The Route 66 pilgrimage – Oklahoma & Texas


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Published: April 15th 2014
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Oklahoma City

We are up at 4.30am to catch the 2 buses (No:6 & 10) to the Greyhound station for the 7.20am nine hour trip to Oklahoma City (OKC) via Dallas where we have to change. The journey goes to time but the buses are the worst condition we've been on by far; dirty seats, many broken and no chargers or internet. The driver for the second leg, Mr Bridges, is a star though; he runs the bus like a ship but he also jokes with all the passengers and says a prayer for safe journeys at the start and end of the journey - to which we all say "Amen!!" He clearly missed his vocation he should have been a preacher – he’d make a good one as well.

In Oklahoma City, we are booked into the Wingate by Wyndham via Hotels.com - £48 for the night well worth it, though we had to catch a cab to get here ($20) as the public transport system in OKC is pretty poor for out of downtown. The room is really good (the best we have had for the price) and there are a few eateries nearby. On the recommendation of the woman on the desk we go to a local sports bar, Medio Tiempo, watch some baseball and have really good quesadillas washed down by $2 pints of beer! Nice!

Next day we have a relaxed start to the day as the complimentary shuttle will pick us up from the hotel at 10.00 am to take us to the airport to pick up our rental car. The real reason we chose this place. We are half tempted to try the pool and spa but it seems a bit energetic! However, yoghurt for brekkie feels very healthy - a nice change - plus some decent coffee.

The airport is about 10 mins drive from the hotel and pretty small. We pick up the car and are soon on our way. The driver is from Gujarat and says that many Gujaratis run motels as that’s one of their specialities like Chinese do food!!

Route 66, ‘The Mother Road’ or ‘Main Street’ America

2448 miles of road across America from Chicago to California, the road has been through various incarnations. It was first built in 1926 in stages and at one point was joined up as a cross country road, hence the title "Main Street America" but gained greater prominence as the main route used by folk in the mid States to escape to California & West Coast from the "Dust Bowl" (lack of rain caused crops to fail for a few years and high winds caused massive dust storms) during the depression.

After the war it gained a lot of business as new prosperity meant more folks with cars and holidays. But just as it was really booming the then government decided new major highways were needed to support all the cars especially as they got bigger & faster (and accident levels went up dramatically), and its lifeblood was pretty effectively cut off. Now it is essentially a tourist attraction in its own right (though many of the original sections have been built upon for the new roads and so no longer exist as such), whilst small sections do still exist.

The history of Route 66 is essentially the history of America in the 20s, 30s, 40s & 50s. The realignment of the road left many places to die & some of the signage from the time or some of the places still exit (some almost as Ghost Towns). John Steinbeck in his book The Grapes of Wrath about American family life during the depression referred to it as ‘The Mother Road’ and the name stuck. Bobby Troup wrote a song ‘Get you kicks on Route 66’ first recorded by Nat King Cole and this has become its tag as well. The film Easy Rider made it hip and romanticised the road further in the 60s. The film was about guys riding the road on their Harley Davidsons and this has led to the HD being associated romantically with any trip on the road.

Our plan is to drive all the way to Vinita, then take the next few days driving back along '66 all the way to Elk City before returning to OKC. We had planned to visit the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo but it seems quite far and the LP write up on Route 66 sounds more interesting heading east. We are hoping to see some quirky, creative, nostalgic & retro sites along the way.We decide to avoid the toll roads and take the scenic route out of OKC then pick up Route 66 towards Chandler - the first planned stop on our Route 66 sojourn. This route follows over 110 miles of original route.

Spring is definitely in the air and in addition to all the blue bonnets along the verges, there are lots of trees with bright pink/purple blossom, and you can see the first green shoots on many trees. It's a sunny day at last, and the landscape has changed to gentle rolling hills, ranches and lots of horses and cattle (though interspersed with some largish towns and cities).

A new feature of this part of our trip is that we're heading through Native American lands - so lots of Cherokee Indians trading posts and signs that we are passing through different tribal areas.

So, here's the road trip:

Warwick

Once out of OKC we actually join Route 66, and at the end of a detour for some road works see a funky motorbike museum, Seaba Station, in a small place called Warwick; we have to stop! Outside is an old Royal Enfield and inside a myriad of old bikes, many collectors’ items, and of course Route 66 memorabilia. It's run by a retired teacher and is a real treasure trove for bike enthusiasts - and even for those who aren't. We pick up a small souvenir, make a donation and move on.

Chandler

Next stop is the Route 66 Interpretive Centre in Chandler. It was built as an Armoury but now has an expo with videos clips, displays and photos all about the Mother Road. It also has interesting seats - old car seats and mock motel beds to watch video clips from. Really well put together, and incorporating personal memoirs from folks who travelled it. It's definitely a good stop. M got a Route 66 T shirt from here – only $14 wow.

Davenport

It's lunchtime so we stop at Gar Woolys in Davenport for lunch as it looks so quirky. It reminds us of the Shack Up Inn we stayed at in the Mississippi Delta - very retro with old petrol pumps and signs around and a room with diner seats and all sorts of 50's decor plus local community memorabilia. We have burger with chilli and a fried chicken roll - both really good. The folk working there and other locals are incredibly friendly and chatty.

This is a feature of Oklahoma, we find; folks are very friendly, chatty and for the most part make the places we visit more positive experiences. The people definitely make the road trip special.

Claremore

We drive on to Claremore and book into Claremore Motor Inn for the night - a good price and the room is fine. We do wonder why we came here though. It's the centre of Will Rogers’ world (who we'd never heard of) as he was from here, but had very little to do with R66. He was a famous actor – making over 200 films - and a social commentator of Cherokee origin in the 1920s,30's & 40s. However, the more we researched his back ground the more interesting he became. He had a great wit and it seems nothing has changed in politics since the 1920 as all the comments he makes are just as relevant today as they were then. We would recommend everyone to check him out. It’s also intriguing as to how he succeeded given his Indian heritage given the history of discrimination in the US at that time.

The motel is on Lynn Riggs Blvd - named after the author of the book on which the musical ‘Oklahoma’ was based. A local as well.

We walk into town later looking for a bar and somewhere to eat; it's like a ghost town, and not a sign of a bar even in the downtown area. So we head back, get the car and drive to the supermarket for beer and food to eat in.

The railroad passes through the centre of town, and a feature we've discovered of mass transportation in the US is Freight Trains, with up to 5 engines pulling along over 100 wagons - some double stacks. We've seen these in many places and it's quite impressive - even if a little tedious if you're waiting to get to the other side of the tracks.

That evening after reading through all the info we've picked up we decide not to go on to Vinita after all, just to Foyil a few miles up the road, but rejig our plans to Plan A and decide to go to Amarillo after all!

Foyil

About 4 miles outside Foyil is an amazing Totem Pole Park, the work of a guy called Ed Galloway in the 1940's. One, believed to be the largest in the world, is 27m high (they are made of concrete) and has a turtle as its base, and features American Indian style artwork above. The grounds also have some smaller Totem Poles and tables and seats all in the same Native American style.

We weren't sure whether to visit this but are glad we do; it's really good and a definite Route 66 feature - even though it's not actually on the road itself.

Catoosa

This is probably one of the most ridiculous "features" of the R66 trip - a large blue model whale (with an open mouth for folks to walk through and slides down each slide for kids to go into the water) in a pond in a small park that also features an Ark! M wouldn't have stopped given a choice but C feels it's a must see. Enough said!

Depew

We take a sign posted detour to follow the original road into Depew. It's a small village with a post office, sandwich shop and a prom dress shop! Pretty much all the other buildings are either closed down or derelict! The community got together to get the signposts to show where R66 originally went through. It's quite a nice detour partly because of the dereliction, but it’s a reminder of the impact the realignment of the road had on communities. More of this later.

Stroud

We stop for a coffee at the Rock Cafe, a feature of R66 forever. Dawn Welch owner of The Rock Cafe inspired the Porsche 911 character, Sally in the film Cars and there's lots of newspaper cuttings and posters about the film on display, including some large cardboard cut outs of the "star" cars outside. It's a great place and packed with locals enjoying lunch. We decide to join them so go for a meatloaf special (to share) followed by a peach cobbler (a bit too sweet as the Americans like things we discovered). Both are amazing. We're stuffed.

Next stop is the Skyliner Motel which is very retro and has great original 50s sign outside. Looking at the Motel it doesn't looks like the place has had any work done to it since the 50's! They are in the process of refurbishing it a bit. We also get a pic of an old ATM sign on the Main Street, though obviously not of the era – but a creative sign none the less & not one we have seen anywhere in the world before!

Arcadia

Just before we get to Arcadia, M spots a house set back from the road with a few oddities outside. We decide we need to investigate. What a find! John Hargrove, an older guy, has accumulated an amazing treasure trove of bits and pieces which represent aspects of Route 66 & old cars that he restores and installs around his workshop and yard; e.g. bits of cars and planes sticking out of the ground and building, old petrol pumps, a mini Catoosa whale and even a 50's style home cinema room with a soda bar. Basically he's reproduced famous features of Route 66 in his own gardens! He's an interesting character and we happily spend an hour there. It doesn't even feature in LP or the R66 guides we've seen. The address if you want to go there is (about 2 or 3 miles) East of Arcadia travelling from Stroud! Go there!

By contrast, the round barn down the road - a noted feature of R66 is underwhelming. It's a round barn! With a gift shop on the ground floor and a small section on the history of the barn (built 120 years ago by a guy who thought a round structure would be tornado proof), and an upper floor available to rent for events. The roof truss structure is interesting but not a scratch on John’s treasures.

A more recent & more impressive installation is Pop's a petrol station, restaurant and soda ranch - pop of the fizzy kind in every colour and flavour (over 600) you can think of. Out front is a giant (at least 66ft) pop bottle with a straw out the top, made of neon lights that from the photo's we've seen, looks amazing lit up at night. And the shop/restaurant itself has glass walls against which colourful pop bottles are stacked giving an effect almost like stained glass; it's a vision and an amazing investment decision in a relatively quiet town. It clearly pays off though - while we're there a coach load of kids descend scrimmaging through the shop to buy bottles. We go for a genteel orange cream soda and escape before the mayhem starts.

El Reno

We get a room at the Motel 6 just outside town which is quite basic but fine. Dinner is at Sid's Diner which featured on the Food Network - it's a burger joint that does the El Reno special onion burger (a beef patty - 2 actually mushed together - cooked with masses of onions) & gets great reviews. Rightly so! The Coney Dog was a let-down though. The onion burger is awesome with home fries and C goes for a banana shake made with ice cream which is huge - 2 glasses full in one serving.

In the morning we go into town to take pics of some of the murals for which the town is noted, as well as being the crossroads of two of Americas main routes: the Chisholm Trail (the cattle herding trail of the late 19th C from Texas to Kansas) and Route 66.

Hydro

First stop of the next day is the ex-service station, run by the "mother of the Mother Road", Lucille Hamons, for 60 years until her death in 2000. It's on the old Route 66 road that runs alongside the I-40. There are no petrol pumps any more but the front is an old style porch with pillars where they would have been. You can see it easily from the Interstate - almost a beacon for days gone by.

Weatherford

Just along the road in Weatherford is the current Lucille's - a shiny new diner that looks like a service station (with mock pumps). It's filled with memorabilia and has great decor showing the route of '66 across the country.

We only stop for coffee as it's early for lunch, but plan to call in for lunch on our way back to OKC.

Clinton

Another highlight of the trip is the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, which features good displays, a story that tracks the life of an "Oakie" family through the 20's, the depression of the 30's the war and post war, to the 50's; it tells the tale of the area really well. There's also a great film of the life of the road itself which is informative and has great footage. The cost for entry is $5 each and a bargain at that.

Elk City

By contrast, the National Route 66 Museum at Elk City is a real let down

We start with lunch at Braums which is a chain that proliferates here - bad mistake. They do Burgers & Ice Cream but the burgers are not great so we didn't bother trying the ice cream.

The museum is tacksville, tiny and really not worth the $5 entry! The best it has to offer is the chance to sit in the driver’s seat of a pink Cadillac and pretend to drive as you watch a film of the road ahead of you! We’d definitely recommend folks give this a miss.

Amarillo

We're now about half way to Albuquerque where we shall be heading on Friday night from OKC! Trying to find our way to the Super 8 motel where we plan to stay is a nightmare - for some reason google maps has it marked in the wrong place and also the roads and junctions along the I-40 are a mire to navigate. C gets totally stressed. Calm M in these situations to the rescue……

The reason for coming here is to visit Cadillac Ranch - a series of old Cadillacs planted nose down in a field about 10 miles west of Amarillo. They are painted with graffiti and in fact folks are encouraged to arrive armed with spray cans to add their own designs and colour (unfortunately they often leave the cans behind - the field is littered with them). Weird and wonderful!

It seems to us that one of the new legacies of the Mother Road "life" is the embracing of off beam stuff as a new form of attraction for local communities.

For dinner we head to our old faithful - Denny's as it’s very nearby the motel. It's good to have something different for a change.

First thing in the morning we head to Texas Jacks Steak Ranch - not for breakfast but for some quirky pics. It's a motel and restaurant complex just outside Amarillo and has a mock-up of a Wild West saloon and Main Street together with a giant bull and a dragon in cones (??? No idea!). Anyhow, it's fun.

Then starts the return leg back to OKC………

Conway

Next it's off to The Bug Ranch near Conway. This is awesome. Five VW Beetles nose down in the ground and spray painted with graffiti - like the Caddie Ranch, but somehow this seems more fun. The setting is grungier by a derelict service station and there's also an old classic car out front and a work shed, all vibrantly graffiti covered too. We spend way more time here than we'd expected.

Groom

There are 3 places of interest to us here; a leaning water tower - Pisa style, (built this way on purpose apparently to attract tourists to the town - enterprising eh!), the signage for a long gone motel, and nearby a very grungy barn that has nothing to do with Route 66 - we just liked it.

Further back along the Highway is the largest cross in North America, built by a local businessman as a thank you for all his blessings. We don't go to it but do manage to get some shots of it in the background of the barn. Creative or what!

Shamrock

This town with extensive Irish connections, festivitiesand clearly some good PR resources, has secured grant funding to renovate an old gas station and cafe, which now houses a visitor centre and Chamber of Commerce. It's a good renovation but somehow loses a bit in translation for being a bit too pristine. It also features as a stopover point in Cars the movie. Parked next to it is an old pickup truck which resembles the truck from the movie as well.

A few blocks away is the old Magnolia service station which is also well preserved though it seems oddly situated in a residential area.

Texola

The first town as you enter Oklahoma from Texas is Texola. We go there to see nothing at all; it's a ghost town (or almost one – at last count there were 47 people living here)! When Route 66 was in its prime this was apparently a bustling community. Now, most of the houses and businesses are boarded up and derelict. There is a restaurant nearby which had some cars outside and a few houses around town showed some evidence of life but we didn't see a soul. Just shows what can happen to a community when government decides to invest in new infrastructure even just a few100 yards away.

Erick

We've seen a photo of this place which has a shop - City Meat Market - covered in all sorts of road signs and other paraphernalia. It looked worthy of a visit. There's also a house behind the shop with similar decoration and it makes for a nice feature in an otherwise visually uninspiring town. It does not disappoint. Compared to Texola it's a positive metropolis but still quiet as ever, though it does have quite a few shops.

Weatherford

We head back here for a late lunch at Lucille's, but go in to town first to check out Downtown Dinerwhich has good reviews. We decide to stay there for lunch as it's busy and is the real thing rather than a mock up. The local speciality which we haven't tried before is chicken fried steak - which is actually steak not chicken! (It's cooked in fat that's been used to fry chicken). It comes with white gravy (nicer than it sounds) and a baked spud. C goes for jalapeño grilled chicken - the speciality of the house - anything that isn't meat or fried! They're not bad - though we're not sure we would rush to have it again. Unfortunately, we're too full for pud; we're desperate to try a pecan pie! One day....

Pony Bridge

Our final stop is a 4,000 foot truss bridge that spans the Canadian River near Bridgport. There’s a mention of it in The Grapes of Wrath apparently. M is slightly underwhelmed but C is determined to get some pics. It's not the best she agrees but it's there and so are we!!

Oklahoma City

And so we head back to the airport to return the car and amuse ourselves for a couple of hours before we head to the Greyhound station for our overnight Greyhound trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

We've completed our Route 66 adventure - at least this part of it; though there will be lots more places where our paths will cross over the next few weeks. It's a great place to visit - local folk have recognised the economic value of the old road but have added to it through a combination of natural warmth and friendliness and a liberal sprinkling of quirkiness.


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15th April 2014

Our Belgian neighbors dream was to travel Rt66...
so reading your story reminded us of them. I don't think they ever made it. You've been enjoying American food. I hope you manage to keep your weight down though!
16th April 2014

Too much good food!
Hi, thanks for your comment. We've been told before our blog is more like a foodies guide to the world!! I suspect we'll need to diet a little when we get home!! All the best, Caroline

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