Quite the Drive, Albuquerque to Phoenix

We spent Sunday night in Albuquerque, and Monday drove to Phoenix, mainly by backroads.

My first target was El Malpais National Monument. We drove I-40 out to Grants. Driving west out of Albuquerque, you head up onto a mesa, and then you can see a long, long way:

The windshield was pretty vile from all the bugs we experienced driving through the Texas Panhandle the evening before.

My intention was to gas up in Grants, then backtrack to NM 117, then down to El Malpais. When we got to Grants and gassed up, the big National Parks Service signs said to head down NM 53 instead, so we did. After a 20 mile or so drive, we got to the El Malpais Visitor Center. The rangers there told us a lot about the Monument. Turns out that there are hundreds of volcanoes (extinct and dormant) in the area (one of the things about driving along I-40 in the Grants area is seeing the huge piles of pumice on the side of the road; all that stuff came from the former volcanoes along I-40).

El Malpais doesn’t have much in the way of activities except for hiking, which is what we did (see my other blog post about that).

Also, NM 53 and NM 117 don’t have a hardtop road connection, except for I-40. So we ended up taking NM County Road 42 around the south side of El Malpais; it’s called the Chain of Craters road. It’s 25+ miles of mainly dirt and gravel road, taking you past a lot of cows. We had a Saturn SUV with high clearance, and had no problems making the drive. The countryside is beautiful if you like that sort of thing (we do). Eventually we got to 117, and headed SW.

Our next target was Pie Town, NM. There is a place there that sells… pies. We have driven through there a couple of times over the years, but Pie Town was shut down. As we were coming in from the El Malpais, we found ourselves driving in on a gravel road for 22 miles. From the north of town, we glimpsed this dish:

This is one of the radio telescopes of the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA). We tried to find it in Pie Town, but it’s a mile or so off US 60 and down a bit, so we didn’t find it.

We also had little luck at the Pie Town pie place. They closed at 1600, we got there right at 1600, and they had two slices of pecan pie. We got one, and R2 ate it. She said it was OK.

We headed down US 60 towards Phoenix through some truly beautiful country. There were a couple mining sites (they were mining “Ash”, which is really pumice). We drove through Springerville, AZ and had dinner, and through Show Low to gas up, where they are obsessed with speeders.

We headed south out of Show Low through some truly spectacular forest, then canyon, then… the Salt River Canyon. Stunning beyond words. We’ve been to the Grand, and it is larger, but the thing about the Salt River Canyon is that you can see all the way to the bottom, and it’s a huge amount of relief. It was dusk by the time we got there, so we had a great view with our eyes, but the camera had a bit more trouble.

It was getting dark by this time, so we finished driving into Tempe (a suburb of Phoenix) for the night. It was about 430 miles for this drive. We left Albuquerque about 0945 MT time, and got into the hotel at about 2134 AZ time.

If you like remote, rugged countryside, this drive will do it for you. If you are in a hurry, stick to the interstates, or maybe a major road like US 60.

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2 Responses to “Quite the Drive, Albuquerque to Phoenix”

  1. Index: Family Trip, 30 May-07 Jun 2010 « Bill Hensley’s Random Blog Says:

    […] Albuquerque to Phoenix […]

  2. sastumro biltmore Says:

    Very good article! We are linking to this great article on our website.
    Keep up the good writing.

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