23 Jun Little Legacies of Route 66
This past week, I had the opportunity to travel to Los Lunas, New Mexico, and visit with Cynthia Shetter and Troy Ainsworth of the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts and with a local historian, Baldwin Burr, who wrote about the history of Los Lunas in the Images of America series. Generally, you wouldn’t think about Los Lunas as contributing to the history of Route 66 in New Mexico. This small town is south of Albuquerque and does not intersect with what remains of Route 66 as defined today. However, the history of Los Lunas is intertwined with Route 66, as prior to 1937 part of the Mother Road actually crossed through Los Lunas as it headed west toward Gallup.The pre-1937 alignment of Route 66 in New Mexico snaked across the state, forming a sideways “S” as it traveled south from Santa Fe, crossed through Albuquerque, and went through Los Lunas before following the road out to Arizona. It wasn’t until 1937, when the road was paved, that it was straightened out and bypassed Los Lunas and Santa Fe to reduce travel time. In spite of the realignment, parts of the pre-alignment Route 66 remain, and it followed this “S” pattern for many reasons. Access to Route 66 transformed the towns it went through; it provided new access to commerce, healthcare, employment, and many other opportunities. For many New Mexicans, it provided a lifeline outside of the isolated communities they lived in. So, it is no surprise that Route 66 stretched to so many different towns in the state to best benefit everyone who lived there. There is another reason for this path, however. Route 66, in part, followed established roads that already existed in the areas it traversed through. Within New Mexico, outside of east-west corridors established by the railroad, it relied upon north-south routes that had been utilized for centuries, first by indigenous groups as trade routes and hunting grounds, then by colonizers and Spanish and American traders who utilized the Camino Real that ran from Santa Fe to Mexico City, and later the Santa Fe Trail which connected Santa Fe to Missouri. When Route 66 traveled through Santa Fe and Los Lunas, it was following much older paths that had facilitated movement for centuries. As such, some parts of this old alignment strongly contrast with what we stereotypically envision when we think of Route 66. It isn’t neon signs, but acequias and farmland that still mirrors the old Spanish rectangular allotments.