By Patricia H. Kushlis
There are several ways to drive between Phoenix, Arizona and Albuquerque, New Mexico. The fastest is I-40 via Holbrooke and then south on 191 or even I-40 to Flagstaff and then south on 180 via Sedona. That is if you don’t mind getting caught in multiple swarms of ten wheeler trucks piloted by aging race car drivers – or wanted-to-be race car drivers - hell-bent on drag racing at 85 or faster to see who reaches the port of Los Angeles first.
US Route 60, in contrast and listed as scenic on the Triple A map, is a welcome relief to careening along the truck equivalent of the Indy-500. It’s prettier and in early spring, at least, far easier on the nerves. (Photo Right: US Route Signs in New Mexico high desert photo right by PHKushlis, April 2010)
This route goes through such towns as Globe (named for a globe shaped piece of silver found nearby) and Show Low (for the turn of a card) on the Arizona side then on to Quemado, Pietown, Magdalena and Socorro, New Mexico before reaching I-25 on the banks of the Rio Grande seventy miles south of Albuquerque.
Route 60 probably takes an hour or so longer than Interstate 40 – but the traffic – once beyond the Phoenix suburbs is light, roads are good and the early spring desert scenery is splendid. The Salt River Canyon itself is a highlight. (Photo left: Arizona Salt River Canyon by PHKushlis, April 2010)
The road winds its way up from the valley floor hugs the canyon walls, traverses the Salt River and then continues skyward. This is not the Grand Canyon or Canyon de Chelly further north in Arizona, but for all intents and purposes, the Salt River Canyon is no slouch as canyons go and the road had few trucks as well as plenty of pull outs for tourists, picnickers and photographers.(Photo right: Arizona Salt River Canyon by PHKushlis April 2010)
A warning: This road is not for the acrophobic, the inexperienced driver of a large RV or for someone prone to motion sickness. It is carved into the cliffs, rounds lots of bends and makes a few hairpin turns before flattening out on top of a high plateau. (Photo left: Arizona Salt River Canyon by PHKushlis April 2010)
Because we left Phoenix mid afternoon, we decided to stop overnight in Show Low, a Phoenix hill station with motels, restaurants, lots of car dealers and likely even more churches. You get the picture. Anything to escape the city’s summer’s stifling heat, I suppose, although it was downright chilly in early April just before Easter.
Beyond Show Low, there’s not much of anything besides high desert country, snow capped mountains and volcanic ash. For miles and miles. About the only civilization we encountered was a town called Springerville, an almost stereotypical Western movie oasis where horses and ranch culture dominate a pristine green valley.(Photo right New Mexico, Catron County, High Desert by PHKushlis April 2010)"Welcome to the Land of Enchantment"
Arizona highways aren’t bad but the most telling indication that we had reached New Mexico was the improved pavement. Sure there was the “Welcome to the Land of Enchantment” red and yellow Zia-inspired highway department sign more or less demarcating the border – but otherwise, the landscape didn’t change all that much except for a succession of small ranching and farming towns dotting the road along the way – names I’d seen on Catron County maps when I was Voter News Service’s New Mexico manager for elections 2000 and 2002 but never visited – as the road descended from the summit’s top down to the Rio Grande. There was also a large astronomical observatory, stuck out in a field in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, with its giant radio satellites presumably scanning the sky in all directions for, well, heaven knows what.
Before the observatory, we stopped for a cokes at a small log cabin roadside café in Quemado where my husband saw a cowboy who, except for his western regalia, looked like one of his brothers. He, of course, wasn’t – my Maryland rooted brother-in-law likely never rode a horse in his life and certainly not one in the wilds of New Mexico – but turns out one of the cowboy’s buddies did come from the same part of Germany as my mother-in-law’s family.A Family Operation with terrific turnovers
Anyway, the restaurant was a family operation from the cook, waitress/cashier to the pastry chef. Had we realized that we weren’t going to find much else easily before we got to Socorro we would have also stayed for lunch. Don’t bother looking – the cafe’s not listed in Triple A. But nothing else in this unincorporated town is either and that doesn’t make it any less good.
The best part of the little café was its home baked goods – fresh from the oven that morning – and the proprietors were pleased to do take-out. So if you ever happen to be in Quemado look for the little log cabin café on the south side of the road with, if I remember correctly, an American flag over the door. Don’t know about the rest of the fare – but the turnovers were terrific.
Meanwhile, the Salt River Canyon and the natural beauty that precedes and follows it are well worth the trip.