At the edge of Texas, we were looking at nearly 1,000 miles to Las Vegas, after having driven nearly 1,600 from home. We got an early start from Shamrock on what turned out to be a very strange day. First big target was Amarillo, about halfway across the Texas Panhandle. We stayed on I-40 for a while but couldn’t resist turning back onto 66 to gawk at the Leaning Water Tower in Groom, which looks about to topple over, but was built that way. Then we had to see the VW Slug Bug Ranch in Conway, where five graffiti-covered 1960s Volkswagen Beetles are buried halfway up to their windshields. Unfortunately we then missed the on-ramp for 40W and went 40E instead for a total backtrack of 24 miles.
The next screw-up was all mine, as we drove through Amarillo looking for the Cadillac Ranch, a Route 66 classic at which 10 vintage Cadillacs, like the Beetles, are buried at 45-degree angles and, like the VWs, are covered with years-old graffiti.
I was pushing along I-40 looking for the Ranch and never noticed the cars, which are about 200 yards from the highway. We realized we had overshot the Ranch but still wanted to see the cars. We turned around, drove 10 miles back and found them—underwhelming, but weird. We spray-painted our names in the sun-baked clay.
We barreled down 40 towards New Mexico, the land flattening out, the sun blazing, temperature rising. At isolated Glenrio, astride the border, New Mexico maintains a massive welcome center—a library of magazines and brochures. We were looking to camp again, but the only state parks near the interstate were either too far away, near Gallup, or would mean stopping too early (Santa Rosa).
I shifted back to 66 at Tucumcari. We were stunned at the vivid evidence of decades of business decline along the highway, which is also Main Street: block after block of shut-down motels, gas stations, theaters, markets, burned-out, collapsed, overgrown with weeds and scrub, cracked concrete driveways, smashed vehicles. All this made entrepreneurs and big companies rich in the 1930s and 1940s. Then it all faded away.
By mid-afternoon the plan to camp out fell apart. We settled on Albuquerque, which would mean almost 500 miles for the day. Our guide book mentioned the El Vado Motel on 66 downtown, I called to get a reservation. We poured on the miles, and slogged into the city through rush hour. At the office the clerk advised that we actually were at the Monterey Motel down the street. “That’s the line you called,” she said. That’s OK, we’ll stay anywhere after today. The entire block was 1940s art deco. Eerie, glitzy, exhausting, but fun.
After relaxing briefly, we went to a local brewery and danced to some oldies on the radio before turning in.