Route 66: Part one

Back in 2014, Hubby and I travelled a significant portion of Route66 and the Pacific Coast Highway with great friends of ours, who for the purpose of this trip I’m going to call ‘Ken and Barbie’. We started searching for those R66 kicks at Oklahoma City, believing that was where the road got interesting and equally it allowed time us to shoehorn in a trip up the coast road to San Francisco.

It’s randomly where my blogging started, after a casual suggestion from my hairdresser to keep account of our adventures through a blog. I wasn’t ready for a proper blog, but I did try to capture the essence of the trip through extended Facebook posts which I share here. Apologies in advance for all the in-jokes; remember my Facebook pals were my audience. Here are days one to three.

Route 66 Day One: Today was not meant to be the official start of the trip but it kind of worked out that way. We were just going to do the haul north from the airport in Houston up to Oklahoma City but ended up getting into town early. We would’ve arrived earlier still if it wasn’t for Ken’s brief encounter with an over-zealous traffic officer. After some counselling on lane discipline and speed in school zones we turned the corner to find out our hotel was smack bang on R66 – I hadn’t realised that when I booked it!

We dumped our bags and headed into Bricktown, which is downtown OC. None of you will be surprised that we immediately found a bar by the canal and had a beer (it was hot, and we needed to cool down). We then headed over to our first novelty stop at the American Banjo Museum. Major disappointment quickly descended when we realised it was closed on a Monday. Nothing else could be done but cheer ourselves up in the local microbrewery a few steps away.

A few beers restored our faith and we ventured out as tourists once more. We found a beautifully lit park to meander around, with water features, light installations and a huge tropical greenhouse light tube thing (I can’t really describe this well but think Eden project). There was something atmospheric about being in the leafy surroundings with the skyscrapers peering down on you. The mood was heightened by the park’s amphitheatre which had thespians practising Shakespeare under moonlight.

After some debate we decided to walk to the Bombing memorial, our reticence being that was perhaps a strange thing to do as a tourist. Somewhat voyeuristic maybe. Actually, what we found was peaceful, serene and a very fitting memorial for those who lost their lives. Visiting in the dark, with this beautiful lighting was moving. Each soul lost to this tragedy had a chair in the grounds and each chair was lit in a field of empty chairs, smaller chairs for the children. It wasn’t as sad as my writing might suggest, the memorial was both uplifting and spiritual. The reflection pool was built to ‘soothe the wounds’ and somehow it does just that, as it was eerily still.

Our first day on the trip was nothing like we had expected and this was sure to set the tone for the trip. We ended the night at Walmart purchasing much needed mosquito repellent and bite creams. Oh and a few cans of spray paint. But more on that tomorrow people. Night y’all!

Route 66 Day Two: A quick check of the maps, after having a little trouble establishing which way was West, and we hit the road, soon realising it’s not easy to follow the mother road. No word of a lie we had four pieces of modern technology assisting us (none of which was the perfect solution). We were forced to succumb early to the I-40 due to lack of historic R66 remaining. We hadn’t appreciated that R66 wouldn’t always be obvious.

We swung off the road as soon as possible to visit the Indian Trading post, home to one of the legendary giant muffler men. ‘What’s a muffler man’ I hear you ask. Back in the day, these giant fiberglass sculptures were roadside adverts, beckoning you off the road to visit an attraction or a business. Then it was back on the road, towards Lucille’s famous gas station (now closed) which was a quick heritage photo opportunity but then we went all touristy following it with a pit stop at a replica gas station fitted out as an American diner. We just missed the breakfast slot, our plea for waffles falling on deaf ears so we opted for cake instead.

Onwards we ventured to Clinton and a visit to the Oklahoma R66 Museum. Summary: lots of great memorabilia, fun facts and a great gift shop. Elk City came next and the National R66 Museum which had a different vibe. It was a little touristy and mocked up, but still worth a stop for the massive R66 sign. We were then ready for some food looking for non-chain restaurants. All we found were places either totally shut down or had already finished for lunch. We needed to keep pace so went on with mouths full of Pringles and Cheetos.

The guide book recommended Erick as a typical Western town which left me a little disappointed as I thought this meant Cowboys. We stopped for all of two minutes and unimpressed we got straight back on R66 only stopping for a run-down old truck photo opportunity (now called Patina). As Hubby and Ken took their photos, a random Texan chap came out to greet us on the roadside and whilst chatting awhile he recommended we stop at Texola, a R66 ghost town with a cowboy gaol. If you’re lucky enough to get recommendations on a road trip, always check them out, you never know where it may lead you. Texola as it turns out is a partial ghost town (as there are still a handful of residents) but where, eerily, many people had just left their houses, cars and sometimes their possessions.

Next, McLean brought the joy of the Devils Rope Museum, in honour of Barbed Wire and its history. I sat this one out, so Hubby and Ken could have boys time. Apparently their outright favourites were the war wires. Then we hit west once again, making our way to Amarillo. Now the spray paint mystery can be revealed with our visit to the Cadillac Ranch. It’s a public art installation, a R66 institution with ten half buried Cadillacs ready for your very best artistic expression. We sprayed away in the setting sun with grumbling stomachs. Our steaks were calling. We did a double back to the BIG TEXAN for a date with some Texan beef, where we watched a fellow Brit take on the 72oz challenge…and fail. Tanks full, we set off for the Blue Swallow Motel. New Mexico here we come! Night y’all!

Route 66 Day Three: I’m going to start today with the Blue Swallow in Tucumcari as we arrived late last night, so it didn’t feature in yesterday’s blog. I will forever hold a romantic view of a US motel. Our key was waiting for us under the door and the night was balmy so people were sat out drinking and chatting in front of their garages. It was a sweet place, like staying at your grandmothers. It’s a fascinating relic of the true historic R66. The boys went to get beers and we joined the people out front of the motel rooms swapping stories and marvelling at what we had achieved that day!

Fast forward to today and we got our ‘Kicks on Route 66’ at the local diner. Three mega breakfasts later and off we went. We didn’t have to go far for the next points of interest as we managed a giant Tee Pee, a mega Mexican hat and a R66 monument within a mile of the diner.

Next stop Santa Rosa which I would now suggest skipping. The boys were not impressed with the R66 auto museum which had average cars for sale which quite frankly masqueraded as a “museum”. We swiftly got back on the road to head towards Albuquerque, about 120ish miles away. The drive was scenic – think sweeping vistas. Our photos won’t do it justice and I lack the words to properly describe it. Let’s just say we now realise what they mean by ‘big skies’. Incredible! I was permitted to have my playlist on today and I found some common ground with Ken in the form of Bohemian Rhapsody. There was some head banging, lucky for us the roads were straight and quiet.

We had been driving for a while, needed an adventure and took a snap decision to visit Sandia Crest on a cable car. We climbed and climbed but there was no cable car to be found. But reaching the peak we realised there was a phenomenal panorama. We were at about 10,000 ft. A few photos later and we coasted down to the bottom (me slightly panicking as we were running on empty) fortunately finding a gas station right at the bottom. We resumed our travels to Albuquerque Old Town.

If you can picture an Aztec scene in a theme park that’s what Albuquerque Old Town is like. Meandering around we met a jolly lady who explained we couldn’t get a drink in the square without eating. In this town the Catholic Church has higher powers than the local legislature! So we sidled back a few roads to a joint called High Noon where we could drink margaritas without facing the wrath of the Pope. It also happened to previously be an old cowboy bar. Oh and the town brothel! We wandered around the plaza, took in a few shops and by then we needed to start our drive to Gallup, New Mexico…our next rest stop. Only another 100 miles away!

That night, once we had reached our pit-stop, we took ourselves off to ‘El Rancho’ for a last taste of the kitsch for the day. It brings to life America’s Old West, the motel to the silver screen stars in its heyday. Today they happen to serve some pretty amazing home baked apple pie! It was an interesting way to end our adventures in New Mexico. Night y’all!

See my blog Route 66 Part 2 for more adventures.

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