My Kicks on Route 66
I left the Canyon de Chelly campground at 8 a.m. the next morning, a beautiful
and sunny morning it was.
My first stop that day was at the Hubbell
Trading Post, a National Historic Site about an hour away. I'd driven by
the Hubbell trading post several times during my previous trips through
northeastern Arizona but had never stopped. I figured that I had some time
to visit it, so I pulled into the Visitor Center, talked to a
Navajo park ranger there for about 20 minutes, walked around the trading post
and shot some pictures, then hopped back in my truck and hit the highway after
about an hour altogether. The trading
post is still actively used today and is pretty interesting -- it's definitely
worth a stop.
the trading post, I headed on to what is probably the most
commonly misspelled city in the U.S., the quirky town of Albuquerque, and strolled around Old Town
I had never spent much time in
Albuquerque during my previous trips around America, but from what I saw that
day, I thought it was a pretty nice place... and
much more pleasant than Santa Fe, a city a few hours north that's so
supersaturated with adobe red architecture that it'll make you puke. Be
careful, though, because according
to Santa Fe's City Code, you can puke there only in a deep shade of
adobe red. Jeez, even the
McDonald's in Santa Fe has the red adobe motif... gag me with a Happy Meal.
Anyway, I briefly visited my company's Albuquerque office and finally met several
folks whom I've worked with over the phone during the past year, then headed east
that afternoon across New Mexico following the new Interstate 40 and the old U.S. Route 66.
Here's Nat King Cole singing
Get Your Kicks on Route 66.
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66, finished in 1926, was the first paved highway across America, extending
2,500 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles and traveling through numerous small
towns in between. Between 1930 and 1960, hundreds of drive-ins, gas
stations, and, best of all, weird roadside attractions sprung up along Route 66.
However, when the Interstate Highway system was completed in the 1960s -- a
system designed to whisk travelers from one major city to
another -- a lot of the businesses and most of those weird roadside attractions along Route
66 folded up.
I generally don't like Interstates because they give a bland
view of America and I avoid them if I can, much preferring two-lane highways
such as the old Route 66, which, I think, are a heckuva lot more
interesting. Technically, Route 66 doesn't exist anymore but a lot of the
older cities along it's route, like Tucumcari, New Mexico, still have some of
their former charm. I walked around Tucumcari for about an hour, poking my
head into lots of shops and closed-up drive-in restaurants and chatted
with some of the locals. Route 66 may be gone, but for a short
while I felt like I was right back in the 1950s -- but not that I
remember the 1950s.
A few hours after leaving Tucumcari, I
pulled into Amarillo, Texas and got a funky motel room right on
old Route 66, a motel room that I'm sure had plenty of stories to tell if it could've talked.
means "yellow" in Spanish (it's supposed to be pronounced "ama-ree-yo",
but this is Texas, not Mexico, so people just say "ama-rill-o")
and has a few sites of interest,
including the Cadillac Ranch just west of town. The biggest tourist
attraction in Amarillo, though, is -- now get this -- the world's largest helium factory.
No, I'm not making this
up. Yep, folks in the Texas panhandle are a bit hard up for entertainment,
I thought the most interesting thing
in Amarillo, though, was the Big Texan
restaurant. If you can eat a 72-ounce steak, baked potato, salad, roll, and shrimp
cocktail there in 60 minutes, it's free. About a quarter of those who try it
succeed. The rest fork over $56... and then promptly throw up (and
probably not even in
adobe red). The next morning, I stopped at the Cadillac Ranch and drove by the Big Texan restaurant on my way out of town.
However, I didn't really feel like eating a 6-pound steak for breakfast
(or puking) so I just took a picture of it.
left: Believe it or not, this is the Continental Divide on Interstate
40 in New Mexico. From this point on, all waters head east... as will my
truck for the next several weeks.
center: After working with the Parsons Brinckerhoff folks in
Albuquerque, New Mexico for the past year over the phone, I stopped by their
office and finally got to meet them.
right: Fountain in Old Town, Albuquerque.
left: Hey, it's Del's Restaurant!
center: Route 66 curio store in Tucumcari.
right: Abandoned drive-in in Tucumcari.
left: I was planning to camp near Amarillo, Texas, but after driving past
funky Route 66 motels all day I decided to stay in one. This is the
Bronco motel in Amarillo. It was definitely funky... perhaps a little too
center: Several years ago, an Amarillo
businessman buried 10 Cadillacs on his wheat field west of town as a tribute to
his favorite automobile, thus creating the Cadillac Ranch (and inspiring a
song). There are no signs or markers, but it's plainly visible from
Interstate 40 and you can walk out to it as, unfortunately, some graffiti
artists have done.
right: Here's the famous "Big Texan"
restaurant in Amarillo. Note the Texas flags, which are displayed proudly
and prominently throughout the entire state. Don't mess with Texas!
Across Texas in a Single Day
leaving Amarillo, I drove a LONG way across the flat plains of Texas heading to
Austin. From working as a ranger in the Colorado Rockies for six years and
from my numerous drives across Texas, I've dealt with literally thousands of
flag-toting Texans, and I've learned a few things over the years about the
singularly unique state of Texas and that singularly unique breed known as
I've learned is that Texas is a HUGE state, so the idea of driving from Amarillo
in west Texas to Austin, on the opposite side of the state, in a single day
would be ludicrous to most sane travelers. But then, who ever said I was
sane? Besides, some delicious spaghetti was waiting for me that evening in
Austin. Another thing I've learned is that
Texans are mighty proud to be from Texas. In fact, they feel sorry for
anyone not lucky enough to be born in Texas. After hearing my Midwestern
accent, they often give me a sympathetic look that says, "Gee, you're not from
around here, are you?"
mighty proud of their Stetsons. Here's that Texan
crooner, Lyle Lovett, singing Don't Touch My Hat.
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Something else I've learned is that guys
in west Texas should wear jeans during the summer instead of shorts or else
they'll get whistled at. In fact, I learned this lesson the hard way one
hot summer afternoon back in 1995. Wearing shorts is O.K. in New Mexico and in east Texas, but
here in west Texas, by gum, men are MEN (and, as they say, the sheep are
nervous). And so, trying to fit in with the locals, I was wearing my Lee jeans
that wickedly hot day, figuring that the shorts could wait until I got to Louisiana.
drove across Texas that hot and sunny afternoon, I decided to make a short detour into Oklahoma since,
amazingly enough, it's the only state in
the Lower 48 that my 16-year old truck had never been to. I'm not sure why I've been
avoiding Oklahoma all these years, but I figured I'd get there Sooner or
later (get it?). After spending a few hours driving across
Oklahoma, I thought I started hearing Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae singing
about a surrey with a fringe on top, so near Wichita Falls I crossed back into Texas.
The thermometer hit 95 as I
drove through Fort Worth at rush hour and a few hours later I reached Austin, the capital of Texas
and the home of George Bush, Dell Computers, great country music... and the best
spaghetti sauce I've ever had.
left: A motel in west Texas that, admittedly, isn't the Hilton.
center: Crossing into Oklahoma, my
truck's 48th state. It will probably be a while before it gets to Alaska
right: Ooooooooklahoma... where the wind (and the dust) comes
sweeping down the plain.
left: Back in Texas, where oil is BIG.
Of course, everything is big in Texas... and the bigger the better.
center: Taking a break on the plains of
Texas. Yes, I was wearing jeans.
right: Interstate 35 in Fort Worth.
Next stop: Austin.
Texas is a great town. Not only is it bustling and vibrant, but it's also
tolerant and open-minded... or about as open-minded as Texas gets, I should
say. And to top it off, Austin is the undisputed capital of
America's country-folk music scene, including the hometown of my favorite folk
Griffith. It's really mind-boggling to think about how much great
music has oozed out of the countless bars, honky tonks, and nightclubs in this
Austin's queen of folk music, Nanci Griffith, singing
Across The Great Divide, from her grammy-winning album,
"Other Voices, Other Rooms."
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I spent the next four days
in Austin visiting
my friends, Ace & Joan and their kids. Ace was a colleague of my Dad's
a long time ago
at Michigan State and I've known him and his family my entire life. I was a bit
road-weary and it was nice to spend time visiting them in Austin, getting caught up on
things and being treated to some great cooking. Ace and Joan are really terrific folks, as are their
kids, Julie, Lou, and Carol, whom I've known for as long as I can
remember... unfortunately for them.
The last time I visited Austin,
six years ago, Julie was kind enough
to take me around the city and showed me the
University of Texas tower where, back in 1966, a guy armed with several high-powered rifles
barricaded himself and proceeded to shoot over a dozen
innocent UT students on the grounds far below. God Bless Texas, where
it's easier for a minor to buy an assault rifle than, say, a beer (as Jenna
Bush can tell you).
Anyway, Julie and I both have a
morbid sense of curiosity so we tried to take
the elevator to the top of the tower but it was apparently still closed to the
public, so, rather disappointed, we settled for a tour of the nearby Lyndon Johnson library.
She also showed me where they
filmed the PBS music show "Austin City Limits," which I was disappointed
to learn was on the top floor of a building in downtown Austin and not somewhere
out in the Texas Hill Country. These days, Julie doesn't go poking around
the UT Tower much, and instead spends a lot of her time writing
Julie's younger brother, is on
the Austin SWAT team but modestly downplays his job in a way that really cracks
me up. He's got an incredibly fascinating job but you have to drag stories
out of him. After I repeatedly asked him about a tense hostage stand-off that had
occurred earlier in the day, Lou, relaxing on the couch and still dressed in his
black SWAT shirt and black combat boots, finally said in a nonchalant manner, "It
really wasn't that interesting. I just busted down the door, 'cuffed the
guy, and brought him in." Yeah, no big deal.
memorable incident during my four days in Austin happened one afternoon when Ace,
who had started cooking some steaks on their old gas grill, reached down to adjust
the propane canister and... WHOOSH! Flames shot skyward almost
toasting Ace, who miraculously escaped with only some singed eyebrows, a
reddened scalp, and an embarrassed smirk. Needless to say, we all got
quite a scare except for Ace who downplayed it. But then Ace was at
Anzio, one of the nastiest battles during World War II, and he downplays that,
too. Julie, bless her heart, went out to Home Depot the next day and got her
brand-new gas grill for their 46th Anniversary, and a better or more timely gift
there couldn't have been.
left: Having a steak dinner in
Austin. Fortunately, these were a bit smaller than those 72-ounce slabs they
serve at the Big Texan restaurant in Amarillo. L-to-R: Joan, Lou, Mike (grandson), Ace, Julie.
center: That's Lou, the Easy Riding SWAT guy on his
Harley-Davidson. He won
this little gem recently in a raffle.
right: Driving around Austin with Julie, in search of a new
left: Julie at "The Best Little
Warehouse In Texas" (also known as Home Depot) with a hefty present for her folks.
So Julie, how do we get this thing back home?
center: Happy anniversary, Ace and Joan! Note the fire
extinguisher in the foreground... Julie thought of everything.
right: Here's Ace dishing up some of his famous spaghetti. His
spaghetti sauce is absolutely the best I've ever had in my life. I posted his recipe at
left: Ace and Joan cutting their 46th Anniversary cake.
you another wonderful 46 years together!
27, 2001 (Natchez, Mississippi)
20, 2001 (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)
18, 2001 (Clay Canyon, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 2 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 1 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
14, 2001 (San Diego, California)
11, 2001 (San Jose, California)
2, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
19, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
30, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
19, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
5, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
* * * * * * *
Travels (2001-02) >
U.S. Trip >
June 24, 2001