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“The world is holy. We are holy. All life is holy. Daily prayers are delivered on the lips of breaking waves, the whisperings of grasses, the shimmering of leaves.”

–Terry Tempest Williams

Hastening the Pace of Change; Humanity in Motion

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t=”225″ />By Jack Loeffler


One of the joys of being a member of the animal kingdom is our propensity for mobility. We began as a peripatetic species, but evidence suggests that sometime between 6,500 and 8,000 years ago, some of our ancestors took up horseback riding, thus significantly increasing our speed limit through space. Then sometime between 5,000 and 5,500 years ago, someone invented the wheel, possibly some brilliant Mesopotamian potter who wanted to round out her pots in more facile fashion. Thus, what some regard to be the single greatest human invention of all time made its quiet, relentlessly mud-splattered debut.

The wheel was subsequently applied to the chariot, and the science of warfare took an exponential leap forward. And while the horse, donkey and camel remained beasts of burden, the cart and the wagon entered the domain of commerce. Game trails widened to accommodate commercial caravans, and for millennia, a good day’s travel spanned about thirty miles depending on the nature of the terrain.

With the arrival of Europeans, horses and wheels changed the way humanity comported itself on the North American continent. Not only did wheel ruts widen game trails, and paths followed by humans afoot along rivers and streams, and through forests, and across plains and deserts, the increase in mobility by horseback affected Native American cultures profoundly, allowing expansion of hunting territories and concurrent broadening of trade not only among existing indigenous cultures, but also with newly arrived Europeans. This also vastly changed entire points of view that included embedding an economically dominated paradigm over the face of the land supplanting that deep sense of the sacred quality of homeland shared by all indigenous peoples. Human use of the horse and the wheel greatly hastened the pace of change.

By the fifteenth century C.E., the American Southwest had been richly hued by human presence and invention for many millennia. By the nineteenth century, the industrial revolution and its concurrent burgeoning system of commercial enterprise began to splay into the Southwest along the Santa Fe Trail. Earlier, El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro had done the same from the south. Thus, the American Southwest became an inter-cultural proving ground of enormous magnitude.

Many years ago, in a recorded conversation with the late author, Paul Horgan, I asked him to address his assessment of the arrival of the Anglo along the Santa Fe Trail. This was his reply:

“Of course, the very first motive was commercial, the coming of the Anglos. And though not a wholly ignoble motive, it certainly was a selfish one. Therefore, something of that emotional commitment to a purpose had an enduring effect on all relationships that resulted between the occupants—namely, the Indians and the Hispanos and the incoming Yankees, Anglos… It was the enormous power of the commercial interests that were first to invade New Mexico and get established—that got the upper hand very fast because of their superior economic weight. And that endured.”

For many years, Harry Myers was the Superintendent at Fort Union National Monument, a major 19th century military outpost well situated to provide protection for travelers along the Santa Fe Trail. In his own words from our recorded conversation:

“It’s cheaper to bring goods from Missouri into New Mexico than it is from Spain to Veracruz to Mexico City and 1,800 miles up the Camino Real to Santa Fe. Most of that trade was cloth. … So cloth and turning that cloth into the current fashions of the day is what’s driving the

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Santa Fe trade. New Mexicans start almost immediately in that trade also, taking things back to Missouri. …

“Then the traders moved on down into Mexico. Santa Fe almost becomes a way station for trade down into Mexico. Eventually the New Mexican Hispanic traders would go from New Mexico to New York to London and Paris and get goods and bring them back through the states and down through the Santa Fe Trail. So it became an international trail of trade in more ways than one with New Mexicans participating in it, the Americans participating in it, and going to Europe. So it was, as I see it, bigger than how we usually interpret it just from Missouri to Santa Fe and all of these Indian battles and [adventurous] episodes along the trail.”

Humanity spawned an industrial revolution in the 19th century that re-arranged cultural coordinates worldwide. In North America, the application of steam to power mobile machinery was cause for great celebration on May 10, 1869 when two sets of railroad tracks were conjoined in Promontory, Utah that resulted in the spanning of America east to west with the “iron rail”. A decade later, the railroad chugged into New Mexico near Raton following a twenty-seven mile long toll road constructed by “Uncle Dick” Wootton.. “Uncle Dick” had been a trapper, mountain man and imaginative entrepeneur who earned his sobriquet one Christmas in Taos when he opened two barrels of whiskey offering everyone free drink. He thus became so popular that he was nick-named “Uncle Dick”. The story goes that when the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad Company, later to become the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad reached the area around Raton Pass in 1878, Wootton was offered $50,000 to buy out his toll road. He turned them down, instead settling for a free-for-life railroad pass for his wife, as well as all the groceries she would need for evermore. The deal was sealed with a handshake.

Railroad track was lain at the rate of about three miles a day bound for Las Vegas, New Mexico and beyond. Santa Fe was by-passed for lack of industry, however many other communities became important railroad depots including Albuquerque, Belen, Mountainair, Deming, Tucumcari and Gallup, so named after the railroad paymaster, David Gallup.

Fred Friedman retired after thirty years as New Mexico Railroad Bureau Chief. He is one of the great authorities concerning the history of the railroad in New Mexico, as well as a fine storyteller.

“Early railroad passengers were pretty hard-pressed to find a decent place to stay when they were waiting at a depot…The depot in Gallup had a number of waiting rooms…There was a ladies’ waiting room, a men’s waiting room. There was an outside waiting room for Mexicans, and apparently Native Americans waited outside. As a result of the confusion and poor service for a growing number of passengers, an Englishman by the name of Fred Harvey developed a chain of restaurants and places to stay that had increasingly better service in the 1880s and early 1900s. There are a number of Fred Harvey hotels and restaurants still in existence.”

Fred Friedman went on to mention that for a period of time, Navajo railroad gangs came to be regarded as masters of laying railroad track in New Mexico and Arizona, and achieved a comparable legendary status as those of the World War II Navajo Code Talkers.

Paul Horgan spoke of the daily arrival and departure of trains in Albuquerque during his youth.

“I was twelve years old when my family removed to Albuquerque from Buffalo, New York, and Albuquerque then was a Rio Grande small city of 14,000 people. Its main concerns economically were the Santa Fe railroad, which was a division point and had great shops. The great transcontinental line was the lifeblood of the city, going east and west many times a day—many trains a day. It was a local rite to go and visit the arrival of the important train, the California Limited, one east and one westward every day. Celebrities would disembark and stroll the platforms at Albuquerque and visit the Indian exhibits and the Fred Harvey establishment with its collection of regional antiques and so forth. So it became a citizen’s promenade, really, to go and witness this every day as the great trains went east and west.

“This is more than romantic to me. It was a great vein of contact with the farther world. Albuquerque felt very isolated to me and, I think, to my family, coming from the metropolitan east. … The thing that struck me most curiously living in Albuquerque, in the town itself, was that at the end of every street you could see the country, which was not true of a city like Buffalo or any other metropolitan center in the east from which we came. And that to me was a kind of metaphorical horizon, so that past the dwellings and past streets and houses there was the great vision of the country, and it’s never lost its mystery and wonder for me.”

Fred Friedman gives a sense of the magnitude of the presence of the railroad in New Mexico.

“There is a general conception that the railroad replaced wagon traffic on the Santa Fe Trail. And that certainly was a more gradual undertaking….

“The big changes that the railroad brought to the country were not only an increase in land value and the developing of communities and dissolving of other communities, but prior to the coming of the railroad, anything heavier or larger than could be fit into a wagon simply wasn’t transported. Railroads had the effect of changing construction, architecture, culture, even music. Church organs were able to be transported by rail as well as glass and jalousies for buildings—flying buttresses and building material. And people were able to travel a lot faster than they had before. Passengers moved at about thirty or forty miles an hour. Prior to that, anybody that traveled had probably been going at about the same rate of speed that Julius Caesar or anyone in the Middle Ages had traveled. The railroads were essentially the space program of the 1800s, and New Mexico was a proving ground. New Mexico changed everything from communities to the economy to even legislation.”

It would take less than half a century before the automobile would initiate yet another major paradigm shift by manufacturers launching huge numbers of automobiles out of Detroit like an anthill discharging an endless stream of red ants. And they turned trails into dirt roads that came to criss-cross the landscape in an ever-growing pattern that finally demanded massive identifiable organization. And thus highly traveled roads became named highways, some of which were hallowed with an aura of mystery and high romance.

Mile Taylor, a National Park Service historian tells of the genesis of Route 66 that extends from Chicago to Los Angeles.

“Route 66 comes into the eastern part of the state at Tucumcari, and from 1926 to 1936, more or less, the road went from Tucumcari to Santa Rosa, and then up to Romeroville just west of Las Vegas, and there it joined the old Santa Fe Trail. From there they didn’t have to build anything. It traversed Glorieta Pass, went right through downtown Santa Fe, through Agua Fria, out to La Bajada Mesa to the escarpment, down through this series of switchbacks to the village of La Bajada. From La Bajada it continued down 4th Street in Albuquerque down to Isleta Pueblo to Los Lunas where it caught a nice grade to be able to hook up to an area close to the Laguna Pueblo. So it basically made a big S. It made that big S because it stayed where the existing roads were. Route 66 originally followed existing historic trails.

“Then in 1936, the road was straightened. About a hundred miles was taken out of that route, out of the S curve. Instead of going up towards Romeroville from Santa Rosa, the road was struck directly to the west right through Albuquerque where Central Avenue is today, then straight west up Nine Mile Hill directly to the Laguna Pueblo.”

There are photographs that show 1920s and ‘30s model cars going up and down the switchbacks on La Bajada Hill. The reason that they are all aimed uphill is because in order to accommodate the idiosyncrasies of the fuel systems, they had to back down the hill which took tremendous toll on the nerves of flatlanders from the mid-West who were utterly out of their element in the wild and wooly landscape of New Mexico.

For the next three decades or so, Route 66 was the fabled highway that became the subject of films, folklore and music. John Steinbeck’s great American novel, “The Grapes of Wrath” tells of the good family Joad who made their way from the Dust Bowl Depression Days in Oklahoma across Route 66 to California, and the broken promise of a better life. In

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1946, songwriter Bobby Troup wrote, “Get Your Kicks on Route 66,” a great song that joined the repertoire that musically portrays mid-20th century America.

The Great Depression blues caused many a tippler to spend a night in jail along Route 66 after having fallen prey to the wrath of grapes.

In 1952, Adlai Stevenson from Illinois lost the presidential election to Dwight D. Eisenhower, the celebrated military commander of the allied European Theater during World War II. “Ike”, as he was known had been greatly impressed with the Autobahn, a high-speed freeway in Germany. Earlier in his career, he had been part of a military convoy that crossed the unpaved back-roads of America in a drill designed to determine the efficiency of automotive military transport in America.

Recalling both the vagaries of his military convoy of yore, and the efficiency of the German Autobahn, Eisenhower forwarded the idea of what was to become America’s Interstate Highway System initially as an efficient means of delivering military personnel and supplies quickly to any place in America. In reality, this Interstate System became the largest public works project to date in America’s history.

As of 2006, the total length of the interstate system in America came in at 46,876 miles, distinguishing it as the largest highway system in the world. About one-third of the long distance miles driven in America are driven on the interstate highways. New Mexico has three interstate highways. Interstate 10 enters New Mexico west of Lordsburg, passes by Deming and Las Cruces, the drops south and into Texas near El Paso. Interstate 40 parallels Route 66 from Tucumcari in the east past Gallup to the west. Interstate 25 parallels El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro from Las Cruces in the south past Raton in the north. In Albuquerque, the “Big I” is where Interstate 40 and Interstate 25 intersect, and is an intelligent and artful example of highway engineering.

In New Mexico, there are nearly one thousand paved miles of Interstate Highway, and while this magnificent highway system has eased automotive travel allowing motorists to cruise along at up to 75 miles an hour, we have to ask ourselves if we are now moving too fast to genuinely reflect on the nature of our magnificent landscape.

Thirty years ago, Governor Toney Anaya forwarded the idea of a “bullet train” that would connect Albuquerque and Santa Fe. More recently, Governor Bill Richardson grabbed the idea, and ran with it. The result is the RailRunner, a magnificent incarnation of a railroad train. Governor Richardson appointed Lawrence Rael, Executive Director of the Mid-Region Council of Governments, to see the RailRunner to fruition.

Governor Richardson held a press conference in August, 2003 where he unveiled his plans to go forward with the commuter train. Both Lawrence Rael, and former Secretary the Department of Transportation, Linda Faught were invited to attend.

In a recent interview, Lawrence Rael had this to say:

“Governor Richardson said to the Department of Transportation, ‘I’m giving you a million dollars, and Lawrence, I’m giving you a million dollars. I want you guys to start to work on the commuter train.’

“We divided the project into two phases. Phase One was from Belen to Bernalillo, and Phase Two was from Bernalillo to Santa Fe. The major challenge to this project was looking for a corridor, and looking at the existing Burlington-Northern Railroad Line to use the existing track that was in place. The next part was to get it up the extremely difficult area of La Bajada and finding the corridor to take it into Santa Fe.”

All of this was done in record time and for a cost of less than 500 million dollars. In June, 2008, the RailRunner logged its one millionth passenger. During the summer of 2009, the RailRunner carried nearly 5,000 passengers per day. As Lawrence Rael pointed out, that displaces a lot of automobiles that would otherwise be pumping greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. And thanks to Rael’s astute direction, New Mexico now owns the railroad corridor that extends from Belen to the Colorado border.

Fred Friedman has spent his lifetime thinking about transportation and mapping transportation routes, and says:

“I think that first the Santa Fe Trail, then rail traffic, and now Interstate 25 all following the same corridor really speaks to the idea that there is really a larger transportation network and system that goes through New Mexico that has been recycled by different forms of technology throughout the centuries.”

What will the 21st century bring? A bullet train from El Paso to Denver? A spaceport? Teleportation? Flying Navajo rugs? For certain, many trails still remain to be hiked while watching wildlife, listening to the wind, and mulling ideas at Nature’s original pace.


“Uncle Dick” Wootton—Alta Ann West, Colorado Historical Society, Google;

JL personally recorded interviews with Harry Myers, Paul Horgan, Fred Friedman, and Mike Taylor, all of which reside in the Loeffler Aural History Archive

One Response to “ Hastening the Pace of Change; Humanity in Motion ”

  1. Interesting info as per usual, thank you very much. I certainly hope this sort of thing gets more attention.

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