Saturday, May 29, 2021
Note: Posts are not in chronological order.
We’re traveling from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Amarillo, Texas.
We’ve just hit Cline’s Corner’s at the junction of Highways 285 and 40 (Route 66}. Cline’s Corners isn’t a town, just a large rest stop; RV park, filling station, café, and last but most assuredly not least, a gift shop. It’s been a traveler’s rest since 1934.
In either a bit of irony or fanciful thinking, the address for the rest stop is 1 Yacht Club Drive. It’s Northeastern New Mexico and I guarantee there isn’t a yacht, much less a yacht club within 1600 miles. Maybe the founder, Roy Cline, had relocated from San Diego or some other yacht friendly place and felt sentimental.
In any event, Cline’s Corners is not where I want to be. Our first destination is Santa Rosa and I’d planned on getting there by taking Highway 25 which follows the route of The Mother Highway. Instead I took Google’s advice and followed Highway 285 which cut out a large segment of the Route 66 course.
I can’t blame Google this time. I asked and she delivered the quickest route as is her mission.
In any event, we’re back on the course of Route 66, headed east with a final day’s destination of Amarillo, Texas, a distance of 230 miles.
My original plan was to keep the daily miles down to 250 or less and I’ve achieved that but for the fact that we’ve been taking detours to see sights or simply to follow the roads less traveled. The result is it’s taking 6 to 8 hours to cover what would be a point to point drive of around 4 hours. We’ll see how long I can keep this up.
We’re listening to the not so dulcet tones of a radio show called The Hour of Rage, hosted by a fellow named Eric Strauss. It’s 9 in the A.M. on Saturday, F-ing morning and this is how he starts your weekend? With an hour of rage?
KKOB is a conservative news talk station so I’m not overly surprised.
After a few minutes of the Hour of Rage, we decide to ride to the more soothing tones of big rigs blowing past.
I can tell we’re back on the Route 66 course from the billboards we’ve been passing. A lot of come ons for attractions, souvenir shops and curio shops.
Pistachioland! We’ve been passing a succession of billboards advertising the many and varied merits of paying a visit to Pistachioland. According to the billboards, you can buy “guy stuff, ” and “knives, knives and more knives,” and you can fill the inner man with “hot eats and cool treats.”
If you’re more of a pyro kind of guy you can even buy fireworks at Pistacioland, I’ve noticed that fireworks are readily available in Arizona and New Mexico. They’re almost impossible to find back home in the Bay Area.
A friend of mine suggested that I bring some fireworks home to the grandkids but I’m not really on board with hauling high octane fireworks in a hot car for 3 weeks.
“Welcome to California sir,” said the state border patrol agent. “Are you carrying any fruits or vegetables?”
“No, but I do have a trunk full of explosives.”
“Could you please pull your car over into the lot there, sir.”
Pistacioland offers pistachios in a range of flavors; Garlic, Lemon-Lime, Ranch, Bacon Ranch, and Spicy Ranch. For the purist there are also pistachio flavored pistachios.
The piece de resistance of Pistacioland is a 30 foot (9.1 meters) tall pistachio. I trust that the giant pistachio is a facsimile but given that Pistacioland is right next to the old White Sands Testing Grounds where they once blew up a nuke, well, one never knows.
I thought about stopping at Pistacioland on a lark but then I found that it’s 200 miles out of our way.
We’ve passed through a changing panorama. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Santa Fe have given way to the Llano Estacado (Staked Plains). The evergreens, pinon and junipers have been replaced by brush that speckles a largely featureless and seemingly endless land.
It’s this hard land that birthed much of the lore of the American West.
As we drive eastbound beyond Santa Rosa we cross the course of the Chisholm-Loving trail, the rough byway of the late 1860s where cowboys drove herds of cattle 2000 miles from San Angelo, Texas to Cheyenne, Wyoming. (Larry McMurtry based his novel, Lonesome Dove, on the cattle drives that passed north through The Texas Panhandle).
This is the land of the Comanche, a fearsome tribe whose skills as horsemen earned them praise as the “finest light cavalry in the world.”
The Comanche were among the first if not the first to adopt the use of the horse in hunting and in warfare. It was said that a Comanche warrior could loose six arrows on horseback before the first found its target.
George Catlin who accompanied the United States Dragoons in 1834 described a battle scene that would be depicted in one of his later paintings,
“Amongst their feats of riding, there is one that has astonished me more than anything of the kind I have ever seen, or expect to see, in my life:—a stratagem of war, learned and practiced by every young man in the tribe; by which he is able to drop his body upon the side of his horse at the instant he is passing, effectually screened from his enemies’ weapons as he lays in a horizontal position behind the body of his horse, with his heel hanging over the horses’ back; by which he has the power of throwing himself up again, and changing to the other side of the horse if necessary. In this wonderful condition, he will hang whilst his horse is at fullest speed, carrying with him his bow and his shield, and also his long lance of fourteen feet in length, all or either of which he will wield upon his enemy as he passes; rising and throwing his arrows over the horse’s back, or with equal ease and equal success under the horse’s neck.”
This was Native American land, rich in bison herds. The bison provided the tribes with the necessities of life. They used the hides for shelter, bedding, clothing and moccasins. The hair was weaved into ropes and halters. Horns and bones were used to make tools and utensils. Nothing went to waste.
The white man came, and when he came it was with a thirst for precious metals, land and empire and to quench that thirst he used the railroad. The result was the decimation of the bison herds and with that came the disappearance of the Native American’s way of life. Finally, the Native American’s were driven from the land that they’d existed on long before the white man had sailed from Europe.
We’re following the course of Route 66 at the posted speed of 75 miles per hour and the drive across this vast high plain seems endless. This is the same route taken by the migrants from Oklahoma and Arkansas in the 1930s. If it seems without end for me, in the comfort of my modern car, how eternal did it seem for the Okies and the Arkies? After hundreds of miles of featureless land did it seem to them that it would never end?
About 90 miles from the New Mexico – Texas border we arrive at Cuervo, established in 1901. Like many towns along Route 66, like many towns across America, Cuervo was birthed to support the needs of the railroad. Cattle ranching sparked Cuervo’s later growth and the population grew to its peak of 300 in the 1940s, spurred by travelers on Route 66.
Whatever boom Cuervo enjoyed, it went bust in short order. The construction of Interstate Highway 40 split the town in two, leaving 4 streets on the south side of the highway and 2 on the north. The town now, is a shiftless ghost.
Today the commercial buildings all seem to be abandoned and all that remains of most are decaying corpses. While Cuervo does still have a zip code the post office was closed 10 years ago.
I park the car and walk around this shadow of a town with my camera, photographing what remains. There’s a fascination with places like Cuervo and not simply for the photographic opportunities these specters present. I wonder what Cuervo looked like during its peak years. And what about the few residents who remain? Why? I can only think that these are the old timers who either know nothing or care nothing about the world outside of these remnants.
There’s a certain amount of spookiness to it. I feel on edge walking near these old shells. There’s a charnel silence that muffles the semis hurtling down the nearby highway. I’m startled by a pickup truck that stops on the road behind me.
The driver is a burly guy. He’s sporting a big white Stetson, and a thick white mustache that curls around the corners of his mouth. He’s the image of one of those modern day, refusing to modernize, Western sheriffs from the movies. The guy who spouts Western wisdom, can’t understand for the life of him, what the hell newfangled crime has come to these days and even refuses to give up his old Colt revolver for a Glock.
I’m ready with the photographer’s go to, “Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t know.”
And then I notice the logo on the truck door, “Livestock Inspector.” I’m definitely ready with the “I haven’t been rustling any cattle, sir,” excuse.
“Ah didn’t mean ta startle ya,” he says. “Safety first, the weather’s been real warm lately and the rattlesnakes are real active so you best be aware of where you step.”
I thank him, he tips his hat and drives off.
From here on, I keep a wary eye around the perimeter of where I’m walking or standing. Out here in Texas the rattlers are all-stars, not like the puny little serpents in The Bay Area. Below, images of Cuervo.
Forty miles east of Cuervo is Tucumcari. I’ve known of it as a place only through the lyrics of a song about the life of a trucker, titled Willin’. by Little Feat.
“And I’ve been from Tucson to Tucumcari. Tehachapi to Tonopah.”
There isn’t much to Tucumcari beyond being a larger version of Seligman, Arizona, trying to cash in, or simply survive, on the lore of Route 66. That said, Tucumcari is worth a stop, maybe even an overnight, if you want to stay in one of the old, motor court style motels, like the Safari or the Blue Swallow, both of which seem to be restored to in as good as new shape.
During its heyday, The Mother Road was alive with brightly colored neon signs luring travelers into motels, diners and curio shops. Some classics remain alive and as well as ever in Tucumcari, including the aforementioned motels, and also Tee Pee Curios, a souvenir shop with not only one of the better neon signs along Route 66, but also a large cement teepee in the front of the store. Below, images of retro Tucumcari.
We cross into Texas and almost immediately we notice that the landscape has changed. We’re still enveloped in the vastness but vast tracts of green have been added to the land’s palette.
Twenty-four miles into Texas is Adrian, noted almost exclusively for being the dead center of Route 66; 1139 miles from Chicago to Adrian and 1139 miles from Adrian to The Pacific Ocean.
In Adrian there are a café/gift shop, a sign commemorating the little town’s status as being the midpoint, the remains of an gas station and 170 people. There is also, on the shady side of the café a dog bowl forgotten by us when we stopped to give Lexi water and a chance to stretch her legs. It’s the second dog bowl we’ve lost. I ran over the first one when Cora stashed it under the car in a parking lot back in Santa Fe. Below, the midpoint sign and a forgotten gas station (note the gas prices).
Route 66 was a two lane road during its good old days. It’s hard to imagine now, a major interstate being only two lanes. When I was a child my family took vacations east on Highway 80 to Salt Lake City, to visit family. It was two lanes and if you got behind someone out for a pleasant Sunday drive you fumed and cussed as you waited for oncoming traffic to give you a chance to pass. You didn’t get to choose between taking the main highway around a city or town or taking the so-called business loop that takes you into town.
Today, for instance, Highway 80 goes around Reno. It used to go right down Virginia Street. Good for casinos and restaurants but not so much for the traveler wanting to put as many miles behind him as possible.
We cover another 50 miles, god it seems like it will never stop. It’s almost as if a giant hand keeps moving Amarillo, the closer we keep thinking we are.
A dust cloud up ahead. Must be trucks or equipment moving through the fields, kicking up the dirt. I roll up the windows.
As we get closer to the dust cloud, any doubts about our entering into cattle country are dispelled by a veil of stench, a putrid winding cloth wrapping up the car. Despite the closed windows and vents the smell fills the car. I immediately know the source of this insult from a time when I was in Greeley, Colorado and was introduced to cattle feedlots.
A feedlot is a collection of pens, packed wall to wall with cattle, thousands of them, doing what cattle do.
And there they are, off to our right, acres of black cattle packed together in pens. The dust is fecal matter, and plenty of it. This is Wildorado, Texas and I can’t imagine that people can actually live and work around this fetid place.
There’s one final bit of business before we arrive in Amarillo. Ten miles west of the city, is the crème de la crème of Route 66 attractions. It’s the Times Square, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Mona Lisa of The Mother Road. This blue blood of Route 66 camp, is ten Cadillacs, buried hood down in the Texas soil; it is The Cadillac Ranch.
The Caddies are buried at an angle (purportedly the same angle as The Great Pyramid of Giza) in a line starting with a 1949 Club Sedan and ending with a 1963 Sedan de Ville.
The garishly spray painted, and largely picked over, line of cars, is an alternative art project created in 1974 by a collective called The Ant Farm, from San Francisco. The spray painting of the Caddies and the boosting of their parts by visitors began shortly after the cars were “planted.”
While most artists would object to the defacing of a piece, The Ant Farm encouraged the vandalism. I suppose that you could say it’s a work in perpetual progress.
We park at the big roadside field and walk past food vendors and a booth that sells cans of spray paint so that you too can, I suppose, be an honorary member of The Ant Farm. The whole scene is like a campy happening.
The wind is howling on this piece of the Texas Prarie and it doesn’t seem like a great idea to be selling folks cans of spray paint, but the vendor is doing a booming business and the would be Ant Farmers are hard at it. As we approach the line of planted cars and the smell of spray paint is heavy. After experiencing fecal dust it seems that this must be assault the olfactories day. Cora and I take the great circle route, around the cars, at a distance, in order to work our way upwind of the cars and avoid windblown paint.
Since this isn’t the sort of thing that you stand and stare at while stroking your chin in studied contemplation, we take our photos and head for our motel in Amarillo. Below, images of The Cadillac Ranch
Like the Texan said, “Everything’s bigger in Texas.”
The saying has its roots in the state’s enormous size of 268,820 square miles (696,241 km²). My feeling is that the saying has gone to their heads down here. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your state but sometimes it takes on ostentatiousness.
Enter The Big Texan. The Big Texan is a not a thing, but a lot of things – big things. And it is mainly big on garishness. It’s a motel, a gift shop, a bar, a horse hotel (because ya gotta have a place to board yer horse, pilgrim). There’s also a restaurant that offers one of the two things you go to Texas to eat; in this case, steak.
In holding to the whole everything’s bigger deal, the big deal at The Big Texan is the big steak challenge. If you complete the challenge the steak is free. As with most things that seem too good to be true there’s a catch, one that might cost you a hospital bill to have your stomach pumped.
The steak is 72 ounces, that’s 6 pounds or 2.72155 kg. But that’s not all. You must also eat all of the sides which includes, shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad, and a dinner roll. And you must do so in one hour. The rules stipulate that you don’t necessarily have to eat the fat, but that might end up subject to the whims and the mood of the judge. There’s a whole list of disqualifications, among them, throwing up. Puke, and it’s game over.
I’d originally wanted to eat at The Big Texan (not the challenge of course) but we opted for Texas barbecue, which is the other Texas go to food.
Barbecue was a good choice because The Big Texan is a big madhouse. It is packed, shoulder to shoulder, and big ten gallon hat to big blonde hairdo with the maskless. I cruise around the gift shop briefly and then turn a corner to see the biggest rattlesnake I’ve ever seen. It’s four feet long or more if it’s an inch and it’s as big around as my forearm. Thankfully it’s in a terrarium. Below, images of The Big Texan
After buying a mug for a friend I escape the big madness and head back to something that’s not at all Texas big; my motel room – it’s Rhode Island small.
Another day down. Next stop Oklahoma.