. There is not much of anything to break up the monotonous scenery till arriving Albuquerque, which is where the long drive on I-40 West does start to get interesting. Albuquerque is also a key jumping off point for exploring the ancient native heritage sites of central New Mexico and this is where old Route 66 meanders a bit.
Historic Route 66 parallels I-40 all the way through New Mexico, but old Route 66 only acts as a highway frontage road in the small towns along the way. However, the Mother Road is still the main street through most of these towns and for a tourist, this is where the action is. There is literally one native trading post aver another in the old Route 66 towns and each offers priceless hand crafted mementos of the journey. The old historic Route 66 Clines Corners tourist trap is also located on this stretch of road.
As one travels further west toward the border of Arizona, the red and orange sandstone rock outcrops paint the desert terrain with views that look as if they belong in classic western landscape painting. The west end of New Mexico along I-40 is as picturesque as can be. This section of what is now I-40 was called Indian Country back in the golden age of Route 66 tourism. Many of the old original Route 66 wayside stops have vanished in this region over the years. In some places the only thing that remains is a few dilapidated buildings and a concrete slab where gas pumps used to be. After seeing the dusty remnants of the past, it is easy to imagine how the lives of so many people were devastated when Route 66 was bypassed by I-40 back in the 1960s.
Just like in Arizona, modern New Mexico Route 66 tourism is still happening in the old sections of Route 66 to a degree. A good old fashioned diner restaurant or western style steakhouse can be found in nearly any old town along Route 66 in this state. Everything from RV Parks to old fashioned motels and “cheesy” 1950s style tourist traps can be found in places where the Route 66 lifestyle still lives on. Albuquerque is world famous for its Mother Road heritage and this city has a website devoted to everything Route 66.
There are opportunities to experience some cultural exchange along the way when traveling on I-40 through New Mexico, especially in the western half of the state. Tribal nations have gotten into the modern hospitality business and there are a few tribal casino resorts along this road that are worth checking out. Some of these resorts are the closest accommodations to nearby Native American Heritage Sites and National Monuments, which is a nice convenience.
By the time that I was approaching the border of Arizona while hurrying along on I-40, it was a few hours after dark. Hunger started setting in, so I decided to find accommodations in the town of Church Rock in the Navajo Nation. As luck would have it, the Navajo Fire Rock Casino was on Route 66 in Church Rock and as everybody knows, a casino usually has a restaurant that is guaranteed to be open late at night, so this was a good choice for curbing the hunger.
As it turned out after stepping through the Fire Rock Casino door, I found out that Cheii’s Restaurant was having its grand opening after a recent remodel. The new menu featured many Native American food specialties from around the local Four Corners region. A good vegetarian entrée sounded like pure revitalization after being on the road all day, so I tried the Four Corners Stew. Four Corners Stew is made with local Navajo farm sourced squash, beans, maize and sweet potatoes. This old fashioned Navajo vegetable stew definitely revived the dulled senses after the long drive. After the great meal at Cheii’s Restaurant, I played casino card games for a few hours and made enough money to top off the tank with gas before calling it a night. The visit to the Fire Rock Casino in Church Rock turned out to be a memorable Route 66 style experience!
As can gathered, traveling west on I-40 through New Mexico does not have to be just a long boring drive. All it takes is getting off the four lane expressway and doing a little exploring on good old historic Route 66 to perk things up. Stretching the legs while grabbing a bite to eat or doing some shopping at a trading post definitely breaks up the monotony and nearly anything purchased will be a great conversation piece for many years to come!
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