Friday, June 1, 2018

On the Road Again, Chapter 10

Cadillac Ranch draws visitors to Texas pasture. (Photos (c) Bonnie J. Schupp)

Last stop in New Mexico,

but more craziness

in Lone Star State

Invest in spray paint stock, folks!

Tucumcari… tuckawhat? That’s where we settled for our final night in New Mexico, after turning eastward for the long drive home. Bonnie was worn out in our almost nightly (and free with 20,000 points) Holiday Inn Express du jour, but I went out to peek at the town, fill the gas tank and get the dead bugs off the windshield.

Summer weather was settling in, with temperatures rising into the 90s, and bugs were attacking the windshield like it was a kamikaze suicide mission. (Flying grasshoppers, it looked like, made the loudest impact and biggest mess.)

Outside a closed cafe, Tucumcari
Tucumcari turned out to be enchanting, in an oddball way. Driving along a mile or so of Historic Route 66, I found an assortment of old-style roadside motels, stores and gas stations in various states of survival, decay or abandonment – like the Apache motel near the edge of town, a big sign above the building topped by an Indian face and “vacancy” at the bottom. A tiny notice on a boarded office window read “no trespassing.” And the Motel Entrance arrow pointed to a line of boarded windows and doors.

I also took note of a huge horned animal skeleton on the back of a pickup truck alongside the Tepee Curios shop. Nearby, a camel stood atop the sign of the Safari Motel – and a big one stood in the lobby by the front window.

Route 66 museum monument
But in the glare of the setting sun, I missed a lot more crazy-great stuff – so the next morning, we headed together to check out the roadside attractions there. One stop on the west side of town was a large Route 66 monument incorporating a giant 1950s-style automobile tailfin, standing in front of the local Route 66 museum.

But who needed to see the museum, when the town itself was such an amazing exhibition of faded, quirky glory. Well, not all faded. There was the Blue Swallow Motel, whose owners over the last six years or so have lovingly restored the place to its 1940s and 1950s beauty, including antique automobiles, colorful painted metal chairs outside each room, and adjoining garages bearing signs and painted murals. The motel dates to 1941, and has a working 1941 Kelvinator refrigerator/freezer named “Lois.”

Blue Swallow rooms have adjoining garages,.
There’s a couple of murals, including one of James Dean smoking a cigarette and standing next to his Porsche automobile – presumably the one in which he died in a crash.

On an adjoining lot stands an old gas station with two pairs of “pumps” – one for leaded gasoline, the other ethyl – at period prices. On another fuel island, a pair of Tesla charging stations. 

Most of the Blue Swallow rooms have a queen bed, and prices start at $89 a night, an employee  said as we peered into some that had just been vacated and were being cleaned.

Old artsy signs, neon and not, abound on the roadside – many having outlived their businesses. A former laundry building has one depicting a housewife doing her washing in a round tub.

One motel has a sign declaring that Clint Eastwood stayed there. 

A roadside café has half an airplane nestled against its side wall.

And there’s three miles of this kitsch! Even an Edsel! (Come to think, why not an Edsel? It’s a perfect touch.)

We spent the noontime hour there as Bonnie took dozens of pictures, and then bid adieu (or maybe adios) to New Mexico, hopping back onto Interstate 40 and heading into the Texas panhandle – the narrowest part of the Lone Star State.

Cadillac, VW graveyards and a giant cross

Two graffiti painters add their touches to buried Caddies.
One of the best-known quirky attractions in Texas is the Cadillac Ranch, just off Interstate 40 west of Amarillo. It is a line of Cadillac automobiles half-buried hood-down in a pasture, baking under an unforgiving sun on the Wednesday after Memorial Day. Not a holiday, not a weekend… and we were stunned to find a steady stream of a couple dozen gawkers and graffiti painters walking about a tenth of mile in from the frontage roadway parking area.

With shifting winds, it was difficult to avoid the fumes of spray-painters' efforts. Graffiti is encouraged. Even the old barbed-wire pasture fence has been painted. In a sense, whatever anyone paints on the cars may last forever – but under layers of graffiti added by other visitors. Who knows how long this bizarre display will survive, but I imagine that after a century or two of paint layers, the Cadillac frames will have grown larger.

A Slug Bug jalopy adds artistic touch.
Beetles planted at Slug Bug Ranch
Our next stop was a spoof of Cadillac Ranch about 20 miles east of Amarillo, near the community of Conway. It is called the Slug Bug Ranch, for a row of five dead Volkswagen Beetles similarly buried and adorned with layers of graffiti. But there’s also several buildings of a former fuel stop bearing wacky messages, and back in a grassy field an old pickup truck – its hood popped open – under the rotting canopy of a long-abandoned Texaco garage. 

For visual punning, there was the ruins of an old Shell station, a shell of its former self.

Giant Cross rises over Stations of the Cross.
Further east, in the town of Groom, we found religion – a 19-story cross reputed to be the second-biggest in the Western Hemisphere, standing almost like a sundial surrounded by metal sculptures depicting the Stations of the Cross. 

Climb a nearby stairway to find a recreation of Christ’s tomb watched over by a pair of angels.
On a blistering hot day, it was a relief to check out the center of the property featuring a religion-themed fountain, and an air-conditioned building with a gift shop, divinely clean restrooms, and a 230-seat movie theater screening an eight-minute inspirational film. I peeked inside and found not a single soul, just empty seats. Jesus!



Texas over and done, quickly!

The Panhandle is just 177 miles wide, so we reached Oklahoma by 6 p.m. (even after losing an hour, since crossing into Texas we had entered the Central Time Zone and lost an hour). And 40 miles later, we pulled into Elk City and found our next Holiday Inn Express – this one extraordinarily luxurious, and free for our stay (at a bargain surrender of 15,000 reward points).

After sharing a steak dinner at a nearby sports bar and grill, called Boomtown, we settled into our executive king room (an upgrade over the standard twin-double afforded us Platinum Rewards members when available) and expected to watch a late-night comedy show. But none was being aired over the local network affiliates. Instead, we were treated to dramatic live coverage of a string of violent storms sweeping southeasterly 30 to 40 miles north of Elk City.

Amazing to watch the coverage as the TV stations had crews broadcasting the view through windshields as they drove into the storms. The weather anchors were giving minute-by-minute storm tracks, warning of cyclonic action, winds of 60 to 90 mph, and the possibility of hail the size of baseballs. One road crew told of hail hits cracking the windshield, and showed an image of a car perhaps two-tenths of mile in front of them spinning around in the middle of the road before the driver luckily regained control.

There were indications the storms could reach Interstate 40, closer to Oklahoma City – one of our planned destinations for Thursday afternoon. But by morning, there was no alarming news about the overnight drama. Just another weather day in Oklahoma, I guess.

Next chapter: A few stops in a very wide state, OK?

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