Tucumcari Here I Come
Breakfast in my room is good and I stay in there until around 11.30 am. It’s a short drive today to Tucumcari and there are not many roadside attractions along the way, apparently. Apart from a big one that’s not actually on Rt 66. The day is looking like frontage road tracking I-40 for most of the way, with little in the way of diversity.
One job I do though is to make my lunch. I did not finish my 10 oz Prime Rib last night, nor eat the dinner rolls that were provided. So I decided to bring them back in a doggy bag and see what they looked like in the cold light of day as to whether they would make a reasonable lunch sandwich. I got the waitress to include some butter and horseradish sauce as well. I make it up and it seems like it’ll be OK.
After check out of the hotel I drive to Toot’n Totum to buy a small bottle of milk to have with lunch. Then I punch the co-ordinates into the app and off I go. I pull over by the sidewalk at Georgia St to walk the Historic Route 66 District in San Jacinto Neighboorhood. It was described as antique shops, galleries and cafes. Of which there are many. Nothing therefore to interest me much however and I don’t enter any of them. Just a little bit more of Rt 66’s history however that I experience.
It’s a 4 lane highway out of the city, par for the course by now in a big city. Almost as soon as the city ends and I have countryside along the road, and soon after I turn left off Rt 66 down Hope St. A right turn onto the South Frontage Road and about a quarter of a mile on the left, they come into view in a field. It’s Cadillac Ranch.
It’s a sculpture of ten Cadillacs buried halfway into the soil, nose down, their trunks pointing skywards, in the middle of a field. You need to walk about 400 yards across the field to get to the Ranch. The ground to get there is dried mud and I can envisage that when wet this might be a tricky – and dirty – walk. The Ranch is busy with people. They are all milling around making it difficult to get decent photos without someone standing in the way. Patience is required. I get my shots eventually.
I can’t figure out what the field is used for, whether it is in regular use as agricultural land or left to pasture. What is a problem is that recent rains and the daily trudge of sight-seers have turned the soil around the cars into liquid mud. There are huge puddles of water, and deep mud inches thick. Which some idiots don’t notice and step into.
This mud makes it very difficult to get close to any given car. Some cars are worse than others. To take close up shots it requires very careful steps, and even then I still end up with muddy shoes. Just not as bad as some people…
This is not only a photo problem as it also means I can’t get that close to some cars to spray them. It’s a delicate exercise dodging the mud but I eventually manage to nearly empty my can with various abstract squiggles and marks. And today, I tag a couple of cars. Zimbo was here!
It really is a brilliant piece of artwork. I had great fun, (a) seeing and touching it, up close and (b) adding my touches after the 1000s before me. Back at my car, I clean the mud off my shoes as best I can. I get most of it off. A mile down the road I turn right up Arnot St and then a left gets me back onto Rt 66.
Truth be told, from this point on, it’s not a particularly interesting drive for many, many miles. Rt 66 here is the frontage road next to I-40 W, and it stays close by it with little to see. Vega is an exception though. I turn off the main Rt 66 to see a restored 1920s Magnolia gas station on an early old alignment. Here, I eat my excellent roast beef sandwich. The Vega Motel’s sign is still standing after all these years but EZ-66 says the motel is now a strip mall, but it doesn’t look like it. Out of town there is more long, flat and straight frontage road, which is pretty uninteresting.
Magnolia Gas Station, Vega, TX
Vega Motel, Vega, TX
MidPoint Café and Glenrio
Entering Adrian, just up the road through the town is one of Rt 66’s most iconic locations and signs: the MidPoint Café & Gift Shop. I stop and have a look around inside, and seeing the cakes and pies on sale, decide to sample one. I have a slice of Elvis Pie, made of chocolate cream, peanut butter and banana, topped with whipped cream. Very yummy it was… and a coffee as well. Great place.
Back on the road and after just a few more miles of old Rt 66, it disappears. It’s back onto I-40 W for the next 18 miles. Just before the state line, I exit I-40 to visit the ghost town of Glenrio. My impression was that there would be quite a bit of the old town to see, albeit probably quite decayed. Not so. There’s very little of the town left standing these days. The first building was a dead gas station by the Interstate exit. Then on Main St through town there are only two structures left: the Little Juarez Cafe, which was once a Valentine Diner, and a First In-Last In gas station. And that’s it. Apparently Main St where these ruins are is a Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Not sure why.
There are lots of fallen bricks, steel and wood on either side of Main St but it’s a big disappointment in reality. One of the links I’ve provided shows some photos of other buildings. If these were located on Main St, they are no longer standing. And the sign outside the gas station has also now fallen down, as my photo shows just the steel frame standing. I’ve seen more ruins and dilapidated buildings in countless other towns on the route so far, but there really is little to see in Glenrio. Don’t bother with it.
You’ll see Amarillo and Gallup, New Mexico *
Back on I-40 W I cross the state line into New Mexico. A few miles further on and Rt 66 has resurrected itself but it’s as before: frontage road mostly tracking I-40. I do cross over I-40 a couple of times, the final one occurring just a few miles outside of Tucumcari.
Once back on the north side the road widens to 4 lanes. I’ve also noticed that when entering and leaving a city the asphalt is usually in good condition, as I guess you’d expect. The frontage roads are also usually in good condition as well. They can be bumpy or not level in places but the asphalt is generally good. Over the past couple of days I’ve left behind the wild road surface variations of the older alignments in Illinois, Missouri and Oklahoma.
Despite the stops on the way I pull into a gas station on the outskirts of Tucumcari to fill up at 2.55 pm local time. I made good time today but also gained an hour because it is now Mountain Time. I drive on all the way up Rt 66 through town to see where I might buy breakfast. There’s a Lowe’s supermarket at the other end of town, so that’s good. I do a U-turn and go back down the road, turning off into the forecourt of – perhaps – the most iconic and famous motel on Rt 66: the Blue Swallow Motel.
Blue Swallow Motel
I’m in Room 1, the end of room block nearest the road and opposite the Reception building. I have a parking space next door to the left. I enter the office and a lady is serving one couple, and then a guy, Kevin, appears. He and the lady, Nancy, his wife, own the motel. We walk outside and he shows me my room, points out where everything this, then we walk around the rest of the grounds. Kevin points out a room with a communal fridge – excellent news. I didn’t expect a room fridge here but this will suffice. We then return to the office and I check in to the Blue Swallow.
I settle into my room, get ready for tomorrow, take some photos of the motel outside, and set off up the road again in the car to Lowe’s. There’s a reasonable selection of foods to cobble breakfast together. On the way back I stop a few times to take more photos of some the other roadside landmarks in town.
As the sun starts to set around 7 pm I wander back outside to take photos of Tucumcari’s neon wonderland. Kevin told me dusk is the best time to take photos because neon’s brightness can distort a camera light balance and ‘burn out’. This town really does light up at night. The Blue Swallow looks amazing all ‘lit up’.
I walk up and down the main street through town, Route 66 Boulevard, taking photos. I fear though I may have left it a bit late to venture out as it’s fully dark for some of the later photos. Time will tell…
The Blue Swallow Motel is a throwback in time. If you want a modern hotel room and experience, then stay elsewhere. That is not what the Blue Swallow is about. To be clear: the rooms are well restored and maintained, but they are old, you can’t avoid that. They are however in good condition overall, clean and comfortable, and provide a historic place in which to rest your weary traveller’s bones for the night. The bathroom and shower is showing its age a bit and could do with a bit of updating, but that is a very minor quibble. Go stay in a legend of the Mother Road!
Time For A Pow Wow
Nearing 8 pm I call the Pow Wow Inn to request a shuttle ride to pick me up. I’d asked Kevin earlier if they still ran it, as I’d read about it in a guide book: they do. The Inn had good reviews for food so that’s why I chose it for dinner. The Inn is located right at the other end of the Boulevard. Kevin told me the Inn is their lifeblood in terms of keeping the Blue Swallow going. He and Nancy also go there often. “They do good Margaritas,” he tells me.
The lady at the Inn tells me the shuttle will be about 15 minutes but it arrives at 8.10 pm. There are an older American couple inside when I get in. We get talking on the ride to the Pow Wow Inn and they are also doing Rt 66. But in a very different way to me. They are using I-40 to drive everywhere and coming off at exits where there’s something they want to see or stay at. They are from Cleveland OH and have been all over the place on this vacation, Rt 66 just being a part of their travels.
Inside the Inn they opt to sit at a booth when guided by a server. I have a walk around at first to see what the place is like, and where to sit. The bar area is empty apart from two obviously local guys. They are also obviously not from very good ‘stock’ shall we say. There’s baseball on a TV in the corner but the picture is so snowy with interference, it’s unwatchable. The TV over the bar is showing a documentary. Deciding the ‘ambience’ is not to my liking, I walk back and choose to sit in a booth. The server places me just behind the American couple.
Loretta is my server and she seems not to understand my accent, but I get my Blue Swallow Margarita in the end. I order my food at this Mexican restaurant, fajitas, and whilst sitting there waiting, Bob, the American guy in the shuttle, gets up and comes and asks me if I’d like to join them. So I do. Nice gesture, I think to myself.
They must be about 10 years older than me but Bob and his wife Carol are really nice and we have a good chat over dinner. No politics thankfully! Travel is mostly what we talk about, both what I’ve done and where they’ve been.
Another Mexican Disappointment
My Fajitas is my second Mexican dinner in 3 days. The meat of chicken and beef is good but the tortillas, whilst fresh, are a bit thick. The onions and peppers are good as well. But, again, there is no ‘heat’ or spiciness; it is very mild in the extreme. It is accompanied by red rice, sour cream, guacamole and lettuce. As I eat bits of this in a wrap, it descends into a big pile of mush and by the end it’s almost an inedible gloop. Overall, it’s decidedly average food.
Carol said earlier in the evening that they’d had a long drive the day before and were really tired last night, and are still trying to catch up. So they decide to leave. I’ve still got half a beer left so I say to them to go if they want, understanding their situation. They order the shuttle and when the driver appears a few minutes later, we all shake hands, bid goodnight and “safe travels” all around. I finish my beer and request my ride back. The driver this time is ready to go and it’s not long before I disembark back at the Blue Swallow.
There has been a shift over the past couple of days from the somewhat manic first week. It’s almost all ‘proper’ roads, only a few changes of direction or route in a day, and much less of the roadside attractions or POIs. The changing nature of Rt 66, eh? Something new to get used to every day! And I’m sure next week will also bring something different as well.
* Route 66 – Various Artists