Route 491 is the new name for the highway that runs from Gallup, New
Mexico to Monticello, Utah. The road's old name was Route 666, logically
derived from its origin as the 6th offshoot of route 66. But it seems
some folks were worried about that number; perhaps it would attract
someone's attention as they flip through brochures trying to decide
where to hold armageddon? The next road east is state route 371, which
runs through the Bisti Badlands, referred to by local as the Bisti
Highway. I've always liked the proximity of 666 to the Bisti.
Regardless, it is a fantastic stretch of highway and I hate to see it
tampered with in any fashion. Open up your AAA Indian Country map (If
you don't have one, get one, or two, right now) and you will see it
pretty much right in the center. It begins (or ends) these things work
two ways...) in Gallup and quickly enters the Navajo nation. Chusak
mountains to the west, then the imposing form of the Shiprock. At the
Colorful Colorado! line things begin to green up noticeably. I have
always been charmed by the way the four corners states display their
essential characters within 20 miles or so of the border. The road
continues north, past McElmo canyon and the myriad possibilities there.
After passing through Cortez, 666 passes through
Yellowjacket and Dove Creek. This is bean country, and quite scenic
bean country at that. The San Juans dominate the horizon to the east.
(Kennebec, mmmm. Telluride, mmmmmmm) Then the road angles west into
Utah, where, you guessed it, within 20 miles the red rocks begin to
show up. As a bonus, you can continue straight on through Monticello
(after visiting the Dinosaur Museum, it's fantastic) and head up into
the Abajos on forest service roads. There are a number of superlative
roadside campsites. And from the top you are afforded an amazing view
of the red, rumpled canyon country. Possibilities overflow here. There
is so much to see and do within 100 miles of the Abajos that it would
take two weeks just to get handle on it.
I guess by decrying the name change, I am no better than those who
lobbied to change it from 666. What's in a name, anyway? Or a number.
But this slab of asphalt represents a good chunk of my personal
history. I don't much care to see it bandied about so freely.
end of another rant.
Copyright Estate of Anthony Vail Sloan 2009