Last week, some changes at work required me to make a change in my schedule from Mon-Fri to Tues-Sat for a little while. I made this decision mid-day Friday, and when I left work that day I was looking at a sudden three day weekend. I had planned to drive down to Okemah, OK on Saturday, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt I needed something more. At dinner, I was talking to my friends Kristi and Maggie about my desire for a more substantial road trip and an idea was born: New Mexico. I drove through Albuquerque with DeeDee, but I hadn’t gone to Santa Fe and a nine hour drive didn’t sound impossible. I got home at 9, asked Samantha what she thought about it, and by 10:30 PM we were on the road.
Although my original plan was to drive through the night, 3:00 AM was our stopping point in Shamrock, Texas. I woke up Saturday morning drunk with excitement. I snuck out of the room while Sam slept and walked over to the U Drop-Inn Conoco Tower Station. It’s one of Route 66’s most iconic buildings. I’d taken a few shots last year, but I would never go by and not capture more; it’s stunning. After Samantha woke up, we explored it together and admired the art deco architecture. We stopped into the little shop and talked to the people there, too, continuing our exploration to the old cafe inside.
Once we were satisfied, we drove on down the highway towards New Mexico. I took every opportunity to travel Old Route 66 whenever signage or surroundings indicated I needed to exit I-40/modern 66. I stopped off at the leaning water tower in Groom, Texas and the 1930s school in Conway. We also paused at what turned out to be Sam’s favorite place the entire trip: Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo. We marveled at the bizarre art installation together, overhearing several different languages as other travelers did the same. One person was even using a paint roller to cover one car in solid white…striking, considering the heavily tagged surroundings. (Interestingly, on our drive back two days later it had been completely spray-painted over again.) We continued on through the tiny town of Vega, and before I knew it we had arrived at Adrian…the home of Route 66’s midway point.
I pulled off at an interesting building in Adrian and took some photos of rusty gas pumps when I was approached by a man that seemed to come straight out of the scrub brush. He asked if I wanted to see the inside of the building. I eagerly accepted his offer and received a tour of the Bent Door Midway Station. The east side of the building was made from part of an old Air Force air control tower, which is where the titular Bent Door came from as well as the peculiar angled shape. Due to a roof leak, restoration was going slowly for the couple that bought the old station five years ago, but the jukebox worked and they have several vintage pictures on the wall to inspire them to keep going. I hope the next time I drive through Adrian, I can stop and have a cup of coffee at the Bent Door. A few blocks west of that station was the actual Midpoint of Route 66, punctuated by signs, flags, road markings, and a cafe. 1139 miles to the east was Chicago, Illinois and 1139 miles to the west was Los Angeles, California.
We gawked at a few of the roadside attractions there before driving on. The next place I stopped was Glenrio, TX. Actually, Glenrio exists in Texas AND New Mexico. Since the sign had a little ‘Route 66’ badge on the main highway, I expected a little dying community…but found instead a community that had already died some time ago. The Mother Road was a dead end to the east & a gravel path to the west. The town itself contained several skeletal buildings, but no signs of life. I felt like I was entering an open-air tomb. It was beautiful, of course, and right up my alley…but I wondered how many other travelers stopped here, expecting more. I probably could’ve spent an entire day wandering around the structural tombstones, but we still had a lot of miles to turn before sunset.
We stopped by the Russell Travel Plaza just inside New Mexico (recommended to us by the Bent Door proprietor) and enjoyed their indoor car museum and comfort food. Further west, we drove through San Jon and arrived in Tucumcari, the crown jewel of Old 66. Many old hotels and shops are still in business & neon signs line the highway. There were plenty of sights I’d missed my last trip through town and many I shared with Sam for her first time. Beyond Tucumcari, we passed through Santa Rosa (more great old signs!) and continued towards ABQ. I stopped at another small rest area, once known as the Longhorn Ranch, but similar to Glenrio there wasn’t much left.
Moriarty was next, and before we knew it we were passing through Albuquerque City Limits. We found our hotel (the Sandia Peak Inn, right on Route 66!), checked in, and explored the town a bit. As a big fan of Breaking Bad, my initial goal was to find several filming locations and get some snapshots. I had no problems at all, save the Crossroads Motel; they had explicit signage forbidding photographs without paying some kind of fee, so I drove around the block and took pictures from the car at about every conceivable angle. As dusk approached, we grabbed a bite to eat at Holy Cow [good burger, better milkshake!] and walked around the Old Town district, looking through several of the shops there as a band played in the outdoor square. It was rather lovely.
I went to bed Saturday night tired but satisfied. I was eager to get to Sunday and our trip to Santa Fe…and I already had almost 300 photos!