Chicago at last--we are staying at Candlewood Suites out at O'Hare for economic reasons--where else can you find lodging for $74 a night in the Windy City? Since we have a car this time, we will be getting a different perspective than our usual visits where we only see the inside of a meeting room at a downtown hotel with the rare taxi ride to a museum or a restaurant.
We also wanted to focus on "The Devil in the White City, Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America" by Erik Larson on this jaunt. The novel is a mash-up of the biography of the mass murderer, Dr. H.H. Holmes, and the history of the 1893 Columbian Exposition. We also purchased the PBS video called "Magic of the White City Expo" which is filled with vintage photos as well as, unfortunately, cutesy re-enactments of Little Egypt and the assassination of Carter Harrison.
While the 200 buildings at the fair were temporary (wood frames covered with white stucco material called "staff"), the Fine Arts Building was not only constructed well enough to meet requirements for insuring the artwork but was also meant to be permanent---it now houses the Museum of Science and Industry. The work of Daniel Bernham, chief architect of the exposition, can be found all over Chicago. We hope to see his buildings on an architectural tour via boat on Wednesday.
The only two structures remaining from 1893 were the bridge in the Japanese Garden (located on a wooded island in the middle of the large lagoon) and the refaced and relocated World's Congress Auxiliary Building, which is now the Art Institute of Chicago. Frederick Law Olmsted designed the landscaping that proved such a significant factor at the fair. He, of course, is best known for Central Park in New York.
The Midway Plaisance (the black and white photo is from 1893), a park-like boulevard which extends west from Jackson Park and which, during the fair, featured the Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West Show, various exotic ethnic villages, the Ferris Wheel and the belly-dancing Little Egypt, is now part of the University of Chicago campus. Chloe enjoyed walking the length of the now beautifully landscaped green rectangles that flank the road which is still called Midway Plaisance.
Larson sums up the significance of this exposition to the history of Chicago with these words, "The thing that entranced me about Chicago in the Gilded Age was the city's willingness to take on the impossible in the name of civic honor, a concept so removed from the modern psyche that two wise readers of early drafts of this book wondered why Chicago was so avid to win the world's fair in the first place."
A city that had been a genuine transportation hub suffered from a bad rep---most Americans in the 1890s thought of Chicago as a city of stockyards and speculators. During and after the fair, thousands, particularly young women, flocked to Chicago to find jobs and husbands. This is where Holmes made the most of the opportunity to fulfill his dream---mass murder.
The Columbian Exposition, which covered a staggering 600 acres, is also known for introducing America to the modern aquarium, Cracker Jack, Aunt Jemima pancakes, new breakfast cereals (Quaker Oats, Cream of Wheat, Shredded Wheat) neon lights, Juicy Fruit gum, electricity (both Tesla and Edison were there), and Eadweard Muybridge's zoopraxiscope. Just driving around the various sites gave us a much more realistic view of the size and scope of the fair.
It boggles the mind to consider that over 27 million people (equivalent to about half the U.S. population) attended the exposition during its six-month run. The White City also inspired the reference to "alabaster cities" in "America the Beautiful" anthem by a Wellesley College English teacher named Katharine Lee Bates.
After our tour of the former exposition site, we drove downtown to have dinner at one of Jon's favorite restaurants, Pizano's--which makes the best pizza, according to Jon, in the world. We were also treated to a Memorial Day concert by Hum, a post-punk group, who were performing across the street. When we checked with Trevor via Blackberry, he said he had bee impressed by this group when hit it big during the 90s.
June 1, 2010
This day was dedicated to exploring our Lithuanian heritage. We drove to the south side of Chicago and visited the Lithuanian National Cemetery. We found a Sharkunas headstone, which was Jon's family name before it was changed. There wasn't a Gernis or a Petrosvsky family--in fact, I am not entirely sure that was my grandfather or grandmother's last name before they landed in America. I wish I had questioned my mother more about my ethnic roots. My mother had saved inscribed snapshots from relatives located in Kaunas so those photos might be a clue.
Next stop was the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture. Stanley Balzekas, Jr. was in Lithuania that week so we were shown a 2005 film on the history of Lithuania. Chloe, who was sitting quietly in her bag, sprang to life and started growling when she spotted horses galloping across the screen. She hates horses.We were then invited to look at the main exhibit which was called "Lithuania through the Ages," which also included a stunning collection of amber, Lithuanian Christmas straw ornaments and Lithuanian decorated Easter eggs as well as some of the products produced by a free Lithuania that included one of my favorites, Krupnikas--a "warm-the-cockles-of-your-cockles" liquor made of honey.
Another section housed the Children's Museum which featured whimsical murals on the walls and a strictly fun approach to learning about Lithuanian life. The exhibit housed a completely furnished thatched cottage, a plethora of swords, a number of beautifully dressed dolls, and, to encourage learning during the chilly winters, comfortable couches arranged around a cozy fireplace.
The Pioneer section helped me understand my grandparents' immigration to America and what drove them to leave their homeland to start over in a new country. In all, there were three waves of Lithuanian immigrants--my relatives arrived prior to WW I and, in fact, my great uncle, whose pocket watch I was bequeathed, fought and died in WW I. Since Jessie Daraska, the head of genealogical research was not at her desk, I couldn't ask her how to get started but I did get an email address which I plan to use when I get home.
We saw bookshelves filled with reference tomes that make up the Resource Center for East European Studies. We guessed a scholar must have been hard at work with the stack of books piled up on a study corral.
The Fine Arts were also well represented by a number of paintings in various media on the second and third floors and a stunning example of stained glass on the top floor. All of the works were accomplished by creative and competent Lithuanian American artists.
We continued on to Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in the Marquette Park district which was largely settled by Lithuanians in 1929. A gold-encrusted copy of the image of Our Lady of Šiluva hangs over its main altar. A mural near one of the side altars, also depicting the Blessed Virgin of Šiluva, was painted by Sister Mercedes of the Sisters of St. Casmir, whose convent in located nearby. The architect was J. Mulokas. the father of a friend of ours. We could not locate the Lithuanian Youth Center which we were told was a collaboration by both father and son architects.
We had hoped to eat at a Lithuanian restaurant that was supposedly located near the museum but alas, it was not at the address we were given and we didn't have access to the internet at that point. Apparently there is an eatery called Seklycia on West 71st Street so that might have been it. We also found a Healthy Food Lithuanian Restaurant at 3236 South Halsted Street which we might try tomorrow if we can get from the North Side to the South Side before 4:00PM.
By the way, Lithuanian food is anything but healthy. Perhaps the owners meant "Hearty Food"--the only reason the people in the old country didn't find their arteries instantly clogged arteries with all the butter, bacon, lard, etc is that they went out and plowed the fields after a meal of klatskies. Carbo-loading is definitely not for sedentary folks like us.
I got up at the crack of dawn to write my column and got most of it laid out by 10:30AM. We made oatmeal for breakfast and then got on the road. We didn't get to the Michigan Ave Bridge in time for the 1:00PM Chicago's First Lady Architectural Foundation cruise, so we bought our tickets for the next one and then stopped at the Corner Bakery for a sandwich.
We were back the requisite 30 minutes early and talked to a young woman who had a couple of hours to kill before she flew home after attending a conference. As we were chatting, Jon noticed a sign that said "all bags will be searched." OMG, Chloe was in her purse as usual. Then I spotted a guy in a tee-shirt that said "Security." He was pulling on blue rubber gloves. Well, what could I do? I opened up the side flap where I keep my credit card holder, my glasses, my camera and my phone for him to search. He patted down the sides of the case and then looked in at the end where Chloe must have been silently staring at him. "Do you have an animal in here?." he asked. I put my finger to my lips and said in my best schoolmarm voice "shhhhh!" He said "OK" and let me on board. Not a peep from my purse during the entire 90-minute cruise either.
We learned a great deal about the Chicago architects who designed high rises--recognized the names John Root and Daniel Bernham, as well as Ludwig Mies van der Rho. The docent was superb and did a great job of pointing out signature features of each of the architectural styles, including my favorite--art deco as well as beaux arts, gothic revival, neoclassical, modern, high tech and my least favorite--post modern. Humidity must have been around 80 percent and it kept threatening to rain but never delivered. What struck me the most about this tour was the way each architect tried to design his or her building to fit the space--not only with respect to the size of the lot and the height but also to include features that either paid homage to neighboring buildings or geographic features. For example, an urn found on the top of one building looked like it could have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Apparently the architect wanted to remind viewers of Chicago's most famous citizen.
In addition, the buildings created after WW II literally turned their backs on the river because of the stink and the unattractiveness of filthy water at that time. By the 70s, however, Chicago cleaned up its act and started "re-purposing" abandoned warehouses as residential property. With a clean river to look at, the real estate guys now had a new selling point---"great view." That was also about the time that beautification projects bloomed and sidewalks with public access were installed along the river to encourage walking and, ultimately, much more healthy living for Chicagoans. There are a number of rental properties where you can keep your boat, car and live 60 stories above the now scenic waterway. Architecture turned the Chicago River section of the Windy City around.
Chicago's history began where the river meets the lake--the city became a transportation hub and a center of trade. Railroads just added to the advantage. Because Chicago's sewer system was inadequate, early residents began dumping waste in the Chicago River and eventually, because the river flowed into Lake Michigan, they polluted their own fresh water supply. Bouts with cholera were frequent and deadly. Chicago's solution was to reverse the river's flow in 1900. This impressive engineering feat was accomplished by a 28-mile canal dug deeper than the river, which subsequently caused the river to flow toward St. Louis instead of into Lake Michigan. There were, of course, law suits threatened by the good people of St. Louis but apparently Mayor Daly and his crew, as only they could do, prevailed by convincing the judge that the water quality, by the time it got to St. Louis, was perfectly acceptable.
An old abandoned warehouse was pointed out as occupying the same site as where, in 1871, Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over a lantern and started the great Chicago fire---a three-day conflagration which took 300 lives and destroyed four square miles of private property.
After we docked, Chloe, Jon and I took a long stroll along the Riverwalk, looking for a place to get a drink and eventually dinner. We came upon Morton Steakhouse and that was it. Being an unapologetic carnivore, I have always wanted to try this five-star restaurant. Our waiter was named Brendan---a good omen and he proved to be most attentive--not a difficult job since there was nobody else in the restaurant at 4:00PM. Money was no object and we had a most memorable gastronomic experience ala carte.
Rick, a Morton's manager from San Francisco (dressed in a tux) stopped by to chat. Apparently the owner of Morton's is totally old school. Management at their 78 establishments have to train from six to twelve weeks in all aspects of the business from ordering food to fixing a dishwasher. Rick had nothing but good things to say about his experience but he was looking forward to returning to "Cali," nonetheless. Rick said the number of new franchises in Singapore and Japan are exploding right now. We wished him well and then proceeded to bail out our rental car, which had been occupying some expensive real estate in a nearby parking garage. Of course Jon took surface streets home--no freeways for us. Going through a Polish neighborhood reminded us of Trevor and Angie's digs in Brooklyn.
June 3, 2010
Today was the day we started the official Route 66 tour and to do that properly, we had to start at the intersection of Lake Shore and Jackson Drive. We thought before setting out, we would take Chloe on a little walk around Buckingham Fountain, which was built in 1927.
She found a cheeky squirrel right in the middle of her path and, of course, she had to give chase. When she ran out of leash, she started in on her howling routine. It's really embarrassing--sounds like she is being blunt object traumatized.
Well Jon took her in hand and walked her to the water which she found quite interesting. There were a number of oldsters in wheel chairs and one of their caretakers asked if Chloe could meet the seniors. Not only does Chloe love to be petted and held but she's quite used to giving and receiving lots of Yorkie kisses. One of the ladies pretended she wasn't going to give Chloe back. In my opinion, she was only half-kidding. When I retire, one of the activities on my to do list will be to get Chloe certified as a therapy dog and take her regularly to convalescent centers.
We drove down Michigan Avenue and found the historic Santa Fe Building and the Art Institute, which got its start at the 1893 Columbian Exposition as the World's Congress Auxiliary Building. It would have been part of our White City Tour a few days earlier had we known to where it had been relocated. Note the hockey helmet on the lion sculpture--those Chicagoans are major Blackhawk fans, aren't they?
We also found the Sears Tower (which opened in 1973), Union Station and Lou Mitchell's Restaurant, a Route 66 landmark which we opted not to visit for breakfast since we had already enjoyed my leftover steak and onion bread from Morton's.
In Cicero, which during the time of Al Capone and other bootleggers, was riddled with tunnels, most of the Route 66 attractions listed in our guidebooks have been demolished, but we did see Henry's Drive-In and the Robin Hood Muffler Shop best known for their colorful neon signs.
There wasn't much to see in the next few towns but we did stop in Willowbrook for lunch at Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket, which is a must-stop attraction according to the guidebook. We lucked out and were able to get the buffet which provided a sample of all their special dishes including mouth-watering fried chicken, corn fitters, to-die-for coleslaw, cajon chicken and dumplings, and homemade apple turnovers--all for $8.99. We could barely walk when we left. Chloe was most pleased with her nibbles from heaven as well. A nap would have been much appreciated but we had to press on.
We could see that if we explored the attractions in every little town, we would never make it back to California, so we only veered off of Historic Route 66 to visit towns that had something very special to offer. For example, we didn't want to miss the Gemini giant mascot at the Launching Pad Drive-In in Wilmington or the Polk-a-Dot Drive-In in Braidwood.
Outside of Dwight, we knew it was time to do a little walking around. This little village of 4,363 souls was the home of three impressive attractions. Not only is the former Keeley Institute for treating alcoholics and drug addicts with gold chloride (which played a big role in "The Devil and the White City"---Dr. Holmes sent his assistant there to dry out---located on Main Street but so is The First National Bank Building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The beige block doesn't say Wright but the Japanese-inspired lanterns on either side of the entrance sure did. We also got to see the Ambler-Becker Texaco Gas Station, which was lovingly restored by the community in 2003. The best remembered event in the early history of Dwight was the visit by England’s Prince Albert, son of Queen Victoria and heir to the British throne.
We have been following turn-by-turn directions written by the Historic 66 Association. What is really helpful is that you are given a choice between various alignments. Sometimes we saw an abandoned Route 66 running right next to the road we were on. We wondered if it was just more economical to start on new road then to fill in ditches, etc, in order to pave over an old road.
We also drove around Funk's Grove. This place isn't even big enough to qualify as a village. Isaac Funk founded the town in 1825 but in its entire history, the population has never topped 50. A sign advertising maple "sirup" (sic) tempted us to purchase a bottle, but since it was after 5PM, the store was closed. Besides, we did have a tiny qualm or two about buying a product whose name was so badly misspelled.
We finally arrived at the outskirts of Springfield around 6:30PM. Not only is this the state capital, but Abraham Lincoln was a resident until he departed in 1861 for the White House. We would have loved to have poked around the Lincoln Museum and various other attractions around the capitol building, but knew we would run out of daylight before we reached the Super 8 and the Cozy Drive In.
Ah, the Cozy Drive In! When Ed Waldmire Jr.was stationed in Amarillo TX, he invented a deep fried, battered hot dog on a stick that sold at the USO. His wife Virginia thought that "Crusty Curs" was a terrible name so she started calling them "Cozy Dogs" and came up with a logo that showed two corn dogs in a loving embrace. BTW, never call the specialty of the house "corn dogs." They are "Cozy Dogs" and unbelievably delicious. The family pack, which we ordered, included a ton of non-greasy, potatoes- with-the-jacket-on fries, four Cozy dogs and a soft drink---not just any soft drink but a real cherry Coke. One sip took me back to my junior high years when there was a drug store soda fountain in Allied Gardens that dispensed cherry and vanilla Cokes. To think that my folks were aghast when they found out that they had to pay a whopping $19,500 for a four-bedroom, two bath house in those days.
The Super 8 was inexpensive, allowed dogs, and even included free Wi Fi. We were also treated to a light show by the fireflies. What could be better!
June 4, 2010
We noticed a big difference between the corn growing in the fields in Illinois compared to the corn in Iowa. It's much taller by far. Apparently the further south, the earlier seeds can be planted. We included a visual aid, so readers can see the difference with their own eyes.
Just outside Raymond we spotted the Catholic prayer "Hail Mary" done as a series of Burma Shave signs. Back in 1959, a young girl name Loretta Marten organized her friends from the local Catholic Church to raise money for a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They collected $400 for a Carrara marble statue from Italy and an additional $500 for the construction and lighting of the shrine. Our Lady of the Highways ("Mary, Loving Mother of Jesus, protect us on the highway") is still watching over travelers even today. When Interstate 55 was built, the government tried to get Francis Marten (Loretta's father) to take down the Hail Mary signs but he refused---the signs were 4 inches inside his property line and "there wasn't a damn thing" the government could do about it.
In Livingston, we found an antique shop that was surrounded by giants and spaceships. We were sorely tempted by the snack stand, shaped like a giant ice cream cone, but it wasn't open that day.
We were supposed to look for something called a "Mustang Corral" in Edwardsville--we expected to see a herd of horses inside a fence. What we found was 200 used Ford Mustangs, rusting in a field on Chain of Rocks Road.
We continued on to Chain of Rocks Bridge which, with its 22 degree turn in the middle, is a respected icon now on the Mother Road. It is closed to vehicular traffic but restored enough to allow for pedestrians. Jon, Chloe and I walked most of it--the sight of the mighty Mississippi is worth braving the heat and the ubiquitous fuzz from cottonwood trees that likes to infiltrate nostrils and cause sneezing attacks.
For most people, you say "St. Louis" and they immediately think of the Gateway Arch, also known as "the Gateway to the West." It's a part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and was constructed as a monument to the westward movement of pioneers in wagon trains. Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen and structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel came up with a plan for the structure in 1947 and their design beat out 146 other entries in a national l competition.
Elevators that travel along a diagonal take visitors up 630 feet to the observation windows. Since I had already gone to the top in 1987, the plan was for Jon, my favorite achrophobic, to go while Chloe and I would wait at the base. In 2010, Congress required the National Park Service to establish a counter-terrorism program, so they installed metal detectors and x-ray equipment. Chloe would have been discovered in my purse and unceremoniously ejected had I tried to enter. After about 15 minutes, Jon returned. He "claimed" that the lines were too long and he didn't want us waiting in 96 degree heat. We let the "doth thou protest too much" scaredy-cat off the hook.
St. Louis is the largest of the Route 66 cities between Chicago and Los Angeles. The usual entry point used to be the Chain of Rocks Bridge. Since that route is closed--we arrived over the McKinley Bridge. St. Louis was founded in 1763 and its citizens are terribly proud of their Cardinals--the downtown fountain pumps red water. We spied a Gothic cathedral and mourned the loss of the now defunct Route 66 attraction, the Coral Court, an art deco motor court with gold tile walls, glass block windows, and red parapets on the outskirts of St Louis. Although no longer in existence, one cabin was supposedly saved and now adorns the Transportation Museum.
For me, St. Louis means Ted Drewes' Frozen Custard. The parking lot was filled to overflowing and people were queued up, a block long, to order. We decided on a "concrete." What is a concrete, you ask? It is a beverage cup of ice cream so thick that you can turn the cup upsidedown (which the counter girls are trained to do) and not a drop will spill out. There are no fillers, emulsifiers or thickeners in Drewes Frozen Custard--just 100 percent cold, creamy heaven. Jon opted for Terra Mizzou and I had classic vanilla along with Chloe. There is no place to sit--folks return to their cars. The long building must be filled with elves who churn out this delightful product in hundreds of gallons per day. We know that the building must be very cold because there are icicles on the roof even when the mercury in the thermometer reaches 100 degrees. Jon cracked up to see all these folks licking ice cream cones with their car AC units cranked to the max.
When we arrived at Eureka there was nothing there. The area was once known as Times Beach because lots were given away with subscriptions to the St. Louis Times in 1925. The oil that was used to keep the dust down on the roads contained dioxin (related to Agent Orange). In 1982 the residents were told to leave and every structure was torn down by the EPA. On the other hand, Pacific, the little burg right down the road, suffered from death by bypass. As we drove by, we glimpsed a for sale sign in the window of the famous icon, Monroe's Diner.
Doolittle was another little town we just had to see. It seems that the powers-that-be decided to name the town after the famous WW II flying ace. When they informed Jimmy Doolittle, he agreed to come to the dedication ceremonies--by flying in and landing on the portion of Route 66 with the fewest number of trees flanking the road. We would have paid good money to see that.
Springfield is known for inventing the first drive-in hamburger stand--the owner was Red Chaney and in addition to variously sized burgers, he also sold breaded pork, fish, beans, onion rings and shakes.
Jon can remember the fleet of Campbell 66 Express trucks headquartered in Springfield that hauled goods up and down Route 66. Their mascot was a camel named Snortin Nortin and their motto was "Humpin to Please." He also recalls his mother Lillian being out of sorts on a Route 66 trip to Arizona and flinging a piece of chicken across the table at some restaurant.
We decided to push on to Joplin before stopping for the night. Established in 1840, this center for lead and zinc mining was christened "Gateway to the Ozarks" but townspeople would rather the city be known as the "Crossroads of America." What Joplin was really known for was its saloons. Since Kansas was dry, travelers had one last chance to drink up in Joplin before they crossed the border.
When Jon was here 40 years ago, Joplin was a tiny little backwater town. Today the population is 45,500. Unfortunately the bridge was out outside town so we had to take a detour. It was pretty late before we pulled into the Super 8 but there was a king-sized bed available and we knew we would be dining at Jim Bobs Steak and Ribs where the servers all wear tee-shirts that say, "Every butt needs a good rubbing." The guidebook had deemed this restaurant "exceptional" and that was the God's honest truth. We shared a huge rack of ribs with all the trimmings for $15. Gas was at an all-time low in Joplin. At the Kum & Go, we paid a paltry $2.36 a gallon.
It’s been a long time since Motel 6 actually charged six bucks a room. Jon feels that Super 8 offers a better value with complimentary breakfast, comfortable beds, refrigerators and microwaves and the now requisite high speed internet access. Motel 6 is bare bones but is also not that much lower in price to make big claims about economy. One thing we have noticed in our travels is that folks from India or Mexico are investing in Super 8 motels and providing full employment for dozens of relatives. That’s what is so great about America—-land of opportunity but there are some Americans who resent foreign investment and you see signs like this one at the Guest Inn.
June 5, 2010
There are only 13 miles of Route 66 in Kansas. In fact, in the early 60s a new alignment would completely bypass the Sunflower state.
West of Joplin, you can still see the slag heaps of chert or chat leftover from the Eagle Picher Lead Processing Plant. The first of the two Kansas towns was called Galena after the type of lead that usually shows up in ore with silver. Route 66 goes down Main Street but the thoroughfare was closed for Galena Days—-a celebration of the town’s history. We did learn that the past was not always positive in Galena, however. A CIO union riot in the early part of the 20th Century massacred nine men and the once prosperous town with more than 15,000 residents is no more. The population has currenlty dwindled to less than 2,000. Galena, however, is very proud of Howard Litch who saved a 17-year old boy named Gene McCamber after he fell down a mineshaft known as Pigeon Cave in 1951.
Baxter Springs, the “First Cow town in Kansas,” (1868) was also the site of a massacre although nowadays it could stand in as the poster child for "Small Town, USA." The village was named for John J. Baxter, who stood 6’7” and always carried two Colt 45s strapped to his waist. Confederate thugs led by William Quantrill attacked General Blunt’s Union forces at Baxter Springs. In addition, the Baxter Spring Bank was robbed by Jesse James, who, although pursued, stopped at the next town to get his horse shod. When the posse that was dispatched to follow him arrived—--James and his gang deftly disarmed them and went cheerfully on their way with close to $3,000 of the Bank’s money.
Across the Oklahoma, Commerce, is best known as the birthplace of Mickey Mantle, who actually started out playing for the Baxter Springs baseball team. The residents of Commerce have recently restored a vintage Conoco gas station. Note the “Gas Wars” sign in front.
After Commerce, the little Oklahoma towns situated on America’s Main Street all seem to blend together. Some, however, are memorable, if only for a single turn-of-the-century building or some oddity.
Miami(pronounced my am muh’) is proud of the restored 1929 Coleman Theater, which is a perfect example of a Spanish Colonial Revival building with its distinctive terra cotta gargoyles and the boast that Will Rogers once performed there.
In Afton, sadly, the Red House Motel is a shell of its former self and the iconic Buffalo Ranch is now a Subway.
We got a chance to travel on an original 1926 8’ wide, single-lane piece of Route 66 between Afton and Venita. Venita is named after the famous sculptor Vinnie Ream whose life-sized statue of Abraham Lincoln can be found in the nation’s capital. Venita also brags about having the biggest McDonald’s in the world but what really impressed us was a trompe l’oriel mural on the side of an animal health supply store.
We stopped at Foyl to see the memorial dedicated to Andy Floyd—-the winner of the so-called "Bunion Derby" in 1928, which was a footrace from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York City, staged in order to raise awareness about Route 66.
Since we had read a Route 66 story about an old man who claimed he always picked wildflowers along the road to bring home to his wife, we gathered a few daisies and placed them in a water bottle which brought a little class to the cup-holder of our Grand Marquis.
In Claremore, named after an Osage Indian chief and the birthplace of Will Rogers, we took a picture of the Will Rogers Museum sign because we did not have time to visit there.
We are both familiar with his biography and needed to push on to get to Haltom City in order to spend Sunday with Brendan--—his one and only day off. We passed by Patti Page Blvd—--hadn’t realized she was from Claremore but we were aware that Lynn Riggs, the author of Green Grow the Lilacs, the book on which the musical Oklahoma was based, had been born there as well.
We couldn’t miss Cartoose, which comes from the Indian word for “People of the Light.” Cartoose is the home of the Blue Whale which graces a swimming hole that was very popular in the 70s and was, in fact, a wedding anniversary gift from the creator to his wife. The exhibit was restored in 1997 but has since reverted to a non-operational status although that fact does not deter tourists from taking a few photos.
Entering Tulsa, you can’t help but notice the graceful Art Deco spires on the Boston Avenue Methodist Church (1929) since it dominates the cityscape.
Tulsa, for me, however will always be associated with Tally’s, an exceptional roadside diner that not only provided the most memorable food on the trip (don’t miss the cinnamon roll and homemade onion rings) but also provided drama and suspense. We were both impressed by the hard-working waitresses who seemed to be cross-trained and incapable of standing still for more than a second or two. Well, that’s not entirely true. There was an eighty-year old silver-haired trainee, who seemed perpetually confused but the other girls cheerfully covered for her and all went well on her first day.
Our waitress was particularly adept carrying dishes. I saw her juggle five along the length of her left arm alone. She was also tickled by the fact that I had no idea how large the cinnamon roll was going to be. Honestly, it was the size of a large dinner plate and slathered in butter. It was way too big for one person, so Jonathan gleefully tucked in his napkin and raised his knife and fork to help me out. It was so unbelievably delicious that we ordered one "to go" for Brendan. The entertainment portion of the meal was a kitchen fire, which I could observe perfectly well from my seat. Most patrons weren’t even aware of the potential catastrophe, as it was out in seconds. The black smoke, however, took a few minutes to dissipate.
Sepalpa is the home to Frankoma Pottery—-the invention of an ceramics professor that is a very popular native ware and is manufactured in a factory that welcomes visitors. We would have stopped in but it was Saturday and the site was closed. We had hoped to grab a drink at Norma’s Café. She uses Frankoma pottery exclusively but her establishment was also closed. I love her comment about Sepalpa, "We have everything here--McDonalds, Burger King, Arbys, Hardees--everything except good food."
On the road from Stroud to Haltom City (this is where we deviated from Route 66) I kept finding so many Kodak moments I had to take myself in hand. “Step away from the Canon Power Shot, Beverly.”
I did let myself go, however, when it came to the Court House in Denton. What a beautiful building! And of course I couldn’t resist snapping a shot of the feeble Kellyville sign. Not only did Interstate 40 sound the death knell for this little burg but decades before somebody thought it would be a good idea to make this site a ski resort. The only problem was that he had to truck in artificial snow and ski enthusiasts were simply not okay with that.
After three, count ‘em, three “location malfunctions” (that’s what we call it when Jon gets lost and blames it on the signage, map-maker or me) we finally arrived in Haltom City. Brendan waited patiently for us, even though it was after 9PM. We dined at Chili’s.
June 6, 2010
Brendan came up to our room about 11:30A and we discussed options for the day. The Ft. Worth Art Museum was no longer hosting the Andy Warhol collection so we consulted with the brochure rack and came up with Clark Botanical Park in Weatherford, which was about 45 minutes away.
What a great decision that was, despite the 100-degree heat and 85 percent humidity. According to the information in their "History House," Max and Billie Clark spent their early marriage in a trailer because their business, which was installing telephone poles, required them to be mobile. Later they would adapt when telephone wires went underground and they started a trenching business. I suspect during the mobile home years, they dreamed of a house perched high on a hill---with room for a beautiful garden. How dreams can grow!
They purchased 200 plus acres nearby Lake Mineral Wells State Park Trailway—--land that was mostly covered with scrub and mesquite. It is indeed awe-inspiring that they were able to transform 35 of the acres into a series of 20 gardens. Many native plants and trees are represented but they have also adapted a number of ground covers that are widely used in California backyards.
Max, who loved to experiment with hybrids developed two different Iris varieties that he was allowed to name. He was quite the romantic--he gave Billie 41 azalea plants for the 41st wedding anniversary. Billie gave Max, who is usually accompanied by his chocolate lab Brownie, a pair of bronze sculptures that captured man and dog digging in the garden. The girl that took our admission told us that all ten staff members are big-time dog lovers and “well behaved” canines were welcome.
Both Brendan and Jon were very excited about the G-scale model garden trains and the 1,200 feet of track. Tiny versions of the towns of Weatherford and Mineral Wells were replicated as well. In fact, they were so accurate that when we drove to Mineral Wells, we were able to locate both hotels that we had seen in miniature inside the Clark Round House.
My favorite place in the garden was the little cave behind the big waterfall—-it reminded me of the Fern Grotto on Kauai where Jon and I were married. Most of the water features were also home-sweet-home to ducks, swans, peacocks and the blooming flowers attracted butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and very vocal songbirds.
There was no general plan by the Clarks--—the gardens grew like Topsy as Billy Max and their general manager sat around the table and sketched out ideas for different horticultural treatments including a number of rose gardens, a small forest of conifers, a section with exclusively white blooms including magnolias, dahlias, and primroses. The herb garden was laid out in a labyrinth, a chapel complete with stained glass welcomes meditation or weddings, cute little bridges pop up everywhere, a reflecting pond reminiscent of the Getty Museum in Malibu is one of the first features visitors view, and a large lagoon is planted entirely in water lilies.
We were thankful we could visit in late spring but this garden with its rotating plantings would be attractive at any time of year. We spent four hours walking around and probably didn’t see everything
(Jon and Brendan refused to miss the Civil War cannon) but all three of us remarked that what kept us going was the prospect of a new surprise around every turn in the path.
We dined on well aged steaks at Saltgrass—--one of Brendan’s all-time favorite restaurants. Beverly was introduced to Lynchburg Lemonade and became a big fan. Chloe has been in heaven—--every restaurant brings manna of some sort into her case.
June 7, 2010
The big job for today is to get back on Route 66. We made our way up I-35 to what the locals call OKC or what the rest of the nation calls Oklahoma City. I was reminded of the television show "Saving Grace," which is takes place there.
The little towns along the way from OKC to Elk City were largely unremarkable. Bethany was dominated by the Church of the Nazarine---from elementary school to college.
El Reno has a “there’s a moral in there”-type history. Originally, the town was located further north and on the other side of the Canadian River but when the community leaders demanded extra compensation from the railroad, the railroad owners decided to locate further south and on the opposite side of the river. Isolated, the good citizens of El Reno were forced to move, lock, stock and barrel, to the railroad's new location.
We found out, firsthand, that the portion of Route 66 that makes its way to Calumet is what we used to call a "washboard road." Shiver me timbers, indeed.
Bridgeport was a bit of a disappointment—-only two little bridges and no port. Furthermore, currently Bridgeport is a ghost town.
We decided to press on to Elk City, which is home to a national Route 66 museum as well as a wonderful community park with an expansive lagoon, all sorts of domestic and Canadian geese, a miniature golf course, a small gauge train, a 100-year old carousel, ball fields, playground equipment, picnic areas and a walking path badly in need of a fire hose to high-pressure clean off the poop.
We were chased away from the merry-go-round perimeter by a trio of quite nasty (aggressively hissing and honking) geese guards. Elk City is also known for its brick streets. The omnipresent red clay must end up being mined by some local brick company. We are staying at an old Route 66 icon--the Flamingo Inn. The bathroom is done up in classic 40s pink and black tile and walls are a lighter shade of Pepto Bismal. Too cool for school.
Here is where I have to confess that the guidebook we have been using is flawed, badly flawed. The restaurant recommended for lunch, Vito’s, is located in a strip mall—--certainly not a Route 66 locale; and the restaurant recommended for dinner, Country Dove, turned out to be a Christian Book Store that did serve tea but closed at 5PM. The Route 66 Association will be receiving a sternly written rebuke from yours truly. We did find exceptional substitutes using our time-tested method, which is highly intuitive and depends on the vibes we receive as we read the name of the eatery. This guess is then is corroborated by the number of vehicles in the parking lot. Zorba’s in Oklahoma City served up a mean gyro on pita with either a Persian or Greek salad. Pedros, a Mexican treasure, was located right next to our motel, the (very Pink) Flamingo, a classic Route 66 motor lodge with a pink and black tiled bathroom and bedroom painted in various shades of rose or peach.
June 8, 2010
Before we bid farewell to Elk City’s oil workers, brick makers, agricultural workers and entrepreneurs, we stopped by the National Route 66 Museum Complex which was a heck of a deal for $4. The National Route 66 exhibit invited the visitor to walk from state to state on Route 66 as the history of the Mother Road was revealed by archival photos, vintage vehicles, recorded interviews and antique artifacts. This museum is considered the best of the 26 on Route 66.
The National Transportation Museum was also impressive. Jon sat in a 1959 pink Cadillac and watched the same view of the roller coaster alignment (with all the thunka, thunka, thuka sounds of a concrete slab roadway) that we had seen on the way to Elk City. There was also an interesting film narrated by the editor of American Road Magazine as well.
We were then treated to the history of Elk City, which was originally named Busch after the St. Louis beer baron Adolphus Busch. Visitors were invited to peek through the windows of all the usual buildings on the “town square” (Doctor/Dentist Offices, Rock Bluff School, Opera House, Attorney, General Store, Drug Store complete with soda fountain and old fashioned candies, Newspaper office).
These Elk City folks found a way to bring back traffic lost to the interstate with their museum and park. During the weekend before, devotees flocked to Elk City's Route 66 Days from all over the country. Out in front of the museum was a facsimile of the Kachina totem that was created by a Delaware Indian who worked at the local Queenan Trading Post. His building materials, of all things, were discarded auto and oil industry machinery parts.
We found it interesting that the City Hall in Sayre City, the next little burg down the line, which is supposedly the “Cradle of Quarterhorses,” is a 1905 National Bank building. Jon had a difficult time hiding his city hall envy.
Question: Why is a river in Oklahoma called the Canadian River?
The next few towns flew by in a blur: Erik, of course, is the birthplace of Roger Miller, Texola (on the Oklahoma side of the border) is a ghost town with a sense of humor. On one boarded-up window, somebody had painted a window with drapes and a little vase of flowers. There was also a speed limit sign that had been changed to 66 MPH and a banner on shuttered restaurant read “there’s no place like Texola.”
Shamrock, founded in 1890, was obviously the brainchild of somebody from the Old Sod—--his name was actually George Nickel. Every year, there is a ripshortin’ St. Paddy Day parade in Shamrock. The first Shamrock gas station is said to have been located there as well.
We also located the U Drop In, a restaurant and gas station noted for its Art Deco tower.
McClean (1903) is the site of the first Phillips 66 station.
When a couple of Phillips execs were looking for a name for their gasoline, they tested their product out on Route 66. One supposedly said to the other—-“see, we can go 60 on this gas!” The other replied, “Hell, we are going 66. We are going 66 on 66.” 66 was also the specific gravity of the gas but that’s not a plus most folks are aware of. McClean also boasts the Avalon movie theater (closed) that was the inspiration for "The Last Picture Show" and the town also houses a Devil’s Rope (barbed wire) Museum to boot.
Groom, named for a British rancher, Col. B.B. Groom was incorporated in 1902. It’s known as the site of biggest metal cross in North America. It's 19 stories high and was erected in July of 1995.
Alanreed, named for two contractors with the last names of Alan and Reed, gets the award for the most number of previous names. At various times in its history, the town incorporated in 1902 was known as Spring Tank, Springtown, Prairie Dog and Gouge Eye---the last because of a brawl between a Groom’s citizen and an Alanreed resident that resulted in a serious eye injury to the Groom's man.
In Alanreed, I got a call from my editor and found out that he hadn’t received the column that I had emailed last Thursday from Chicago. The nearest WiFi was in Amarillo, 64 miles away. We speeded there as quickly as possible and searched the length of Amarillo Route 66 for a WiFi-engabled facility without reward. We had planned to visit the Big Texas Steak Ranch for lunch that day but hadn’t looked up its particulars. The restaurant was at the other end of town but it was, thank God, a WiFi hotspot so we were able to send in the column as well as enjoy a delicious steak dinner.
The manager announced that Daniel Burkholder, who was celebrating his 21st birthday that day, was going to attempt the Big Texas Steak Ranch challenge. If you can devour a 72 oz steak along with a salad, a buttered roll, a baked potato and three shrimp in one hour—--your meal is free. When I asked Burkholder why he would attempt such a feat, he replied “why not?” He was going strong during his first half hour—-he had cleaned up all the side dishes but he was only half-way through the steak. We waited until the final bell 30 minutes later and unfortunately he didn’t make it. I asked him if he knew the penalty for losing, and he said, “Yeah, I am going to have to pay a lot of money.” The charge for failing to meet the challenge is $72—--one dollar for every ounce of rib eye steak. The waitress told me that every year between 86,000 and 87,000 people try but only about one in six are successful.
Amarillo is quite a city! Originally the name was Oneida (like the silverware) but was changed because so many houses were painted yellow. Amarillo, of course, is the Spanish word for "yellow." The city was founded in 1887 as a center for oil and gas but the manufacture and storage of helium as well as the raising of cattle, as we can personally attest, was also big business. The temperature as we headed out of town was 101 degrees but a big nimbus cloudbank was building up in the west.
That direction was exactly where we were headed after we made the pilgrimage to Cadillac Ranch. Stanley Marsh III was the man behind the notion of burying the front ends of 8 vintage Caddies in a row—-as if the American Dream could be planted in some sort of garden.
Visitors are encouraged to spray paint pictures, etch their initials, or pen messages on the surfaces of the planted cars. The site is a short walk from the road to the middle of a wheat field where the head-scratching example of public art is permanently on display.
As we returned to our car and headed west, the rain descended in huge drops. There were radio warnings of possible soft ball-sized hail but we lucked out, as we have done on this entire trip, weather-wise. We quietly snacked on Necco wafers and visualized Tucumcari Tonight!
In the ghost town of Glenrio, right before Tucumcari, we spotted two brown mixed-breed puppies playing in the middle of the road. They scooted into the bushes when we tried to take their picture. We did snap a photo of the abandoned gas station behind a rusting Willys pickup truck.
There were once 50 motels in Tucumcari--now the number is less than half. You can tell which motor lodges are still in operation by the lit neon signs. The Relax Inn must have gone out of business years ago---the price of gas posted was an unbelievable $1.75! We pulled into the Travelodge during a downpour that flooded the entire parking lot. The interesting aspect was that the sun was shining for the entire hour that the rain descended. The storm clouds, however, held a silver lining--A 20 degree drop in temperature and a glorious red, gold, purple and pink sunset.
Both Jon and I wondered about the derivation of the name Tucumcari. Apparently this wasn't the first name that city leaders came up with. Early on, the town was known as Liberty. During the railroad era, it was called Six-Shooter Siding. As to the Tucumcari--in all probability the town took the name of a nearby mountain derived from the Comanche word "Tukamukaru," which means "to lie in wait." I, however, like the Apache myth that speaks of a love affair between a brave named Tocum and a maiden named Cari. As the story goes, a jealous man kills Tocum so that he can have Cari all to himself. She stabs the murderer and then stabs herself. After finding his daughter and her intended dead, her desolate father takes the bloody knife and kills himself, but not before looking heavenward and crying "Tocum. Cari."
We couldn't afford to stay at the Blue Swallow Motel, which has become a Route 66 icon, courtesy of Michael Wallis 75th Anniversary book on Route 66. Owner Lillian Redman, who would be 101 years old now if she were still alive (she passed away in 1999), got the 1940s motel as an engagement present from hubby-to-be Floyd in 1958. She was a big believer in the notion that she might be entertaining angels unaware so she treated every guest with the kind of hospitality she'd offer a messenger of God. No wonder she stayed in business so long even after the interstate killed half the business in Tucumcari! I thought it was interesting that she learned the guest services business as a Harvey Girl before she met and married Floyd.
Today we are basically traveling from Tucumcari through Santa Rosa, Clines Corners, Santa Fe and ending up in Albuquerque for the night. We were really looking forward to Santa Rosa—-not only are there billboards advertising 20 motels and just as many restaurants---but Santa Rosa is supposed to be home to Club Café—-an amazing enterprise on Route 66 that has been around since 1935. Billboards in past years talked about “honest to goodness, authentic sourdough biscuits, hamburgers made with 100 percent ground beef, homemade chili and chicken-fried steams made with tender, fresh meat and served with old fashioned, iron skillet gravy.” The description made my mouth water as I was reading it. Even more important is the success story of Ron Chavez as told in Michael Wallis' book. Chavez used to shine shoes in front of the Club Café in 1973 but it was his dream to own the place—-which he eventually did--adding his own touches to the menu such as the green chiles that come from the village where he was born.
We should have known something was wrong when we didn’t spot any billboards with the signature fat man boasting about the culinary delights available at Club Café. When we finally arrived at the right address—-the building was in disrepair and the paint on the neon sign was peeling away. All the cars in the parking lot actually belonged to court house patrons next store.
Clines Corners (1935) is now on its fifth owner and he is not from the United States. Furthermore, he hasn’t kept up the Route 66 standard—--the cinnamon rolls are now served with Country Crock instead of butter. The thousands of trinkets and tourist trap collectibles remain the main attraction. The complex has been greatly expanded, now boasting two filling stations and counter after counter filled with mementos ranging from Prickly Pear Cactus jelly to Roswell Alien coffee cups. People were, however, lined up at the fudge counter. We picked up a lb of the sugar-free kind for ASL. Hopefully we can make it through the Mohave without it turning to hot chocolate syrup.
In Santa Fe we took some time to walk around the downtown plaza where we were treated to two musical performances: one by a country duo offering bass fiddle, banjo and some bonafide yodeling and the other a solo trumpeter who was playing a poignant blues melody. There were lots of venders—-a whole section is reserved exclusively for Native American artists.
We peeked into the courtyard of the Modern Art Museum to see some sculptures and then browsed through the History Museum gift shop. Security is tight at both and we weren’t about to check Chloe into a locker.
We walked over to see the St. Francis Basilica, which had at least two statues of the city’s patron saint in front. There was also an interesting display of cutthroat trout that people used for seating in the park across from the Palace of Governors.
The actual name of the capital city of New Mexico is La Villa Real de la Santa Fe (Holy Faith) de San Francisco de Asís. Its nickname is “the City Different” and 72,000 very different souls live there. The fourth largest city in New Mexico is also the highest (7,199 ft.). With a 400-year old history, there is a great deal to learn about Santa Fe. The original settlers were Pueblo Indians. The "Kingdom of New Mexico" was first claimed for the Spanish Crown in 1540 during the expedition of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado almost 70 years before the founding of Santa Fe.
The Spanish laid out the city around a central plaza. On its north side was the Palace of the Governors, while on the East was the church that later became the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. Many of the streets radiating from the plaza were narrow and included small alley-ways. As the city grew throughout the 19th century, the building styles evolved too, so that by statehood in 1912, the eclectic nature of the buildings caused it to look like “Anywhere USA”.
The city government decided that the economic decline, which had started more than twenty years before, with the railway moving west and the Federal government closing down Fort Marcy, might be reversed by the promotion of tourism. To achieve that goal, the city created the idea of imposing a unified building style--Spanish Pueblo Revival--everything had to be constructed of reddish-brown adobe walls. As a consequence—-the architecture is not only boring but sometimes ludicrous when businesses such as fast food restaurants that have established a certain architectural signature to define themselves are forced to abandon their unique look in order to operate in Santa Fe.
The next stop was Albuquerque—-the largest city in New Mexico and established in 1706. It is generally believed that the town was named by the provincial governor Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdes in honour of Don Francisco Fernandea de la Cueva, whose title was Duke of Alburquerque. Western folklore offers a different explanation, tracing the name Alburquerque to the Galician word "albaricoque" or "apricot". As the story goes, the settlement of La Ciudad de Albaricoque was established near an apricot tree and the "r" in Albaricoque eventually disappeared via mispronunciation.
Both Jon and I had visited Albuquerque previously but we were quite impressed with how much town had grown in the thirty-odd years since we had been there. Jon played a show in 1986 with the Zoogz Rift Tour and I was coaching the UCLA Debate team at a University of New Mexico Forensic Tournament, My colleague Michelle thought she had lost the car keys—--the last place she remembered having them was in the woman’s restroom. Unfortunately there was an overflow problem with one of the toilets but she diligently returned to the so-called scene of the crime and fished around in the excrement to avail. Turned out one of the debaters had the key in his pocket. We decided to take the guidebook recommendation for the pet-friendly Ambassador Inn. Well, the new owners were from India and not a friend of the canine so we had to smuggle Chloe in and out. There wasn’t even a blade of grass on the property so Jon drove her to a nearby park for her evening and morning constitutionals. Although the motel marquee had advertised a continental breakfast, by 8:00AM when Jon got there, only two muffins remained.
We can’t complain about food, however, having treated ourselves to Scalo that evening. We were not in the mood for typical Route 66 fare that night and Northern Italian food seemed exactly right. Jon had a fettucini al pollo and I had the ricotta-filled ravioli with a delicate seafood sauce. The local pinot noir was surprisingly good as well---who'd have dreamed New Mexico grew grapes. The restaurant was located in the historic 1947 Nob Hill Shopping Center which is presently on the National Register of Historic Places.
For breakfast, we decided to try Lindy’s, a downtown diner that, frankly, exceeded our expectations—--the chicken fried steak with the green chili and cheddar cheese sauce was simply incredible. Jon also enjoyed his “pileup” which stacked cheese, over-easy eggs, pinto beans and bacon. The tortillas were homemade.
Our waitress Dawn was friendly and talkative. When I asked how a New England girl ended up in Albuquerque she confessed that she blindly waved her finger over a map and that’s where it landed. She eventually met her husband Steve, who is Lindy’s chef. His father had been a busboy and a bouncer at the original restaurant whose name escapes me. He eventually worked his way up to partner and then sole owner and renamed the eatery after the New York purveyor of cheesecake. When the father got ill, Steve and his family took over---even their three kids work during summers. There are photos all around the room with Steve and various celebrities but I was most impressed with the snapshot of Mary McCormack who plays Mary Shannon in “In Plain Sight,” one of my favorite shows. Dawn says Mary was very nice and brought her two daughters into the restaurant with her. She insisted that she have her picture taken with Steven since all the other subjects were “just amateurs.”
We drove to the Old Town Plaza—--Albuquerque (population 522,000) was laid out similarly to Santa Fe with a town square in front of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. The benches, made of wrought iron and painted white were very special. The four panels along the back represented the four seasons of agriculture. Even the trash containers were artistically rendered. The little gazebo was sweet and Jon loved the two canon that apparently had been buried for something like 28 years during the Civil War.
The scenery started to change at Mesita (Little Mesa), outside of Albuquerque. The red rocks dominated the landscape.
One of the local landmarks was supposedly called Owl Rock but we had trouble figuring out which rock it really was. Jon was all excited to see black lava rock but there was only a modest pile of "bad land" metamorphized rock. I remarked that the black lava rock in New Mexico must have been the disappearing variety.
The next big town was Gallup (1884). If you wanted to get paid, you went to Gallup to visit the railroad paymaster David L. Gallup. Also known as the "Indian Capital of the World" (being surrounded by the Navajo Reservation), much of the economy seems to revolve around turquoise and the creation of turquoise jewelry. We saw a "Help Wanted" sign for a silversmith in case any might be reading this blog.
The other Gallup enterprises seems to involve “trading posts” where said jewelry is hawked. We were looking for a park but there didn’t seem to be the tree-shaded variety in this haven of xeriscaping. Gallup used to have a bad rep when alcoholism, drunk driving and domestic abuse by the Native American residents got to be such a problem that Mother Theresa placed Gallup just under Calcutta on her list of "forsaken places." Still it wasn't only Native Americans that hit the bottle in Gallup--there is a story about Errol Flynn getting so drunk that he rode his horse into the lobby of the El Rancho Hotel. Celebrities from Hollywood liked to hang out and drink away from the public eye there. The civic leadership, however, has made great strides in trying to clean up the town. Outdooor ads seem to be the prominent propaganda medium--you see gruesome billboards warning against driving under the influence as well as countering domestic abuse.
Just outside Gallup is the home of the infamous Jackalope, a strange hybrid creature that can imitate the voice of a cowboy singing to his herd in the dark of night. We also stopped at the world famous Ortega Indian Trading Post with the iconic eight giant arrows stuck in the ground--apparently they ripped off the idea of from Two Arrows, located further along the road, or else there are more arrows due to inflation. Found a couple of 2 for $20 Route 66 tees for Jonathan and Brendan. I treated myself to a hand-made Route 66 tile. It will be quite the conversation-starter at dinner parties.
The best part of the day was the decision to tour Petrified Forest National Park. Of course we got in free with my pass. Each turn around the bend seemed to offer a new vista or a new geological phenomenon. A series of five “points” gave us different panoramic views of the Painted Desert which was remarkable enough. Then we were introduced to “Newspaper Rock” which is the cutesy name for hundreds of petroglyphs etched into stone. All were realistic, stick-like figures of men, animals and “gods.” The Teepees were layered cones that range in color from blue to purple to gray to brown depending on the minerals (iron, carbon, manganese) contained in the formations.
The Jasper and Crystal Forests were sites of hundreds of petrified logs—--there was one especially long trunk that had been used as a bridge by the people that built the Puerco Pueblo.
We took a look at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook (where the slogan is "sleep in a wigwam" and then headed for Winslow where there is a memorial to the Eagles song "Take It Easy" lyric—-"standing on the corner in Winslow AZ."
first with a statue of an unnamed guitar players and second with a flatbed Ford parked right at the corner.
We read about La Posada Resort but with only 37 rooms we thought our chance of securing a place without reservations was slim to none. Yet low and behold Jon was able to swing it and we were assigned the Wallace Beery---with a big king-sized bed and a jacuzzi bath. Chloe was perfectly legal and invited to roam the grounds on a leash.
What is so great about this hotel? It’s a restored Harvey House. During the late 19th Century, Fred Harvey opened 84 restaurants, hotels and lunchrooms at every stop of the Santa Fe Railroad--his Harvey Houses were immortalized by the 1946 film starring Judy Garland called "Harvey Girls." This hotel was designed by architect Mary Jane Colter who not only drew up the plans for the two-wing hacienda but also created the furniture and the light fixtures.
a>We also were able to get reservations for dinner at the Turquoise Room. The chef is John Sharpe, who advocates using locally grown foods from the Flagstaff Farmers Market (whenever possible) which means really fresh meat and produce. He also likes to include a sampling of Native American dishes such as the Piki bread (made by Hopi) we enjoyed with a hummus made of pit roasted corn, Tepary beans and the secret ingredient that I wormed out of him—--a very hot mustard that tastes a great deal like wasabi. Jon and I are still trying to figure out how the Chef was able to serve up the corn and bean soups as two separate halfmoons in the same bowl. For the entrée, I loved the fresh Pink Grouper baked with Jalapeno Bacon, Sunchokes Gratin, and a mixture of fresh veggies sauted in Abalone and Oyster mushrooms. Jon tasted three different lamb dishes, which ranged from a green chili, red pasole and grilled chop. Before dinner we enjoyed margaritas—-mine a turquoise and Jon’s a Route 66 Cadillac. This was truly a 5-star restaurant and one of the best meals we have ever eaten. After dinner we had a chance to try out the jacuzzi in our room--washed away all the fatigue built up after putting in 8 to 10 hour driving days.
The next day we discovered that the La Posada also serves breakfast. Well we couldn't pass that up. Jon enjoyed a baked egg dish that would have been quite popular in 1930. I opted for a spinach and cheese omlette that simply melted in my mouth. This time we had a view of the trains coming and going right outside our window. The big culinary surprise (there is always something out of the ordinary with Chef John Sharpe) was the potato dish spiced up with jalapeno peppers and three kinds of cheese.
After packing, we toured the grounds which included an enchanting sunken garden with a fountain playing into a stump of petrified wood, a sculpture hall and a gift shop with unique art works for sale.
We met a fellow Route 66er named Del Williams who is a Mira Costa College history professor. He and his wife were forced to do the trip twice--from San Diego to Chicago and from Chicago to San Diego since it had been prohibitively costly to rent a car without returning it to the same city. He most enjoyed Illinois and Missouri --these are two states in which Route 66 associations are going great guns in reviving the tourist trade. He was most disappointed in New Mexico---especially the folks in Santa Fe but who can blame them--Santa Fe was bypassed as early as 1937.
Jon and I discussed future plans for flying to Winslow and spending a weekend at La Posada. There is something spiritual and healing about this place. Maybe the feeling evolves from Colter's fantasy. Each of her buildings has an imagined back story and La Posada is no exception. When she was designing the structure she wanted it to appear as if four generations had added their own construction to a main structure that miraculously appeared in the middle of the high desert as an oasis for the wealthy Basque family. The de los Pajaros family supposedly occupied the hacienda for 120 years but the last owner was forced, because of the Depression, to sell the family home to the Santa Fe railroad complete with all the caged birds, ancient trees, handmade furniture and collected artworks.
In actuality, La Posada, as a Harvey House, went out of business in 1957. In 1961, the structure was gutted and the museum quality furnishing were auctioned off or carted to the dump. Partitions divided the complex into offices for the Santa Fe Railroad. Fortunately, Allan Affeldt and Tina Mion, along with various artists, rescued what they could and restored or recreated the rest. You can feel all of the negative energy leaving you the minute you walk into the back door (the front faces the railroad tracks).
On the road again, past Leupp Corner and Meteor City (essentially a trading post), we headed off 66 for the Meteor Crater which is touted as a "natural" landmark. Apparently the property is in private hands and the owners want an arm and leg to view the 1 mile deep hole in the ground (2.5 mile circumference) that appeared 22,000 years ago We found a free vanatage point near the old observatory (in ruins) founded by D.M.Barringer who used to charge 25 cents for the use of his telescope.
We could see what was left of Two Guns from the road. Apparently the town was the site of an Indian massacre between the Apache (losers) and the Navajos (winners) as well as a gunfight between two gambling saloon robbers and the local posse. The iconic Two Arrows Trading Post had also been shuttered long ago.
The last time I was in Flagstaff (1987), the heavens parted and rain was descended in buckets. This day was sunny and clear and snow on the San Francisco Mountains was clearly visible in the distance. You almost immediately noticed the change in flora---scrub giving way to conifers with the uptick in altitude. The name Flagstaff comes from an early event in which civic leaders in need of r a flagpole, fashioned one by stripping a lodge pole pine tree of its limbs.
Flagstaff is the birthplace of Andy Devine and is known for the Lowell Observatory (1894) where Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930. Thank God, Clyde died in 1997 and didn't have to see his achievement disappear with the International Astronomical Union's downgrading of Pluto to a dwarf planet. Flagstaff is one of those Route 66 cities that has all other sorts of appealing sightseeing attractions going for it (various museums, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, and Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness) in addition to the Mother Road.
As you continue west of Flagstaff, you will see Bellemont (ghost town), Parks (Deer Farm) and Williams (elevation 6,700 feet and founded in 1881). Williams, home to the Bill Williams Mountain Men and supported by lumbering and livestock, is where tourists pick up the train to the Grand Canyon and bikers love to gather. There has been a concerted effort on the stretch of Route 66 between Williams and Kingman to play up the Mother Road connection including Burma Shave signs. Our favorites included "If daisies are your favorite flower, keep pushin' up those miles per hour" and "Cattle crossing, must go slow--that old bull is some cow's beau."
The next big city is Seligman (1886). It was known as Prescott Junction until it was renamed after Jesse Seligman, a prominent New York banker responsible for financing railroad construction. The big 66 hangout is Snow Cap Drive where the owner Juan Delgadillo gives full vent to his sense of humor including installing two door knobs on one side of the door and posting a sign reading "Sorry, we are open" He and his brother Angel, who used to run the barber shop, founded the Arizona Route 66 Association and is responsible for making Seligman a must-stop.
Seligman is home to a Historic Harvey House as well as the Road Kill Cafe ("You Kill It; We Grill It") where the granddaughters and grandsons of Jim and Jean Pope still serve such appetizing fare as "Long Gone Fawn," "Rack of Raccoon," "Whippoorwill Off the Grill,""Highway Hash," "Rigor Mortis Tortoise," "Rocky the Low Flying Squirrel," and "The Chicken that Almost Crossed the Road." Actually all the dishes are merely clever names for the usual beef, chicken, and pork dishes. The only exotic fare is buffalo burgers.
Between Seligman and Kingman are Chino, Pica Deer Lodge, Hype Park, Grand Canyon Caverns Village (21-story elevator takes you to a cave which is always 56 degrees), Nelson, Peach Springs (road to floor of Grand Canyon which we took part-way), Truxton, Cozier, Valentine, Hackberry, Antares, and Valle Vista.
Route 66 through Kingman, named for Lewis Kingman an engineer for the Santa Fe Railraod and established in 1883, includes Andy Devine Blvd (he was born in Flagstaff but grew up here since his father managed the historic Beale Hotel) and a couple of Route 66 Museum/memorabilia collections (Quality Inn Motel and The Powerhouse).
Oatman Road a winding mountain route with steep drops and tight curves to avoid touching various gold mines in the area. It's a time-consuming passage that culminates in Stigraves Pass where cars used to drive up the road in reverse to keep the gas flowing toward the engine. It's a real nail-biter but oh, what an incredible view!
Jon, Chloe and I had visited Oatman in 2008 where we were introduceed to the wild burros and a man, about 6'9" ("a long drink of water") who bent at the middle in order to scratch our little Yorkie behind the ears. We found out this time that he owns and operates a panning-for-gold venture near the public restrooms. It would have been nice to stop and spend the night there but the Oatman Hotel, where Clark Gable and Carol Lombard spent their honeymoon, no longer rents out rooms. We then passed through Old Trails, Golden Shores and Topock where there are no buildings, just bridges.
We ended up spending the night in Needles, which is nowhere close to the rocky spines of the mountains that gave the city it's name. We stayed at the America's Best Value Motel, which was an incredible value--40 bucks including breakfast. The cleaning crew at the motel was having a barbeque at the pool, so we threw our bags in the room and went off in search of dinner. We ended up at the Juicy River Cafe (named for the family dog) and feasted on more All-You-Can-Fish than we actually ordered.
There is also a Harvey House in Needles called El Garces, a 1908 Santa Fe Railway Hotel which is currently being renovated by the same folks who did La Posada, namely Allan Affeldt, Tina Mion and Daniel Lutzick. June 12, 2010
After Needles, we barreled through the Mohave towns of Arrowhead Junction, Goffs (1898 school house), Fenner, Essex (where somebody changed the population from 100 to 10), Danby, Summit, Chambles (Cadiz) and Amboy where we stopped to see Roy's Cafe and the Amboy Crater (extinct volcano). Amboy has the distinction of once being offered for sale on eBay.
Right before Amboy comes into view, there is a little surprise for the wide-awake driver. Off in the distance on the left, it appears there is a motorcycle cop lying in wait for a lead-footed driver. However as you get closer, it becomes clear that there is nobody lurking just off the shoulder--the motorcycle is actually a couple of shrubs and an old tree trunk that has been liberally laden with cast-off foot apparel--a shoe tree, as it were--a visual joke at a time when the relentless sun gives a weary traveler no reason to smile.
Bagdad no longer exists but the cult film "Bagdad Café" (also known as "Out of Rosenheim"), a 1987 German movie directed by Percy Adlon, was actually shot in Newberry Springs further on down the road after Siberia, Klondike and Ludlow, where the old Ludlow Cafe still serves home-cooked meals.
Jon and I once stopped at the Daggett Airport to get fuel for ourselves and the plane. I wasn't impressed. All day yesterday, Jon kept threatening to make me stay in Daggett overnight (which was impossible since there were no motels in Daggett). This desert area used to be dreaded by motorists who, back in the day, lacked air conditioning and feared car trouble out in the hot desert sun with zero repair shops. We also found this section of road had about 20 squash plants growing in the gravel shoulder. How did they get there? Did a squash or two fall off a truck and did the seeds get disbursed by birds? It's a desert mystery.
Barstow (1886) was once a busy supply center for silver miners and prospectors heading to Death Valley but now it's a base to visit old mines, desert ghost towns and Indian ruins. The town was named for a president of the Santa Fe Railroad, William Barstow Strong. Barstow boasts another restored Harvey House across the railroad bridge called Casa del Desierto. There is a Route 66 museum located next door.
Between Barstow and Victorville are Lenwood, Hodge, Helendale (where we searched in vain for the Exotic World Museum of Burlesque), Bryman, La Delta, and Oro Grande. Victorville used to be the site of the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum where you could see Trigger, stuffed and rearing up on his hind legs, but all their memorabilia is now housed in Branson, MO.
Once associated with orange blossoms, San Bernandino is currently best known as the location of the original McDonalds (14th and E) operated by Maurice and Richard McDonald and eventually sold to Ray Croc, a milkshake machine salesman who opened the first franchise in Des Plaines, Illinois, near the beginning of Route 66. Kroc bought out the McDonald brothers in 1961, after 1M 15-cent burgers and 20-cent malts had been sold---subsequently stubbing out many little mom and pop restaurants peppering Route 66 in its heyday.
Between San Bernandino and Pasadena---along Foothill Blvd--there has been a resurgence in Route 66 interest as symbolized by the proliferation of 66 shields. All the cities along the way tend to run togethe. Rialto to Fontana to Rancho Cucamonga is a blur but two exceptional restaurants should be noted in Rancho Cucamonga:
The Sycamore Inn, the oldest eatery on the Mother Road---e a stagecoach stop in 1848 and the Magic Lamp Inn, one of the few remaining examples of the true California roadhouse of the 1940s are spots we would both like to return to.
If we had it to do all over again, we would have found a motel and spent the night in Upland or Claremont--but not before dining in one of the two aforementioned restaurants. The timing for dinner was three hours off and we were anxious to sleep in our own bed at last. Jon guess-timated it would only take another three hours to get home but he couldn't have been more wrong.
Traffic was a nightmare and even a couple of margaritas at Pomona's La Paloma (formerly Wilson's Restaurant from the 1930a) didn't make being stuck in a car for six more hours any more palatable.
The subsequent towns and the blooming jacaranda trees (a most glorious shade of lavender-blue) just flew by---La Verne, San Dimas (where I was once took my kids water-sliding), Glendora, Azusa (site of the now defunct Foothill Drive-in), Irwindale, Duarte, Monrovia, Arcadia and finally Padsadena, home of the Rose Bowl, and where, every New Years Day, elaborate floats, made entirely of flowers and/or vegetable materials, process down the Colorado Blvd portion of Route 66 and manage to lure even more tourists and prospective residents to sunny Southern California.
As the route winds through Los Angeles, there's not much romance to be found on Route 66. Most of America's Main Street has disappeared under concrete octopus-like freeway on and off ramps, graffitti-covered overpasses and choking smog. We had hoped to stop off in Silverlake to drop off a couple of souvenirs for Trevor and Angie but the former was out of town (Bonarroo in Tennessee) and the latter was too busy packing for a two-week trip to San Francisco.
When we finally arrived at Lincoln and Olympic, the official end of Route 66 in Santa Monica, we were just too tired and cranky to appreciate the completion of our 2,449 mile drive down the Mother Road (not to mention all the times we got lost). We failed to take some very pertinent advice from our good friends, the Eagles--we simply didn't, especially right at the very end, "take it easy."
As the mists of memory cover over our mistakes, perhaps the ending to this tale will be radically rewritten. In its Greek origins, "historia" means "inquiry," and from Thucydides to the Eagles, the past has to be studied in order to understand its connection with the present.
Perhaps the words of G. K. Chesterton will be an appropriate way to end this journal. "The disadvantage of men not knowing the past is that they do not know the present. History is a hill or high point of vantage, from which alone men see the town in which they live or the age in which they are living."
We climbed to the top of so many hills during this month-long adventure--surely our vision has expanded to include so much more of America's Mainstreet--from its humble beginnings in 1926 to its glorious renaissance in 2010--than we had previously held.
1) A short thermometer, while it may be boring, is far better than extremes which confine you indoors all the time.
2). While they don't share his boyish blond looks, all the male anchors in the Midwest seem to sound like Kent Shocknek.
3). We could have left half the clothes and all of the extra reading material at home.
4). Every locality through which Route 66 winds can literally claim a piece of the road---local gravel is added to either asphalt or concrete--supplying its own unique and distinctive hue.
5). Cameras that don't need recharging because they run on AA batteries do need lots of batteries.
6). There are no fireflies in the Western States because fireflies only live east of the Mississippi. My question is: "Who tells the fireflies where the dividing line is?"
7). Waking up in a strange bed is not so strange when the person laying next to you is your best friend.
8). When you run out of Prylosec, it's time to go home.
9). Car rental agents can be shocked and awed--especially when "unlimited mileage," in our case, turns out to be 6,707 miles!
10). The best part of a trip is the anticipation brought about by planning. The worst part of a trip is the dread that there simply won't be enough time. There never is.