Saturday, November 27, 2004

one road that doesn't lead to Chaco

As part of my commute to and from my day job, I drive along a ca. 7-mile-long stretch of historic Route 66 (pre-1937 alignment) between Alameda and Bernalillo, New Mexico. I travel along this corridor through a decidedly rural setting on average between 4 and 10 times per week depending on my mood. I find this section of old highway to be relaxing, especially when contrasted to traveling along the parallel alignment of Interstate-25 through the same area. When I take the freeway, I find that I’m so busy taking defensive actions to avoid collisions with innumerable morons making their commute between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and I often miss seeing interesting things afforded by the more leisurely State Route 313.

These things I enjoy looking at include cows and horses grazing in pastures, locals from the Sandia Pueblo gathering wild squash and other vegetation from the adjacent ditches, freshly cut hay fields, and the few ghostly remnants of the aged Mother Road such as abandoned filling stations, dilapidated billboards, and old highway construction features. (I know, I’m easily entertained.)

There is also a road sign that makes me smile because it reads “313 SOUTH.” For those of you who don’t know/remember, I spent the vast majority of my childhood in a house at 313 South Miller Street, in Toulon, Illinois. That’s it. It’s really a simply connection, but isn’t that really what nostalgia is all about?

I’ve been tempted to pull over and snap some photos of that signage, but I’ve resisted the urge given that there is virtually no place to pull safely off the roadway. That is, until recently. You see, the past couple weeks, I’ve been monitoring the progress of construction workers from the Sandia Pueblo who have been keeping themselves busy blading the shoulders of the roadway flat.

On the one hand, this type of thing is needed in the worst way as the road really has very few places where motorists can pull off the road in times of emergency. On the other hand, it is strange to experience how different the old corridor is beginning to “feel” with the new, wide (and flat) shoulders. I’m certain that people who believe that roadways are significant cultural properties that must be preserved “as-is” will be outraged by the modifications.

Then this week the workers began applying asphalt to the shoulders. This process results in traffic being stopped completely for extended periods of time (say 15-20 minutes) to allow the big machinery to move about without fear of crushing someone’s Nissan. So if I’m in a hurry, I’ll take the freeway. Otherwise, I’ll still take NM SR 313 just to see what happens. Sitting parked on a roadway for a quarter of an hour makes me think back to my experiences of conducting archaeological surveys along highways. You REALLY can see so much more when you walk a highway corridor than you can while driving through it. Perhaps that seems obvious to some of you, but it is funny how I tend to forget this fact.

Now I’m wondering if the roadway construction plans include resurfacing the entire deal. If so, I can kiss my leisure route goodbye as I’m sure traffic will increase by leaps and bounds, and the old artery will filled with new blood racing to create clogs in the heart of the Land of Enchantment.

For train watchers… there is one bend in the road and adjacent railroad tracks that is guaranteed to bring out the hobo in the best of us. Certainly during the warm days of Indian summer, I was tempted to blow off work and hang out on the side of the road and watch the bright orange B.N.S.F. diesel engines chug along the tracks pulling their cars loaded with freight to that magical spot on the horizon where turquoise blue meets green and all is gone.

No comments: