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The car cruise goes on in 2020, with COVID-safe practices

NM Cruise 2020 organizer Michael Gonzales, also the owner of Cafe Bella Coffee, holds one of the commemorative T-shirts for the cruise. Gary Herron photo.

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — One hundred years after a huge undertaking by early-day motorists, this year’s NM Cruise 2020 will take metro area participants to historic Las Vegas, N.M., next Saturday.

In late August 1920, a dozen motorists — mostly in Ford Model-Ts — drove the National Park to Park Highway, then a U.S. auto trail popular in the 1910s and ‘20s. The route was plotted by A. L. Westgard, following a large loop through the West, connecting 12 national parks.

The route took in these national parks: Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Glacier, Mount Rainier, Crater Lake, Lassen Volcanic, Yosemite, General Grant (today part of Kings Canyon), Sequoia, Zion, Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde — thus starting and ending in Colorado. The 6,000-mile journey took 76 days; drivers averaged 65 miles a day.

Back then, roads for automobiles were crude, with no reliable maps, gas stations or convenience stores, and accommodations were few and far between — and expensive. Dirt roads often became muddy, and the weather was dangerously unpredictable.

Cruise 2020 will be quite different. Although 1920 drivers were two years removed from the flu epidemic of 1918, this year’s motorists will be COVID-19 compliant, meeting the governor’s health order.

It’s the second year in a row for a cruise to Las Vegas. Cruises prior to 2019 were to Jemez Springs, but bumper-to-bumper traffic — “gridlocked for 4 1/2 hours” with several thousand vehicles — soon made that venture impossible, organizer Michael Gonzales said.

Jemez Springs also didn’t have enough parking, infrastructure or local activities, and the two-lane NM 4 couldn’t safely accommodate cruisers and possible emergency vehicles.

This free event — “No registration, just show up,” Gonzales says — is open to all vehicles, all makes, all years and all styles. He called it “a full-day celebration of the car community!”‘

A pre-meet Friday evening, generating enthusiasm, at Gonzales’ business, Café Bella at 2115 Golf Course Road, will start at 7. Social-distancing will be followed, and masks will be worn.

“We’re using (Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s) guidelines,” Gonzales said.

In stark contrast to last year’s cruise, which kept most of the participants in downtown Las Vegas, this year’s event will spread them out. Gonzales will provide participants — he wasn’t sure how many there’ll be — with myriad activities and sights to see in San Miguel County.

“Las Vegas still has a functioning drive-in movie theater, great parks and an amazing touring area,” Gonzales said.

He’s made six trips there in the last month, taking care of the arrangements and the economic boost for Las Vegas.

Gonzales said last year’s cruisers “didn’t realize (Las Vegas) was a jewel.” He said the town has 900 historic sites, among them the iconic Plaza Hotel, La Castañeda and more; he found an old mill and an overlook with an indescribable view.

The cruise starts Saturday, with drivers meeting at 9 a.m., at one of two locations: Café Bella or Rust is Gold Coffee & Garage, 6715 Eagle Rock NE, Albuquerque. They depart Café Bella at 10 and Rust is Gold at 10:15.

The throngs of vehicles will rendezvous on the Pan American Freeway, adjacent to I-25, and then depart as a long caravan.

“Lunch and dinner — you’re on your own,” he said, advising anyone headed to the double-feature at the Fort Union Drive-In to get there by 6:30, because that could be a sellout.

A canned goods drive is being held in conjunction with the cruise, with those proceeds donated to Comedor de San Pasqual Soup Kitchen in Las Vegas.

More information on that aspect of the cruise, along with how to get a “cruise decal” will be released in Las Vegas, Gonzales said. Commemorative T-shirts can be pre-ordered online, he said, and picked up at Popular Dry Goods, 119 Bridge Street in Las Vegas, on Saturday.

For more information, see the New Mexico Motor Events or Café Bella Facebook or Instagram accounts.

“I’m already laying the groundwork with Las Vegas officials for a non-COVID event next year,” Gonzales said.

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