Chapter 12 -- Route 66

After the oil change in Ballwin, I finally got on the road a little after noon, headed out on I-44, generally following old route 66. This highway is highly polluted with billboards. About 1/3 of them are for Meramec Caverns, with many of the remaining ones for the Walnut Bowls Factory Store. I remember once several years ago when I drove this route with some friends from St. Louis, and we counted all the Meramec Caverns billboards. I've forgotten the exact number, but it was easily three digits.

Stopped at a rest stop near Springfield, MO to take an hour's nap. It's hot and muggy, but the van isn't so bad when pop up the top and unzip all the side windows.

Stopped at Marshfield, MO, home of Edwin P. Hubble, to take a picture of the Hubble Space Telescope replica on the town square. That's the Marshfield Grain Elevator in the background. Ok, I'll admit I'm getting a little bored with the Ozarks.

Finally spent the night at the Joplin Missouri KOA. It's hot tonight, only predicted to get down to 65 for the overnight low. Definitely an upstairs-bedroom night.

October 7, 1997

Oklahoma is depressing. The Texas Panhandle is, too, at least so far.

Started the morning by driving through Joplin. Was throughly unimpressed. I was pretty unimpressed with Tulsa, too.

Oklahoma City wasn't much better.

Went through Weatherford, OK, home of astronaut Tom Stafford. There's a little college there, Southwestern Oklahoma State University. Visited their student union. There's something about college towns and student unions that's always pleasant. Maybe it's the memories they bring back, but this time, I don't have to study.

I bought Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" in a used book shop in Weatherford. The lady at the checkout stand said she hadn't thought of that book in years. She said she had read it when she "was younger".

The GPS longitude scale crossed 100 degrees west exactly on the Oklahoma/Texas border. The 100th meridian not only marks the border between the states here, but it also marks the traditional border between the fertile midwest, where trees grow and people have plenty of water, and the arid western scrublands. It is getting flatter here, and trees are becoming more scarce.

Drove through Shamrock TX on the old route 66. There's not much here. McLean was downright depressing.

This whole route 66 thing is a lot of hype for something that's kind of depressing. Driving route 66 today, I see lots of dilapidated buildings and peeling paint, not quite old enough to be archeologically interesting like an old western ghost town, but not well maintained enough to be inviting. The towns have been skirted by the interstate, and every interstate exit has the same franchised fast food places and truck stops.

Maybe I'm just tired.

I stop at Alanreed Texas, a very small town, with one place of business that is its combination campground/motel/gas station/store/deli/post office. They fit all of that in a remarkably small place. The campground is a small muddy open field, not quite the scenic beauty of our National Parks, but the staff is extremely friendly. At first I have the place to myself, but then an large RV takes a spot at the opposite end of the campground. I'm glad there are still places like Alanreed to stop at; after my complaining about the way route 66 has deteriorated, this is old route 66 at its best.

I washed my clothes at the combination campground/motel/gas station/store/deli/post office. Unfortunately, the dryer didn't work much at all (does this sound familiar?) It was getting near closing time, so I took the damp clothes back to the van, and strung a clothesline around, and hung them up inside. I would have hung them outside, but it was very, very windy, and I didn't have clothespins. Turns out, this is fortunate. About 2 or 3 in the morning, a ferocious Texas thunderstorm comes through, waking me up, shaking the van with its wind, drenching everything, and reminding me of the tornado shelter I noticed beside the motel as I was doing laundry. I decide it's best to close the top, for the time being, anyway, so I move things around, enough to close up. The way I have the clothesline strung, closing the top makes the line go slack, as well as just lowering along with the lowered top. So the van has reached an all-time record of clutteredness. I can hardly move. I didn't sleep too well, because of the thunderstorm.

October 8, 1997

In the morning, everything is soggy, the floor is muddy, and things are generally far from shipshape. I can't see outside, because all the windows are fogged up, due to the rainstorm and the damp clothes strewn about. I get up at 8:00, get the clothes to the dryer once more (this time it works reasonably well), take a shower, and clean house as the clothes are drying.

I took this photo of the Western Motel in San Jon, New Mexico, not because it's unusual, but precisely because it's so typical of Route 66.

Along about New Mexico, the weather starts drying out.

At Albuquerque, I learn that I've arrived just in time for the annual balloon fiesta. I run up to Spence Hot Springs, near Jemez, NM, for my first soak in awhile. There are quite a few people, several with jackets from the balloon fiesta. When I ask about places to camp, a local guy directs me up to San Antonio Hot springs for the night. I arrive around dusk, make dinner, and barely have energy to write this journal entry. I'll find the hot springs tomorrow.

October 9, 1997

Last night was a cold one. Didn't sleep so well, because I'm congested with Libby's cold. Woke up with ice coating the insides of all the van's windows. Turned the furnace on, about as low as it would go, to get the van up to around 50 degrees. Then I put on lots of layers, took Pepper out for a walk, and tried to figure out exactly where this nearby hot spring was. There had been a hard frost covering all the plants, and puddles were frozen to a depth of about 1/8 inch. My guess is the temperature was in the mid-20s. Climbing up the canyon just a little, it wasn't hard to spot the spring. A large cloud of vapor was rising from the other side of the canyon, betraying the location. I fed Pepper and left her in the van, while I went for a soak (she would have been too cold outside). San Antonio Hot Spring is as nice a spring as I've seen yet. Large flow of warm water, no sulfur smell, and, at least at 8:30am on this icy October Thursday, nobody else around. I'm very happy to be here. The spring is on the east side of the canyon, and I watch the sunlight creep down the western wall as the sun rises. It feels great to get my body's core temperature really warm, and the warmth stays with me for the rest of the morning, despite the cold temperatures.

It's interesting that I've gone from one of the hottest nights of the trip in Joplin, to comfortable temps with thunderstorms in Alanreed, to a very cold night here in the San Antonio Canyon. As I go west, I'm also going south, which ought to warm things up. But I'm also climbing in altitude, reaching something like 7500 feet here, which is cooling things off. Or maybe it's just that weather is just plain unpredictable.

I retrace steps a bit, back toward Albuquerque, and then resume my westward trek on I-40, following old route 66. At Grants, NM, I stop to take Pepper for a walk. Grants is on the north side of the large, forbidding, and appropriately named Malpais Lava Beds. We stop near the river and the Santa Fe railroad tracks, and get eaten alive by lots of hungry mosquitos in a very short time.

West of Grants, I cross the continental divide for the last time on this trip. It's hardly noticable here, similar to the Oregon Trail in Wyoming. I can see a very good reason these emigration routes avoided the Colorado Rockies.

Then I pass Gallup New Mexico, and head on into Arizona. At Winslow, I got off the interstate and drove through on the old highway, looking for a girl in a flatbed Ford. I didn't see her, but perhaps it would have helped if I had stopped and stood on a corner. Soon I came to understand why we've all been admonished not to forget Winona. I drove through it and found it to be an utterly forgettable place. I'm certain even its residents wouldn't remember it if not for the song.

At Flagstaff I left route 66 and turned south, and I've ended up at this spot in the middle of nowhere, in a pine forest about 2 miles off of I-17, something like 8 miles ESE of Sedona. I arrive just after sunset, and there are lots of elk bellowing loudly in the not-so-distance. They quiet down after it gets good and dark. I got here by following a muddy red dirt road, and decided to camp at this particular spot when I reached the end of the road at a closed gate, with a sign saying:

Rattlesnake Quiet Area
Open to foot/horse/bicycle traffic only from 8/15 through 12/31

I don't expect lots of neighbors tonight.

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©1997 Richard Cochran
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