I just drove 93.6 hot and fast miles through hellish sun-blasted terrain on US Route 491, in the heart of New Mexico’s Navajo country. A mere two lane highway blessed with ample desert visibility, the speed limit is set for a very liberal 65 mph. (but 75 to 80 is the norm). The harsh surrounding countryside, studded with dry sandstone mesas, black-lava spires and red-rock buttes, is terrifyingly beautiful.
For the past five years US491 has connected Gallup with Shiprock and is one of just two roads running north and south on the New Mexico side of this immense reservation. But back in 1926 this very same road was the sixth one in New Mexico to spur off of the famous Route 66, which according to the system adopted by the American Association of State Highway Officials or AASHO (make sure you get that spelling right !) gave this road the original designation of….a little creepy organ music please… 666.
Unsurprisingly, people soon started calling route 666 the “Devil’s Highway”. (For accuracy’s sake, Route 66, being the “Mother Road”, should have earned this moniker. A better nickname for 666 would have been “Anti-Xpressway”). Not only did the road’s numerical designation worry certain nervous religious groups but soon the road became notorious for it’s many fatal accidents, undoubtedly caused by unseen forces. (More likely this was due to inadequate road design in New Mexico. In Utah and Arizona 666 was a safer than average road.) It was not unusual for desperate drunk drivers to claim that “the devil made them do it”. (A side note: Jazz/fusion guitarist Al DiMeola once wrote a piece called “Race with the Devil on Spanish Highway”. Ironically I found myself racing with Hispanics on the Devil’s Highway.)
Eventually the highway administration succumbed to pressure (or they were tired of replacing the many stolen road signs) and in 2003 route US666 was reborn US491, which owes nothing to any type of accurate numerical formula. Nor does this new designation have as much snap and pizazz as the old one.
With the flick of a bureaucrat’s pen evil route 666 became benign route 491 and perhaps Armageddon is postponed for a few more years. Who says this isn’t a Christian nation?
(The information above is readily available on the net. I used mostly Wikipedia – they have a slew of info on various roads. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Route_491 )