Route 66 News

The story behind Albuquerque’s big aluminum yucca

A huge aluminum yucca sculpture, appropriately titled “Aluminum Yucca,” in the east mountains of Albuquerque along Interstate 40 and old Route 66 recently marked its 10th year of existence, reported the Albuquerque Journal.

The 22-foot-tall artwork stands out no matter when you see it. Its shape and polished metal amid the mountain rocks capture eyes in the daytime, and it’s lighted at night.

Gordon Huether of California created the $124,000 sculpture, which was paid for with grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation, City of Albuquerque, and State of New Mexico.

Two parts of the story stand out. One was Huether’s inspiration for the sculpture:

His inspiration was twofold, the artist, now 54, recalled in a telephone interview. One part had everything to do with Albuquerque and the East Mountain’s ties to Kirtland Air Force Base: The sculpture’s shining stalks are actually fuel tanks recycled from old military aircraft. The second part of his inspiration stemmed from New Mexico’s state flower, the yucca. Huether said he finds “inherent dramatic gestures” in the yucca’s form.

Second, the sculpture was supposed to be part of a larger complex in that area:

The artwork was originally intended to be just one element of a much larger “East Mountain gateway project” welcoming motorists to the city, she said. Plans called for building a complete visitors’ center with nods to historic Route 66, Kirtland Air Force Base and Sandia National Laboratories. Even more ambitious plans envisioned similarly grand gateways to the city at Albuquerque’s northern, southern and western freeway entrances.

To date, except for Aluminum Yucca, none of that has happened.

I wonder what happened with the visitor’s center? Did the recession in 2008 scuttle plans? Or did the U.S. government get tight-fisted with domestic money when it was fighting two foreign wars shortly after the sculpture was erected?