As I intimated in Part I of Day 24, one of the big reasons I chose the course we did for the final days of this trip, was to traverse portions of the old Route 66. We had started the “connection” just across the border of Missouri in a small Oklahoma town, of Clinton, OK. When we pulled up to the Oklahoma Route 66 museum, we had high hopes. The museum is in the old Clinton Armory, and the sign looks very official. But the place is mostly just a bunch of videos, which you can watch from various seats that are supposed to represent old cars from different eras of Route 66…or from a motel bed. It sounds waaaaaaaay cooler that it was.
And that’s kind of the way it is with most of trying to get a sense of Route 66. It’s like meeting a WWII veteran who stormed Normandy Beach. The stories are real, the emotions are rich, the sense of history and nostalgia are palpable…but trying rectify the aging, often confused vision in front of you, with the pictures of his dashing youth, are often difficult if impossible.
Much of Route 66 is gone. But, just like the memories of that aging war vet, there will suddenly be a burst of lucid, clear vision that can immediately take you back to those times in history when America was on the move, growing, and showed no signs of ever slowing down.
Trying to recapture history could be a chore, you had to look…
And we did.
Here’s the long/short version.
If you are a fan of Route 66–
First. Buy this book.
Then, ignore most of it…because you are going to disappointed.
As with many books and guides written by people who are completely obsessed with a topic, what gets them excited isn’t likely to resonate to the same level of “geekdom” with you.
This guy is all about Route 66…down to even the most mundane, rundown, and dilapidated artifact. Like a pile of stuff that is rusting by the road that used to be a gas pump and an old car. I get it. It USED to be something…but, now..it really isn’t.
Like most of the “Route 66 towns” from Amarillo, where we officially got “back on Route.” all the way to Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is where we got off, and started heading North, you had to look and say, “oh…yeah…that looks old, and coulda been something at one time.”
It mostly looked like this.
Used to be a motel…
Used to be a gas station…
Used to be a gas station and is now a tattoo parlor…but at least had the Route 66 sign.
Used to be a gas station…but is at least fixed up.
Used to be a truck…but is near the sign.
Yes. All of these are in “The Book” for Amarillo, TX. With about 20 more things we couldn’t find amidst the urban sprawl that is Amarillo and some of the outlying towns.
But…one of the BIGGEST…and Still Present…and Most Iconic Route 66 things in “the book” and on Google when you search for Route 66 is the “Giant Cowboy Sign” and restaurant. But, don’t ask “Siri” to take you there…because the address she has will take you to a mall about 15 exits (10 miles) West of where you wanted to go. This time, (to my chagrin, and my “analog navigator’s” great delight) the book and the paper atlas were correct…and we finally saw the REAL Route 66 in Amarillo.
The Big Texan Steak House and Motel is iconic…and real…and a blast! They GET it!
The motel has a Texas Shaped Pool…soooooo cool!
Yep…the “Free” 72 oz steak is real…we saw a guy try…didn’t make it in the 60 minutes allotted.
We shared the “Texas Sampler”…do NOT Eat the pepper. I tried one bite and almost died. Our waitress gave us the tip that if we coat our tongues with sugar from a sugar packet after we “Feel the Burn” (sorry Bernie…no Bern in Texas), you can survive. Thankfully, it worked!
Here’s the huge display clock they use for counting down the 72 oz. steak tries. You have to eat the steak, and ALL of the fixin’s that go with it to get it “Free.” Stomach pump and EMT visit extra…
TWO MORE SIGNS that we were REALLY in Texas…
One of the “fun things” you could do in their amusement area was to “Light Up Old Sparky!!” I’m not kidding. Nothing says fun in Texas like introducing your kids to the joys of capital punishment. Now…”old sparky” has been mostly retired in Texas…but they still lead the list of executions each year, by a TON!! I didn’t put a dollar in the machine...too weird.
And of course…Texas has its own version of “Instant Judge and Jury,” of which they are profoundly proud. You can get these in the Big Texan Gift Shop.
Further up the road, er…uhm…”Route” you can find a couple of places that are both “On the Real List” and “Off the Real List.”
The “Cadillac Ranch” is one of the most famous Route 66 icons in Amarillo. But, according to “The Book” it wasn’t even there when Route 66 was actually in operation. But, the building that touts itself as the the “Cadillac Ranch Gift Shop” and even has its own “big Texan” which is actually listed as the “2nd Amendment Cowboy” (who ironically doesn’t have a gun), is actually about a mile and half from the actual Cadillac Ranch. The poor girl at the counter has to say, “Take a right, cross the freeway, turn left, and go about a mile and a half down, and you’ll see it” about a zillion times a day. They have T-shirts, and loads of spray paint for sale…which makes sense, once you actually get to the Cadillac Ranch.
We knew we were in the right place, when we saw loads and loads and loads of kids coming out of the location with EMPTY spray paint cans.
I only bought 2 cans of spray paint… Green…
As I was reminded immediately after my “art installation,” performance art is fleeting. I put my “O” over the top of somebody else’s art…and it was immediately placed in jeopardy by a kid on a mission to paint “everything gold.”
As is the art of the Cadillac Ranch, as was the reality of Route 66…very cool at the time…but mostly fleeting.
HOWEVER…another GREAT Route 66 attraction that didn’t make “The Book” is the very hard to find, but very worth the hunt, “RV Museum” which is actually on the backlot of a huge Amarillo RV Dealer. It. Was. Cool!!!
This is only a fraction of the RVs in this amazing place. We had a blast…and may have caught the “RV Bug.” We’ll see…after we get done with work, and three weddings.
But as we were leaving, we came across this pair of “Bama-Ites” walking in the door. He spotted my hat, and asked, “So…do you have a bunch of colors for that lid?” I laughed and said, “yep…I have a stack of them in different colors back home!” We had a delightful conversation about Nick, the Bear, and Oregon’s prospects to ever beat Bama (you guys need more beef up front).
But the takeaway here…is that if we can get along, and have a great time, even with a difference of opinion, WHY CAN’T CONGRESS???? We both agreed on that one!
A it turns out…there ARE a few gems along Route 66…but most of them are in two places…a little town called Tucumcarie, and in Santa Fe New Mexico (which is actually off the straight shot route that went through Albuquerque).
Just to make ourselves feel “Cooler Than Cool” as we drove through Tucumcarie, we cranked up the Little Feat song, Willin’, which has the chorus, “Well I been through Tucson to Tucumcari, Tehachapi to Tonapah” which are mostly on, and off of Route 66.
The iconic TeePee Curios is in “the Book.”
These places are in “The Book”
This huge roadside gas station and gift shop were NOT on Route 66.
But, when we finally got to Sante Fe, our resting stop for the night, we saw soooooooo many, amazingly lovely refurbished and cool Route 66 era motels that are very much in business (and full…no vacancy for us) that they were too numerous to post here. You’ll have to take my word for it.
We DID have dinner, overlooking an amazing city park, that was hosting a vintage car cruise in, and concert. Perfect timing.
Santa Fe is an artist’s community…and is rated #2 in the nation for the number of galleries (hundreds), and restaurants (more than 400) for a town of just over 60K. It is definitely on our “WE ARE COMING BACK” list.
Loved this version of an interpretation of the “the Last Supper.” There is a ton of religious symbolism in the art here.
Santa Fe also has the “Oldest House in the Nation”…and it is really, really, really old.
Check out the the facts here…
The key thing here…is a very clear reminder who was here first…LONG before Donald Trump and his silly wall.
We hit the “Oldest House” on our way out of Santa Fe…and onto an even OLDER house(s) in our nation’s history, as well as the birthplace of what could still prove to be the END of civilization as we know it.
Our favorite Route 66 location? Hands down…the place that isn’t in “The Book” but should be!!
That’s right…we are heading to Bandelier and Los Alamos… two very different views of our nation’s history.
As a kid,dad drove us to Carefree Arizona and we took Route 66 to Santa Fe. On one stretch of the road he pointed out some Burm-A-Shave signs, saying remember these, one day they will be gone forever. One of the few times I listened to my dad!