Monday, February 15, 2010

No Kicks on Route 66

723 - 933 (11138 - 11348)

Today I made a relatively short drive, from Amarillo, Texas to Santa Rosa, New Mexico. I had decided to "Get My Kicks on Route 66" by following the historic highway as best I could, and make a number of stops at Route 66 landmarks.

This sign on Historic Route 66 in Amarillo claims "Road Does Not End." The sign itself has seen better days; this served as a bit of foreshadowing for my journey today.

But first some stops in Amarillo. Probably the area's most recognizable landmark is Cadillac Ranch. Is it just a line of of ten junker Cadillacs buried nose down in the middle of a farm field, or is it art? (that's one of my art critic brother's favorite questions; see his blog entry Art? Not Art?)

Cadillac Ranch, built in 1974, is the product of eccentric helium millionaire Stanley Marsh 3 (he thinks the Roman numeral III is pretentious) and The Ant Farm, a San Francisco art collective. The cars are positioned nose-down and face west "at the same angle as the Cheops' pyramids." The cars were actually moved two miles further out in 1997 to avoid the expanding city.

Cadillac Ranch is open to the public at all hours, though I was the only public at the time of my visit (Monday late morning). Graffiti on the cars is encouraged and the cars undergo an ever mutating layer of paint. In 2005 the cars were given an all pink makeover in tribute to breast cancer victims and later painted black to honor the passing of one of The Ant Farm.

Armed with my own can of Krylon, I trudged out through the mud - having my Merrrels sucked off more than once - and added my own symbolic touch in honor of my epic journey. With limited vandalism skills, I spay painted only TJs EX AD for Ted's Excellent Adventure. Thus my addition to this iconic showpiece of Route 66.

Another piece commissioned by Marsh is south of Amarillo, named Ozmandias on the Plains but known as The Huge Pair of Legs. Apparently Marsh thought it would be fun to build a monument inspired by the poem Ozymandias written by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Ozymandias is what the greek philosophers called Rameses II, of Egyptian fame. Personally I liked the addition of the painted tube socks. Note the incredibly flat terrain of the Texas Panhandle.

The previous day I had stopped at the Slug Bug Ranch in Conway, Texas, east of Amarillo. It is an obvious attempt to spoof the more famous luxury car monument west of town.

I moved on to pursue the allure of the Mother Road. In Adrian, Texas I started to try to follow old Route 66 (there is no actual Route 66 anymore). Adrian is the midpoint on the Mother Road - 1,139 miles from both Santa Monica and Chicago. Of course there is a sign to mark the spot.

Across the street from the sign is the MidPoint Cafe, whose motto is (predictably) "When you are here, you are halfway there." In operation since 1928, they continue to serve Route 66 travelers their famous specialty, "Ugly Crust" pies. But not in the winter. Bummer for me.

Following the old Route 66 quickly became both an adventure and a frustration. For instance, some three miles after leaving Adrian I came upon this sign (2/10? Why not move the sign back a couple hundred yards and make it 1/4 mile?). I had no choice but to double back the three miles.

It was not my last detour. Here is a dead end I hit as I approached New Mexico. At least there was finally some scenery on the horizon.

Occasionally my trials were worth it. Loved these "Modern Rest Rooms" near San Jon, New Mexico.

I had been looking forward to visiting Tucumcari, New Mexico, the quintessential Route 66 town. It promised a procession of retro-photo opportunities and buildings from a bygone era.

One such building is TeePee Curios. It's not the only teepee on Route 66, but this neat little building fused onto a concrete wigwam is one of the most recognizable. I dutifully went into this monument of TaT. The sole occupant was a gentleman with a long white beard who was, unfortunately, obviously bored and totally uninterested (despite the fact I was probably one of his few vistors that day). Asked how was business, he said "Slow. But it's that time of year." I had hoped for much more, like tales of the glory days. My whopping $2.59 purchase likely did not make his day.

Up the street is the Blue Swallow Motel, a classic Route 66 business in this frozen-in-time town (maybe it is the "100% Refrigerated Air"). Built in the 1940s from surplus WWII cabins, the Blue Swallow is listed on National and State Historic Registers. It is a genuine relic of the era. Highlights are the murals on most of the outside and garage walls and the neon lighting.

Apparently the rooms still have rotary phones and the original tile in the bathrooms. The garages, a signature of motor courts of the era, are another unique characteristic of this motel. I would have enjoyed giving this place a try, but like the MidPoint Cafe, it is closed in the winter.

Two newer additions to Tucumcari's roster of attractions are the chromed Route 66 Sculpture and the Mesalands Dinosaur Museum. I had looked forward to seeing "the largest collection of life-sized bronze prehistoric skeletons in the world." But, you guessed it, the museum was closed on Mondays.

Dedicated in 1997, the three story Route 66 Sculpture is set on a sloping base that looks like a Tex-Mex temple made of sandstone tires and twisting road outlines. It's topped with a chrome, Cadillac-like fin, tail lights, and a pair of tubular 6s - all headed west. Personally, it did nothing for me; in fact, it seemed out of place.

I was getting no kicks on Route 66. I was really hoping for some sort of epiphany, a downright religious experience of highway travel. No such luck. Tucumcari was nostalgic, but struck me as plain old seedy.

My destination for the night was Santa Rosa, New Mexico. I first tried to follow old Route 66 some more, finding myself on dirt roads and crossing cattle grates. This sign warns of "Stock on Highway." The term "highway" is used loosely here.

Bonnie (my GPS voice) was no help in this endeavour. After I crossed under I-40 through this narrow culvert, I decided I would follow only the well marked "Historic Route 66" signs.

Santa Rosa is home to several long-established, family-owned historic roadside cafes. The “Fat Man” symbol of the Club CafĂ© was a familiar icon on Route 66. The Club Cafe is now closed but was operational from 1935 to 1992. Joseph’s Bar & Grill is now the home of the grinning “Fat Man.” However, I decided to try a spot with less of a touristee feel.

I chose to have dinner at the charming Lake City Diner on the town square, and sampled Sierra Blanca Brewery's Roswell Alien Amber Ale. The meal was fine, but I was not impressed with the beer. Maybe the aliens should kidnap a good brewmaster and probe his brain.

Tomorrow on to Albuquerque.


  1. Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

  2. Tagging Cadillac Ranch... now that's Art!