I’ve always been mesmerized by highway signs and fascinated by the history of big highways. There’s also big nostalgia, because Dad loved highway driving and road trips. He was the sole driver on the Trans-Canada highway between Vancouver and Calgary or on US Interstate-5 to Bellingham and Seattle. How obvious is it then, that a deep yearning for open roads comes directly from my father.
The following is a part of day 8 (of 17) in our drive through the American Southwest.
We set out on a day trip from Santa Fe to Taos and Taos Pueblo, with a scenic drive on New Mexico highway NM-68, the “low road” or “river road” along the Rio Grande river between Española and Taos. With low light in the morning hour, we didn’t see it when we drove north to Taos. But on our mid-afternoon return on the low road, we found the Classical Gas Museum in the small town of Embudo. We pulled into an open sandy rocky patch, marvelling at the collection in front of rusting gas pumps and a wooden building resembling a historic gas station.
The Classical Car Museum is owned and run by Johnnie Meier who is a retired scientist and former employee at the nearby Los Alamos National Laboratory. His interest and collection grew to the point where he needed more space. Reading about the museum is one thing, but it’s no match for seeing in person his extensive collection of memorabilia, including whole and partial gas pumps, highway signage, oil cans, gas company signage, license plates, a model gas station, a working vintage Coca-Cola cooler, a classic car or two, an entire “pre-fab” diner building, and a mascot for a once thriving restaurant-chain. From within the building, it’s the glow which provides further fuel for interest, and once inside, the neon and warm illumination of symbols and signs combine for the inevitable “wow!” Altogether, it’s a broad mix of elements from mid 20th-century American history which is all about highway-driving and open-road nostalgia. There’s a saying about how someone’s junk is somebody else’s treasure, but the entire collection deserves careful cataloguing and a larger permanent building. A new museum would be fitting somewhere along the old US-66 highway. Santa Rosa, NM is a leading candidate, but other cities in the state are also possible.
For now, the museum is located next to highway NM-68 in Embudo; the coordinates are 36.209102 degrees North, 105.951658 degrees West. The museum sits on 0.81 hectare (2 acres) of Meier’s land, and the museum building is 93 square metres (1000 square feet) in size. There is no admission charge, though donations are most welcome, especially for the local animal shelter. You might want to call ahead (505-852-2995) to see if Meier is around in case the building is closed.
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Above/featured: Welcome to Pie Town. The 2018 Pie Festival was held on 8 September.
The two words reach your eyes and enter your brain.
The questions are immediate.
What? Who? Why? How do I get there? Is there really pie?
A sense of calm eventually prevails, and that’s when planning begins. Because there’s firm promise: “oh there will be pie.”
Fast forward to our drive through the American Southwest over three weeks in October 2018, and our adventure is drawing to a close.
With morning sun and excellent conditions, we’ve departed Tucson for a long drive for which there are three goals. One, we must arrive in Santa Fe by tonight to catch our flights out the next day. Two, we have to stop in Albuquerque for a return visit and chomp on a spicy stuffed sopapilla at Mary & Tito’s Cafe before they close at 8pm. Three, we’re desperate to visit Pie Town which by design is on the way to Santa Fe. We’re on the road for over 300 miles (480 kilometres) through Arizona, into New Mexico, and to Pie Town, and that’ll be followed by another 220 miles (350 kilometres) to Santa Fe.
The car continues to roll along the paved undivided two-lane highway on a stretch of lonesome landscape with short stubby hills and tall grassy fields for company. US-60 is nowhere as famous as its northerly US-66 counterpart; both are historic national highways. As some have noted, driving present-day US-60 comes very close to similar conditions on US-66 in the latter’s bygone heyday.
The miles add up, and the hours tick by. Isolation is punctuated by farms, ranches, and small towns. We’ve made notes about the towns, because there’s always a need for fuel: gas for the car, snacks and drinks for the occupants. Small towns may not look like much on first approach, but I know the welcome greeting and warm atmosphere are in store as soon as we step inside a shop or restaurant.
Our destination in New Mexico isn’t “nowhere.”
Because there, pie awaits.
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