Route 66 Day 18 Amarillo to Edmund, OK

May 11, 2015

On this day we travelled across the rest of the Texas Pan Handle, into Oklahoma, and a bit past Oklahoma City. There was plenty to see and do. Driving Route 66 in Texas is hair raising. Much of it is on frontage roads next to I40. Texas doesn’t do on and off ramps like the rest of the country; the ramps are less than a football field in length and dump out directly onto the frontage roads. If you are going the same direction as the freeway – the freeway is on your left – the merging is manageable because the traffic coming off and going on is traveling the same direction. But if you are facing traffic on the freeway, you’d better watch out because the cars will come speeding off the super slab at 75 MP. And the on ramp traffic will cut right in front of your lane of travel. Since the speed limit on the frontage road is 65 MPH it can be downright dangerous. A couple of times we came to a screeching halt to let multiple cars dump off the freeway. And I thought Los Angeles driving was tough…

Not far from Amarillo we found Conway, Texas. Someone created an ironic rejoinder to the Cadillac Ranch, which we visited the day before – the Bug Ranch.

Bug ranch - an ironic response to Cadillac Ranch in Conway, Texas
Bug ranch – an ironic response to Cadillac Ranch in Conway, Texas

Later in the morning we came up upon Alanreed, Texas. If I remember correctly this town was not founded by a man named Alan Reed. Go figure. The Texas Panhandle in spring is a lovely place (if tornados aren’t brewing); everything is green and blooming. There is a lovely old gas station partially restored on the west end of town.

Old gas station in Alanreed, Texas
Old gas station in Alanreed, Texas

For some reason I’ve found myself photographing lots of gas stations and gas pumps. Here are three gas pumps from the day’s travel showing increasing levels of technology .

Gas pumps in Texas and Oklahoma
Gas pumps in Texas and Oklahoma

As we drove along the plains we passed a lot of dirt roads that just head out into the distance.

Dirt road out to the prairie in the Texas panhandle
Dirt road out to the prairie in the Texas panhandle

Around noon we drove through the little town of McLean, Texas. We had hoped to visit a museum but it was closed for lunch. Lunch sounded good so we looked around and saw most of the cars in town parked near the Chuck Wagon diner (really cars – well pickup trucks –  were there before lunch).

Chuck Wagon Restaurant, McLean, Texas
Chuck Wagon Restaurant, McLean, Texas

This is small town USA. There were brown bags of burgers and fries on the counter and people – mostly kids – would come in, see the ticket with their name on their bag, pick it up, pour themselves a soda and walk out. They must have a monthly bill they settle at the end of the month. That would never, EVER, happen in Portland. I love it. Like we’ve seen in other small restaurants – Joe and Aggies in Holbrook, Arizona, the waitress’ little kid hangs around the restaurant being charming and cute.

After we were served, three young men – cowboys – came in and ordered. They looked like the real meal deal; they’d obviously been working all day and were certainly in their work clothes. Their cowboy hats struck me the most. In suburbia I see kids wearing baseball caps and they all wear them the same way. Back in the day the brim was bent into a tight roll; now the fashion is to wear them with an ultra flat brim and maybe a brand sticker under the brim so they look like new. These boys’ hats were anything but new: dusty and dirty with sweat stains. The thing that struck me was they were not all the same style. They were made of varying materials and the brims were all turned in different directions. I loved this originality. Although they kept the hats on while they were ordering, they quickly came off when two young women sauntered in and chatted them up. The girls had already eaten but sat down with the guys and they were having a fine time. I asked if I could get their picture before we left.

Kids at the Chuck Wagon Restaurant in  McLean, Texas
Kids at the Chuck Wagon Restaurant in McLean, Texas

I so, so wish I would have had the courage to ask if I could get their picture about 5 minutes before when the hats were on. The lesson here is you’ve got to be brave to get the great picture. I left my card with the waitress/owner(?) so maybe if they see this post, they’ll send a comment with a picture of them in their working hats.

Soon after this we entered Oklahoma . We try to get a picture of the “Welcome” sign as we enter each state, but since we were on an old side road rather than the interstate there was no big sign so we couldn’t commemorate entering our sixth state. But we were definitely in the plains during spring. The colors in the fields were astounding. Yellow flowers dominated the scene but there were dashes of red and purple blooms as well.

The Oklahoma prairie in spring time
The Oklahoma prairie in spring time as seen from the car

Late in the afternoon we came to Elk City, Oklahoma, home of the National Route 66 Museum. The museum is really a collection of small museums showing different aspects of life on Route 66. Definitely worth a stop. People lined up to get their picture taken with their giant sign. This is a tourist destination; a bus load of tourists got their just ahead of us; it was fun to hear the various languages they spoke.

National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma
National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma

They also sport a few giant Kachina dolls.

Giant Kachina dolls at the National Route 66 Museum Elk City, Oklahoma
Giant Kachina dolls at the National Route 66 Museum
Elk City, Oklahoma

My uncle tells of when he was young in the 20s and 30s and his dad (my grandpa) would bring him home real Navajo and Hopi kachinas for him. He played with them ( old time action figures!) and destroyed or lost them. If only he had known, he says, he’d be a rich man today.

They had a great T-shirt with the image from the ever-present billboard for the Jackrabbit Trading Post which I blogged about here (and here back in 2007). I say “ever-present”;  it was back in the day. We didn’t see many at all when we were traveling toward it last week.

T-shirt with the old Jackrabbit ranch billboard
T-shirt with the old Jackrabbit ranch billboard

Edmund, Oklahoma was our goal for the day; it is on the east side of Oklahoma City and we decided to stop for dinner at El Reno to let the rush hour traffic die down. Jerry McClanahan recommends Robert’s Grill. It is a tiny counter-seating-only diner. There are about 12 seats in the place and two young men – kids really – were running the show. Burgers and coney dogs make up the menu. He throws down a wad of ground beef with authority and flattens it with his spatula.

The little place was filled – all except one seat next to us. We struck up a conversation with three Native American Women next to us.

When the cook needed to add tomato to a burger he took out a big knife and cut out a big, thick slice in his hand. Carla and I both winced, sure he would cut his hand off, but he obviously knew what he was doing. Carla had a burger and I opted for a coney dog (probably a mistake when travelling). The french fries were very good but as for the rest of it I think the experience and ambience was better than the food. All in all we are glad we went – I think. It certainly didn’t give us grief the next day like our lunch at Joe and Aggie’s in Holbrok seemed to.

Dinner at a funky 12 seat diner in El Reno, Oklahoma
Dinner at a funky 12 seat diner in El Reno, Oklahoma

We then got back on the road and navigated our way through Oklahoma City to our hotel for the night in Edmund.

Driving in  Texas and Oklahoma (and later we’d find, Missouri) is very different from California, Arizona and New Mexico. In the far west we’d get on a stretch of 66 and drive for miles. We’ve reached more populous areas and small towns have been around for many years. So the driving instructions are much like this “drive the north frontage road 1.8 miles to the next exit, then cross the freeway and join the  south frontage road for 2.3 miles.” Entering towns usually requires quite a few turns and curves. It’s great and Jerry McClanahan has done a marvelous job in his book EZ66 Guide for Travelers. But it takes time. With the slow driving and all the stops, it took us 11 1/2 hours to travel approximately 240 miles. With all the attention we need to pay to get on the right country road it becomes tiring and we have been tuckered out at the end of the day.

If you are planning on doing this trip, you’ll definitely want to have this book and have two people involved: one for driving and one for navigating. We switch back and forth every few hours. On the plus side, it is less stressful than the interstate where you are battling trucks passing one another and swooshing by you or vice-versa. If you are considering this trip, do it! I hope I’m not coming across and complaining or whiny – because I’m neither. Just be aware that you likely won’t be covering lots of miles in a day.

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