Albuquerque to Holbrook, AZ

If yesterday fell short on the food front, today made up for it in spades. The scenery was also pretty exceptional.

Probably the poorest thing we ate today was at the Rio Grande Inn, Albuquerque – and it was very good.

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French toast with bacon and eggs, oatmeal (porridge to you and me) with syrup and toast. The coffee (as it has been since we arrived in the US) was excellent too. It all could have been warmer but that is nit-picking.

We headed into the Old Town, Albuquerque again this morning to catch up on gift buying and met a local Scottish lass in her 37th year as a resident of New Mexico. Her accent was as thick as ever it was but with a slight ‘elastic’ quality if that makes sense. Her ‘dinna ken’ was ‘dynna keyn’. Anyway she didna ken we were from Scotland and made the fatal American error of asking us if we were from England. Thank goodness her sweet shop was full of fascinating stuff for us to forgive her. Meeting her was good fun.

We had to make tracks again today as we had well over 200 miles to complete and our next stop was lunch at Gallup, NM. You can’t not stop at Gallup. It’s in the song for a start and, more to the point, it sounds like gallop (a thing horses do). It is also sounds a bit like scallop but virtually no other word at all. That makes it quite unique.

What also makes it quite unique is the fabulous Chili Factory (no website but see yelp.com for fairly accurate reviews). At first glance you think ‘chain restaurant’ and almost ignore it.

You must NEVER ignore the Chili Factory!

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Now we took a bit of a chance with this because I had almost vowed never to try Mexican again. I had made up my mind that I was an uncultured peasant who did not appreciate ‘mush’. But I think we wanted to give New Mexico a last chance before we headed into Arizona. It hadn’t lived up to its name so far and my expectations were pretty low.

It was brilliant.

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Don’t let the paper plates fool you. It was definitely set up like fast food (and it was fast), but it was fresh and tasted as I wanted it to. Full of flavour and fire. Chatting to the owner I learned about how she set the business up with her husband and had brought her own recipes to life in the small restaurant. We had to try dessert and were not disappointed.

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To the left the deep fried ice cream. To the right a portion of cinnamon coated Sopaipillas. Like light fluffy pillows, just air really (no calories I am certain). We added some of the ice cream with them to great effect.

Joyously happy we set off further down the road.

We only had one essential visit today (near our destination) but we were so struck by the scenery that we dropped off a few times for photos. This short video shows us approaching Lupton, AZ where there are a series of Native Navajo Trading Posts. The rock behind them was used for the film Grapes of Wrath in the 1940s.

It’s a pretty dramatic rock, with so many ledges and outcrops you can easily get carried away making up stories in your head about cowboys and Indians fighting over something or other.

Another stop along the way is the highest point on Route 66 where it is declared everything West flows to the Pacific and everything East to the Atlantic. It feels more significant somehow than the halfway point. Maybe it is the sense of it being ‘downhill from here’ or just that the guide book suddenly has fewer pages left to go than we have already read.

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The intended stop was the Petrified Forest near Holbrook and it was both a beautiful place and one full of mystery. It had a alien-like feel to it.

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The main event of the national park is a vast collection of ‘petrified tree trunks’ littered about the place. The trees were of a crystal like quality but still retaining their appearance as wood. Quite bizarre.

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Which of these looks the most petrified?

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Anyway, the cost of entry to the 28 mile route through the national park is $20 and you really believe it is probably worth it to preserve these amazing objects and to gain exclusive access to such a marvel of nature.

However once you get out of the park and head into Holbrook it turns out the damn things are everywhere!

Every second shop in Holbrook sells bits of these things polished and made into trinkets. The logs are used to mark the perimeter of car parks for heaven’s sake. They sell for hundreds of dollars in the gift shop at the end of the park but they line the streets of Holbrook for any Tom, Dick or Harry to snaffle. The lesson is – if you want to support the national park and see some incredible scenery, pay the $20. If you just want to see the petrified wood, go to Holbrook.

We parked up at our hotel and quickly found out it was a ‘motel’. Not the class of establishment we have enjoyed up to now and we can hear every word out neighbours are saying. Dinner was the best treat of the day – and quite possibly the week.

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The Mesa Italiana (yelp.com again if interested) is just a block from our motel and we were delighted to find it so close. Especially as it is so good.

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Salad and garlic bread with plenty water on the table before you even start eating. Juice top ups come free.

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The Salmon Alfredo with Penne was magic. No cheap creamy sauce here, this was made with full cream, garlic and went down an absolute treat.

Same feelings expressed for the Chicken Cannelloni

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The service was great too. We were offered more bread whenever it went down, topped up water and juice was quick too. We had a slice of cheesecake to finish.

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Forty two dollars the lot!

We tipped well – it was worth it. Finished off a great section of the trip. Wasn’t expecting much of this part but it turned out to be a real treat.

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