Category : USA

Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico

June 2-5, 2022

Santa Fe

Before we reached Albuquerque, we left Route 66 to head up to Santa Fe for a few days. Santa Fe is the state capital of New Mexico. We had heard that it was a lovely, chilled out city known for its Pueblo-style architecture as well as its culture, food and arts scene and that proved to be the case.

We stayed in a lovely motel, El Sendero Inn, a one star property but recently redecorated and with very spacious rooms. The cost of accommodation was rising though as we headed west and tourist destinations such as this cost a premium. In this case, it was a gulp inducing USD 200 per night.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, Sant Fe

Taos and the Rio Grande

After pottering around the lovely centre of Santa Fe, we spent one day driving a lovely scenic route which took in the town of Taos as well as the Rio Grande. Unfortunately, Taos Pueblo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the USA was closed to the public due to Covid. However, we enjoyed the scenery in the region and the views from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. The bridge is the second highest bridge on the US Highway System and the fifth highest bridge in the country. On the way back to Santa Fe, we took a different (even more scenic) route. It looked like a surfaced road on the map (don’t they always!) but it was actually a gravel track which took us right down into the gorge with tight twists and steep gradients to keep us on our toes. Well, it wouldn’t be a road trip without a bit of peril would it?

That evening we went for sunset drinks with a wonderful view at The Bell Tower Bar on the 5th Floor of La Fonda Hotel.

We followed the sunset drinks with dinner on the balcony of the Thunderbird Bar and Grill overlooking the lovely Santa Fe Plaza. We had a wonderful evening on the town in Santa Fe sampling drinks at a number of local bars and more than one too many drinks meant that Jo was ‘under the weather’ the next day, so rather than leaving Santa Fe to continue with our journey we stayed an extra night. This gave us the opportunity to experience the extremely wacky Meow Wolf. Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return is a psychedelic interactive art experience. After a fun couple of hours we went for dinner at the Ruffina Taproom where Richard sampled the draft cider.

Finally, we had to leave Santa Fe and continue with our journey. We would love to return to spend more time in Santa Fe and also to visit Taos Pueblo and other areas in this beautiful region in the future.

Our route to Albuquerque was via the picturesque Turquoise Trail. We had planned to go up to the Sandia Crest, a 10,679 foot mountain ridge which is the highpoint of the Sandia–Manzano Mountains, but with it closed due to fire risk, we visited the Tinkertown Museum instead. Tinkertown is… totally hatstand…in a good way. The majority of the contents of this museum are the work of one man, Ron Wood. Over 40 years, he carved, collected (curiosities) and constructed the museum. The majority of the museum is a series of scenes (Western towns, Circus tents and so much more) made up of miniature wood-carved figures. Ron Wood died in 2002 and the family now maintains his legacy. One of the highlights of the trip is proving to be unique and eccentric museums – long may these quirky museums continue.


In Albuquerque we visited the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center which was a great place to learn about the history and culture of the pueblos in the region. As well as visiting the permanent exhibitions, we saw some of the cultural show and also a wonderful contemporary skateboard art exhibition.

That night we stayed in the very basic but acceptable Econo Lodge Downtown Albuquerque. In the evening, we went for a stroll in such of food but found that it was not so easy to find a suitable restaurant open on a Sunday night in Albuquerque.

We did have a drink at the lovely Canvas Artistry and watched the Lowrider crawl going down Central Avenue. A lucky coincidence that the Albuquerque Lowrider Super Show had taken place that day. Finally, we ended up in Sister, a rather excellent live music bar where we had some fast food which just about hit the spot and were entertained by a couple of thrash metal bands.

On the way out of Albuquerque the next day we drove past The Dog House Drive-In which featured in the series Breaking Bad.

Route 66

June 1-6, 2022

(Get your kicks on) Route 66

Bobby Troup

It was inconceivable that we would undertake this epic road trip and not drive along at least a part of the infamous Route 66. Perhaps the most famous road trip in the World, Route 66 runs for around 2,000 miles traversing eight states. It starts in Chicago, Illinois and ends in Santa Monica, Los Angeles in California.

We joined Route 66 at Shamrock having driven the 160 miles from Wichita Falls that morning. Over the next few days we followed the road as we drove east to west across New Mexico (with a short detour to beautiful Santa Fe) and into Arizona where we left it at Flagstaff in order to travel south-west to Sedona. We were interested to follow the old route or ‘Historic Route 66’ and to see what inspired its iconic status.

Shamrock was a great place to start as it has a number of classic Route 66 attractions. We started with lunch in the historic Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Cafe, an Art-Deco building dating back to the Great Depression.

After lunch we drove east to another small town, McLean, where we visited the rather wonderful Devil’s Rope Museum which also included a Route 66 museum which had some old route 66 exhibits.

The fascinating Devil’s Rope Museum

We learnt that barbed wire was invented in the 1870’s and that its invention changed the the American West. It meant that livestock (in particular cattle) could be contained. The barbed wire museum was quite possibly our favourite small museum of the entire trip. As well information on the history of barbed wire there were lots of displays of types of barbed wire along with rather attractive sculptures made of barbed wire.


(Is this the way to) Amarillo?

Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield

We ended the first day on Route 66 in Amarillo and there was really no other option than to go for dinner at the The Big Texan Steak Ranch. Touristy but, when in Texas, we had to have a steak and they were very good! We didn’t, however, feel brave enough to accept the 72oz steak challenge.

Steak, steak steak! I’m looking at a happy man here!

Whilst in the area we visited both the Bug and Cadillac Ranches which lie to the east and west of Amarillo respectively.

We then followed a bit more of the original Route 66 taking in some of the towns some of which are ghost towns or almost ghost towns now. We passed through Vega, Adrian, Glenrio, Tucumcari, Santa Rosa, and Grants. In some, such as Tucumcari, there were some lovely vintage motels and many of the towns have murals and Route 66 tourist sites.

When we got near to Albuquerque we took a diversion to go north up to Santa Fe, a beautiful city and region. We stayed there for three nights and then spent a night in Albuquerque before continuing on Route 66 (which follows Interstate 40 – I40). Once back on the road we realised there was a detour that would take us on a road less travelled which would be more interesting than the interstate so we dropped down from Grants to do a loop on New Mexico State Road 53. This took us through the Ramah Navajo Indian and Zuni Reservations past some beautiful scenery and we barely saw another car.

Winslow, Arizona

Our final stop on Route 66 was in Winslow, Arizona in order to do what every tourist in Winslow does – Stand on the Corner. In the middle of Winslow is Standin’ on the Corner Park (effectively a junction) which commemorates the song, Take It Easy made famous by The Eagles. It includes the verse, ‘Well, I’m a-standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and such a fine sight to see. It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford slowin’ down to take a look at me.‘ It was a very hot day and so we enjoyed coke floats before heading back on the road.


May 24-31, 2022

After a fantastic and exciting week in New Orleans we were ready for a holiday within a holiday! So, we packed up the car and hit the road again for the 400 mile drive to the beach resort of Galveston in another new state for us – Texas!


We had booked three days in a lovely Airbnb in an apartment complex with a pool. It was located a couple of streets back from the beach. That evening we had a steak dinner at the Saltgrass Steak House and then parked ourselves on bar stools at a great dive bar, the Island Pier Club and planned what we would do for the next few days.

The dreaded double line!

Our plans were scuppered though when the next morning Richard felt ill and tested positive for Covid. It was bound to catch up with us at some point! Jo caught Covid three months later on Vancouver Island.

Luckily, only one of us caught it each time and didn’t pass it to the other (thank you vaccinations!) and so when one was sick the other was able to drive, if necessary, and buy supplies, groceries and take aways to keep us going whilst the other recovered and stayed away from other people.

Galveston is a chilled out beach resort. Perhaps the sand isn’t as powder fine as in Florida but the beaches are lovely and the sea wasn’t too cold.

So, no beach for Richard but that didn’t stop Jo from going!

It is also a great place for birdwatching with lots of wading birds so Jo also ventured out to find some good birdwatching spots. We had been recommended a neat App – the Audubon Bird Guide. You can search for specific areas and it will show you what type of birds have been seen there recently. Here are some of the birds we saw with our best guess at identifying them. Please do comment if you can identify them and confirm our guesses or correct us!

After three nights in Galveston, we had to move on as we couldn’t extend our accommodation booking. It was a holiday weekend and city folks were descending on the beach. We were sorry to leave. Richard was still ill and testing positive so we decided to book an apartment in Houston where we could hole up for a few nights. We hoped that in a few more days Richard would then be feeling better and testing negative. As we drove through and out of Galveston we were accompanied by stunning views of the coast and beaches that extended for miles.


We booked a nice apartment in Houston as we expected that we would be spending a lot of time in it! Sadly, because Richard was ill we weren’t able to visit the Houston Space Center or any other attractions in Houston. We also regretfully concluded we should remove Austin from our itinerary as Richard would not be feeling well enough to enjoy it and the friends we had planned to see in Austin were also recovering from Covid. We also had a deadline by which we needed to drop the car in San Francisco so couldn’t wait too long before continuing with our journey. A great shame but we hope to visit Austin another time perhaps visiting when the Formula 1 Grand Prix is taking place or a music festival. Luckily, the apartment complex had an outdoor swimming pool so Jo was happy (it doesn’t take much).

So, we didn’t see any of Houston but we did watch a lot of news and sadly it was dominated by the aftermath of a devastating school shooting which took place at Uvalde school in Texas on 24 May. Twenty-one lives were lost making it the deadliest school shooting to have taken place in Texas. The National Rifle Association (NRA) held its annual convention in Houston whilst we were there and it was horrifying to watch them maintaining that the shooting was not impacted by the arms legislation, that rather than reducing access to guns it should be extended, and that schools would be safer if teachers were also armed.

After four more days of rest and isolation, Richard was starting to feel better and so we decided to continue our journey and head for the next stage which was to drive along a section of Route 66 starting at Amarillo. We needed to break the 600 mile journey to Amarillo so we stopped for the night in the town of Wichita Falls (no connection to Wichita Lineman song made famous by Glen Campbell but it didn’t stop us singing it). That evening Richard took a Covid test which came up negative and he was feeling well enough to venture out for a quiet dinner and a couple of drinks at the Backporch Drafthouse.

Bug and Cadillac Ranches, Texas

June 1-2, 2022

Bug Ranch

Around 30 miles east of Amarillo is the VW Slug Bug Ranch, a smaller version of the more famous Cadillac Ranch (see below). In this case, a graveyard for five half buried Volkswagen Beetles. A cool little place for a short stop.

Cadillac Ranch

Just on the outskirts west of Amarillo is Cadillac Ranch. An public art installation created in 1974. It is similar to Bug Ranch but bigger and much more well known. Pretty cool!

New Orleans, Louisiana

May 17-24, 2022

We arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) mid-afternoon and found our Airbnb in the Lower Garden District/11th Ward. Slightly off the beaten track in a neighbourhood where some streets had been gentrified and others had not (where ours was of course!). It had a New Orleans voodoo vibe with dark furnishings and was in the shotgun style (all the doors line up through the property to allow a much needed through breeze). Not as pristine as our flat in Nashville but it had everything we needed including a kitchen and air-con (essential as the temperature and humidity were continuing to rise). Unfortunately, there was building work going on next door which woke us up early most days which was not so good! But it was just a short drive from the centre and there was a nice little outdoor bar a couple of blocks away (The Tchoup Yard).

The heat had affected the car and the sensors for one of the tyres seemed to have got too hot and was no longer working. The tyre pressure when we checked it manually seemed fine so we had carried onto New Orleans and then called the rental company. They seemed less than worried about it so we thought maybe it was a known issue, but not ideal on a basically brand new car – it had ~4,000 miles on it by this point.

Exploring NOLA

So, the next thing to do was to get our bearings and get to know New Orleans so we booked onto a city tour. We also booked up a number of gigs so we would experience some New Orleans jazz and blues over the week. It was too hot for a walking tour so took a bus tour. With an engaging native New Orleanian for a guide, we got a great overview of the history of the city including the impact of Hurricane Katrina which devastated the city in 2005. We heard about how New Orleans was a melting pot of different cultures and influences having been settled by native inhabitants before being ruled by the French and then Spanish and finally becoming part of the United States in 1803. Being an important port and with cotton and sugar plantations it was at one time the largest slave market in the United States. These influences can be seen and experienced throughout the city in the vibrant music, the delicious southern creole food, the association with voodoo and so on.

The tour went through a number of areas including the French quarter, the 9th Ward and the Treme as well as the City Park where we stopped at Cafe du Monde for the obligatory beignets. The 9th ward was badly hit by Hurricane Katrina and we could see that some houses had not been restored and people that had been displaced had either not returned to New Orleans or moved to another property.

We also had a detailed tour of one of the impressive cemeteries. Once again here you can see that New Orleans being built below sea level has always caused problems for the residents as instead of graves people are entombed in ornate marble chambers above ground because the ground is wet and swampy and prone to flooding which would mean that you sometimes you couldn’t keep a good (or bad) man down and they would float away even when weighed down with stones!

After the tour, we headed to Bourbon Street which is a historic street in the French Quarter filled with music bars (much like Beale Street in Memphis and Broadway in Nashville). It’s worth a look but the better bars with better musicians are to be found elsewhere.

We returned to the City Park on another day on our own to walk around the lovely sculpture park.

We also drove back to the Treme and visited Louis Armstrong Park and Congo Square within it. Congo Square is an important place linked to the history of the development of New Orlean’s music. Enslaved Africans would meet in Congo Square on a Sunday from the 18th century and dance and sing. These influenced the development of Mardi Gras Indian traditions, the Second line and New Orleans jazz, rhythm and blues music.

Our least successful outing was an airboat tour of the Louisiana wetlands or ‘Bayou’. Billed as an ‘alligator tour’ we saw precisely zero alligators. The airboat was fun and the scenery nice but the guide seemed dejected from the beginning, presumably because he knew with the heat we weren’t going to see any alligators and he had to try to pretend that there was a chance that we would!

It’s all about the music…

During our week in New Orleans we wanted to learn about the predominant music in the area which is the New Orleans jazz. As we had with country music in Nashville, we wanted to experience this city’s music in its different forms. In this case from traditional to the fusion with blues, funk and other styles. Most importantly where with country music there needed to be a guitar, with New Orleans jazz there needed to be brass – be it a trumpet, trombone or horn. We based our choices on where to go and what to see on the limited knowledge we had gleaned of New Orleans musicians and venues from the TV! Specifically from the drama series Treme (highly recommended). It’s set in the Treme neighbourhood of New Orleans and the drama starts three months after Hurricane Katrina. What’s wonderful about the series is not just the insights into the lives of residents of the area be they musicians, chefs, lawyers or politicians but it is infused and almost driven by the music. Many of the musicians and venues featured in the series are real. We also had a tip from Stan Street in Clarksdale who had recommended that we head to the venues such as The Spotted Cat and d.b.a on Frenchman Street and stay away from Bourbon Street – wise words indeed!

  • Wednesday at the Square was an open air festival held every Wednesday evening in Lafayette Square. It was super hot that day (18 May) but the music was funky with Erica Falls and then the fabulous Big Sam’s Funky Nation.
  • Preservation Hall is an intimate historic venue where traditional New Orleans jazz has been performed since 1961. It’s round the corner from Bourbon Street but a world away from it in atmosphere and the quality of the music. We saw the Preservation All Stars which on the night we went (19 May) featured the jazz trumpeter Wendell Brunius along with Mari Watanabe (piano), Caroline Brunius (clarinet), Richard Moten (double bass), Shannon Powell (drums) and Freddy Lonzo (trombone). Wonderful to see the elder statesmen of jazz taking the music seriously.
  • We saw a couple of bands at the Blue Nile that we really enjoyed. On 18 May we saw a group of young musicians, Where Y’at Brass Band, who took the roof off the venue. We also saw the larger than life trumpeter and singer that is Kermit Ruffins playing with his Barbecue Singers. The gig was high energy and great to start with and then, the more Kermit imbibed, the more disorganised it became. Some other really good performers joined him though (including the singer James Winfield and pianist Yoshitaka ‘Z2’ Tsuji) and so it was a wonderful night overall and a very memorable experience.
  • At the d.b.a we saw the Treme Brass Band and, yes, they played the Treme theme song. In fact the song was an existing piece written by John Boutte and entitled Broke Down The Door (The Treme Song).
  • Other bands we saw that deserve a notable mention were: the Andre Lovett Band, Piano Man G, Street Lyfe Band, and Tajh and the Funky Soles.
Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Singers at the Blue Nile
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