Route 66 Day 17: Taking the High Road

A cool clear morning greeted us as we left Santa Fe heading for……well, we weren’t sure! We planned for today to be a short travel day as either of our destinations were only an hour or so away. 

We saw Cibola National Forest was not far from our route, and we decided to drive the road that runs from the north down south through the forest. 

All was going well until we approached the forest and a sign warned us: “Unimproved mountain road for next 8 miles” . 

Ok, how bad can an unimproved mountain road be? The Walton’s did it all the time. We are driving an SUV. There hasn’t been any rain, so no mud. Well apparently it can be pretty bad! We made it a couple of miles down the road, and we have no photos to show for it because we were holding on for dear life! Large cantaloupe sized rocks, some car swallowing ruts, and then when the sheer drop offs started to appear on the side we said uncle and turned around. 

We decided to drive to the south end of the forest where there’s a about a 14 mile long paved road to the top of the mountain. On our way there, we were able to drive over the Musical Road- a section of highway that plays America the Beautiful when you drive a certain speed. The road is not being maintained, and parts of it have been paved over, but if you listen really carefully, you’ll hear a few stanza’s.

Route 66 Musical Road

We arrived at the south entrance to the forest and began traveling the 14 miles to the top. 

The unpaved mountain road would have brought us out at mile 3, which still would have left a good 10 miles to climb. 

It was breathtaking! the temperature dropped from the 80’s at the bottom of the forest to high 60’s at the top. The distance view from the top was hazy, and we were told by a local visiting, the haze has been here due to the wildfires in California. 

We were at 10,678 feet above sea level. When we were in Machu Pichu we were at 7972, while we were at 11,152 feet above sea level in Cusco. This then is our second highest ascent of our travels, and in the top 3. 

There was a hill filled with antenna at the top.

If you look at the very top ridge line of the mountain in this photo, you will see the same antennas from a distance, and get an idea of the height. 

We had stopped and picked up lunch before taking the high road to the top of the forest, and stopped on the way down at a beautiful over look. You could see out into the valley, and the grassland on this part of the mountain was filled with wildflowers, bees and butterflies. 

Some of the butterflies and bees who joined us for lunch. 

After we made it down the forest mountain road, we pulled over to catch our breath at a gas station. It was then we noticed a sign for peanut butter flavored whiskey, and hey – we said if it came in a small bottle, it was a sign, and it was meant to be. A few minutes later, Art emerged from the store with a small half pint bottle, and being the very accomplished mountain road driver he is, said ” I’m not sure this will be enough”!

For a day we anticipated would last a few hours of travel and maybe 50 miles, we wearily landed at our hotel after 7 hours of exploring and 175 miles of taking the high road. The high road might not be easier, but it sure was worth it! 

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