Thursday, December 13, 2012

A little piece of The Mother Road. Route 66.

One thing I love about driving around America is just that – the driving. It’s one of the few places I have driven that you can really just enjoy it. In the hustle and bustle of the Cities and towns it’s much like being anywhere – lots of traffic, stop lights and you never get above 10 or 15 mph. But when you get to places like North Dakota, Nevada or here in Texas it’s fantastic. It’s an endless grey roller coaster of long straight tarmac with views over the deserts followed by drives through, lush with greenery or some strange little town, never before visited by a short gobby manc gypsy. 

These little towns are awesome and it’s a real shame that a lot of them are now little more than ghost towns, with derelict houses and the odd scrap car festering in a long forgotten front yard. However, the places that still have residents always try to do something to get people to stop on their way through. Maybe its advertising some special sandwich at the local Deli or a weird museum of some sort (In America there is a Banjo museum, a Lunchbox museum, Toast museum and even a mustard museum just to name a few). My favourite thing to stop and see though are the weird roadside attractions that you can see just by taking the right road, keeping your eyes open and pulling over to get a better look. That's what I did today on my way from Roswell to Amarillo.
Small old deserted town.

Does anyone still live here?

First I stopped to see Big Tex Randall – a 50 foot high giant concrete cowboy who looms over the road just outside the town of Canyon. He has been there since 1959 and is looking a bit worse for wear, but happily there is a plan to renovate him, give him a paint job to get him back to his best. He used to have a cigarette in his hand, but that was replaced by a spur a few years ago when smoking was found to be bad!
Big Tex Randall

Next, just a few miles south of Amarillo was a field full of combine harvesters – not unusual you may say – but these ones have been half buried in rows. It’s a kind of homage to one of the most famous roadside attractions that I also visited later in the day: - The Cadillac Ranch.

Jumping the Cadillac ranch

Spray paint cans

Who did that?

Long view

The Cadillac ranch was created in 1974 and is located just west of Amarillo. It consists of 10 used junk Cadillac’s in a straight line, half buried in a field. Spray painting of the cars is encouraged and as I arrived there was a huge pile of used spray cans, left by previous visitors. I found one that still had some paint and added my own bit of art, before having a good look around and a climb on the cars. As I was leaving I handed my paint can to a young kid who had arrived with his dad for a look and laughed as he started to spray right over what I had written! Still, I have the photos!

I also stopped to see a huge pair of legs in a field as well as one of the greatest Town welcome signs I think I have come across – pictures of both are here.

Haa haa, I wonder who the Grouches are!?


The final day of my little trip involved a routine drive back to Oklahoma – a straight drive along the i40.... Only I didn’t intend to take the i40 freeway – I would be on a different road that actually sits right next to the freeway but is probably the most famous road in the world and one that doesn’t actually exist anymore. It is called Route 66. 

Ok, I didn’t drive the whole of route 66 – that’s now impossible due to the interstate highways taking over as the main routes across America and a lot of the old route has simply been built over with new roads. But I did manage to drive about 200 miles on it. 
On the mother road.

I found another load of cars buried - this time VW Bugs!

When you read the history of the road you realise why it became so famous. It was built in the 1920’s as a route from Chicago going west and ending in Santa Monica, west of LA. A lot of people used the roads in the 1930’s to head west to start a new life and in doing so brought a whole lot of prosperity to the small towns along its route. Fast food would never be what it is today if it wasn’t for the road as the first drive through restaurant and the first McDonalds’ were both sited on the road.  There was more traffic travelling along the route in the 1950’s going for their vacations to the west coast and stopping on the way to see meteor craters and the Grand Canyon.

..and combine harvesters

Old derelict store and Gas station

You can still see remnants of the old road in places that have been left behind and built around and you can also see lots of derelict buildings, gas stations and stores. So much traffic now takes the faster, straighter and easier freeways that the businesses died out and so did the life of the road. As I said earlier it is now impossible to drive the whole route and the actual road ‘Route 66’ was decommissioned in the 1980’s. However it is still possible to drive large parts of the old road and the signs state you are on ‘Historic Route 66’. 

So what is it like to drive? It’s just a road right? No, it’s far more than that – even when I was driving the road right beside the new highway, it felt like I had travelled back to simpler times. No trucks chasing me down, no traffic lights. It’s just a simple road with fields on either side. Every now and then there are the derelict buildings where the memories of travellers blow through the broken windows and empty gas stations. 

Old wreck

Inside the store

I stopped at one of these gas stations and was poking around inside when I heard a growling noise from somewhere in the back. I ran out after screaming like a girl and turned around to see: - nothing - Nobody.  It seems I was just another traveller who had disturbed a ghost of the past. The weird thing was when I looked inside again through the window, there was a pristine white shirt on a hanger, surrounded by graffiti and broken shelves. I have no idea why it was there, but I didn’t stay to find out. 
What is that short doing there??

It was a fantastic, romantic drive. Even when I pulled over to take a photo and a state trooper stopped to see if I was broken down, he asked if I was driving the whole Route 66. I said I was only going to Oklahoma City and his reply was: - ‘Enjoy it; it’s the greatest road in the country’. That about sums it up. 
Leaning water tower.

The classic old road and the newer highway.


Tumbleweed blows across the old road.

The good news is that there are Route 66 associations that that work to save parts of the route. There are still lots of things to see en route and the internet has loads of sites that explain the route with very detailed maps. People are still driving it and loving every minute. 

I only realised today when I was on that I have in fact been to the start of the road in Chicago and the end in Santa Monica, but today I did the middle. Maybe one day I will fill in the gaps and do the whole 2448 miles. One day.

1 comment: