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Getting My Kicks on Route 66

(Reprint from News: June 24, 2001)

June 21, 2001


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.


After leaving 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 there.  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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Route 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. 


Amarillo 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 guess.


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.



Above 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.

Above 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. 

Above right:  Fountain in Old Town, Albuquerque. 



Above left:  Hey, it's Del's Restaurant! 

Above center:  Route 66 curio store in Tucumcari.

Above right:  Abandoned drive-in in Tucumcari.



Above 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 funky!

Above 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.

Above 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!



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