North America Photo Essays USA

Embracing Light & Colour on Route 66 | New Mexico, USA

February 7, 2019

by Simone Anne

I sit in my car and look out over the landscape. Route 66 stretches out towards the horizon and the sky is soft with post rain clouds. I’m parked outside of the iconic Route 66 Diner and I’m waiting for the neon lights to come on. America is known for the road trip (in a country with so much space and so many cars, how could this not become our thing?), and of all of the trips on four wheels that one could take, Route 66 has to be the most iconic of them all. Stretching from Chicago, Illinois in the Midwest to Santa Monica in California, it’s 2,451 miles (3,945 km) of open road, best known for neon signs, kitschy Americana, and the kind of glamour best epitomized by vintage cars from the 60’s and retro pin-up style.

I’m in Albuquerque, where the iconic road heads straight through town and leaves a smattering of famous and eye-catching spots to stop and stretch your legs. I’m in town to cover the world’s largest hot air balloon fest (called Balloon Fiesta, where over 500 balloons rise soundlessly into the sky each morning). Balloon events start in the dark at 6 am and wrap up by about 9 am when festival goers have filled up on funnel cakes and coffee, so I’ve got open days, a newer rental car, and lots of coffee; like any good photographer, I’m using my playtime to explore, create, and dream. There’s neon, old signage, and plenty of spots to stop for hot dogs and old-fashioned ice creams (one of the oldest and cutest Dairy Queen’s in the country lives here). It feels like old America, like the Wild West and the open road, and at certain classic joints I can still fire up a coin-operated jukebox with the music of the ’50s and ’60s.

Santa Fe, about an hour North East of Albuquerque, doesn’t intersect with Route 66. So close and yet so far, Santa Fe embraces its flat stucco buildings, wide open high desert, and the big puffy clouds that race across the big sky. The third largest art market in the USA, after New York and Los Angeles, Santa Fe is known for the kind of feeling you get when wild places meet the humans who love them. Georgia O’Keefe, whose chosen home wasn’t far from this city, helped make the red mountains, desert landscape, and striking light of New Mexico famous.

In the parking lot, as the lights finally come on and those puffy clouds like up bright pink, I smile because I know I’m in exactly the right place. New Mexico is all about embracing light and colour, from the bright neons of Route 66 to the high contrast of the sunlight that shouts through the clouds in the desert. It’s a place where the winds blow right through you and the nostalgia of Americana that drives us west, opens our hearts, and longs for the open road is always alive.

Simone Anne (@simone_anne) is a travel and commercial photographer with a love of color and emotion. She captures the natural environment and the beauty of the city with equal love and her work is recognized easily by the natural, evocative way that she depicts the world and the humans who make it come alive. She’s explored in five continents, road tripped through old and new America, and eaten excellent meals with locals on plastic stools while saying thank you in more languages than she can remember. She is also a wedding photographer. California is home base and her camera is home.

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