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Driving

My family and I are moving to New Mexico for my new job, and we have never driven there before. My husband will be driving a uhaul truck while I drive a minivan with the kids.

Flattest route

How can I find the simplest and flattest route available? I tried that "Flattest Route" website and it didn't give me any actual turn by turn directions like I need. Any suggestions?

Altitude sickness

Also, how worried should I be about altitude sickness?

I estimate it will probably take us a good three days to get there due to having the kids and small bladders and having to stop to stretch legs and whatnot.

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    I've done the drive Rochester MN to Albuquerque NM and vice versa. I'd suggest getting over to I-35, down to OKC, then across on I-40. No major passes along the way, pretty flat most of the way down I-35. I did the drive either way in 2 days, but I like driving. Once in NM, the 5000+ foot elevation will be noticeable, but should be no altitude sickness.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 21:24
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    I also have pulled a U-Haul trailer up and over Raton pass on I-25. Not terrible, but worse than the I-35 to I-40 route. Plus, you really would prefer to miss Denver - Colorado Springs traffic...
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 21:31
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    Do you have a pre-existing problem with elevation sickness? It's not like you're going to be climibing the Colorado Front Range here, going from 5000 to 10,000 feet in an hour lol. If you stay east of the Front Range your route is pretty flat by western American standards. So stay at I-25 or east in Colorado. Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 6:24
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    I recently drove a Uhaul (pulling a car on a trailer) from Houston, TX to Denver, CO. There was little to no noticeable elevation change beyond gentle rolling hills. Yes, of course we did climb ~5000' feet, but we never struggled to breathe and the truck didn't struggle either. I doubt you'll have any issues whatsoever.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 14:30
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    Just make sure to turn left at Albuquerque.
    – Click Ok
    Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 21:09

3 Answers 3

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For the route, I'd simply follow what Google says when you plug in Madison to Albuquerque. The quickest route is (well, by 20 minutes):

  1. Madison, WI
  2. Des Moines, IA
  3. Kansas City, MO
  4. Emporia, KS
  5. Wichita, KS
  6. Santa Rosa, NM
  7. Albuquerque, NM

Everything to the east of Colorado is going to be pretty flat, but this route also avoids Raton in NM on I-25 (which has the Raton pass), and the minor winding bits just east of Santa Fe on I-25. The only sections I have experience with are I-25 and I-40 in NM, and once you get there things are easy.

As it's about 1200 miles/20 hours of driving, I'd agree to split this route up into a minimum of 3 days of driving and 2 nights in a hotel. You may also want to have the last hotel night in Santa Rosa, so that by the time you get to ABQ you're not totally exhausted. And given that tiny are driving 2 vehicles you may want to look into some cheap 2-way radios so that you can stay in touch without needing to use cell phones -- there are actually spots between Santa Fe and Albuquerque where I have zero cell phone service (but that just may be T-Mobile).

For the altitude sickness aspect, based on my experience you won't notice it too much. I once took the train from LA to ABQ and then on to Santa Fe for a vacation (and now live here). Prior to this I had been living at sea level. Yes, you will get out of breath quicker until you become acclimatized, but lots of tourists come to this area (especially from TX) and I haven't heard of any issues at all. But we do have hospitals and doctors!

Also I would caution you about where you park in ABQ once you get here. There have been stories of trailers and U-Haul trucks being robbed when parked in motel parking lots overnight. I'm not trying to scare you, but it is something to be aware of.

Finally, Welcome! You'll really enjoy the surrounds, the history, the culture and the food.

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  • +1 on careful when parking. Vehicles in motel parkings that are visibly full of stuff (luggage/equipment) or expected to be full of stuff (such as U-Haul trucks) are very tempting targets, and not only in Albuquerque. I'd recommend taking any valuable (jewelry/computers/important papers) into the motel room, making sure nothing is visible in the car (avoiding smashed windows), and if possible park the truck in a well-lit area, close to the entrance, in view of the night clerk (hoping to deter thieves). Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 11:16
  • Or at least, @MatthieuM. in view of parking lot security cameras in hopes of catching thieves. (assuming the lot has cameras. Many do these days.)
    – FreeMan
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 16:06
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    @FreeMan: If relying on security cameras, do make sure they're on -- assuming you can check the screens, possibly by checking the front-desk. There's regularly "decoy" cameras, and I wouldn't be surprised if thieves knew which are decoy and which are not. Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 16:22
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Big picture options:

Madison to I-80: I recall, many years ago, going SW through Dubuque and Cedar Rapids, probably better than heading due south through Rockford.

I-80 to Des Moines: applies to any of the options here.

Options:

(1) I-80 to I-76 to Denver, I-25 South to Albuquerque

(2) I-35 to I-70 to Denver, I-25 South to Albuquerque

(3) I-35 to Oklahoma City, I-40 to Albuquerque

Pro/Con:

(1) I-80 to I-76 is generally pretty gradual gradients, fairly light traffic in my experiences (but those are a bit dated). But, Denver south to Colorado Springs can be ugly, traffic wise. Then Raton pass is about 7800 feet in elevation, and there has been road construction the past few years. I go over that pass multiple times per year, and have done it with a fairly lightly loaded U-Haul trailer, but am quite comfortable with mountain driving and have a truck set up to tow well. You also go over the Pecos, and sections of I-25 north and south of Santa Fe can be a bit exciting.

(2) I-70 might be a bit longer, trending a bit towards the north between Kansas City and Denver. Rather than going to Denver I would cut off onto US24 between Limon and Colorado Springs - you skip much of the Denver to the Springs traffic, but still have Raton etc. from (1) above.

(3) I-35 to OKC has no real altitude gains. From OKC, I-40 to Albuquerque is pretty benign as well. Grades near Tucumcari, Santa Rosa, and through the East Mountains into Albuquerque, but nothing at all like Raton pass.

(3a) If you really want to be adventurous, and see lots of cows, you could go West from Wichita on US400, then on to US54 through Liberal KS, Dalhart TX, and down to Tucumcari. Not many hotel options on that route, so might not be the best for little kids...

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    And, if you want good New Mexican restaurant suggestions just ask...
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 22:27
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    I'll see you your restaurant recommendations and raise you with my own .. lol
    – Peter M
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 22:28
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    @PeterM - might be interesting to compare. I don't get up to Santa Fe often to eat...
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 22:30
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    My go to in ABQ is 66 Acres, but also Fork and Fig and the Burrow. But there are great places up here like Tomasitas, Thai on Canyon, El parasol. And a local secret is Tune Up
    – Peter M
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 22:34
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    For New Mexican, I go for La Salita here in Albuquerque. El parasol is, indeed, a classic, but I've only been to the Pojaque and Los Alamos locations...
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 22:37
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The other suggestions include interstate highways, but I suggest instead taking state route 54.

That route is much more fun - you can see what is happening, and it is easy to stop off and see things. It is also very flat. In addition to all of this, it is a very direct route.

Specifically, drive directly from Madison to Des Moines: enter image description here

After this, take I35 to Kansas City: .

enter image description here

Then, take 70 / 335 to Wichita: enter image description here

Then, route 54 from Wichita to Tucumcari: enter image description here

After this, it is a straight shot on I40 to Albuquerque.

I've taken this route on road trips a dozen times, and enjoy it very much. Even more, it is the route suggested by Google.

I suggest staying past Des Moines and Witchita along the way, as motels there are fairly cheap and very fun.

(There are plenty of bathrooms on this route; and easy to stop when not on the interstate.)

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