SD to Albuquerque, NM
September 21, 2021
We left the hotel in Rapid City around mid-morning on Tuesday and drove south into Nebraska – the scenery became hillier with lots of grazing and corn fields. T-Mobile reception was nonexistent so we were without high speed data and used our Google Fi sporadically.
We decided we want to stop at Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona enroute to Vegas and wanted to stay off interstates as much as possible. We took the US 385 south and planned a stop in the panhandle of Oklahoma that we didn’t go to back in 2015 after Doug’s heart surgery – it was going to snow there in mid April so we skipped the Black Mesa State Park). This route will take us south to New Mexico then west to Arizona, past the Grand Canyon and onto Vegas. We have three weeks before we need to get there and meet our kids. Josh is flying in for a trade show and we’ve arranged for Serena to fly in from Reno and hopefully once Kurt knows this days off around then, he’ll join us for a couple of days too.
We made it to Alliance, Nebraska for cheap gas at just over $3 a gallon and made our way to an iOverlander recommended spot on a residential street with a large vacant lot/field on one side. We parked and then went to get our daily steps. There was a nearby park with a pond, a covered bridge and a Frisbee golf course (with NO obstructions like the one in Tottenham!).
Upon returning to the trailer, a fellow who lives on the street told us that overnighting was not allowed where we parked and nowhere in town; claimed that several people had come here it seems the last people ruined it by defecating outside their van! And the police kicked them out and will ask others to leave anywhere in town. While not sure it was true, we moved on.
We made to the small town of Bayard that has a 3 site municipal campground where you can stay 2 nights free with water and power hook ups and after that $10 a night. Well, all three spots were full and as well as a fourth site but on the side of the park it faces, there was a dirt road and we parked along it for the night with no issues.
Next morning a gentleman walking a dog came by and we got to chatting; he’d spent 30 years in law enforcement in this state and had been the deputy in a country called “Hooker” – he said it’s the most stolen road side sign in the country! He said nothing about where we parked and after our morning chores, we drove the mile to the town RV dump site where we not only dumped but were able to fill our fresh water tank, free.
On our drive through Nebraska we saw trucks filling up with large roundish dark brown things that seemed too large for potatoes or beets but too dark for turnips/rutabagas. The gentleman we spoke to this morning told us they were sugar beets. Apparently several years ago there had been a Western Sugar plant here in Bayard but a few years back, they closed it and now send all the beets to Scotty’s Bluff about 40 km / 25 miles west of here.
Next day we got into Colorado where the US 385 continues and is named the “High Plains Highway”. We stopped in Holyoke for more cheap gas and asked at the station about a possible boondocking site. The attendant pointed out a dirt lot in the next block and also said there was a lot on the other side of the grain silos.
We made our lunch and then each went for our walks; Fran found the town library and went inside to ask about using the internet here if we were not residents and the kind librarian gave her both the guest and staff passwords after telling here the guest one often didn’t work.
After we both got back to the trailer, we grabbed our laptops and walked the four blocks to the library.
It’s housed in an historic house building and has a lovely veranda outside where we opted to sit because those inside were not wearing masks and it was a lovely temperature out.
Upon returning to the trailer, we relaxed, had dinner and a somewhat quiet night.
Thursday we awoke to truck noises along the highway and after our morning chores, continued our drive south.
We had reached out to our overlanding friends, Geneva and Mike, to see where they were and it turns out they are housesitting in Albuquerque until September 29th and they have invited to come stay a night or two. We are not sure if we’ll get there in time but after looking into Black Mesa State Park in OK today, we decided to skip it and can probably make that visit by the 27th or 28th. Doug also needs good internet for a zoom meeting with the board of the school in Uganda we support and he’s an advisor for so we think Friday night would be a good night to do a hotel stay.
So today we only drove about 120 km / 75 miles to just off the 385 to some state recreational areas where we found a great spot away from the highway, with a pit toilet and NO ONE around!
We got parked, went for walks, had our breakfast/lunch and had a chill afternoon. It’s getting hot again but thank goodness there’s a breeze here and the nighttime temperatures drop nicely.
This is a great spot – if we didn’t have to have good internet for Saturday morning, we’d probably stay longer. So Friday we drove westward to Limon, CO to a hotel but that turned out not to be so great – their wifi was down …. But at least we got hot showers!
WiFi was fixed by late afternoon and the night went well. We went across the road for dinner at Oscars where we shared 3 appies – it was yummy!
Doug had his meeting on Saturday morning and we took off mid-morning. We made our way south to the state line and spent the night at the Walmart in Trinidad. At this point we’ve got to get back on the interstate to continue south without adding tons of miles.
Sunday we made a bit of detour off the I25 to visit the Capulin Volcano National Monument.
The birth of Capulin occurred toward the end of an era with many volcanoes in the region that started 9 million years ago. It actually exploded about 60 thousand years ago. The cause of volcanic eruptions in this area is not completely understood. But some believe that here the continental rift pulled a single plate below the earth’s surface. I
Capulin’s cone rises to 2500 m / 8,182’ above sea level. It is a cinder cone and considered one of the most perfectly formed such cones in North America. When it erupted it blanketed 25 km / 15.7 square miles with its lava flows.
Cinder cones are the simplest form of volcano. They are built from particles and blobs of congealed lava ejected from a single vent. Most cinder cones have a bowl shaped crater at the summit and rarely rise more than a thousand feet from their surroundings.
Since it was over 33 miles off our route and entailed a good amount of climbing, we dropped the trailer at the gas station just off the I25 and drove up there without it. The road goes up the volcano where the visitor centre sits and then continues up to the rim around the volcano.
We took the one mile hike around the rim of the volcano and it had spectacular views that were enhanced by the perfect sunny day. We were up at 2600 m / 8500’ but it was pleasantly warm. We saw a squirrel, a mouse looking creating and a tiny lizard – they were too fast to get photos of though.
We drove back down to the trailer, hooked back up and after a WhatsApp video chat with Josh we continued south, unfortunately on the I25 (no good alternate route) to Las Vegas, New Mexico – to another WalMart that had cheap gas. We spent the night here.
The terrain has definitely changed; no more corn fields and lots of extinct volcanos and hills and in the distance we see the Rocky’s.
Today, Monday, we returned to the I25 (no decent alternate) and made our way through Santa Fe and Albuquerque to visit Geneva and Mike where they were doing a house sit south of the city. We were able to hook up to power, had Wi-Fi access and we’ll be able to fill up our water tank AND dump before we leave. The owners of the house return on Wednesday when we planned to leave but they have invited us to stay through Sunday when Geneva told them we were here.
Turns out we are here in Albuquerque right before the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta which we’ve always wanted to see so Fran got Park and Ride tickets online ($22 each including entry) a couple of days ago for the Sunday of the first weekend and we will stay here till Monday. We can unhook the trailer and do day trips in the general area.
As Doug was showing Mike around the trailer, Mike noted that the back tires are worn on the inside on both sides but the front tires are fine – not sure what’s doing that but he thought it might be the bearings.
After we had happy hour outside on the back patio, we did a pot luck dinner inside and had a quiet night. Tuesday we got the trailer ready to leave and Doug took it to have the bearings looked at and get two tires while Fran stayed back at the house.
The weather here is pleasant; mid 20’s C / mid 70’s F with the odd cloud and short sprinkle. Let’s hope Sunday is nice and clear!
Wednesday we mostly hung around the house, got some laundry done, did our usual daily routine and for dinner we shared a potluck dinner of left overs for both of us. There were still leftovers so they became Wednesday’s lunch.
Anita and Mario, the owners of the house returned on Wednesday afternoon as planned and we all shared a dinner of grilled steak (thanks Mike for grilling) and vegetables. Geneva and Mike left the next morning after asking Doug for some engineering help with their new truck camper and Fran went shopping in the afternoon. We shared happy hour with Anita and Mario getting to know each other. They are an older couple, been retired for about twenty years and married for sixty! They had just returned from their fifteen adventure caravan tour with the same company! It was a five week tour of the Grand Circle Route in Utah/Arizona hitting many national parks. They really seem to enjoy these.
On Thursday we awoke to cloudy skies and rain – supposed to last two days and be cool but clear up for the weekend. Doug unhooked the trailer and we went into Albuquerque to do some sightseeing. We mapped out a route that included some sights we’d not see when we were years several years ago and added in some “Breaking Bad” sites.
Breaking bad tour spots are in Green.
First stop: Crossroads Motel nicked named “the Crystal Palace” by Hank in the series. It is located at 1001 Central Avenue NE Albuquerque
It is first introduced in the first seasons when Hank takes Walter Jr. to the motel to witness the deterioration of its denizens due to drug abuse. Hank verbally harasses Wendy and points out to Walter Jr. that her drug abuse has led her to provide “Wendies” or rather, sexual acts to provide for her drugs. In Season 2, the motel serves as an alibi for Jesse as he uses it to explain his whereabouts in connection to his vehicle being tracked to Tuco’s ‘s safehouse. He enlists the help of Wendy to assist in the cover-up. DEA agents storm the room, busting down the door, and apprehend Jesse and Wendy where they are taken into custody.
We then drove into the city to see the Kimo Theatre – known for its architecture:
Then it was on to Jesse Pinkman’s House located at: 322 16th St SW Albuquerque
This is now a private residence where the owners are less than pleased about tourists so we naturally just did a drive by viewing.
Gustavo Fring’s Laundry Business & Meth Lab at 1617 Candelaria Road Northeast Albuquerque is a real working business, it’s called Delta Uniform & Linens.
Next stop was Old Town Santa Fe, where we parked in a lot and went for a walk.
We stopped in a few gift shops, got ourselves a lovely Christmas ornament souvenir and did some Christmas shopping.
We visited “The Candy Lady” which was the source of the improvised blue meth product used in Breaking Bad.
Last stop was the American Rattlesnake Museum where we took a tour viewing lots of snakes but not so many as to get bored with them.
Upon returning to our truck we continued on our Breaking Bad location tour and drove by the car wash known as AI located at 9516 Snowheights Cir NE Albuquerque.
Formerly known as The Octopus Car Wash, now Mister, this is the car wash that Walter and Skyler owned on Breaking Bad. As you know, they used it to launder money – the irony!
Then it was on to Walt & Skyler’s House located at 3828 Piermont Dr. NE Albuquerque, NM 87111
Infamous for the pizza scene, this is an actual residence. Don’t try to recreate the scene and throw pizza on the roof! The family that lives here is less than impressed with the attention and has installed a fence around the entire perimeter. There are also construction cones blocking parking and signs everywhere, asking you to take your photos and go.
We then drove into the strip mall where Saul Goodman’s Office was located at 9800 Montgomery Blvd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87111. The nail salon was there and the shop next door was empty.
It continued to rain as we drove into a swankier neighbourhood where we found Hank & Maria’s home at 4901 Cumbre del Sur Ct. Albuquerque, NM 87111. Fran wondered if it was still decorated in purple inside!
We had hoped to visit the Petroglyphs National Monument before leaving town but due to the rain, we postponed that until tomorrow.
And lastly we arrived at the most famous location of all: Los Pollos Hermanos (Gustavo Fring’s Shop)– 4257 Isleta Blvd SW Albuquerque.
This is the cover-up business for Gustavo. Featured many times in the show, this one should be on any fans list! In real life, this place is called Twisters, and you can eat here! It looks the same inside as it did on the show and they have a corner set up in tribute to Walt and the gang as well as the Los Pollos Hermanos logo on the wall near the entryway.
We got back to Anita and Mario’s house and enjoyed a happy hour with them inside as it was still rather cool and damp outside before returning to our home and having dinner.
Friday morning we got a later start than we hoped but did go to the Petroglyphs Monument first
At the visitor’s centre, there are no petroglyphs but they give you the locations of three sites and you pic and choose.
Piedras Marcadas means “canyon of the marked rocks”. This area is home to the densest concentration of petroglyphs along the 17 miles volcanic escarpment with an estimated 5,000 documented images of the monument’s total of 20,000. The trail introduces you to about 400. Most of the images you see were created beween 400 and 700 years ago by the ancestors of today’s Pueblo people and other native groups in the area. Early Spanish settlors also left their marks on the rocks. These images were carefully pecked on the dark boulder surfaces with stone tool.
We chose the one furthest north with the most petroglyphs and drove the 10.5 km / 6.5 miles to Piedras Marcadas. Here there is a 2.4 km / 1.5 mi trail to six viewing sites.
We took SO many photos so check out the galleries for more!
This took us a good hour and we then did the nearly 161 km / 100 mi drive to the city of Los Alamos to check out the Bradbury Museum and learn about the Manhattan Project.
The drive up was lovely:
We wandered the History section and then watched the very well done 15 minute movie in the auditorium.
It’s quite amazing what they accomplished in that short period of time to bring WWII to an end. If only the country could work in that kind of harmony again – it would be great again.
Next was the drive back down towards Santa Fe:
We could see that yesterday’s rain brought snow to the mountains around Santa Fe:
We’d been here before as well but there were a few things we’d not see. The old town area was packed and it was hard to find a parking space. WE did finally find some metres but couldn’t get our credit card to work with them. Fran found a spot with some time left on the clock and Doug moved the truck over there.
We made our way to Loretto Chappel first; this is the location of the Miracle Staircase.
The chapel was commissioned by the Sisters of Loretto for their girls’ school, Loretto Academy, in 1873. The Archbishop had brought in two French architects, Antoine Mouly and his son Projectus, to work on the St. Francis Cathedral project, and suggested that the Sisters could make use of their services on the side to build a much-needed chapel for the academy. Projectus ended up being the main architect for the project, basing his Gothic Revival design complete with spires, buttresses, and stained glass windows imported from France via the Santa Fe Trail on the famous Sainte- Chapelle in Paris. The chapel was built from locally quarried sandstone and took five years to complete, being officially consecrated in 1878, however, it still lacked access to the choir loft, possibly due to the unexpected death of the architect, Projectus Mouly, in 1879.
According to the version of events passed down by the Sisters of Loretto, multiple builders were consulted but were not able to find a workable solution due to the confined quarters. In response, the nuns prayed for nine straight days to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the last day of the novena, a mysterious stranger appeared and offered to build the staircase. He worked alone using only a few simple hand tools and disappeared afterwards without collecting his pay or the Sisters learning his identity. More fantastical versions of the story have the work taking place overnight, while according to others it took six to eight months.
In any event, the finished staircase was an impressive work of carpentry, seeming to defy physics as it ascended 20 feet (6.1 m) without any obvious means of support. The Sisters of Loretto viewed its construction as a miracle and believed that the mysterious builder must have been St. Joseph himself. As the story spread, the staircase became one of Santa Fe’s most famous tourist attractions.
The staircase as originally built lacked handrails and was reportedly so frightening to descend that some of the nuns and students did so on their hands and knees. Eventually, railings were added in 1887 by another craftsman, Phillip August Hesch. The stairs have been mostly closed to the public since the chapel became a privately-run museum in the 1960s.
One of the supposedly miraculous aspects of the staircase is that it lacks the newel or central pole usually used to support and stabilize a spiral staircase, and therefore the means of supporting the weight is not obvious; however, the staircase is supported by its stringers just like a conventional (straight) staircase, although in this case each stringer is twisted into a helix. Observers have also noted that the inside stringer has such a tight radius that it is able to function similarly to a straight center support. According to an analysis by a professional carpenter in Mysterious New Mexico, the assembly of the stringers from overlapping segments joined by wood glue creates a laminate that is actually stronger than the wood alone. Additionally, the use of wooden pegs rather than nails prevents degradation of the joints due to compression as the wood swells against the nails due to changes in humidity or temperature.
Then it was on to see the Basilica of Saint Francis Assisi to see the oldest statue of the Virgin Mary – unfortunately although we saw the outside, the church was closed for a wedding.
We then walked the main square and around old town.
We made it to the San Miguel Chapel and across the street from that was the oldest adobe house in the US. One wing of it is a small museum to walk through 3 rooms and the rest is a gift shop.
The De Vargas Street House, often referred to as the Oldest House, is a historic building which is often said to be one of the oldest buildings in the country. The original date of construction is unknown but the majority of the building is believed to date to the Spanish colonial period (post-1610). Some claim a construction date as early as 1200. In 1992, the manager of the property admitted, “We have done no archaeological research. It is as much a legend, one of Santa Fe’s many legends… I’m perpetuating the legend.” However, there may be at least an element of truth to the claim that part of the building is of Puebloan origin. One archaeological study also concluded that some sections of the walls are characteristic of that architecture and may be pre-Spanish in origin.
Before returning to our vehicle, we detoured via the State Capitol building which was a different feel than most of these government houses. It has no dome and is round.
Now since it had rained on and off all day, we decided to get the truck washed and what better place that the car wash from Breaking Bad!
We returned to Anita and Mario’s and had happy hour with them once again.
Saturday was a sort of catch up day with a couple of errands; Fran went to get a hair cut and we got ready for tomorrow – Balloon Fiesta! Now since we took hundreds of photos there, we are leaving that to the next blog post!
SIDEBAR: New Mexico has been the most COVID safety-wise state we’ve visited on this trip. We read that 80% of the population is double vacced and we see so many people wearing masks indoors and even outdoors – we are very impressed.