After my whirlwind 48 hours in New Mexico, it was time to drive the car in an easterly direction back home. Typically, I like to take different roads when I’m driving BACK somewhere, but given the long distance and my compressed timeframe (I had to be back at work at 8:00 AM Tuesday!) I knew it would be best to take I-40/Route 66 back home. I worried that the drive would be ultra boring; after all, I JUST drove this stretch of road! As I discovered over the long day, my fears were unfounded.
We grabbed a quick breakfast in Albuquerque before we hit the road properly. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day (any time of the day!) and I happily found a local place called Vic’s Daily Cafe that seemed to be a favorite in the north part of town. As we passed out of ABQ’s city limits, Samantha retrieved her notebook. On the drive out, she’d written down an exit number for a little abandoned roadside stop after we passed it. After about an hour of conversation and music, we came to Exit 284 and the abandoned gas station I’d seen out of the corner of my eye two days prior. As usual, I hopped around the little overgrown concrete pad out front while taking pictures of the constructed carcass. When we got back on the access road to get back on the main road, I only made it about 150 feet before I stopped again. I saw what must’ve been a motel, almost buried in the grass and brush. There were signs of a fire in some areas, and in others you could clearly still see the paintings on the walls. It felt totally post-apocalyptic.
The next place I pulled off was the small town of Cuervo, New Mexico…supposedly home to the smallest post office in the country. Well, it’s definitely small…because I couldn’t find it! The town had all the hallmarks of a Route 66 ghost town: vacant homes, roads in disrepair, skeletal service stations, and not a soul in sight. A train roared past, oblivious to the elaborate cemetery that was once a town. They even had the town’s name spelled out on a nearby hillside, reminding me of my trip through Colorado and Utah last year. From there, we drove through Newkirk and Montoya on Old 66. I eagerly pulled over at several dilapidated buildings and roadside cafes, taking the old two-lane blacktop whenever possible. In one area that underpassed I-40, there was even a faded Route 66 badge on the concrete. Although I know other Route 66 enthusiasts probably drive through here somewhat regularly, it felt like nobody had driven these stretches of road in decades. We found ourselves back in Tucumcari in no time, where we stopped briefly to greet the owner of Tepee Curios. He had reached out to me on a Route 66 Facebook group I’m in and encouraged us to stop and say hi.
We passed into Texas and found fewer places to stop off we hadn’t seen before. We ate a late lunch in Amarillo and stopped off at the Slug Bug Ranch in Conway (an artistic tribute to the Cadillac Ranch, only with Volkswagen Beetles). I had remembered an old grain silo complex from the drive out, but the closer we got to the Oklahoma border the more I thought I must have missed it or something. Lo and behold, about 50 miles before the TX/OK border, we finally came across them.
I pulled off onto the access road, hopped out of the car, and zipped around the rusted giants of agriculture for about twenty minutes. There was an old combine, a farmhouse, several silos, and lots of little artifacts. I was walking back to the car with a huge smile on my face when I turned to take a final picture of the whole collection. I took the shot and noticed a strange little candle icon on the screen. I checked the top of my camera and all of my insides dropped to the soles of my shoes. At some point during the afternoon’s travel, I had accidentally changed my camera to a low-light setting. Instead of taking advantage of the camera’s full 13 megapixels, it was taking pictures at 2.5. I got back into the car, where Samantha was on the phone with her mother, and was muttering to myself in anger.
I’m very hard on myself. I know this, but it doesn’t always stop me from launching into a tirade of self-depreciation and self-hate when I do something wrong. How could I be so stupid? Why didn’t I check the settings every time I got out of the car? I’d surely ruined God knows how many pictures because of my dumbass oversight. I deserve any crap photos I get out of the deal, especially the ones that WOULD’VE been great if only they weren’t such terrible quality. Sam, bless her, calmed me down with great patience. By the time we reached the towns of Texola and Erick at the border, I was in a better frame of mind.
We didn’t get home on Monday night until 11:30 PM. It was a quick process to unload the car and then collapse into bed. Overall, the trip was super successful! We both saw new places & I was able to share my memories of the places I’d seen before. I’m very happy to have someone in my life that can share in the adventure with me, help me through my faults, and be a source of joy throughout the experience. I drove over 1500 miles in 72 hours and took over 650 pictures. Even though I was dog tired when I went to work Tuesday morning, I went with a smile on my face and an eagerness to share the journey.