La Bajada – once a Route 66 terror

La Bajada Hill

Airport Rd. (NM-284)
Santa Fe, NM
Traveling westbound

(1926-1932 alignment) The very notion of La Bajada Hill struck terror in the early-day travelers of 66. Spots were so steep that cars with gravity-fed tanks would have to go up in reverse, because the fuel couldn’t get to the engine. And if that wasn’t enough, the sudden 500 foot drop and dozen-plus rocky switchbacks inspired the tourists to hire locals to drive their cars down.

A warning sign put up by the New Mexico State Highway department read:

La Bajada Hill
Safe Speed 10 Miles
Watch Sharp Curves
This Road is Not Fool Proof
But Safe for a Sane Driver
Use Low Gear

This was a stop on the 2002 Route 66 Caravan, a 66-day road trip led by preservationist and historian, Jim Conkle. He lead the The Route 66 Caravan from “pier to pier,” Santa Monica to Chicago to raise the awareness of Route 66 and the need to preserve it. He posted more than 50 Hampton “Save a Landmark” signs along the route.

To the top of La Bajada Hill: This section of the OLD Route 66 will get VERY difficult to traverse, and in disrepair. Do it at your own risk, and only with high clearance 4WD. Don’t attempt if it is wet. You must be an experienced high altitude driver. There will be severe erosion and the likelihood that you will need to get out and place rocks in the big ruts in order to continue is great. Then it gets worse.

If traveling west, you will most likely have to turn back to Santa Fe. Or you can continue of to I-25 and enter at exit 278. You could also just hike the hill, and enjoy the high desert.

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