Let's go to the capital of New Mexico. Santa Fe – one thinks of the Cowboy-Indian-Wild West, perhaps of the eponymous movie from 1951 with Randolph Scott or Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan in Santa Fe Trail from even earlier Western years (1940). To the Spanish Conquistadores, who once conquered the land by fire and sword for the Spanish crown. A city with an eventful history is that. An old town by American standards. 1607 is the birth year of the settlement in the mountains of New Mexico. Its full name La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis, which can be translated as "Royal City of the Holy Faith of Francis of Assisi", the city receives from the first governor of the then "Kingdom of New Mexico" Don Pedro de Peralta. The Spanish spend the next decades proselytizing the Pueblo Indians, which they then get fed up with in 1680 and send some 400 colonists and missionaries to the eternal hunting grounds. They send the rest too, but only back to Mexico. 13 years later, however, the Spanish crown strikes back, everything back under control. When Mexico becomes independent from Spain, the city is allowed to call itself the capital of the Mexican territory of "Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico". In the meantime, the 1000 mile Santa Fe Trail had been put into operation, bringing more settlers to the city. Then come the Yankees, the year is 1846. Two years later, New Mexico joins the United States. So much for a short version of Santa Fe's illustrious history.
Back to Route 66, which in its early days followed the Old Pecos Trail from Santa Rosa to Santa Fe via Dilia, Romeroville and Pecos. And that is exactly how we drove. We limit ourselves – as already in Albuquerque – at this point to the course of Route 66 through the city. Santa Fe itself will be covered in another article.
We left the Interstate at Exit 184. There we join the Old Las Vegas Highway – here the road is not yet called Old Pecos Trail, as described in the previous chapter – it becomes that only after about 10 miles near Exit 284. Turn right onto the Old Pecos Trail. After ca. 1.6 miles we reach the next "Old Trail", this time it is the Old Santa Fe Trail.
Continue past the State Capitol to the Alameda. (For sightseeing please look for a parking place nearby). Westward, so turn left, on the Alameda until we reach the Galisteo. Two blocks further on is Cerrillos, which then becomes Highway 14. At the Cerrillos is the El Rey Inn, maybe one of the most typical Route 66 hotels in Santa Fe. Actually even the only one that comes halay close to the 66 nostalgia. The Cerrillos becomes Highway 14, which leads us southwest out of town. After seven miles we cross I-25, after another two miles we turn right onto 599 and immediately left again onto Frontage Road, which is already so familiar to us. Up to Exit 267 we can drive next to the Interstate, then we have to go up, because the frontage road ends here. We will stay on I-25 until Exit 248. No! Stop! All back! We don't stay until Exit 248, but only until Exit 264. Why? Because we are going to take another little Route 66 adventure: La Bajada Hill.
Between 1926 and 1932 the old road crosses this mesa, which is anything but a "hill". Those who know Spanish know that "bajada" means slope or descent. Nomen est Omen, one can only say.
To get there, we leave the Interstate at Exit 264 and turn west onto Highway 16. 3.6 miles further on we turn right onto a good dirt road (which is the old Route 66), after another mile we turn right again until we reach the bridge over the Santa Fe River. Somewhere there we park our car.
Attention: We are in the territory of the Cochiti Pueblo Indians. You could get a permit for La Bajada Hill – (505) 465-2244 – this is the number of the local "Natural Resources Manager". Hhmm… We did not do this. Nick, who guided us here, doesn't make a move either, although he is usually very precise in these things. So this will probably work without a permit. One should not leave any valuables in the car though. We are on site in 2015, in the meantime (2017) the Cochitis have closed the access to La Bajada. Unfortunately, it is not possible for the time being to make the tour described below. Perhaps, we hope, this will change again soon. As far as we know, the exact reason for the closure has not been given by the Cochiti Pueblo Indians.
The road is laid out in the early years of the last century and gradually upgraded for the automobiles of that time, so that they can master the steep gradient from Bajada Mesa down to La Bajada Village, where a Trading Post and a Motor Court are being built, relatively safely. This part of the National Old Trail Highway becomes Route 66 in 1926. Improved more and more in the course of the growing traffic. Nevertheless, the hairpin curves of this segment remain a challenge for many a driver and his car – and especially its brakes. What does not prevent the tour buses of the Fred Harvey Company, under the name Indian Detours, to drive the route, surely a not quite harmless undertaking, if one considers the technical possibilities of that time.
It is hard to imagine today what it looked like back then at La Bajada Hill. The road is now just a dirt road littered with rocks of all sizes, winding 0.7 miles in switchbacks up the mountain or. Winds down.
For us it's uphill when we park our cars at the foot of the mesa in the early morning, shortly after sunrise. Nick, our expert guide on this tour of little-known sections of early Route 66, has the Snake Guards strapped around our lower legs. Snake Guards – protection against rattlesnakes, which are abundant here. Fortunately we didn't need them, no "Rattler" can be seen resp. Listen. But you never know..
We are thankful for the coolness of this early morning hour, because we are going uphill quite a bit. Daytime temperatures will reach 90 – 95 Fahrenheit. Until that time we want to be back. Nevertheless we take enough water with us, we will need it. Climbing the Mesa over the rough dirt road, crossing it through tall grass and lava rocks (watch for snakes)!) and the subsequent descent via a "side arm" will take a good 2 1/2 hours. You can also go back the same way, that's easier to find. The view from the Mesa compensates for the drudgery. "We did it – survived La Bajada Hill".
A hike that is certainly worthwhile, but not completely "without". And that it is a part of Route 66 is nowhere to be seen even rudimentary. You just have to know.
Back to the main route. Dirt Road, Highway 16 to I-25. The rest of the way to Albuquerque, and thus the end of the Santa Fe Loop, is via I-25 to Exit 248. Out to the right here, a short distance to Highway 313, which you follow for 15 miles through Algodones and Bernalillo.
The road here is called Pan American Central Highway. There is not much to see. Bernalillo offers, except maybe the abandoned gas station on the outskirts, nothing really special or 66-like. Continuing on 313, until the junction of Highway 556. Here on 4th Street, which brings us back to Albuquerque after 7.5 miles.
Which concludes our trip over the Santa Fe Loop. If you have the time, you should definitely do it, the drive alone is worth it, especially if La Bajada should be open again.