Amarillo to New Mexico: The Scenic Route

After a restful night at Chateau Walmart in Amarillo, it was time to actually check the place out. It was Sunday morning, which meant everything was closed. This is not a bad thing. In fact, it meant we could look at the sights on Amarillo’s “Historic 6th Street” without being disturbed, or tempted to buy stuff.

Amarillo’s historic 6th Street.

It was supposed to be a pretty big deal, but to me it looked like pretty much every other Route 66 downtown shopping area, except worse. On the plus side, there were far more Mexican restaurants, because this is Texas and Mexico is right next door (eight hours away, but still). Maybe this is another case of, if you’ve seen one Route 66 shopping area, you’ve seen them all.

Pac-Man on the walls!

I did, however, really enjoy the paint job on the outside of this store, with Pac-Man and the ghosts chasing him around the maze. A tiny plaque in the window says that this building is on the National Register of Historic Places. This must be for the Pac-Man paint job, because that’s old enough to be historic at this point. (So am I, but let’s not talk about that.)

It was a short drive to the famous Cadillac Ranch. I’ve heard about this place for years, and since we were driving by anyway, I had to stop and check it out. It was exactly as described, a series of Cadillacs buried in the ground nose first (their angle corresponding to the walls of the Great Pyramid of Giza), with seemingly infinite layers of spray paint on them. Despite the sign saying otherwise, graffiti is actively encouraged.

My terrible attempt at leaving my mark.

I grabbed a can of the same white spray paint I’d used to touch up the van, and used it to make my own mark at Cadillac Ranch — a simple advertisement for this website. It turned out horribly. Can you tell I’ve never done graffiti before? At least I tried.

Whoooooo-ooooooa! We’re halfway there!!!

After a long drive through nothing but more fields and prairies, we pulled into the Midpoint Cafe in Adrian, Texas. This is the official, or at least officially claimed, midpoint of Route 66. From here it’s 1,139 miles to Chicago (a bit more than the Blues Brothers drove), and 1,139 miles to Los Angeles. To celebrate, we stopped in for a bite to eat. I had the Yummy Chicken Sandwich (it was as advertised).

Our next stop was Glenrio, an abandoned ghost town on Route 66. We try to avoid highways, so we explored a detour that Google Maps gave us, since I-40 overlays Route 66 in this area. This led to quite an adventure.

We ended up taking a 40-mile dirt road detour. We took it slow, but since we both had good tires that could handle these conditions, we pressed on. It was spectacular. Previously we’d commented on the radio about imagining what it was like to pack all your things in a covered wagon and travel through this wilderness on the way to California. We no longer had to wonder. We actually did it.

I was amazed at how suddenly the geography changed from the prairies we’d gotten used to and became the high plains. It was as though someone playing SimEarth slapped down two tiles of different types next to each other, the transition was so abrupt. Once in the high plains, I half expected to find Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name around one of the rare curves on these roads. If I had a functioning dash cam, the entire video would require an Enrico Morricone spaghetti western soundtrack.

Finally we arrived at Glenrio. This was a neat little town that straddled the Texas/New Mexico border. Back in the day, all mail came to the Texas side. The bars were all on the New Mexico side, because the Texas side was in a dry county. There were no gas stations on the New Mexico side, because gas was cheaper in Texas. It started as a railroad town, then grew as the Ozark Trail passed through, and seriously boomed when Route 66 came to town.

There wasn’t much to see. What little is left was clearly built during the boom of Route 66, and was abandoned after I-40 bypassed it in 1975. Some buildings still stand. Others, not so much.

Entering New Mexico.

Route 66 west out of Glenrio turned into yet another dirt road. It was already much later than we’d planned to be driving, and we were adventured out, so we turned around and took the only paved road west — Interstate 40. This marked the very first Interstate we’d taken as a group, since we’re so intent on avoiding highways. In this case, though, it was the only way to go. I took the first exit leading to a smaller, slower frontage road that I could find.

Welcome to New Mexico, home of plentiful free overnight parking.

Soon we arrived at our destination for the day, San Jon Park. This is a nice little park run by the town of San Jon that encourages RVers and travelers like us to spend the night. Debbie, who traveled with us for a few days, highly recommended it, and we saw why. The town is tiny, with a population of 263 as of 2019. We found a place to park, set up camp, talked with some neighbors, and had a potluck dinner. Night fell quickly, as we’d just jumped another time zone, and it was dark at 7:00 pm. Fortunately, cell service is excellent, so I entertained myself for the rest of the night.

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