Better Days Are Coming

Set 10: Durango, Colorado, to Santa Rosa, New Mexico

Text and Photos Copyright ©2002 by Carolyne Butler

Views Through the Windshield Index
PREVIOUS - SET 9: Various Roads - Durango and Vallecito Lake, Colorado

The scenery on the road from Durango to Albuquerque was different from any we had traveled through so far. It is sparsely settled, and a good part passes through Native American land. This trip was our second time to drive this route, and both times almost the entire road was under construction—over 200 miles of it.

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View from Florida Mesa.

Animas River Valley south of Durango from Florida Mesa

One last look back from atop Florida Mesa toward the mountains around Durango. (This "Florida" is pronounced with the accent on the second syllable.)

Route 550 follows the Animas River valley southward toward Aztec, New Mexico. Aztec Ruins National Monument is located in Aztec, but we didn't have time to stop there. (See

From this point on, it will be drive, drive, drive, for three days, all the way back to another Florida. (This "Florida" is pronounced with the accent on the first syllable.)


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Animas River south of Durango

The road crosses the Animas River (full name is El Rio de las Animas Perdidos—"The River of the Lost Souls"), after which we'll soon leave the Animas and head southeast over the dry lands of northwestern New Mexico.

The book, Colorado: A Guide to the Highest State, ©1970, says that the Navajo will not eat fish from the Animas River, because, according to legend, the Navajo once battled Cliff Dwellers in this area and threw their bodies into the river, whereupon the dead Cliff Dwellers turned to fish.

There is no connection to this legend with the origin for the Spanish name for the river, other than the fact that each involves Native Americans. According to this Web site,, the River of Lost Souls is named for those "Native Americans in the area who didn't want to be converted to Catholicism."


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Blanco Trading Post, New Mexico.

Blanco Trading Post

No one appeared to be here. I wondered if they were still in business.


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Cluster of dwellings around hogan.

Native Americans live here

A circular hogan sits amid other dwellings of later vintage, and surrounded by sagebrush. This is not far from Nageezi Trading Post. Nageezi rates a dot on the map, but it's the kind of place that if you blink your eyes, you're already past it.


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Nageezi Trading Post.

Nageezi Trading Post

A touch of modern technology rises behind the older buildings that make up this trading post.

Chaco Culture National Historic Park (formerly Chaco Canyon National Monument) is a few miles from here, but reached only by unpaved roads. The official Web site says, "Remote and isolated, it offers few amenities, so come prepared." (See A map of the area is here: Some photos of the structures are here:


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Road construction on New Mexico Highway 44.

This was a regular sight along NM Highway 44

When this road is finished, it will be a smooth-riding four-lane through the various Native American lands and ever-changing scenery along the way.


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Another traffic wait due to construction

Protected from the sun rather than from cold (which it wasn't), this Native American was only one of many traffic control workers whose job requires them to stand there all day long, stopping traffic and then telling it when it can go again. It's a long way from sitting behind a desk.


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Desert soil erosion

The soft look of this soil or rock (I don't know which) reminded me of gray velvet. I wish we'd had time to stop so I could have felt it. Wonder how this would go over on a golf course?


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Gray layers.

Gray layers

The gray-on-gray horizontal bands of various layers are evident in this exposed and eroded hillside.


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Hogan below the cliff.

Lone hogan amid juniper and sage

I don't know if anyone lived here or not. It didn't appear to be inhabited, but there were other houses where people were living not far from it.


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White truck

I have no idea what this truck is doing. It's the first time I've seen anything like this in road construction.


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Construction continues

The landscape has changed, but road construction continues as usual. We'll soon be driving through some rain.


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Cabezon Peak is a volcanic landmark in the area

This is Cabezon Peak, elevation 7785 feet, which lies about 40 miles northwest of Albuquerque. More info here:


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Landscape colors.

Various colors of rock and soil delicately tint the landscape

These are the kinds of colors that have to be seen. They don't show up very well in this picture.


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Red rocks and green junipers.

Red rocks and green junipers

This sure ain't Florida!


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Weathering of red rocks.

A closer view of some red rock formations

If I knew something about geology, I'd know what to call this. But I don't.


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Highway construction in Albuquerque.

Road construction finally ends in Albuquerque

The heavy rain began again just as we reached heavy traffic in Albuquerque, but it had stopped by the time we reached this intersection with Interstate 40. Now we're heading back East, and will have made one big loop when we catch the same route home that we came West on at Amarillo, Texas.


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Sunset on Route 66.

The sun sets on Route 66, Santa Rosa, New Mexico

Camping's over. We're back to motels, hot showers, TV, and two more days of driving left to go. This non-VTTW picture (actually our view from the motel door) concludes this trip. Adios.


Views Through the Windshield Index
PREVIOUS - SET 9: Various Roads - Durango and Vallecito Lake, Colorado