Tuesday, September 5, 1999...

Hello from Needles, in the California desert. Tomorrow marks the halfway point of my vacation; appropriately, I'll be finishing Route 66 and getting into position for the return trip on US 40.

As for today, once again I was driving a section I've covered pretty thoroughly in the past, so I was on the lookout for something new and different. Found it thirteen miles south of Route 66 in western New Mexico: Acoma Pueblo, the oldest continuously inhabited site in America.

The Acomans have occupied a 70-acre, 367' high mesa southeast of Grants, NM since about 1150 AD. Nearly all of the 6,000 Acomans now live in nearby towns or on the flatlands, but they return to the mesa several times a year for feast days. Some return much more often: several dozen support themselves by selling pottery to the tourists visiting the pueblo, driving up a steep, winding road originally installed for the filming of a Western movie. (The site was originally chosen because it was easy to defend, as there was only one obvious way up the sides of the mesa.)

Acoma Pueblo is one of more than a dozen pueblos in New Mexico. Most are open to tourists. Acoma regulates visitors more strictly than most: admission only as part of a guided tour, an additional fee for taking photographs and an outright ban on video cameras. The pueblo still has no electricity or running water, though discreetly placed Port-O-Sans satisfy one need. The centerpiece of the pueblo is a mission church constructed more than 350 years ago: 70' high, about 70' long, with nine-foot-thick walls and two bell towers, all constructed with materials hauled up the hill by hand from sites up to 30 miles away. The tour was supposed to last an hour, but our voluble guide stretched it to 90 minutes -- long enough to make me wish I had applied sunscreen before ascending the mesa.

Then continued west across New Mexico and Arizona. New Mexico's colorful rock formations gave way to Arizona's high desert, which in turn yielded to the forests around Flagstaff. The Indian-themed tourist traps at the border -- Chief Yellowhorse, Indian Village, and the Tepee Trading Post, not to mention Indian Town USA and the Fort Courage Trading Post a few miles ahead -- now lure tourists with cheap phone cards instead of discounted cigarettes. That's a sign of progress, but the presence of Taco Bell Expresses in Navajo-run businesses certainly is not.

The roadside continues to evolve. Several former tourist traps lie vacant, while a new dinosaur-themed museum has opened just east of Holbrook, Arizona. Didn't go inside, but I'm confident of its "roadside" nature: real museums don't erect 15' dinosaur statues along the Interstate.

Roadside dinosaurs, Holbrook, AZ Today's radio highlight: an ad for a home pregnancy test kit especially marketed to the "plus size" woman. The announcer's allusions to the special qualities of the applicator would probably give me nightmares if I thought about 'em now, so I won't. It's late and I'm tired. Tomorrow: California from the Mojave to the Roy Rogers Museum, then a dash north through the Central Valley...

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