The Southwest summer sky. A thing of beauty – smashing sunrise, searing midday sun, orange twilight, peaceful nights. Just one of the things people flock to New Mexico for. Sure, there’s the landscape – mountains and mesas, gorges and rivers – food, art, music, festivals, history, adventure. All great stuff we’re famous for, but you can’t beat getting out under our skies.
Rolling in from the east, a long shadow on your tail, you pull out of the gramma grass antelope range and climb toward New Mexico’s highest mountains. You’ve made it; your time is now your own.
Driving New Mexico for the most part is a nice ride. Wind down the high road from Taos to Santa Fe, Red River Pass, Tres Piedras to Chama. Cimarron to Eagle Nest, Ranchos to Vegas, Angel Fire to Mora. Smooth sailing.
But it can also be rugged country; scattered across the landscape you’ll stumble upon old wrecks – rattletrap trucks with busted windshields – remnants of hard living.
They’re part of our heritage, part of our character.
In these parts we have bragging rights battles over where the roughest rides are, who lives on the roughest road. Ramone and Cindy Gonzales of Black Lake are a top contender but I’ll put up my ranch road any day.
Friends who do the bump and grind up our road say it all the time. Time and again folks show up at our door looking like they just got off a runaway carnival ride: a new stand-up hairdo, eyes wide, a little green under the gills, slapping dust off their clothes.
Car parts grow out of our road. Every so often I’ll find a piece of motor wedged in a rut. We collect them. Our mechanic sometimes calls to see if I have parts from friends’ cars. And I always sell ’em cheap.
World-class roads like ours aren’t easily made; they take years of neglect. The right blend of winter weather and no work at all, you can end up with fence-size ridges, roadbed boulders, gully washers, drop-offs, whoop-de-doos and moguls. And when the rains come, your truck does the mud dance, the tail-end slapping back and forth, cha-cha-cha.
Gear grinding is a given and if it’s gnarly enough, so you have to gun it, you can make any engine scream. This road has been known to make tough old cowboys cry and bring a tractor to its knees.
Our road has a long history of names, most created after a good deal of kicking and cussing (in fact we’re pretty sure the cussing-per-mile ratio here is one of the state’s highest).
Famous spots on the road include the Himalayas, Bank of Death, Autobahn (short, but a good place to pick up speed), Don’t Go There Couloir and Sand Castle Curve – if you slide off here you land in a moat.
There’s the ice cream section: Rocky Road and Marbled Mud. And the Tim Trujillo Memorial Pothole – big enough to hold a Jeep, in honor of a local who drove for General Patton. Steer clear of the Pothole of No Return – nobody’s ever gone in, or if someone has, they’ve never been heard from again, so how would we know.
My favorite is a short stretch through the pine trees where the mud makes magnificent ruts. Here you’ll find rut canal, rut beer, and the rut of all evil. There’s a roadside sign here that says: Picking your nose in this section can cause brain damage.
We even have a runaway truck ramp, created afer our truck brakes broke mid-flight.
While the road is hardly a major tourist attraction, one local entrepreneur wanted to set up a ticket booth at our gate.
“Ladies and gentlemen, step right up, take on New Mexico’s famed ‘Rut 66,’ the ride of your life. It’ll rock you, it’ll shock you, it’s a thrill you’ll not soon forget.”
I’m sure he would have made a fortune but I think he ran into zoning problems.
Of course, sometimes it all gets a bit tiring. You wedge groceries into a tight spot by the tire in the back so they won’t bust out of the bag (paper or plastic). Then one good bump and the chainsaw shifts and the cheese is floating in the milk. Or the big bag of bakery buns has flattened into a tortilla. The only way around it is to have your wife do the packing and let her take the rap.
It wouldn’t be fair to tell all our visitors to stay only on paved roads; they’d miss too much of the backcountry. Whether you pick the road less traveled or not on your trip to New Mexico, you’re in for a memorable ride.
– Joe Haukebo, Publisher, HighCountry Magazine 2000