Day 4 Route 66 trip - 7/16/09

Here I am in Las Vegas! Funny, it's a lot smaller than I thought it would be. Oh, wait, I'm in Las Vegas New Mexico! Not that other one. This morning started out in Elk City, OK, in the far west of the Sooner State. 437 miles today. It's slow going on the old road, and of course lots of pctures need to be taken. What's called the National Route 66 Museum is in Elk City but it was closed when I got on the road early in the morning so I didn't go thru it. I did get an outdoor picture.
The museum was closed early in the morning but everyone else is hard at work very early here to avoid the heat. At 6:30 the roofers, lawn workers, road workers, etc. are all hard at it.

There is a lot to write about today; I'm going to be up late, hanging around a restaurant or whatever I can find that has wireless that I can connect to. I start this blog sitting in a laundromat washing my clothes - the classy traveler that I am! When you spend many hours each day in 100 plus degree heat it's very easy to unintentionally offend. And of course there is only so much room on a bike to stash things, so that always means a laundromat stop midway on a long trip. When I leave here I'll probably find the local McDonalds - the manager of one in IL gave me 3 hours worth of free coupons to use the McD's wireless, and I've only used about a half hour of the time.

Rte 66 across Texas follows very closely to the Interstate highway (40). Often it is literally right along the new road, and in fact the old road is within the fenced in expressway right-of-way. It's used for the access ramps, rather than building ramps for the overpasses. They simply build about a 75 foot 'driveway' angled onto old 66 across the green space and folks get on and off the Xway in that manner across much of northern TX. Very unusual setup! TX has basically a hand-off attitude about 66. There aren't many signs but not many are needed because it's obvious about 80% of the time.
The cost of gasoline jumps a quarter the moment you cross the OK / TX border - more in TX, must be taxes. BTW it jumps another quarter when you cross into NM. From paying about 2.07 in OK to 2.69 here in Las Vegas.

The landscape across the TX panhandle is very stark for the most part. After 30 miles or so the trees are gone and huge expanses of dying grass being eaten by hungry cattle is all that's is seen - except for one area in the central portion where irrigation is in place. Here, the round fields of corn are tall and green. But for whatever reason this irrigated portion is only about 25 miles or so in length, then nature takes over again. Occasionally the rolling basically flat land is transformed into mesas and buttes, with rocky tops and sides, but this feature disappears and flat land returns. The "flat" land isn't truly flat, however. It is broken with many small gullies eroded over the ages. They are usually ~20 ft deep and ~30 ft wide, and criss-cross the land. It must have been extremely difficult traversing this land on horses or horse-pulled wagons.
It looks like the economy has not been kind to businesses along old 66 in western OK and northern TX. I saw dozens of abandoned gas station / restaurant / store combos that were obviously open 10 or less years ago. Old 66 went thru several small towns in western OK that qualify as ghost towns; virtually every building is empty except for a few houses that still looked occupied. They were hot, dry and barren looking places! There are also many of the older abandoned gas stations, cafes, motels, and so on that date further back to the post war to circa 1970 time period. There are many dozens of these lining the road. I included a picture of a typical example.

I tried to follow the old road thru Amarillo, a city of about 175,000, and that proved a mistake. Highway building and urban development made following the road impossible (for me alone on my bike) and I lost a good half-hour trying to relocate it west of town. This exercise re-affirmed my impression that all of suburban America looks exactly the same; Amarillo or Ann Arbor, Detroit or Dallas, it doesn't matter. The edge sprawl areas all look the same.

Northwest TX is wide open with vast vistas. It makes even western OK look downright congested. It is cattle country west of Amarillo, and huge tracts of land, covered with poor quality grass and small bushes, support a large number of cattle spread thin on vast ranches. There was a huge cattle feed lot about 50 miles west of Amarillo that housed probably a couple thousand head of cattle - a very different approach from the open grazing on the grass lands.

Flies - what look like the common house fly - are a major pest all across OK and TX. Whenever one stops they're there and it doesn't matter if you're indoors or outside. Eating in a restaurant means constantly swinging at flies to keep them away. I went thru a 50 mile stretch in which grasshoppers were laying on the old 66 pavement, and because traffic is so light I was the only vehicle that kicked them up. They would jump up a fraction of a second before I got to them, and then splatter on my lower legs and bike. They're one reason my riding jeans so badly needed washing this evening.

My bike is amazingly filthy. After riding all day in the rain in MO, including on some dirt roads and construction areas, plus the bugs and general road dirt, it's a mess.

Entering New Mexico was a real treat. It is (was) one of the very few states I hadn't been in yet, so I can now check it off my list. (let's see, that leaves AZ, NV, UT, and Alaska). The NM license plates have New Mexico USA on them. I recall reading a news story several years ago that a significant proportion of the US population didn't know NM was a state - so they're trying to educate those that need it, I guess.

I thought TX had grand views and vistas but NM raises the bar much higher! Also, the land is constantly rising as one goes west onto the high plains. The elevation in eastern OK was about 900 feet. In western OK it was ~2,000 ft. At the TX / NM border it was 4,000 feet. (By the way, I love my GPS unit. It has saved me from getting lost more times than I can count, has made the trip much safer by not having to deal with paper maps and glancing down at them while riding, and it provides useful and interesting information such as sites of interest, elevations, and much more).

I had heard about Tucumcari, NM, and how it was a traditional stop for tourists riding 66 back in the day. It still is quite the tourist town, retaining the dinosaur museum and other attractions. West of there the landscape is hard to describe with words. Incredible mesas and vast sagebrush expanses extend to the horizon. There is one point where you come up on the top of a hill and ahead of you heading straight west is 66 and the Xway far, far into the distance until it disappears over the horizon. I wish I knew how far it is, but it was an incredible sight. It was also a very common sight. The vistas are huge and the scenery is incredible. Northeastern NM adds a new definition to vast wide open spaces. But beautiful as it is I really want green things - must be the Irish in me.

I decided to follow the pre-1940 version of route 66 northwest to Sante Fe. (and Las Vegas is about 60 miles SE of Sante Fe, on that route) The area just south of here is a scenic delight. Close to Las Vegas the elevation is such (about 6,000 feet) that conifers now cover the mesas and hills.

I made a fundamental decision last evening. Since time and money will run out prior to reaching Flagstaff, I decided to take the 1937 version of Rte 66 to Sante Fe, (which I've always wanted to visit) and then bid 66 a fond farewell. I'll head north into the mountains, maybe Durango, Telluride, etc. These are also bucket list destinations for me. Then I'll gradually head back NE. I had considerable trouble last evening and this morning locating a wireless place, but am finally hooked up. So this blog is coming a half-day late.

From Las Vegas this morning I'll head the final 60 miles to Sante Fe and do so serious exploring, then make final decisions about what comes next; Taos is high on the list also - I can't be this close and not check it out!

There of course is a very strong hispanic presence here. Interestingly, however, the anglo NM residents don't speak with a noticeable accent (they sound just like a midwesterner!) The Hispanic NM resident usually does have an accent. Interesting.

I have to add pictures to this and then be off.
Adios, Amigo! Until tomorrow, probably from CO!