An overnight Amtrak journey from Los Angeles to Albuquerque, several days there with family.
07.09.2007 - 11.09.2007 28 °C
Amtrak to Albuquerque (Thursday 6 September)
Although I have now traveled several times in Amtrak sleepers (‘Roomettes’) there is still a sense of occasion when boarding the train as a First Class passenger. This was heightened when departing from historic union Station in Los Angeles (or perhaps it was the pre-boarding drinks in Traxx Bar with its understated 1930s décor). Not much to see as we left LA around 7pm and it was dark by the time I went to dinner (meals are included in First Class travel on Amtrak). The dining car is arranged as 4 seat booths and I was seated with a lady from Chicago (but originally from Latvia and a USA resident for 10 years) and an elegant older American couple. The wife was 86 years old and when we were discussing Los angles, she told on going there as a child with her family when she was 8 or 10 years old. They drove from their home in Washington state near the Canadian border. There were no motels in those days and they had a tent and camped out ; cooked their own food. In one area of Northern California the local sheriff advised them to camp near his jail because of reports of bandits attacking a camp site to the south. Los Angeles consisted mostly of orange groves - fascinating stuff.
This couple had traveled extensively in their day and we started ‘Continent dropping’ (as my friend Ken called it). As we were about to leave the table, the Latvian lady said how interesting she had found the conversation and commented how lucky we had been to be able to travel ; that was not an option open to Latvians until the fall of the Soviet Union. A reminder to me of how much we take for granted.
I had a good night’s sleep and woke up to see the sun rising near Winslow Arizona. That was one the whole sense of space really hit me .. miles and miles of land without buildings, perhaps traffic on the Interstate highway in the distance, but often with no sign of human existence. Near Gallup New Mexico we were going alongside old Route 66 with its old fashioned gas stations and motels (some now derelict). I probably drove along that same route 50 years ago on my drive back from Los Angeles to Illinois.
My nephew Dave met me at Albuquerque Amtrak station. I was in stitches at the poor broken down building serving as the Amtrak station ; the contrast with Union Station could not be greater. Apparently there is a brand new spacious station (used by Greyhound) but Amtrak and the owners cannot agree on the rent.
Dave and Jill live outside Albuquerque in Bernalillo, a predominately Hispanic community. They have a great house with character and enough tables to start a restaurant. One son, Tom, lives there while attending law school ; his twin brother John is in law school in Oklahoma and their daughter Maggie lives and works in Albuquerque. Dan (my other nephew; Dave’s brother) and his wife Ferry flew out from Indianapolis and after a lot of gossip, we went off to the great local restaurant, the Range Café.
We drove to Sante Fe for a tour around and lunch (en route Jill demonstrated her advanced driving skills but avoiding a potential accident It was Fiesta Day in Sante Fe and a mariachi band provided some live music ; we had lunch in a lovely patio. Although geared toward tourists, this is a nice city with a impressive old church (cathedral?). we looked in a few of the expensive shops but I was happiest when Jill took us to her favourite place, a charity shop where I found a glass shade which matches one I broke last year. (It was a hassle to travel with it, but at least if did fit, so I was pleased – a dollar well spent). Delicious dinner at home ; Jill is a great cook and Maggie a fabulous wine steward.
We had planned to take the cable car up the nearby Sandia Peak but it was covered in cloud and rain down at out level put us off. Instead we went to nearby Coronado State Monument, site of an ancient Indian settlement. There are only the outlines of the 1200 earthen rooms connected together to form a walled pueblo in 1300 A.D. In 1540, this area was invaded by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Coronado which gives the site its name. in the 1930s, the site was excavated by archaeologists and a kiva ( underground rooms that symbolized the people’s place of origin in the underground) with murals from the 1500s was discovered. These murals were removed for preservation and some can be seen in the visitors centre. I had always thought of the natives as cliff dwellers (as in Mesa Verde) so it was interesting to see the outline of this walled village. The best aspect of the site is the setting. We walked to the nearby Rio Grande River and with the Sandia Mountains as a backdrop, this place has a magical air.
The Sandia Mountains were a surprise to me – at 11,000 feet they provide a formidable outline but it is in a the late afternoon when the sun hits some of the planes of red rock that they are at their best.
Dan and Ferry went home, Dave to work, so Jill and I had the day free. We went to Albuquerque Biopark, a botanical garden, aquarium, and a nearby zoo and boating lake make up this complex.
The botanical garden is small but the selection of regional plants is stunning and the layout means that there is a sense of discovery in the different zones. The butterfly house was packed with butterflies and included a ‘nursery’ showing the progress from chrysalis to butterfly. We also liked the aquarium though one tank appeared very small for the large number of big fish in it (like an old fashioned zoo where the lions pace back and forth.)
Another dinner at the Range Café finished off my visit in style. We had a good laugh over the sign in the parking lot – to the standard warning about the establishment not being responsible for theft, damage, etc. someone had added ‘pregnancy’.