US 550 Across New Mexico

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There are no interstates to take you from the western side of Colorado into New Mexico, but US Highway 550 is a reasonably easy route to drive — and it’s the quickest way to get from Durango or Cortez, into Albuquerque. It’s also a nice blend of monotony and scenery — you’ll either get bored on the drive, or you’ll enjoy a relaxing desert drive. Or maybe you’ll do both.

My Visit

I’ve driven US 550 through New Mexico a few times, but I’m usually on my way to somewhere else — either headed to the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado or the Green Chile enchiladas of Albuquerque.  Either way, US 550 becomes just a way to get from one place to the other.  This corner of New Mexico has some great natural beauty, but it can blur together as you spend several hours driving through it.

The town of Aztec is your first (and one of the very few) worthwhile stops.   It has a nice downtown…

… and a theater with a beautifully restored marquee.

About a half-hour south of Aztec, you’ve left almost all signs of civilization behind, and as far as you know, you’re driving across a featureless, flat stretch of desert.  But, there’s a very big hole right next to you.


Click for a larger version.

Watch for the sign at the turnoff to the Angel Peak Scenic Area.  A dirt road takes you to the edge of these badlands.

Angel Peak is the prominent stub of a mountain that reaches nearly 7,000 feet into the air, towering over the eroded expanse below.

Some other interesting features can also be seen as you scan the horizon.  There are some picnic tables here, at a couple of viewing areas.

After that, it’s time to get back on the road, where you won’t see much again…

… until you drive through Cuba, New Mexico.  This is a good place to get some food and fuel, especially if you’re northbound.

Cuba also has some neat neon signs to photograph.

South of Cuba, US 550 becomes part of the Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway.  You can also take New Mexico 126 out of Cuba, or New Mexico 4 (which intersects US 550 further south), to make a loop through this wilderness area.

That detour allows you to see the Jemez Pueblo…

… and the Gilman Tunnels, which were blasted in the 1920’s to construct a logging railroad.

Back on US 550, you’ll drive past numerous beautiful buttes like this one, on your way into Bernalillo, where the highway ends at Interstate 25.  From here, you’re just a few miles from the northern edge of Albuquerque…

… where you may see stunning mass ascensions of balloons like this, during Balloon Fiesta in early October.  If the green chile isn’t a good enough reason to come to Albuquerque, then hopefully the balloons are.

The Bottom Line

You probably won’t choose US 550 because you want to drive it, you’ll probably end up here because you have to drive it.  That’s okay.  It’s a long drive through the desert, but you will find some interesting towns and beautiful scenery along the way.

Location

US Highway 550 enters New Mexico south of Durango, Colorado. It passes through Aztec and Bloomfield (not far from Farmington), then heads southeast. The town of Cuba is the only sizeable community you’ll encounter until you reach the outskirts of Bernalillo. US 550 ends at Interstate 25, just north of Albuquerque.

Drivelapse Video

Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Durango, Colorado to Albuquerque, New Mexico via US 550:

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