Flagstaff, Ariz. to Taos, N.M.: 452 miles
Taos to Yukon, Oklah.: 509 miles
Our third and fourth days of driving were long. We aimed to max out at 6-7 hours, but with frequent stops for photos, gas, food and pottie breaks, we were in the car closer to 9-10 hours each day.
We followed Rt. 40 while veering off the highway in favor of brief detours along historic Rt. 66. I researched highlights and the following names popped up: the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Ariz., Tucumcari, N.M., and the U-Drop Inn Cafe in Shamrock, Texas. MainMan didn’t know it at the time, but we’d stop at all of them.
Route 66, once considered “Main Street of the U.S.” connected Los Angeles to Chicago. It was paved in 1926 and it was one of the first cross-country highways. It remained popular for three decades, until the 1950s, when bigger highways were constructed, which led to its replacement and decommissioning in 1985. I’m not sure what it means for a road to be “decommissioned,” but when you drive it you’ll guess. The funding must have stopped coming in and ultimately the towns along it, that once thrived with tourists and adventurers, fell into economic despair. And from the likes of what we witnessed, many of them are ghost towns comprised of condemned buildings with matching signage begging to still be noticed.
The first stop, and family favorite, was the Wigwam Motel. Unlike the rest of its neighbors, it is not condemned and it still houses guests. Follow signs for Holbrook and Rt. 66 off of Rt. 40. You’ll end up on a deserted four lane road, with Rt. 40 following you parallel off to your left. We spotted the white teepees and what looked like an old gas station a couple hundred feet away and my eyes lit up.
“Get the cameras ready!” I squealed.
MainMan might not have known this about me, but I’m a sucker for all things kitschy Americana. This doesn’t mean I hoard old Coke bottles and tin signs, it just means I get a thrill observing relics and buildings of the past. It’s why I can’t drive by an antique mall without stopping to wander for hours through clustered aisles and tight corners jammed with trinkets and the occasional tasteful item. It’s also (turning red with embarrassment at this confession) partly why I love Disney so much. The Main Streets of Disney parks, however fake, evoke images of an earlier, simpler time. As does Frontierland with its steamboats and Davy Crockett caps. I have an irresistible, strange nostalgia for eras of history I’ve never experienced, and that I only know from school, the Internet, movies and books. If a time machine fell into my lap, I’d have no qualms dialing up two stops: Victorian England and 1920s America. I’m not sure I’d ever return.
The Wigwam Motel was comprised of about a dozen teepees, situated in a half moon around the main building of the property. They were each big enough to hold a door frame and most likely a small bed and toilet. For added kicks, they had old cars parked in front of them, which added to my delight and imagination. When I pulled up their website I was bummed to discover you have to book them about two weeks in advance. Were this not the case, we would have stayed in one that night. From the looks of the parking lot it seemed owning a vintage automobile was a prerequisite to stay there.
When I posted a couple of photos to Instagram, a friend said it was a scene right out of “Cars.” I have never seen the movie, but knowing the characters from commercials, she’s right. I looked in the windows, half afraid my eyes would meet some angry attendant’s glare, but didn’t see a soul inside.
After a few snaps, we hopped back in the car, only to make a U-Turn so I could capture photos of this motel.
Our next stop was in Albuquerque, N.M. For anyone looking for a safe and attractive place to park, eat and walk around in a city they don’t know, just follow signs for the “historic downtown.” It’s always your safest bet. That’s what we did off the highway in Albuquerque and it lead us to a lovely plaza surrounded by boutiques, restaurants, a church and a lot of adobe. We found a dog-friendly restaurant, Hacienda del Rio, where we ate Mexican food on the patio. There we enjoyed a couple margaritas and a generous lunch of burritos and tamales before getting back on the road. Our waitress was very friendly and treated us to sopaipillas on the house, or incredible hot fried dough pockets served with honey, for the road.
From Albuquerque we headed to Taos. There are two roads to Taos: a high road and a low road. We took the high road (and it made all the difference). Through hills and wind, in little time we left the burnt rust tones of the desert for lush green mountains, pine trees and snow flurries. I had no idea New Mexico had such diverse terrain. All I’d ever heard of Taos from a woman I met at the California Wildlife Center (where I used to volunteer) was they had a bald eagle season where they’d count eagles. I hoped to see one in April, but all we spotted were hawks, turkey vultures and one skittish coyote.
We checked into the Quality Inn in Taos, which was the nicest place we’d stayed yet, though still not exceptional. They had an attractive Spanish-themed lobby with a nice bar and we could even bring Agnes in to sit at our feet while we ate and drank.
The quote of the day, which MainMan heard on a country radio station before he repeated it the rest of the day, was: “Put the biscuits in the oven and get your buns in the bed.”
After two martinis and a salad, my buns were in bed!
MainMan woke up ready to start the day with a walk and a trip to check out the ski resort in Taos before we moved on. He particularly wanted Agnes to get a chance to play in the snow before she got cooped up in the car for eight hours.
After sharing a quick free breakfast in the hotel with some truck drivers, we found our way to the mountain. Agnes had a ball frolicking in the snow. She’s only seen snow once before in Mammoth.
Day 4 was long, and we didn’t even make it to Oklahoma City like we’d hoped. We reached a town about 15 minutes west and that was all we could muster.
One of the more amusing stops of the day was the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, N.M. It’s an 80-foot giant well with fish and people dive in it. MainMan posted a photo to his Facebook feed and a friend living in Colorado commented he’d gotten certified there. If you don’t live by the ocean and you want to SCUBA you do what you gotta do, I guess! This made me feel lucky I was able to get certified in Catalina Island! Apart from the Blue Hole, I also noted in my journal we saw a horse tied up at a Quickie Mart in town. And when I stopped at the local grocery store hoping to get a handmade sandwich from the deli counter, the gentleman told me I could buy a loaf of bread and some cold cuts and make my own sandwich.
Following Santa Rosa, we discovered there’s more than one Las Vegas in this country. Apparently New Mexico has one, as well. Our next stop was Tucumcari, where I snapped the following photo, then we hit the Texas panhandle. We argued for about 15 minutes over whether Texas even had a panhandle (Oklahoma has one that’s obvious when you look at a map, Texas’ panhandle looks less like a panhandle, but it in fact is called a panhandle and I won the argument).
We did not get the memo on where to stop in Amarillo. I wish we’d had a better idea, but from the highway it didn’t look like anything we needed to stop for (besides to fill up the tank with gas) so we bolted through. My notebook reads “not cute.” And boredom started to catch up with us so we started the license plate game.
In Groom, Texas, we passed an enormous cross and a crooked water tower. I loved the big sky that swallowed us along Rt. 40.
The last stop in Texas before we hit Oklahoma was Shamrock. Here we found the U-Drop Inn, built in 1936 and fully restored in sparkling splendor. It was a little retro gas station and through the window I think I made out a little souvenir shop, but it was closed and hard to tell. After many hours of intense research, I discovered U-Drop was the basis for a garage in “Cars.”
That night we slept at La Quinta in Yukon, Oklah., and ordered takeout from a restaurant called Interurban. We watched UConn win the national championship and a friend brought to my attention Agnes’ dreaming video had made it to the Huffington Post. What a day!