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June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas) < Previous News  |  Next News >



Getting 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.


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!


Across Texas in a Single Day

After 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 Texans.


One thing 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?"


Texans are 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.


As I 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.



Above left:  A motel in west Texas that, admittedly, isn't the Hilton.

Above center:  Crossing into Oklahoma, my truck's 48th state.  It will probably be a while before it gets to Alaska or Hawaii.

Above right:  Ooooooooklahoma... where the wind (and the dust) comes sweeping down the plain.



Above left:  Back in Texas, where oil is BIG.  Of course, everything is big in Texas... and the bigger the better.

Above center:  Taking a break on the plains of Texas.  Yes, I was wearing jeans.

Above right:  Interstate 35 in Fort Worth.  Next stop:  Austin.


Austin City Limits

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 singer, Nanci 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 city.  


Here's 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 books.  


Lou, 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.


The most 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 parents a brand-new gas grill for their 46th Anniversary, and a better or more timely gift there couldn't have been.



Above 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.  

Above center:  That's Lou, the Easy Riding SWAT guy on his Harley-Davidson.  He won this little gem recently in a raffle.

Above right:  Driving around Austin with Julie, in search of a new grill.



Above 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?

Above center:  Happy anniversary, Ace and Joan!  Note the fire extinguisher in the foreground... Julie thought of everything.  

Above 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 Ace's Spaghetti.



Above left:  Ace and Joan cutting their 46th Anniversary cake.  

Above right:  Wishing you another wonderful 46 years together!




Next News

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)



Previous News

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)


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Home > Travels (2001-02) > U.S. Trip > June 24, 2001