Going West with Mom (Part 2)

(part one is available here)

On the morning of Monday, September 30th my mother and I woke and had breakfast at the Globetrotter Lodge in Holbrook, Arizona. Peter Hoeller, the owner, is an excellent host. The small dining room attached to the lobby was full of travelers; each group had a place setting ready for them when they arrived, complete with a small flag to identify their home. I saw several nationalities represented when we sat down.

We immediately struck up a conversation with the couple sitting next to us. She was from Vancouver, he was from New York – though he was originally from Scandinavia. They were taking a long road trip west to their new home in San Francisco. That morning, they were headed to the Painted Desert before continuing west. When I mentioned my involvement with Route 66, they asked if I had any advice. “If you do nothing else on Route 66, stop in Seligman to visit with Angel Delgadillo. Hear his story. And then take the Oatman Highway west of Kingman. It’s the most scenic segment of 66 on the entire stretch,” I said. They sounded excited and we parted in good cheer.

Our journey that day wasn’t nearly as long as our previous days, but we still got rounded up and headed out early. For the most part, we headed directly to the Grand Canyon…but I couldn’t resist driving through Williams, AZ to show off their vibrant downtown. We drove Highway 64 north from there, passing the Grand Canyon Railway train as it headed towards the same destination. Seeing the train brought back strong memories of my time aboard the same train with Samantha in 2016.

When we passed by Bedrock City, a Flintstones-themed amusement park, I noticed a moving truck and people packing up the last of the closed attraction’s gift shop after 47 years. I wasn’t surprised, as I’d heard this would be their last year…but Mom was sad. She had fond memories of watching the Flintstones as a youngster, during their prime-time days. Alas, nothing lasts forever. It will soon be a new attraction called Raptor Ranch.

The park ranger that welcomed us to Grand Canyon National Park couldn’t have been nicer. He saw Mom’s drivers license and mentioned that his girlfriend was from Broken Arrow. When he saw the handicapped tag in the car, he gave us a sheet of paper that allowed us to drive in restricted areas so that Mom didn’t have to struggle on-and-off the shuttle buses with her walker. It was a kindness that made a huge difference in our day.

Finally, we had arrived. We parked and took a short walk out to Mather Point, the first overlook from the gate. At the moment the grandeur of the canyon came into view, I could hear Mom quietly say, “Oh…wow.” I remembered that overwhelming feeling the first time I saw the Canyon; it brought me great joy to help Mom have the same experience. We stayed there for a while, standing silently and taking it all in. I could tell the walk had taken a lot out of Mom, and recommended we go back to the car and see how the drive was thanks to our special access pass.

Although I’ve been to the Grand Canyon several times now, I hadn’t really explored the full South Rim. On this day, Mom and I were both able to experience views for the first time. All told, it was a magnificent experience. Several of the turnouts allowed us to pull up right to the rock wall, where Mom could look out into the canyon unobstructed without leaving the car. One of the overlooks was so lovely that we returned to it that evening for a sunset viewing. I will forever be grateful to the park ranger for providing that experience.

Overnight, we stayed at the Red Feather Lodge in Tusayan (the town just south of the park entrance.) I chose it because they had a distinctive neon sign out front, just like the old days, though I first viewed it digitally from many miles away. During our stay, I learned that the hotel’s founder had quite a history. R.P. “Bob” Thurston moved to Williams in 1927, one year after Route 66 was established. He became a well-known businessman in town, eventually becoming mayor before buying a ranch near the Grand Canyon. Bob persuaded the state to pave the road from Williams, after which time he built the first service businesses for tourists and established the community of Tusayan itself. Red Feather Lodge was built in the mid-1960s, making it the first lodging available outside of the National Park boundary. What a story!

We rested comfortably that night, knowing that the next day we would start our journey back east. But we had a lot of sights to see yet, including my favorite place on the planet: Monument Valley.

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Going West with Mom (Part One)

A few months ago, I realized I had a week of vacation I had to take this year and Samantha didn’t have matching time available. I wanted to take a long road trip but I didn’t feel like spending that week alone. So, I called my mother. “Where have you always wanted to go?” I asked. When she mentioned she’d never been to the Grand Canyon or Monument Valley, I knew where I would be spending my week. And with whom!

I picked Mom up early on the morning of Saturday, September 28th and hit the turnpike west. We had a lot of miles to cover to get to Arizona and back! Mom was giddy with excitement. Although we’d explored Washington DC in 2013 (goodness, has it been THAT long?) this would be our first road trip together since I was a kid. I was just as excited to share the journey with her, which included a few stops on my beloved Route 66.

Our first major stop was in a small town in the Texas panhandle: Pampa. Mom lived there when she was very young and this would be her first time back since moving to Oklahoma in the mid-1960s. A lot had changed, but a lot hadn’t.

We stopped at several houses in Pampa where she’d lived with her Mom, Dad, and two brothers. As we drove by them, she recalled memories of her childhood. When she was nine, she asked her older brother if she could help stir potatoes he was cooking for dinner; from that day on, she was expected to cook meals for the family. She laughed as she pointed out the highway off-ramp where she crashed her bike by going too fast (she had thought it would make for a shorter ride to school.) She spoke of her father’s service station and the hotel coffee shop where her mother worked. I just sat and listened.

That first night, we stayed in Tucumcari at the incomparable Blue Swallow Motel. Kevin and Nancy always take good care of their guests and it was great to have a visit. After dinner (at Del’s Restaurant, my Tucumcari go-to) the fire pit was lit and we made s’mores, solving the problems of the world while the neon buzzed happily nearby. It was perfect.

Sunday was another long day of driving, but we made time to stop off at interesting spots along the way. In Santa Rosa, I diverted off of 66 and went south. Mom happily rode along as I photographed some old ghost towns along Highway 60. She was surprised when I turned off the highway onto a side-road seemingly in the middle of nowhere. That’s when she noticed the giant, white satellite dishes in the distance.

The Very Large Array is made up of 27 radio telescopes which can be ferried across the array on rails, which cover roughly 22 square miles of land. They are arranged depending on their current use; when we visited, the dishes were scattered as far as the eye could see. Although Mom’s mobility issues kept her at the Visitor’s Center, I walked out to a nearby dish to get a closer look. It’s mind-blowing how large these things are! The VLA is a magnificent testament to scientific achievement and man’s insatiable curiosity.

We continued west into Arizona, exploring the Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert. Mom was amazed not just by the views in the park, but at the dinosaur skeletons on view in the little museum. Somehow I didn’t know she loved that kind of thing; she had the biggest smile I’d yet seen on the trip. We finished up right as the park was closing and sped out to the Jackrabbit Trading Post in Joseph City. The owners had stayed late so we could say hello. Thank you Cindy!

Sunday night’s accommodations were at the Globetrotter Lodge, my favorite place to spend the night in Holbrook. I seriously cannot recommend the place enough: the staff is very friendly, the rooms are comfortable, and the vibe just feels like home. On the way to dinner, we pulled into the Wigwam Motel so Mom could see the quirky concrete tepees for herself. The fading light of sunset encouraged me to linger a few minutes and take some photos.

We’d only been on the road two days, but so many memories had already been made. I knew our Big Ticket days were just ahead, though. I was eager to be there with Mom as she saw the Grand Canyon with her own eyes for the first time.

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The Eng Family

While researching my book, Lost Restaurants of Tulsa, I met and interviewed a lot of people. During that process, I learned a lot about various family histories tied to eateries of the city’s past. One of my favorite stories is that of the Eng Family. Their journey weaves in and around generations of family, friends, and communities…but the centerpiece has always been food.

The Mandarin Cafe; photo courtesy of Jean Eng

Although the Tulsa part of their story begins in 1930 with the opening of the Mandarin Cafe (the city’s first Chinese restaurant) it actually starts quite a bit earlier. The Engs emigrated from China to the Honolulu Territory of Hawaii around 1880. Even then, the family was known for their cooking skills and worked as chefs and caterers. Albert Eng was born in 1893.

Honolulu Chinatown fire of 1900; photo courtesy of HawaiiHistory.com

In 1899, the plague came to town. Attempts to control the outbreak escalated to burning houses of the dead; in 1900, one of those fires got out of control and the entire Chinatown district of Honolulu burned down. The Eng Family recovered, though, and opened a new restaurant a few years later on the corner of Hotel and Mounakea Streets, across from the famous Wo Fat building.

In June of 1915, Albert (21 years old) left the island and traveled to San Francisco. He spent a whole month exploring the World’s Fair and worked at a Chinese fruit orchard east of town. During his time there, family in St. Louis wrote and asked him to join them as they opened the Grand Inn on Grande Avenue, about half-a-mile from the Mississippi River. In late 1915, Albert did just that. He stayed there until the next year, when more of his family wrote and asked for his help running the Golden Pheasant Inn in Chicago. Albert moved once again.

The Golden Pheasant Inn was on the corner of Clark and Madison Streets. It had a large dance floor; a ten-piece orchestra played three times a day. It was a prosperous time in a rapidly-growing city. When the US entered World War I in 1917, Albert moved back to Hawaii and enlisted in the National Guard. It was then that he met Violet Tseu, who he later married.

Former site of the Golden Pheasant Cafe in Okmulgee

During this time, the Golden Pheasant Inn in Chicago lost its lease. Several partners from the restaurant (Albert’s brothers Yuen, Pui, and Phillip Eng along with Joe King) moved to Okmulgee, Oklahoma in 1919 to serve oil field workers. They purchased the Busy Bee Restaurant at 219 E 6th Street and renamed it the Golden Pheasant Cafe. It was open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; in fact, business was so strong that the Engs sent for the rest of their family in Honolulu.

The Eng House in Okmulgee; photo courtesy of Andy Eng

Pui Eng had a huge house built on Rogers Avenue for the entire family. It had seven bedrooms, a sun porch and large living room, a dining room table big enough to seat 22, even a chicken coop. Under that roof lived Albert and his wife Violet, Pui and his wife Margaret, Phillip and his wife Elizabeth, Buck Eng, Joe King, and others. Business was good there until the oil wells went dry in 1929. The Great Depression hit later that year, closing the doors of the Golden Pheasant for good.

Eng’s Cafe in Bartlesville moved several times; one of their locations is now the Painted Horse Bar and Grille

When the restaurant in Okmulgee closed, the family split up. Some of the Engs moved to the Houston, TX area. Albert and his family moved to Muskogee and operated the Yangtze Restaurant for a few years. In 1939, they moved to Bartlesville and ran a number of restaurants (notably Eng’s Cafe) and enjoyed success. Albert retired in 1962 but lived to the ripe old age of 106. He passed away in 1999.

The Mandarin Cafe in the shadow of the Exchange National Bank Building; photo courtesy of the Beryl Ford Collection

Back in 1930, some of the partners from the Golden Pheasant moved to Tulsa. Brothers Pui and Phillip Eng, along with their wives Margaret and Elizabeth, Buck Eng, Margaret’s brother Loy Pang, and Joe King settled downtown and opened The Mandarin Cafe at 118 E 3rd Street, across from the bustling Hotel Tulsa. Here, too, the restaurant was open all day, every day and enjoyed strong business. Those early years also had more than its fair share of family tragedy. Pui Eng died in 1933; his brother Phillip died five years later.

Margaret and Elizabeth Eng, along with Joe King at the Mandarin Cafe in downtown Tulsa; photo courtesy of Andy Eng.

Their wives, Margaret and Elizabeth respectively, took over the front-of-house restaurant operations while Joe King and Loy Pang helped run the two-burner wok in the back. The women worked rotating 12 hour shifts and became fixtures of the downtown dining scene. Margaret’s daughter Peggy and Elizabeth’s boys (Clarence, Lawrence, and Donald) helped out as they could since the entire family lived above the restaurant. Margaret later married Joe King. Peggy met Jimmy Char on a trip to Honolulu and fell in love.

Elizabeth Eng with her boys Donald, Clarence, and Lawrence; photo courtesy of Andy Eng

In 1963, the Mandarin Cafe building was sold to the National Bank of Tulsa for a new drive-up facility. The restaurant closed and Elizabeth Eng retired.

Image courtesy of the Tulsa Historical Society

Peggy and Jimmy Char, along with Joe and Margaret King and other family members, opted to keep the family tradition going. The next year, they opened the Pagoda near 51st and Peoria. It quickly became a Tulsa favorite and stayed in the family until 1979 when it was sold to Ben and Virginia Torres.

Photo courtesy of the Tulsa Historical Society

In 1969, Joe King’s family (the Jow’s) opened Ming Palace at 21st and Yale. In 1979, the next generation of the Jow family opened The Golden Palace, just down the street from The Pagoda. Over the years, members of the Jow family became known for their other restaurants in Tulsa (such as Ming’s Noodle Bar) and other eateries in Houston, TX.

The final day of business at the Golden Palace

After forty years, nearly to the day, The Golden Palace closed in mid-2019. The tradition continues, however: the Jow family is currently working on opening a new restaurant near 6th and Boston, just a few blocks away from where Joe King helped establish the city’s original Chinese restaurant.

My wife and I with Jean Eng and two of her daughters

It’s been an amazing journey for me, personally. I’ve gotten to know Jean Eng (wife of the late Don Eng) and her daughters. I’ve met the Jow brothers and had multiple conversations with various family members across the country. In short, it’s been a blessing.

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Bartlesville, Bridges, and Buddy

When I woke up this morning, I wanted to go somewhere. I also didn’t want to go anywhere. My day-to-day has been so busy lately that I haven’t had much of an opportunity to take any road trips and I’ve been fiending for more time behind the wheel. I’m also just plain worn out…so a day on the couch sounded wonderful. It took about an hour of talking to myself before I finally decided to get out of bed and make something of the day. What better motivation is there than the promise of a delicious meal? I hadn’t been to Bartlesville in quite a while, so after I made myself presentable and got into the car I ventured north.


I arrived in downtown B’ville an hour later, but it wasn’t quite lunch time yet. I bought some coffee beans at Outpost Coffee, a local roaster that has restored a vintage Brilliant Bronze service station. It’s beautiful! I still had some time before lunch & wandered over to the library to look through some of their old phone directories. Yes, I did have a purpose. I don’t look through old phone books for fun.

Well, I kinda do, but, never mind that now.


Once the clock ticked over to 11:00, I drove to my delicious destination: Murphy’s Steak House. This humble little spot on SW Frank Phillips Blvd is legendary. It was started by Melvel and Lorene Murphy in 1946; although it’s been through a fire and a tornado over the years, the food hasn’t changed a bit. The specialty of the house (and my consistent selection) is the Hot Hamburger: a patty of meat on toast, covered in fries, with brown Gravy Over All. Like all diners of its era, there’s a counter near the kitchen. Of Course that’s where I sat and enjoyed my meal.


Satisfied and (a little too) full, I re-entered the sauna of the outside world. I walked around downtown, seeking a specific address I’d found in the aforementioned phone directories. Back before Murphy’s opened their doors, there was a restaurant downtown called Eng’s Cafe. It was owned and operated by a member of the same family that ran The Mandarin Cafe from Tulsa’s past; I’d featured The Mandarin my book Lost Restaurants of Tulsa. The building that housed Eng’s Cafe still stands, and it’s actually still a restaurant: The Painted Horse Bar & Grille. I will have to see if I can find a picture of the old place.


I had plenty of day left, so I opted for a little bridge-hunting. Northwest of Dewey, beyond the Caney River, is a favorite span of mine. The Mission Creek Bridge dates back to the late 1920s and looks like a portal into another world thanks to its placement at the base of a thickly-wooded hill. I could tell the area had suffered from the recent floods as the road was full of potholes and ruts. The Mustang made it fine, though, and before long I was heading back to the main highway.


When I looked back at my map, I noticed a marker for a bridge nearby that I hadn’t yet explored. I set my GPS and went east. My path took me through Wann, technically a town but there isn’t much to it aside from a post office and a collection of houses. The remnants of a convenience store sit behind a simple roadside attraction: Six Flag Poles Over Wann America. It’s exactly what it sounds like. There was also a cool abandoned stone WPA-style building, which from what I could find used to be the school gym.


Eleven miles farther east, I made my next stop: the Hickory Creek Bridge. Although it supposedly once carried old Highway 169, it was hard to imagine serious traffic on the pitted gravel lane. I took photos for maybe five minutes before a tired green minivan approached me from the south. It came to a stop near me and a man’s voice called out: “You like old steel bridges, do ya?”

The driver’s name was Buddy. He was a sixty-year-old retired employee of the county, a learning blacksmith that also restored old cemeteries in his free time. He turned his car off and I knew we’d be chatting a while. In between spits of tobacco, we talked about the craftsmanship of steel truss bridges and he tried to think of other bridges he could point me to.

At one point, a truck came up behind him, then came alongside. “Hey, Buddy! Everything okay?” the driver asked, looking at me warily.  Everything was indeed okay, and Buddy immediately engaged his friend’s help to come up with a list of bridges. I stood there and smiled as Buddy and his friend went back-and-forth on various topics, including the fact that the road to the church Buddy attends needed to be graded in a bad way. By the time the truck driver drove off, Buddy had come up with three bridges.


“West side of Coffeyville,” he said. “There’s a new bridge there now, but the old bridge is just sitting there. Now, go north on the main highway. Go until you get to the main drag, uh…” He thought a moment. “I think it’s 11th Street. Anyway, there’s a stoplight there. Go west. Drive until you pass the old Wal-Mart. You know where that is, don’t ya?”

I did not, but I said that I did.

“Good. Turn south the next chance ya get. It’s just sitting there next to the road.”

Buddy’s other directions were similarly colloquial, to my great delight. We shook hands, Buddy went on his way, and I headed to Coffeyville.


His directions were perfect! I had actually photographed the bypassed Onion Creek Bridge before, but not in the summer time. It’s a beautiful, unique bridge. Shame it’s just rusting to the side of a county road.

As I crossed back into Oklahoma, I noticed storm clouds gathering. I made my next few stops quickly; the skies opened up on me right as I got to the Winganon Space Capsule. After that, it was a straight drive home.


I’m so glad that I got myself out of the house today. I saw some new things, some old things, and made a new friend. I hope I run into Buddy again some day.

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Gilligan’s Spring Tour (II)

If you missed my previous post that covered the journey from Paris Springs to Joplin, Missouri — check that out here.

As I ate my breakfast and visited with my New Zealand traveling companions in Joplin, I noticed they were all wearing small red pins. At first I thought they were little guitars, but I soon realized they were poppies. I knew that poppies were a common symbol for World War I, but I didn’t quite understand the significance of wearing them on that day. I asked one of the gents sitting across from me and he told me it was ANZAC Day.


ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The holiday and remembrance marks the anniversary of the 1915 landing by ANZAC forces at Gallipoli, the start of an eight-month campaign that marked the first major losses for the two countries in the first World War. Since that time, ANZAC Day has evolved into a day remembering losses in all wars. Before we set out for the day’s journey, everyone gathered outside for solemn remembrance punctuated by “The Last Post”.

You can read more about the traditions of ANZAC Day here.


Our first stop that morning was a delightful mural in downtown Joplin. It featured a map of Route 66 along with a fabricated half-Corvette stuck out from the wall that folks could pose around if they so desired. After a few quick pics, we continued west into Kansas and the town of Galena. The New Zealanders loved getting to pose with the collection of Pixar-esque vehicles at Cars on the Route. As everyone wandered about, several local vehicles drove past and gawked at the crowd. Several honked and waved, surely wondering how far these people had traveled to see their little corner of Kansas.


We had one more place to visit in The Sunflower State: the Brush Creek Bridge in Baxter Springs. I’ve photographed this concrete Marsh Arch bridge many times, but never with such a collection of cars on it! We were joined by Sam’s other vintage automobile, a 1966 Oldsmobile, which had broken down on the way to Chicago a few days before the tour started. Although the group boisterously encouraged me to do so, I did not scale the sides of the bridge for more photos.


Our first stop in my home state was the Dairy King in Commerce, OK. The Dairy King occupies an old Marathon service station, which originally opened in 1927. Although it has traded gasoline for burgers and ice cream, it has operated continuously for 92 years. Today it’s operated by Charles Duboise and his mother, Treva. Charles is known around the region for his knowledge of local history, which he tells with great gusto; notably the time that Bonnie and Clyde killed a local constable. Dairy King is also known for serving the “one and only” Route 66 cookie. They are pretty tasty! I’ll definitely be back when I can stay longer, I just gotta remember to bring cash. No cards or checks!


Not far down the road in Miami (pronounced My-am-uh) we made our next stop: the Coleman Theatre Beautiful. I am excited any time I step into this gorgeously-restored 1929 theater and listened intently as our group was told about the history of the Coleman, from the early Tri-State Mining days to the restoration that took place in the 1990s. The stage was being set up for a performance to take place that evening; the main set piece was a giant radio dial!


I skipped ahead past the Ribbon Road alignment to get everything set at Clanton’s Cafe, our lunch stop in Vinita. Everyone was starving by the time they arrived, which was a good thing: Clanton’s always takes good care of their guests. Sam purchased a few orders of their famous calf fries and offered them to the group before telling everyone what they actually were. To my surprise, it was mostly a non-event. It was a much bigger deal when we all surprised Sam with a piece of cake and a room full of people singing him Happy Birthday.


The rest of the journey to Tulsa was more of a free-form experience. The tour booklets and hand-programmed GPS units gave travelers the option of any-or-all of several attractions, including Totem Pole Park in Foyil, the J.M. Davis Gun Museum in Claremore, and the Blue Whale in Catoosa. I headed straight for the Blue Whale so I could chat with Linda Hobbs, who runs the gift shop. Kiwis came and went in a piecemeal fashion as I wandered around the familiar old roadside attraction and had a nice visit.


That evening, I joined the gang for a final meal together at Baxter’s Interurban, conveniently right next to their hotel. The next morning, I waved goodbye to my travel companions at Route 66 Village in west Tulsa. I headed back to work as they continued west towards Oklahoma City. It was a fun couple of days & I’m envious of their experience as they progress towards Texas and New Mexico.

It occurred to me that leading tours is something I’d like to do more of in the future. I’ll have to look into that…

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Gilligan’s Spring Tour (I)

For the last several years, I’ve met up with the Gilligan’s Route 66 Tour group as they’ve come through Tulsa. Gilligan’s is operated by Sam Murray, a gent from New Zealand that also owns and operates a 1916 boutique hotel on the south island. As such, Sam’s bi-annual tours typically cater to Kiwi travelers. They fly into Chicago, rent a fleet of Mustangs, and drive Route 66 all the way to the Pacific Ocean. It’s always a treat to meet the folks making the journey with him and this year I had the pleasure of following along for a few days.

La Russell-2

On Wednesday, I set out from Tulsa to Paris Springs, Missouri in order to rendezvous with the gang at Gary Turner’s Gay Parita station. I had time to make a short detour, so I stopped for a bit near the town of La Russell to photograph a historic bridge. The clouds were low and air was thick with moisture; it gave the secluded country road a bit of a mystical feeling. The Spring River rushed by beneath my feet as I walked the grated deck. It was just me and the tweeting birds.


I arrived in Paris Springs just after 11:00 AM, which was perfect timing – it wasn’t even ten minutes later that the first Mustang emblazoned with the Gilligan’s Tour logo arrived. Before long, the rest of the pack had surrounded the little Sinclair station. Roughly two dozen New Zealanders wandered the grounds and talked to George and Barbara, who run the station now that Gary has passed on.


Bob “Croc” Lile and Jim Livingston (both from Amarillo, TX) were also tagging along with the tour group and working on their book project, I Am Route 66. A German couple had also come along for the trip this time around, driving one of Sam’s vintage cars…a big old boat of a Mercury. An Englishman and his daughter was also in a Gilligan’s Tour Mustang, but he was doing the self-guided version of the tour to allow for a bit more flexibility. We encountered him several times over the next two days.

Red Oak II (1)

After about half-an-hour of exploration, the group saddled up and continued west. The next big stop was at Red Oak II, a remarkable community outside of Carthage, MO. You could call it a ghost town, but it isn’t really – it’s the handiwork of local artist and creative spirit Lowell Davis. Lowell’s home town of Red Oak had completed faded off the map by the 1980s and Lowell decided to convert his cornfield into an homage of sorts. He bought a number of buildings from the original town (as well as other rural communities that had suffered the same fate) and moved them to his farm. So, Red Oak II is and isn’t a real ghost town. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.


Although I’ve been to Red Oak II several times, this visit was the first time I had the honor of meeting Lowell Davis himself. He’s a real charmer with a great sense of humor and a wealth of knowledge. His passions go beyond his homemade town, however: Lowell is known worldwide for his painted art and metalwork, too. The “Norman Rockwell of Rural Art” has sculptures all around Jasper County, notably throughout nearby Carthage. Red Oak II itself is full of quirky, fun metal art and the old barn houses an art gallery of Lowell’s works. The whole place is just magical.


I left Red Oak II just a bit before everyone else so I could drop in and say hello to Debbie at the Boots Court in Carthage. We visited for a few minutes and I told her how I’d discovered that Bob Boots, son of Arthur (original owner of the motel), had been the original owner of the Boots Drive-In in Tulsa! She directed me to where I could find the late Bob Boots’ grave marker in town – it was emblazoned with images of the Boots Court and the original Boots Drive-In, also started by his father, right there in Carthage.


The destination that day was Joplin, Missouri. Before dinner, we were treated to a bus tour headed by Patrick Tuttle, director of the local visitor’s center. He took our group around town to show us areas impacted by the devastating 2011 tornado. The tornado was nearly a mile wide and caused enough damage to be the costliest single tornado in United States history. It also killed over 160 people. Cunningham Park has been turned into a memorial to that terrible event; there’s an interpretive plaza that overlooks the rest of the park with several “pencil sketch” outlines representing destroyed homes. The park is a beautiful tribute to all that was lost in that terrible event.

Night fell and we all dined together; I loved hearing everyone’s excitement about the things they’d seen and the people they’d met so far. Several travelers began asking me questions about Oklahoma and I, too, was excited about the things we’d be seeing together the next day. For the time being, however, we’d all earned a good night’s rest.


To Be Continued…

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Rendezvous in ABQ

When I was elected as the new President of the Oklahoma Route 66 Association, I also became a board member of the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership.  This nationwide group just entered their third year of operation and their annual board meeting took place last weekend in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After taking the Mustang in for a check-up, I packed a bag and headed towards the Land of Enchantment.

panh sunset

Driving all the way from Tulsa to ABQ in one day is doable, but not advisable. I spent a quiet Wednesday night in Shamrock, TX (The Western Motel, right across from the U-Drop Inn, is comfortable and economical) and continued early Thursday morning. Rather than head straight west, though, I took a detour through the Texas panhandle for a very important stop.

When my mother was a little girl, her family lived in Pampa Texas. I’d recently come into possession of a few old photographs from that time with a street name on the back – but no specific address. Using Google Maps, I found where the photos had been taken…but the street view was way outdated. I had no way to know if the house still stood.

Pampa 1

Thankfully, it was still there – and I was able to take a few photographs. I also drove by the site where my grandfather once owned a service station – though today it’s a Braum’s. I bought a coffee and went on my way.

The next place I stopped, just over the border in New Mexico, was a small town called Nara Visa. In 2000, it supposedly had a population of 112…but that number feels really inflated in 2019. The only signs of life came from the occasional car coming through on Highway 54. The truck stop was closed, the bar was shuttered, and one of the motels had collapsed.

Nara Visa NM (1)

I soon found myself in Tucumcari, but I wasn’t quite ready to settle on a straight shot to my destination. Instead, I took the 1926-1938 alignment of Route 66 northwest to Las Vegas, NM. The road through the mountains was a beauty; a recent snowfall cloaked the ground in sun-shaded spots. By the time the road took me past Santa Fe, though, the weather had warmed and all the ground was dry.

I took the off-ramp once more at Tewa Pueblo so I could cross off another stop on my map. The Santo Domingo Trading Post dates back to 1922 and enjoyed a spot on that original Route 66 alignment for a little over a decade. The trading post survived after the Main Street of America was re-routed, though, and it served the community until the owner passed away in 1995. Six years later, a fire nearly claimed the site but it has since been mostly restored.


Finally, after a long (good) day of driving, I arrived in Albuquerque. My home for the next few days was the El Vado Motel – a remarkably resuscitated roadside relic.

The El Vado was essentially abandoned when the city took over some years back. Parts of the adobe were caving in and the parking lot was filled weeds rather than tourists. Today it’s a stunning example of 21st Century vision. The parking lot was turned into a large, lounging patio area (complete with swimming pool – a vanishing amenity). The front few rooms have been converted into “food pods”, basically small restaurant spaces. Several other rooms hold retail shops and a tap room sits adjacent to the main office. Reminds me a bit of Mother Road Market back home, actually.


And the rooms – marvelous! They have been restored using the same building methods and materials as were used back when the motel was originally built in the 1920s. Although the covered garages were converted to additional rooms, they were designed with history in mind. They are fronted with deeply-tinted glass to simulate those car ports of long ago. There’s even an event space in the back. The restored neon sign out front is the icing on the cake.

El Vado Sunset

It’s the perfect place for a bit of rest – or a bit of work, as was the case for me. The next few days would be full of introductions, revelations, exploration, and recommendation. But all of that will have to wait for another post.

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