Route 66 Day Six: the Long Drive into Texas

Route 66 in Western Oklahoma - somewhere between Clinton & Elk City

I’m blogging to you live from the Big Texas Steak Ranch in Amarillo – home of the “Free 72 Oz. Steak.” Well, it’s only free if you can eat the whole thing in less than an hour – and if you can’t, they charge you $72 for the meal. I settled on their 18-ounce steak. It has been a very long drive for me today (longer than any other day on the trip), as I drove from Oklahoma City to Amarillo. I was reluctant to drive that far, and had a contingency plan to stay in McLean, TX. But when you plan these trips, it’s important to think about where you spend the night – and if it’s a fun place with stuff to do. Having seen McLean, I’m now very glad that I opted to drive an extra two hours to Amarillo.

With all the fun from last night, I left Oklahoma City later than expected – as I watched Fox News while munching the hotel’s free breakfast, nervously getting news about a federal government shutdown. If the government shuts down, my reservation to the Grand Canyon will be cancelled.

Oklahoma State Capitol Dome

Before leaving town, I just have one quick trip to make – visit the Oklahoma State Capitol Building, which is right on Route 66 as I head due west. It’s a very impressive building, but my friend Karina told me something about it yesterday that was quite shocking. When they built it 100 years ago, they ran out of money – and couldn’t finish the dome. The state finally completed the dome a few years ago, but had to solicit private donations. So as you look up at the dome, you see the various “sponsors” who helped pay for it – including Phillips Petroleum Company, and (gasp!) Halliburton. I guess it makes sense, though – Oklahoma is completely run by right-wing Republicans, and in 2008 it was the only state where Barack Obama failed to win a single county. But still, it was quite repulsive to see this.

It’s now 10:30 a.m. – and I figure that if I can make it to Amarillo by 7:00 p.m., I’ll be okay. So I head on Route 66 west on a four-lane highway, with the soundtrack to The Commitments playing full blast as I sing along. Pretty soon, however, the scenery becomes flat Oklahoma prairie – and it’s clear that we are entering a whole new part of the state. This place is wide and expansive, and the rest of my trip today will be like that.

El Reno, Oklahoma

After I pass the city of El Reno, Route 66 gets really bumpy and gravelly – and it’s becoming increasingly apparent to me The Commitments is not good music for this trek. I need something more mellow for the difficult road gravel, so I pop in Elton John. At one point, the road deviates – and I’m offered two choices: either the “original historic Route 66” that goes through Calumet, or the “paved Route 66.” Given the time constraint, I reluctantly opt for the paved part of the route.

Finally arriving in Weatherford, I am exhausted – and low on gas. I start wondering how much longer I could take a trip like this, assuming Route 66 keeps going that way. But after I fill out the gas tank, I realize how far I just drove in less than two hours – and given the circumstances, I can handle it. I also notice that Clinton, OK is only a few miles away – and they have a Route 66 Museum. So I figure that’s a good place to stop to have lunch.

Route 66 Oklahoma Museum in Clinton, OK

While having lunch in Clinton, I realize that there are *two* Route 66 museums in the area – an Oklahoma Museum in Clinton, and a Route 66 National Museum in Elk City (not that further away.) The die-hard purist would go to both, but I only have time for one. After the waitress coaxes me to visit the one in her hometown, I decide to – and have a pleasant 45 minutes there. The museum in Clinton does a good job chronicling the “Okie” sharecroppers in the Great Depression who migrated on Route 66 to escape the Dust Bowl, and it also shows how Route 66 played a role in America’s love affair with the automobile in the 20th Century.

Heading out of Clinton, Route 66 is now a mere frontage road to the Interstate. But unlike in places like Illinois, the road is not always well-paved – and you have to be careful about how fast you’re driving. Moreover, the directions are not that good – and at this point, not having my geeky Google-Map printouts would have been problematic. At one point between Clinton and Elk City, I can’t find the frontage road – and have to get back on the Interstate.

Elk City, Oklahoma

In Elk City, I’m low on cash – so I decide to drop by a bank. I see the Bank of Western Oklahoma, with its slogan “where people come first.” When I go inside and inform the teller I have a Bank of America account, she says “we won’t charge you a bank fee – but they might.” Oh, wow! I wish every bank were like that. Leaving Elk City, I try to get back on Route 66 – but miss the frontage road and end up on the Interstate again. As I drive down I-40, I look wistfully at the side road – annoyed at myself that I’m not driving the two-lane highway. At the first opportunity, I manage to finally get back on.

Texola, Oklahoma

Now we are in Western Oklahoma, with the Texas border a few miles away. It’s a desperately poor area, with small towns having been ravaged by the Interstate. I stop in Sayre, which is relatively prosperous – but it goes downhill form there. As I approach Texola (right at the border), I had been told it was a ghost town. Boarded up buildings and shells of what were home abound – and all I see are a few old men doing garden work. They look up when they hear my car rolling down the road, as if any stranger coming to this town is somehow unprecedented. It’s sad, really … these towns were once thriving, but now there are very few opportunities left to stick around.

As I cross the Texas state line, I continue on Route 66 – which is a frontage road to the Interstate. I’m in the Texas Panhandle – it is flat, there is absolutely no one around for miles, and the only signs of life are depressed boarded up ghost towns. In other words, now is the perfect time to play Bruce Springsteen. So I pop his “Greatest Hits” CD into the car, as the opening riff of “Born to Run” echoes as I sing along with the Boss at the top of my lungs.

Route 66 Texas History Museum in McLean, TX

A few miles later, I come across the small town of McLean, Texas – population: 800. I had heard about McLean, because someone on YouTube put up a really awesome video of an old news clip from 1984 – which described the decline of Route 66. At the time, McLean was one of the very last towns to be by-passed by the Interstate – and the town was nervous. As I arrive in town, I visit the Texas Rope-a-Dope Museum – which also features the Texas Route 66 Museum. I chat with the owner, who has lived in McLean her whole life.

She tells me that 50 years ago, McLean had 2,500 people – or more than 3 times its current population. “The same month the Interstate came in,” she said, “the bank went out of business.” Which is really ironic, if you watch that YouTube video. The only person in McLean who was not unhappy by the looming Interstate by-passing their town was a local Bank President, who said “progress is progress” and “we have to accept this.” He was out of a job within a month …

Groom, TX: an hour east of Amarillo

Getting back on Route 66, it is almost impossible to follow the old route if you didn’t do your homework with Google Maps. And in some places, it is simply impossible to take Route 66 at all – so at various stretches, I have to get back onto the Interstate. But by now, I don’t really care – because frankly, there is nothing to see here at all.

But before I get back on I-40 to do my final sprint to Amarillo for the night, I can’t resist but stop by the gigantic cross in Groom, Texas. We are in Bible Belt territory – and the Texas Panhandle is the most reliable Republican part of America. Right near the cross is a shrine by the Knights of Columbus – dedicated to the “sanctity of life and the innocent victims of abortion.”

Now, I am staying at the Big Texan Motel in Amarillo – just off I-40. I was reluctant to make plans to stay there originally (after having viewed pictures on their website), because the place looked so amazingly tacky.

But I’ve decided it’s a fun place – and it’s right next to the Big Texan Steak House, where no one tonight was dumb enough to think they can eat a 72-ounce steak. But I did have an adorable band come to my table, and play “Home on the Range.”

I invite you to view photos of my ridiculous hotel on my Facebook page. But for now, I’ll just leave you with a picture of a gigantic boot – right in front of the restaurant …

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13 Responses to “Route 66 Day Six: the Long Drive into Texas”

  1. Nathalie Says:

    Hello,
    You don’t know me. I live in Paris. A girlfriend told me about your Mother Road experience and that’s a dream I would like to make true one day. I really found your musical choice of the day talking to me: first your singing the Commitments which I thought no one used to listen to these songs and I was proved wrong. I am fond of Mustang Sally. Then about your vision of the
    prairie in Oklahoma reminded the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. That just popped up.
    Thanks for this contribution of yours to my knowledge of genuine insights of Road 66.
    I will keep reading you.
    All the Best:)

    P.S.: By the way loved your cowboy boots!

  2. Route 66 Day Seven: Entering the Vast Southwest … « Paul Hogarth’s Personal Blog Says:

    […] Paul Hogarth’s Personal Blog « Route 66 Day Six: the Long Drive into Texas […]

  3. Silvia Says:

    Hi,
    I life in California and would love to take a trip down Rt 66.
    Do you have any suggestions on how best follow the Rt
    and which places to visit?
    Love roadside attractions also 🙂
    Thank you,
    Silvia

    • paulhogarth Says:

      Wow, Silvia … That’s an open-ended question I can take about a year to answer!! What was most useful to me was the book “Route 66 Traveler’s Guide” by Tom Snyder – a 200-page book which gives thorough turn-by-turn directions on how to drive it. What I did (which was totally dorky, but worth it) was use Snyder’s book as a template – and then go on Google Maps and trace all his directions. There’s another really good book out there called Route 66 EZ Guide – I haven’t used it myself, but everyone raves about it. My problem with it is that it’s more expensive – and for me, Snyder + Google Maps has been sufficient. Once you take the road, a lot of states offer their own specialized Route 66 maps. Illinois and Oklahoma are great, even Texas is okay – but Missouri left much to be desired. Can’t really comment on the other states, because I just got into New Mexico – but will know more later.

  4. Route 66 Day Eleven: The Open Road in Western Arizona « Paul Hogarth’s Personal Blog Says:

    […] thus Route 66 was de-commissioned by the U.S. Highway System. But unlike McLean, Texas (which was really depressing), I found Williams to be a thriving town with a cute historical downtown – despite the locals […]

  5. Route Steak Says:

    […] Route 66 Day Six: the Long Drive into Texas « Paul Hogarth's … Route 66 in Western Oklahoma – somewhere between Clinton & Elk City. I'm blogging to you live from the Big Texas Steak Ranch in Amarillo – home of the “Free 72 Oz. Steak ” Well, it's only free if you can eat the whole thing in less than . […]

  6. My Top Ten Insights from Traveling Route 66 « Paul Hogarth’s Personal Blog Says:

    […] to be by-passed by the Interstate, and the only thing that’s kept it from turning into another McLean, Texas is its proximity to the Grand Canyon. An exclusive gateway for travelers would be a big economic […]

  7. Danny Douglas Says:

    Im sorry that so many people see McLean today, in its present condition, and do not know it in its heyday. Yep, born and raised there in the uplift town. Called that because of the bra factory that many of the local girls and women worked in. Many of us had (very) small , fancy, bras hanging from our car mirrors – given to us by local girl friends. I still have mine, somewhere. Back then (the 40s and 50s) there were something like 23 service stations, and half a dozen restaurants (some owned by my mother and grandmother, as assorted times). Three new car dealers, two banks, two cotton gins, two feed stores, a weekly newspaper, drug store, three motels, a hotel, a five and dime, furniture store,two movie theaters plus an outdoor theater, a Cub Scout Pack, Boy Scout Troop and even a Scout Explorer Post. Alas, all gone except for one service station and a mom and pop 7/11 type with pumps. The school system, along with everything else in town has suffered tremendously, down from a senior class of 44 in 1959, to as many as 8 or so in classes, recently.

    Thankfully Delbert, and a few other ‘seniors” (I knew him in high school) have been able to keep the museums alive, for the present, and hopefully future generations. By the way, you must not have gone down the two blocks of business main street. There is a great “town” museum there as well, just across the street from the Avon Movie Theater. But, speaking of museums, you failed to mention the groups of pictures of “old” life in town. There on the walls, staring back at me, were the city fathers of my day.Our mayor/fire chief,insurance salesman, the hardware store owner, feed store operators, just too many for me to remember at this point. An area of one section contains a set-up of the old doctor office, and newspaper (now burnt down), and most interesting – a cafe with what I would swear my mothers uniform on the mannequin and the counter and table from one of her restaurants. It made my stomach flip when I saw that, and memories flowed. I was able to show my wife (a Washington state native) a bit about my younger days, and could have stayed there for hours, but sadly, we like most of the rest of the citizens of the day, just had to move on.

    You out there, who want to see what America was like back in the days, are invited and encouraged to get out on the mother road, while she still exists, and get the real feel of what is missing in todays world. I still have my Rout 66 coffee mug, T shirt, and memories. Those include some of the towns still there, and some who have disappeared completely: Mclean, Shamrock, Groom, Allenreed, Magic City (just off the road), Lela. Fun days, and glad I had them.

  8. Gayle Mullanax, M.D. Says:

    Me, too…….a wonderful life growing up in McLean!!!

  9. bud Says:

    i think instead of our government pissing away our taxpeoples monies they should take it and preserve our route 66 for all of us to travel and enjoy so we can use all of it the way it was. the old way to me is the only way

  10. hcg diet Says:

    hcg diet…

    […]Route 66 Day Six: the Long Drive into Texas « Paul Hogarth’s Personal Blog[…]…

  11. n7dc@arrl.net Says:

    The world is small. Havent seen Gayle, above, for decades. Went to school with his brother Melvin, who happened to marry one of second cousins from Shamrock. If anyone want to get hold of me, just look up the ham radio callsign N7DC, or write me at n7dc@comcast.net

  12. Danny Douglas Says:

    7 years later and time still hasn’t been kind to McLean. Heard from Billie (Smith) Kingston recently (fellow class of 59 graduate) and the Avalon Theater has been torn down, and right next to it, my moms snack bar had been gone for years. Get there while you can, and see what is left, before it too has risen in the great dust cloud of the sky.

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