We like getting off interstate highways whenever possible and taking a more scenic route. In December, we traveled from Phoenix, Arizona to Santa Rosa, New Mexico on U.S. Highway 60. This was a beautiful and remote drive. We encountered very little traffic which made for a relaxing drive.
Services including gas, food, and restrooms are few and far between on this drive. As you leave Phoenix, you are treated to Sonoran Desert landscapes with Saguaro cactus. Before long, you are traveling through high desert grasslands. Warning: parts of this drive are winding and mountainous.
U.S. 60 runs into the Salt River Canyon which we had never heard of before this trip. U.S. 60 goes all the way to the bottom of the Salt River Canyon and then climbs back up to the other side of the canyon. There is a rest area at the bottom of the canyon with an amazing view of the canyon and river. A stairway with about 80 steep steps will take you closer to the river. There are even a few palm trees at the bottom of the canyon. It’s a pleasant surprise to go from ponderosa pines to palm trees in a just a few minutes.
We enjoyed a quick Mexican lunch in Show Low, Arizona which is one of the few towns along the way with services. If you need gas, food, or the restroom, stop in Show Low before continuing your drive.
Pie Town, New Mexico is a must stop. The Gatherin’ Place Café was open and the owners were very welcoming. For about $6.00, two people could split one of the 6 inch individual pies. We each ordered our own flavor and had leftovers which were still delicious the next day. I recommend the Very Berry if it’s available. The Gatherin’ Place also serves breakfast and lunch items. Call ahead and they will bake your favorite pie and have it ready for you. Their phone number is 575-772-2909. The Gatherin’ Place is open from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Not too far from Pie Town, is the home of The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) or National Radio Astronomy Observatory. For science and astronomy buffs, this is a must stop. The VLA is the most scientifically productive ground-based telescope ever. The 27 dish antennas work together as a single telescope. These huge dish antennas are spread over a span of 22 miles in the desert. The visitor center is open daily from 8:30 a.m. until sunset. Admission fees: Adults ages 18-64, $6.00. AAA members and adults 65 and over, $5.00. Children under the age of 18 are free. Admission includes a self-guided walking tour, souvenir map, film, and museum. We arrived in time to tour the site and watch the film. I recommend allowing at least 2 hours so you aren’t rushed. From US-60, turn south onto state highway 52. The VLA is clearly marked from US-60 and you will see the large dish antennas well before you arrive.
After about 10 hours of driving, eating pie, and touring the VLA, we were getting tired so we spent the night at the Holiday Inn Express in Socorro, New Mexico. Socorro is large enough to have several hotels and restaurants and made for a good overnight stop.
The next morning, we continued on U.S. 60. Abo Ruins Salinas Pueblo National Monument was an unexpected find along the way. The monument was open but the small visitor’s center was closed. Admission is free and the gates are open from sunrise to sunset. There is an easy 1/2-mile trail along with informative signs among the ruins. The restrooms and picnic areas were all accessible during our visit. It is a beautiful location and well worth the stop whether or not the visitor’s center is open.
After leaving the ruins we continued on U.S. 60 until we intersected with Interstate 40 at Santa Rosa. From Santa Rosa, it’s a relatively short drive to Tucumcari and the last chance to eat green chilies before leaving New Mexico. In Tucumcari, our favorite stop for New Mexican food is the Pow Wow Restaurant which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
We thought the drive along U.S. 60 was beautiful. It was a peaceful and relaxing drive with very little traffic. If you enjoy long stretches of desert scenery, give it a try the next time you’re in Arizona and New Mexico.