13 May – Route 66 here we come – armed with a whole lot of guff from the tourist information office we started on our journey along ‘The Mother Road’. For a lot of the journey today we were running parallel to the Interstate but ducking away from it as we passed through small towns. Already we are seeing evidence of the past life of the road – abandoned motels, boarded up restaurants and then the odd little surprise. Shaw Nature Reserve – in 1925 the Missouri Botanical Garden purchased five adjoining farms to create a safe haven from the dangerous smog of St Louis (this must still be a problem because the temporary sign on the freeway yesterday said it was a green air day) for the Garden’s renowned orchid collection. Since then it has evolved into an area with restored prairies, wetland glade, woodlands and their special wildflower gardens. We had a nice wander around the wildflowers – not very many in bloom at the moment but enough different ones to make it interesting. Followed that with a small walk out through their prairie to the pioneer style adobe cottage.
Onwards – we passed through several small towns – Gray Summit, St Clair and Sullivan before stopping at mural central – Cuba. With a population just over 3,000 they have created about 12 large murals on their old buildings within the town. We first had to sample the local deli – run by Menonites. Not only were their donuts extremely scrumptious, the store was stocked with all sorts of home made jams, pickles, sweets and spices. Bought some sorghum molasses to try as well as some lovely home-made soap.
A little further up the road was Fanning and home of the world’s largest rocking chair along with a little antique/souvenir store. They had a nice large car park, so got their kind permission to stay overnight.
14 May – Nice to have a quiet night and our wake-up call from the passing train wasn’t too early. Continued on through to St Robert then Rollo through mostly bumpy roads. The attractions listed in our little Route 66 bible have not yet been up to much. The old car sales yard was just a handful of very tired and rusted out heaps. The Mule Trading Post had an interesting array of antiques along with a lot of useless stuff. These places are still back in the 50’s and not quite sure how they make a living.
At Lebanon the local library had a very good little museum related to Route 66 with a lot of good memorabilia, a mock 1950’s road cabin interior and a soda store. Had to divert to the Interstate in a couple of spots where 66 was not passable due to unservicable bridges. Even had a little bit of 4 laneing on the original route put in for military purposes during WWII. There are a lot of old buildings on this route but probably no more than we have seen throughout the country on the back roads. Just out of Lebanon headed for the State Park at Bennet Spring – our first Missouri SP and quite nice facilities. Had a bit of time on our hands so we were able to get our tax returns filed on-line which is one task out of the way for another year.
15 May – Just at the time we were ready to leave the heavens decided to open up making a wet start to our travels. Stopped off in Lebanon to pick up supplies. The route today took us along through the little settlements of Conway, Marshfield and Strafford none of which had anything of interest to offer. On the outskirts of Springfeld a small Air and Military Museum attracted Bob’s attention, but didn’t keep him away for long. 66 then headed out through a lovely country run with much improved roads through to Halltown. A restored 1930’s gas station with a few old cars was our stop for a while. The guy who had rebuilt this had collected a lot of “old” junk which was mostly just piled up in his barn. He had passed away in January so it’s fate is now up in the air. His neighbour across the road had some lovely (for American cars) Corvair Corsas which were in really nice condition and quite cute cars which they proudly showed off.
Back on the road we had an unintended detour as we lost the unmarked route for a while, but back on track we stopped just outside of Carthage in a small truck stop.
16 May – Just a little back up the road we visited Red Oak II – a collection of old houses and buildings gathered together by a local artist, Lowell trying to recreate the ghost village of his youth… He has now run short of enthusiasm and has sold off individual houses to locals but a few of the old buildings remain to look around. As with most of the “attractions” parts of it were extremely tired.
Back en route we finished the last bit of the Missouri leg and hit the state of Kansas. A very bumpy first mile had us in Baxter Springs and a refurbished gas station with a little diner. This town was the inspiration for the Cars movie and they had the fire engine and breakdown truck in their forecourt which were the basis for a couple of the main characters. A little down the road was a local mining museum – a real mish mash of memorabilia from the period when mining was king in this area.
The next 13 miles in Kansas flew by and hey ho we were in Oklahoma. Stopped off at another local museum which was absolutely magnificent in comparison to our last stop. 22,000 sq feet of recreated town scenes, large WW1 WW2 displays. Wonderfully presented and a real surprise for such a small town.
Miami was our final stop for the day – we first sussed out the local RV park provided by the town – a large parking area by the river with a fish cleaning station (this seems to be its primary use). Satisfied that we could stay the night here in peace – back into the small town and their little nicely presented motorcycle museum.
Back at our parking spot and sweltering in the very humid evening checked out the weather report to note that there was a tornado watch in this very county along with a severe thunderstorm warning. By 11pm the storm was making its presence felt with lightning and thunder but no rain. Kept the weather radio on and kept listening to the updates. Bob had tried to get some shut eye but it was too noisy to get any sleep so I watched the spectacle in the skies instead. Soon after midnight the warnings on the radio changed – tornado watch turned into a tornado warning for our area – the warning tones were sounded every few minutes and just as I woke Bob to get him ready to move, the tornado sirens started blaring right outside our van. We had sussed out earlier that there was a fire station just over the road from us and figured that they would be sure to let us in so had got prepared earlier in case we had to take shelter. With the sirens still blaring we moved Wanda closer to the Fire Station and went inside for shelter. Turns out they have the only public shelter in this town and the basement was soon filled up with about 25 people who we can only assume must have come from local mobile homes. The whole system passed over us in about 45 minutes and we were free to leave and go back to Wanda. The local fireman had shown Bob on their radar how the potential for the tornado had been right over the top of us. Luckily one didn’t form but several did touch down in the county and strong winds did cause damage. We appeared to miss the worst of the strong winds.
17 May – There must have been some very heavy rain in the catchment areas as our river was flowing way more swiftly and much higher than last night with a huge amount of debris coming down in the way of trees and branches. That didn’t deter the fishermen and there was a steady stream coming down to try their luck. Off on the road again. Route today to take us from Miami through Afton where we stopped at a little resurrected gas station with a collection of mainly Packards.
Tried to stop in Vinita for a late lunch at a restaurant promoting calf fries but their Sunday hours had them closing at 2pm so that scotched that idea and so it was lunch a la Wanda.
We meet interesting people as we go – in Afton got chatting with a nice guy from Alaska who was riding the route on his Harley. We met him again near Catoosa at our next photo op stop – the Blue Whale. After a little stop there it was on through Tulsa – good to do this on a Sunday
as 66 winds a tortuous route through the city streets.
Out the other side it was just a quick trip to Sapulpa and Wallies. Route 66 has several old sections of the road which are not suitable for us to take Wanda on so through this area we have opted for the post 30’s routes which are still interesting.
18 May – After a nice quiet night left Sapulpa in the direction of Oklahoma City with a few stops on the way. We have been travelling through countryside so much like NZ but when we come into the little towns it is like going back 50 years. Many of the towns have really nice buildings but the shops are mainly closed down. Our first stop was the Rock Cafe known for it’s alligator burgers but 11am in not really the right time of day for that so we settled for a piece of pseudo pecan pie which was extremely sweet and sticky. A group of Germans on a Harley Tour of Route 66 had their bikes lined up outside the cafe in a very orderly fashion. On again and through the little towns of Depew, Bristow, Chandler and Stroud.
Not much to stop and see so moseyed along to Warwick and another little motorcycle collection in yet another old gas station. He had taste – with mostly non-American marques including a 1976 Triumph Bonneville still in it’s original packing crate. Some nice early bikes as well.
From here we started to see a slight change in the landscape – opening out more with less hills and more wheat fields. Spent the best $2.30 of our trip by paying to go on the toll road which skirted the city of Oklahoma which we had been warned might be a bad experience – what bliss, not a lot of traffic and it didn’t even pass within sight of the city. Out the other side it was back on to 66 and our stop for the night at El Reno. The local casino offer free parking with power so a good excuse to stop for the night and a little flutter for me kept me occupied in the evening.
19 May – A little more progress along the way. First stop was in El Reno for a look at their local museum – it wasn’t meant to be open today but the docent had come in to do some admin and happily let us in for a look around. The amount of local history that had been preserved was admirable – with loads of photos and artifacts from the early pioneering days and the land runs made by the first white settlers in the area. We didn’t have too long to linger as she had an appointment to keep, so we were soon on our way again bumping along to Fort Reno and another little museum. Fort Reno was established to keep the peace between the Cherokee and Arapaho tribes who had been resettled from their native lands further east. The Fort did not need to be fortified with palisades and it would have been an impossibility in this area as there were no trees for them use. The Fort was used as as WWII POW camp for Germans and Italians and then closed down in 1946 before local interest got some of he buildings revived for display. By the time we had finished at Fort Reno the weather had changed to wet and miserable as we pounded along more of the route. We have reached the praries good and proper now – wheat fields compete with oil rigs abound here. The wheat is nearly due to be harvested as it is turning a nice golden colour.
At Weatherford a small Air and Space museum featuring local boy Astronaut Thomas Stafford beckoned – I had a good book so sat to enjoy that whilst Bob was inside. A doozie of a storm passed through while we where there – a bit of sound and light show but much more dramatic was the heavy rain. Listening to the Weather Radio and the warnings that were given out, heard that we could expect quarter coin sized hail and damaging winds – we were fortunate that the serious part of the storm didn’t pass over us. I don’t think that huge hail would be particularly beneficial to Wanda’s exterior. The weather did do enough to stop our fridge from working on gas, so as we were nearing Clinton we sought out an RV service place to see if we would be able to get it looked at. They had officially closed; were still there but unable to help us out for at least a week as they were flat out getting everyone’s rigs ready for Memorial Weekend. We did get a helpful suggestion as to how we might solve the problem – just start our generator and run the fridge on electric until it heats up enough to dry out all the contacts. That worked – they kindly agreed that it would be OK to park outside their place for the night so that is where we stayed. The skies which had cleared earlier changed into nasties again and by 9.30 the sound and light show started again.
20 May – Back into Clinton to have a wander around their State Route 66 museum. Very impressive for such a small town – it took you through the decades of the route with a room dedicated to each decade complete with period vehicles and photos.
We continued westward through Oklahoma stopping off at little settlements along the way although there is not a lot to see and really the remnants of the 66 route are not too dissimilar to what we have been seeing in the backblocks of most states.
At Elk City was the National Route 66 museum and with the weather turning quite chilly it was good to get into the warm. Not quite as impressive as Clinton’s museum, but it did have a lot of old buildings in it’s complex. Back on the route we settled for Sayre as our night’s stop and their nice county park with the added bonus of power meant that we could have our heater going.
21 May – Didn’t start out till after noon as we spent the morning getting photos done for Wanda’s portfolio should anyone be interested in buying her. The road surface through this region has not been particularly good so we opted for more stints on the I40 to expedite our journey. The wheat fields of Oklahoma have been relishing the rain they have had in the last few weeks as it has broken their 5 year drought where conditions were rapidly becoming like the dust bowl of the 30’s. Several of the museum displays we have seen have had scenes from that era and it was devastating for both the land and the people. Over 60,000 people left the Oklahoma region heading for California and the promise of green and fertile lands with plenty of work on offer (how things have changed, I think they might be doing the opposite in the near future!). The pictures of the dust storms were just awful – huge clouds which could reach as high as 10,000 ft and cover 270,000 square miles rolling through the plains. Added to their desperation was that it was the height of the depression so these Okies were in a dire state as they headed for California. Picture of old trucks piled high with all their belongings, others in cars that were on their last legs and others with families just walking along the roads with their hand carts and the look of hopelessness in their eyes was very moving.
As we headed towards Texola, the last stop in Oklahoma for Route 66, we stopped off at the Tumbleweeds cafe (a bit of wishful thinking here on the owner’s part) – the only sign of habitation in this town of 36 people. Had ourselves a spot of lunch and so long as it you liked it fried you had plenty of choice. Crossed the state line where the wheat fields gave way to the scrubby range of Texas and cattle ranches began to appear. The rain must have encouraged the desert yuccas to flower as they are in full bloom. Shamrock was our first stop in Texas – their chamber of commerce had renovated an iconic service station which made a nice photo op. 20 miles on at McLean a museum dedicated to barbed wire was a fascinating look into the history of ranching in the region. Barbed wire was such an important innovation and changed the shape of the US farming that they hold it in very high esteem around here.
Texas allows overnight stays in their rest areas so it was to one of these that we headed for and shared the area with loads of trucks but several RV’s as well. We were able to get well away from the trucks so settled in for another wet night.
22 May – Got the promised rain overnight but had to wait until noon before the fog had lifted sufficiently for us to move on. On to the Interstate with a side trip into Amarillo to find a Post Office; that city didn’t do much for us so it was back on the freeway. Had to stick to the Interstate for most of the day with a few little detours. Conway had the Cadillac Ranch – buried Caddies which folks can add their graffiti to. It must be a first for a while as they were all submerged in water due to the excessive rain that has been occurring.
Glenrio had a few interesting old buildings and a little souvenir shop and then it was on to the New Mexico border and their rest area. Yet another change of time for us as we enter into Mountain Time. This time we weren’t able to get away from the trucks so settled in for what we thought might be a noisy night. Up on the high plains now at around 3500 ft and you can see for ever on the horizon in all directions. We actually had the clouds disappear to be replaced with blue sky and some sun. After all the cold and wet weather lately this was a welcome change.
23 May – We need not have worried about noisy trucks as in the wee hours of the morning we were treated to a series of thunderstorms passing through instead. I don’t know where they came from as there was no suggestion from the skies around that anything like that could have eventuated. The lightning from storms in this region is spectacular as it leaps from cloud to cloud or strikes down to the ground. The thunder is something else again – several times the claps were so loud and sudden that the whole van shook. By morning they had all gone away and it was time to head westwards again. Our landscape has now changed into scrubby desert, but with all the rain it is so green and the little wildflowers are now in great abundance. The once dry river gulches have terracotta coloured water coursing through them and there is even standing water in the paddocks. There are now long breaks between civilisation if you can call it that – many of the small towns that once were – are no longer – abandoned and falling to pieces.
Not far from Glenrio we pulled into the Russell’s Travel Centre to have a look at their little car museum only to find that they also had a laundromat – joy of joys to be able to wash our laundry in a clean and savoury place (nice not to have to compete with the deadbeats you can sometimes find in a town one). With clean clothes once more, we set off again on the I40. Diverted through Tucumcari to pick up some of the original road, but again not a lot of interest. It hasn’t been viable to drive on the original 66 in this area as the roads are rough and dip in and out of flash flood areas with a lot of water still sitting in them.
Cuervo was another ‘must see’ according to the “bible” – a real derelict settlement with just a few inhabitants but mostly old abandoned houses. 20 miles down the road was our stopping place for the day – Santa Rosa. Our hope of stocking up on provisions was diminished somewhat with only one food mart in the town and not that well stocked. A small motor museum with custom cars, hot rods and a few vintage cars was worth the look. Some were for sale at outrageous prices. Just a little north of the town the Santa Rosa Dam and Lake supplied us with our stay for the night, a COE park campground managed by the NM State Parks Dept. We were able to find a pretty site complete with our own covered picnic table and view of the lake for a reasonable price. What a joy to be able to sit outside and eat our dinner without being inundated by mozzies, no rain and pleasantly warm. Being Memorial Weekend we had expected that it might be difficult to find a spot but we had plenty to chose from. Hard to believe that this time last year we were in Yellowstone and were subjected to hoards of holiday makers.
24 May – Another nice quiet night with no storms to keep us awake. Had a nice little walk around the camp area to view the hundreds of very busy little swallows – there were masses of nests under a bridge span and these little birds were flying to and from them every few minutes to feed their chicks. Into Santa Rosa township and a look at the Blue Hole – a huge natural spring fed hole – 60ft in diameter and 80ft deep – a mecca for inland divers and today was no exception.
With that done we headed back onto I40 for a short way before we took off on Highway 84 towards Las Vegas (not the real one!) before picking up the original 66 route westwards. About 20 miles out from Santa Fe the old 66 turned north again and we took this up to Pecos and a National Historic Site on the ruins of an old Indian pueblo (village) and a church from 1727. A good chunk of the adobe church remained and the walk around the site was very informative. This area was a crossroads for the Indian traders and they would be camped out on a huge prairie below the pueblo. With that done and the weather closing in we got back on the road and travelled about 9 miles beyond Pecos to a forest service campground on the banks of the Pecos river. Luckily it seems that Memorial Weekend is not a drawcard for this area so we easily found a place to stay. We have climbed up considerably and at 7,000 ft the air has a distinctive chill to it. Temperatures are expected to go down to the high 30’s so it will be a cool night. We had a nice little bit of entertainment out our back door – a little gopher, completely unperturbed by us was busy digging out new tunnels. Also hummingbirds were buzzing around in the air – by chance I happened to see an abandoned feeder so moved it closer to us to see if we could get any takers, which did happen not too soon after putting it up. Will take it with us and hang it out whenever we get the chance. Amazing what the altitude does to our sealed packet food.
25 May – Probably chose a good day to visit Santa Fe – the parking was easy and free and it was not too busy. Walked from the Visitors Centre into the old part of the town and around the plaza with all its very upmarket galleries as wellasthe local Indian artisans selling their mainly jewelery products in the shade of the covered walkways around the chamber of commerce building. Stopped for coffee at one of the galleries, only to find out that the owners were Aussies who new how to make flat white properly, so had a nice long chat with them about motorbikes, life in Santa Fe and the forthcoming ‘Iron Butt’ Rally which Olaf is attempting in June – 11,000 miles in eleven days! Time to move on and find a place for lunch. Chose a little Mexican restaurant and sampled the local tostadas which left us more than fulfilled.
With another little walk around headed back to Wanda to check on emails etc. as we have had very sketchy internet reception the last few days. Sadly I was to learn that my lovely donkey Zac had died a few days ago from a twisted bowel, so not a good finish to the day.
Our stop for the night was up at 8,900ft at a really nice National Forest Service campground in the Black Canyon north of town.
26 May – Quite a cold night overnight but a lovely day to follow. Took a punishing little hike up the hills behind our campsite before setting off on the road again. We were told to look out for the wildflowers coming into season – did see some clematis and yellow things. My little hummingbird feeder had an incredibly busy procession of birds sampling the sugar mix I had put out. Back down to Santa Fe then north on 64 up to Taos. What a lovely drive – the first part we drove through the Rio Grande Canyon and then climbed up out of that to be rewarded with quite a surpise. From the closed in rocky canyon we emerged on to a high plateau surrounded on nearly all sides by large mountains. The plateau is huge and flat – covered with sage brush and not a lot else. Further down in the canyon the rocky walls had pine trees perilously perched on their sides, and eroded canyon walls. The rocks are a pinky brown or pale terracotta and the dark green of the pine trees and creosote bushes make a nice contrast. Up into Taos for a walk around the historic part of town – not quite so upmarket as Santa Fe but still a tourist trap with shops selling all sorts of arts and crafts and of course souvenirs. Late in the afternoon we headed out of town to have a look at the bridge over the Rio Grande – 1,200 ft long and over a 500ft drop down into the river below. Quite impressive but of course only tiny in comparison to what we will see at the Grand Canyon. A lovely well serviced rest area overlooking the canyon with notices to say that you can’t stay for more than 24 hours was the easy option for our night’s campsite.
27 May – It was a good choice for the night with only one other camper coming in. Did a little walk along the rim of the canyon – a few wildflowers out and loads of sage bushes with new growth. The smell of the leaves is a cross between lavender and rosemary and not very sagey at all. Took the long way around to go back to Santa Fe and experienced a bit of different scenery. The plateau we were on at 7,000 ft was immense and we travelled along this for about 30 miles before descending onto another huge plateau. The landscapes keep changing as we go along – from relatively flat to rocky and hilly and always in the distance high mountain ranges – some with still a smattering of snow on them. In out of Santa Fe and onto the I25 for a quick blat down the freeway to Albuquerque and the northern tip of the city for a Vintage Car and Truck museum before parking up at Wallies just over the road. Quite a spectacular view from our van out at a very stark range of rocky hills.
28 May – Another museum to start off our day – this time the Unser Motor Racing Museum – a tribute to the Unser family and the many generations who have been successful in the racing arena. Nice display of cars from the different genres of racing from the Indy 500 to the Pikes Peak Specials. Even got to do a 5 lap simulation of the Indy 500 – took a lot of concentration not to hit the wall or go off on the grass – all the other cars in the race had overtaken me so I didn’t have to contend with them! Having to do that for 200 laps in a real situation must be hugely draining – the steering at the speeds that I reached of 170mph was so sensitive. That occupied several hours and then it was farewell to Albuquerque and off along the route on a combination of the post 1937 road and freeway. Stopped at Pareja for the night, courtesy of the Dancing Eagle Casino’s small RV park.
29 May – On towards Gallup today. The scenery changes so dramatically and is never boring in this high desert area. High plains that seem to go on for ever then suddenly they change into hilly areas and the semi grassland morphs into scrubby trees. Before Grants we passed through an area of lava flows which had been quite a challenge for the original road builders. After that we had huge rocky escarpments to both sides. The Red Rock County Park just before Gallup was to be our destination and what a stunning backdrop – big outcrops of red cliffs with interesting formations. As well as the camp ground, there was also a huge arena and stabling yards for the rodeos they hold there.
30 May – Different start to our day – steer roping was on so we headed over to the arena to watch the action. It was the Team Roping Competitions where two riders rope a steer – the first takes the horns and the task of the second is to rope the two back legs – great fun to watch. They get a time posted if they manage to get the horns and two back legs; if they only manage one leg they get a five second penalty. Rodeos are a big happening in this country – the rigs that the competitors take their horses around in to the different events are quite flash. This one had 140 teams competing with a range of ages from beginners to experts. We were definitely not dressed right in our shorts and t-shirts – jeans, checked shirts, stetsons, silver belt buckles and spurs were the order of the day.
We watched that for about an hour before setting off into Gallup and a visit to their weekly flea market – this was a different one as there were not too many white faces – mainly latinos and Indians. Many of the stalls were selling the local Indian jewellery – very nicely crafted and turquoise found here in abundance was the stone of choice. Used tyres and tools seemed to be another staple of this market and this is also where you come to buy hay. Had to sample the Navajo fried bread which is their special delicacy and it was nice. Off on the road again towards the Arizona border and lunch at their welcome station, which wasn’t at all welcoming as they were closed on the weekends when so many people travel, so we couldn’t pick up any local maps.
Clocks back another hour and then it was off to the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. It was like being back in the Badlands of South Dakota – weird and wonderful rock formations with bands of colours.
The Petrified Forest National Park claims the world’s largest concentration of petrified trees. You could get up close and personal on several of the different walks – the colours of the stones which had formed inside these trees was so pretty and the trees were huge. A good fossil display in the park’s museum had some awesome looking creatures which used to survive in this area including the jaw of a huge alligator which would have been a terrifying predator. This is the only national park in the ‘States through which Route 66 has ever passed – they have mounted an old Studebaker car adjacent to the original alignment to commemorate the fact. Just outside of the park a little gift shop and museum offered free overnight camping so that was where we finished up. The desert has seen our temperatures rise considerably but at least it cools off over night.