Jump to content
American Road Magazine
Celebrating our two-lane highways of yesteryear…And the joys of driving them today!

The La Bajada Grade

Recommended Posts

A few months ago while on a road trip through Santa Fe I took the time to walk the pre-1924 alignment of the the La Bajada Grade. The challenges of the La Bajada escarpment date back to the Spanish settlement of New Mexico and the Camino Real and posed a formidable challenge to transportation along the Rio Grande Valley. In 1909 work started on the roadbed and cuts were made into the solid basalt caprock. Retaining walls built of dry masonry where built to stabilize the roadbed. The project was heralded as an engineering wonder along New Mexico’s Scenic Highway that soon became a part of the National Old Trails Road Ocean-to-Ocean Highway. In 1924 the road was realigned along the upper slopes of the escarpment. With the creation of the federal highway system in 1926, this improved roadway became a part of the U.S. 66 and U.S. 85 alignment. The alignment remained a part of the highway system until 1931 when a new alignment was completed along a gentler slope three miles to the south.








Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hey Dave,


It was on my list for a long time too and when my daughter got accepted to a college in Santa Fe one of the first things I did was figure out how to get to La Bajada. I am still trying to figure out how to pay for her education but that is a discussion for a different forum. It is fairly easy to get to the base of the hill but approaching the road from the top is a bit of a challenge and not something I would recommend in a sedan. There are a few sections of the dirt road on the upper plateau that are deeply rutted where high clearance is needed. If you happen to be there in monsoon season a 4x4 is almost a necessity. I approached from the top and hiked down and back up the hill. Although the temptation to drive down the road was there I was by myself and did not feel like shredding my new tires on the basalt. When I go out there in the spring I plan on exploring the Route 66 alignment down the hill.


Hope you get to make it out there someday.



Link to comment
Share on other sites



Thanks for the more detailed description of your experience and the site! With the always great photos, it is practically like being there!


I have been to Santa Fe a couple of times but have yet to visit La Bajada. Sheila likes Santa Fe, so it may still be in my future.....


I suppose you re back home now. How did you come and go.....by what routes?




Keep the Show on the Road!

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Since you asked...

The road trip east to Santa Fe was a good one even if much of the 1100 miles driven was on the Interstates. We left the Bay Area and headed down I-5, cutover to 99 at Shafter, made a left at Bakersfield before heading over the Tehachapis to Barstow and I-40. We ended the first day in Kingman with dinner at the El Palacio on Andy Devine Drive, a favorite of ours.

Day 2 started with the news that a large earthquake had occurred in Napa overnight, which is 30 miles from our home, and after checking with my son to confirm that our house was still standing we continued east on I-40 to Flagstaff were picked up picnic supplies at the Fry's grocery story before continuing east to Two Guns where we ate our lunch poolside. When traveling I take my family to the nicest places.


After lunch we proceeded to Winslow, drove past the corner of West 2nd and North Kinsley and stopped at the La Posada Hotel to look around. The architecture and gardens are worth the time.


We stopped in Holbrook for the day but I wasn't done yet. Leaving my wife and daughter at the Motel I proceeded to find my way to the Painted Desert Trading Post, another of the "must see" items on my list. That story is HERE.


On Day 3 we only went as far as Gallup but we did take a side trip onto the Navajo Reservation and did some hiking in Canyon de Chelly.


On Day 4 we drove a lot of Route 66 blacktop between Gallup and Albuquerque before making a left at Albuquerque and north to Santa Fe. While in Santa Fe we were busy setting my daughter up in her dorm and all the other things freshmen parents have to do but in addition to La Bajada we did make it north to Taos and stopped at the Rio Grande Bridge on US 64.


On the return trip west we followed US 550 (with a stop at Chaco Canyon), US 64, and US 160 finally rejoining I-40 at Flagstaff and then back the way we had come.

Ancient Doorway in Chaco Canyon


Much of what this particular trip was about was getting my daughter to college, which was an emotional ordeal for us all. All along the way I kept hearing the voice of OPP (Over-Protective-Parent) screaming "DO YOU REALIZE WHAT YOUR DOING?", "YOU CAN"T JUST LEAVE HER THERE!!!", and "YOU HAVE DUCT TAPE IN YOUR TOOL KIT, YOU CAN JUST TAKE HER BACK HOME!!!". Fortunately I took enough side trips and stopped at enough places that I was interested in to keep OPP from getting out of control.


Link to comment
Share on other sites




A downright great description!! You're are a great example of the road aware traveler, who makes the most of where he visits. I especially liked the picnic by the pool!! Terrific, and so memorable for you and your family. Your daughter is sure to recall her trip to her college all her life... Making treasured memories to last lifetimes.


The photos are terrific,as yours always are. And I bet you don't make my old mistake and think the mountains or waterfalls will be what you remember. I failed to get enough photos of the family in my photos. I have a basement full of scenic Kodachromes gathering mold, while my old family Polaroids are treasured by all. Old too soon, smart too late :)


I really appreciate you taking the time to share! I could recall many of the places you mentioned.


I also liked the .transition to college reflections. Not to wax nostalgic, but it is probable that you were driving into a different life for the whole family, leaving behind some great times, and looking forward to more and different adventures, It is terrific that you shared those important moments and didn't just fly to Santa Fe as quickly as possible.


Cheers and best wishes!




Keep the Show on the Road!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

GREAT story, thanks!


I haven't been to much of NM, saw Chaco Canyon and that is about all.


Guess you are getting wet now, I see the rain on the news, hope you are dry.


Thanks again, Dale

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 months later...

Awesome pics of La Bajada! We went out on the plateau several years ago and hiked down most of the grade. We were in our 4wd and it looked like we could make it but I just didn't want to risk getting half way down and then needing to be rescued. Our friends Charlie and Ruth from St Louis hired someone in Santa Fe to take them down in his jeep. They got some great shots on that trip. If we had a second vehicle with us and a winch I think I would consider trying it.


Been to Two Guns a couple of times but had not been to the pool. Added that to the things to see list!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...