From Lubbock, we drove north in the morning, towards Amarillo. Van, for some inexplicable reason, wanted to torture our ears by playing the infamous song on repeat, but I eventually managed to bargain her down to twice. Admittedly, it shared a playlist with “Wannabe” and ‘Cotton’ Eye Joe,’ so it was by no means the most musically horrendous thing on there, but I didn’t fancy weeks of ‘and sweet Marie who waits for me’ gnawing out the insides of my brain.
Palo Duro State Park
On the way to Amarillo, we turned a few miles off the route to check out Palo Duro State Park, a hidden gem of a canyon – and, apparently, the second largest canyon in the US – a few miles off the main Amarillo road. It was the first canyon we’d been to, and the first signs of the classic ‘western’ landscape of jutting red rock escarpments, spiky cacti and dust – so different than the forest, hills and swamp we’d become accustomed to in the South.
After photo opportunities at the top, we drove down into the canyon, stopping for some rather delicious burgers at the small café at its foot before heading off around the loop road. The canyon was quiet, so there was ample time to wander around and take in the beauty of the landscapes. Definitely would recommend a stop here to anyone in the vicinity of Amarillo – whilst in size it can’t compare to the Grand Canyon further west, it’s certainly impressive in its own right.
Bypassing Amarillo itself, we headed from Palo Duro towards the Cadillac Ranch, an infamous art installation and a mainstay of ‘Roadside America’s trending list of must-see roadside attractions. It comprises of a collection of ten vintage Cadillacs impaled engine-first into the middle of a nondescript field just west of Amarillo. The cars have been there since 1974, when three artists buried a collection of vintage Cadillacs to celebrate the evolution of the Cadillac tail fin (helped by financing from an eccentric billionaire who was later hit with allegations of sexual abuse). They have stayed the course, have been painted various colours over their forty-year history, and are now renowned as a hotspot for even the most milquetoast of souls to get a kick from graffiti. There are spray cans littering the surroundings, and you can climb on the cars – I did – and scribble away.
We couldn’t help but enthusiastically participate, and I decided to climb on the cars to scrawl on my own messages (one of which may or may not have been a callout to my cat). It was just great fun, and I can see why this spot has continued to attract quite a crowd. May the Cadillacs rust in the ground for a long time yet!
Route 66 and Tucumcari
From Amarillo, we headed west, hitting the iconic Route 66. Not all of Route 66 now exists; from the 1950s onwards, sections of the the road were gradually ‘upgraded,’ with some parts of it incorporated into the Interstate 40, and other parts essentially left to moulder. Indeed, the first portion of Route 66 that I drove was essentially a dirt back road, which felt very appropriate. Even though the 66 was officially decommissioned in 1984, the surviving sections are now labelled the ‘historic 66,’ so we tried to drive as much of it as possible.
We’d hoped to make it to Alburquerque, but, seeing another approaching storm and knowing the perils of driving through ceaseless rain and sheet lightning, we decided to hole up for the night in the picturesque Tucumcari, an old Route 66 staple. The town itself had a down-at-heel charm, full of neon motel signs (sadly, many of the motels seemed to be closed) and diners, and the impending storm made it feel particularly brooding.
The town is allegedly named after what Van assured us was a ‘romantic’ Apache story. Given that this turned out to involve a murder and two suicides, I’m now a little concerned about Van’s understanding of genre and future romantic choices.
As we checked into the Tristar Inn, a great independent motel that felt very old-world, the rain started to pour. And I mean pour. Given this, we decided to forgo the diners until the morning and enjoyed a Chinese takeaway in our motel room, appreciating the dramatic skies outside.
Highlights: Beautiful landscapes at Palo Duro, graffiti at Cadillac Ranch, and retro charm at Tucumcari – this was a really fun day.
Lowlights: Managed to dip my shoe and whole feet in a mud bath at Cadillac Ranch. At least I’m hoping that it was mud.
Up next: Another gut buster breakfast, Pueblo dances, the Land of Enchantment…