Day 15

Leaving Albuquerque, we had one mission today; get to Amarillo by 6pm for a horse trek ‘with real cowboys’ that we’ve booked in. Since it’s only 500km or so, that should be easy and means we can take our time and scope out a few of the car museums in some of the old Route 66 towns that are off the interstate.

We hit the I40 again, set the cruise control at 75mp/h or so, and sit back with a cup of coffee.

The Corvette hits a milestone today; 29 years-old and ticks over 30,000 miles

First stop was in the small town of San Rosa, where there is a ‘car museum’ with a shop attached. A bit like yesterday’s museum at the Petrified Forest, the shop here takes up most of the space, or at least it used to. We came to this one in 2007, and over half was a shop. This time, it’s a bit better, with 35 or so cars in varying states of repair – some of them disrepair – but for $5, if you have time it’s worth a stop and wander through. Some of the cars are for sale, so be careful at this place, you may come out with more than you went in with.

Stunning 1948 Buick Straight 8

We cruised eastward, finally getting to the very small town of Adrian. This town has the title of being the midpoint of Route 66 – complete with a sign, of course. There’s a shop and café on the other side of the road from the sign, so if you have time they are worth a look.

Halfway on Route 66, at last

Driving on, we went through thousands (and I mean that) of wind turbines, as we crossed into the state of Texas. They are everywhere you can see, and it’s not like they are miles off to the side of you – the interstate goes right through the middle of a huge wind farm. It’s quite a sight.

We stopped for late lunch, marvelling at our great use of time, only to find that somewhere we crossed a time zone, and had lost an hour. A quick check of GPS showed that if we hit the road now, we’d just make it to our 6pm time for horse trekking at Cowgirls and Cowboys in the West in Amarillo, not allowing for any roadworks etc.

So hit the road we did, moving as quickly as we could to Amarillo, Texas. We did get there in time – with five minutes to spare – and my wife went off hunting for the cowboys to ogle over. But on this day, there were no cowboys. Just two attractive cowgirls in their early 20s, complete with checked shirts and boots. Fine by me.

Spotted just off a main highway. My wife not keen to stay here, for some reason

Before we headed off on our trek, we were standing around waiting when what comes along, but a huge Tarantula. My wife, who hates spiders with a passion, freaked out. It was big, and a little scary. But as often happens, it was just trying to get away from us. We let it.

Prior to going on our ride, I asked Jessica and Grace (our cowgirls) about snakes – they freak me out. “No chance of snakes, too cold.” Phew. We had the health and safety talk, mounted up and headed off on our trek. Not 50 feet from the barn, what do I see crossing right in front of my horse but a freaking snake, a good metre long. There may have been an involuntary squeal of fear that came out of me. Jessica looked back at the snake, which was slithering far too quickly for my liking, and said, “Oh, that’s Mike. We don’t kill him since he kills all the rats.” Well, that’s okay I guess (it isn’t).

Just a small sample of a cache of old cars we see at the side of the highways, everywhere on our trip. Most are in better condition than these

The trek itself was excellent. We thought it was going to be quite boring as we had crossed miles of flat land to get to the ranch. But not long after heading off on the horses, we went down, then down some more. After 15 minutes of riding, we ended up at the edge of a canyon, the Palo Duro Canyon. This is the second largest canyon in the USA, and is not very well known. Most people (like us) just flock to the Grand Canyon. This canyon is 800 feet deep and 120 miles long.

Jessica went into great detail about the canyon, giving us a fantastic history lesson on it and what has happened there. One of those stories was on the Battle of Palo Duro, and she recalled all the events in a timeline, along with all the names of those involved. It was an excellent and unexpected part of the trek, and really made it worthwhile.

After our 90—minute trek, we headed back into Amarillo and found a hotel. For dinner, we went to the Big Texan restaurant. We’d been here in 2007 and had to visit again. This restaurant started in 1960, and its claim to fame is its 72oz steak. On the way to Amarillo, we saw huge billboard after huge billboard for the Big Texan, offering a ‘free’ 72 ounce steak – that’s 2.5Kg to you and I. There’s a catch of course; you have to eat the steak in under 60 minutes, or you have to pay for it – US$72. If you eat it in under an hour, then sure – it’s free. But wait, there’s more! You have to eat the 2.5Kg steak AND a shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad, and a roll with butter.

There’s a table setup higher than the rest of the restaurant, with 6 timers sitting above it, so you can see how long each person has before they run out of time. A shame though, no one was keen to try it the night we were there. You can check out the list of people who have accomplished this though, including the winning time of 20 minutes by a woman weighing in at 56Kg, who straight after the first steak went on to have another one and then another one – that’s three of those 2.5Kg steaks and sides, eaten in under 20 minutes. Crazy. Here’s the video of her doing just this:

Day 16

Leaving Amarillo, we turned back and headed west for a few miles, to head back to Cadillac Ranch. We would have stopped here on the way past yesterday, but no time since we were almost late for our horse trek. Most people know of Cadillac Ranch, or have seen the photos. Ten old Caddys buried into the dirt in the middle of a farmer’s (rancher’s?) field. They are a total tourist attraction, and even early in the morning there were 6 cars parked outside the fields.

You can bring your own spray cans of paint, and go hard out painting whatever you like on whatever car you want. There is a downside to this; people seem to just drop their empty cans and the can caps on the ground, and drive off. They are all over the place, and really detract from the setting. Such a bummer. I was talking to a local in Amarillo, and she mentioned that a few weeks ago, someone set fire to one of the cars, for whatever reason. I know I said it of people doing stupid things at the Grand Canyon, but it’s worth saying again; what is wrong with people?

Just a small sample of the rubbish left behind

Anyway, we took some photos, and got back on the I40 to get to our next Route 66 town, passing through many more wind turbines. Actually, we’d pass through more wind turbines later in the day when we went into Oklahoma.

First stop was the town of McLean, who has the claim to fame of having the museum for barbed wire, called the Devil’s Rope Museum. Attached to this is also a Route 66 museum, so we thought it was worth checking them out. Both are free, so nothing to lose. The barbed wire museum takes up 75% of the floor space, and the Route 66 one is cool, but quite small. Still, for free, we can’t complain.

The biggest thing for me here was the separate room dedicated to the Dust Bowl. I’ll be honest, I had no idea what the dust bowl was all about. During the Great Depression, dust storms spread for hundreds of miles across the state of Texas, and southern states of the USA. There were photos here of houses with dust halfway up the walls. Of course, it killed crops and livestock, and some 75% of the population migrated to other areas, and who can blame them. It was a sobering room to visit.

From McLean, we got back on the interstate until we reached the old Route 66 town of Groom. There wasn’t much for us in Groom, but a wonky tower called The Leaning Tower. Makes for a good photo op at least.

Back on the road again, we headed to Shamrock, another town that hasn’t prospered from Route 66 and its glory. But we did find an old diner that has been restored back to how it would have been ‘in the day’ and it’s well worth a stop in to look at – the Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Café. But, they don’t serve food here. We asked for a local recommendation for lunch, and were sent up to the Mesquite Canyon Steakhouse. They have home-made onion rings here that are the size of an orange, and the steak fries I had were like half a potato each – just how I like them. Yup, they do it bigger in Texas.

From Shamrock, it was a straight run through thousands more wind turbines to Oklahoma City, where we’re staying for the night.

Interesting, with the old pickup but with Tesla chargers out the back

Day 17

According to the song, Oklahoma City looks oh-so pretty, but we didn’t get time to check this claim out. Another driving day today, but still hitting old Route 66 towns where we can.

First stop for today is Chandler, which apparently is the pecan capital of the world. We don’t buy any though – didn’t see any for sale – but do grab some coffee to drink in the car. On the way to get coffee, we pass by the drive-in pizza shop. I’m not sure how long you have to sit in your car though, while they make your pizza.

Which town do you want? F, or ZZ?

From there we stay on 66 and cruise through the old-school town of Davenport. My memory of this town is the road through the main street – bricks! The poor car shudders its way along them, and then we find we have to go back the same way, back over the brick road. Ouch.

Staying on 66, we motor along and eventually get to the town of Stroud, still in Oklahoma. These are all towns that all traffic headed to LA from Chicago would have gone through. There’s not too much to see in Stroud, but it was great to see that no big chain stores or fast food outlets had infiltrated the town yet, and it still had that old-town look to it.

It’s a sign we should stop…

We didn’t stop there, but in the town is the Rock Café. A claim to fame for this café is that they ‘used’ the owner of the café as the inspiration for the character Sally, in the Cars movies.

Eventually, we got to Tulsa. Our first time here, and we were both blown away by the size of the town. There seem to be huge skyscrapers everywhere, and it’s definitely not the small country town you expect it to be.  At the end of the day we end up in Joplin, Missouri, and I can’t stop thinking about Janice Joplin every time I think of the city name. Tomorrow it’s on to St Louis, still in Missouri.

On the way into Joplin, I spy more than one drive-through liquor store. Taking that drive-through pizza concept just that one step further.

Day 18

It’s an almost-cold 17 degrees Celsius this morning, as we hit the road out of Joplin. There was actual water on the car this morning, since it rained last night. We have yet to see actual rain since we landed, but can only assume the water wasn’t put on the car by the locals.

Another of those Route 66 icons, the world’s largest rocking chair

We stop for a coffee at the Ozarkland store. It’s filled to the brim with stuff for sale – some of it Route 66, some it just ‘stuff’. I can’t believe how many signs are for sale here; everywhere you look, there’s some sign with a witty, humorous, or uplifting slogan on it. I get chatting to the owner while my wife goes off shopping for more stuff, and she says New Zealand is on her bucket list, as she loves to hunt. I ask her about snakes – my most non-favourite reptile – and she says “they’re everywhere” outside the shop. Joy. She asks how many varieties of snakes we have in New Zealand, and is almost disbelieving when I say we don’t have any. I’m pretty sure as we left, I hadn’t convinced her that I wasn’t joking.

Yes, another Route 66 icon

On the road again, we passed through the town of Springfield, mainly because The Simpsons. I don’t see any enormous donuts, and am a little sad over that.

So we continued on the I44 interstate, getting off Route 66, and make it to Newburg to go to the Cookin’ from Scratch restaurant. It’s attached to a gas station, and out front is a Chev El Camino in a sad state, and with a  huge rooster on the back of the pick-up. That was as good a sign as any that we should eat here. The food was typically American – plentiful. It seemed to be made from scratch too, and was as fresh as you could want.

Because a giant rooster and a Chev El Camino just go together

After lunch, we had tracks to make if we wanted to go up the Arch in St Louis today, so it was back on the interstate with the cruise control set at a certain speed that I won’t disclose. We made it to the Arch, and had 4 minutes left to buy tickets to get the last ride up. A quick jog over with enough time to buy them…and they’ve sold out of the last ride. Bugger. So it’s a night in St Louis tonight, and we’ve pre-purchased tickets online for the first ride up at 930am. We’ve not been to St Louis or up the Arch since 2007, and it’s one of the things I really wanted to do this trip.

Day 19

Leaving the hotel, we drove the short distance down to find parking by the St Louis Arch. This took a while, not because of traffic, but because of the cobblestone streets. The Corvette does not like these, as we shudder and shake over them. The cobblestones aren’t all over the city, but it seems like every street we go down has them.

This is a real photo, even though it looks like an ‘artist’s impression’

After 15 minutes we found parking ($8) right on the Mississippi River, and right opposite the arch. After queueing up for what seemed like ages, we finally got to climb inside the little egg-like lifts that take you to the top of the 630-foot arch. If you are claustrophobic, these egg-lifts are not for you. With 4 people inside, things are very friendly as you rub knees with the person sitting next to you. I hate to think how a tall person would get on.

Great views over the Mississippi River from the top of the arch

But it’s worth the ride, as we climb out at the top and take in the view. It’s a stunning view all round, right over the Mississippi, and on the other side over the side and far into the distance. The windows you look out are only small, but it’s enough. After a while, it’s time to head back down in the lifts.

Since we were here last in 2007, there’s been a huge change on the ground floor. There’s now an excellent museum here, not just covering the archway and its construction, but the whole of St Louis (history etc) and great coverage of the Louisiana Purchase, and how it affected locals (spoiler alert: badly). There’s also some fantastic interactive displays that will keep you and any kids with you entertained. It’s really world-class, and I wish we would have had more time to spend here. Allow a good hour to troll through the museum by itself, if not more time.

Heading out of St Louis, we crossed a bridge and signs told us we had now entered the state of Illinois, our 7th state so far on this trip. First stop today, other than getting coffee, was in the Route 66 town of Staunton, at Henry’s Rabbit Ranch. There’s a couple of reasons for the ‘rabbit’ title. Henry has an obvious love of rabbits (the furry kind) and also Rabbits, the automotive kind. We know them as VW Golfs, but in the US they are called a Rabbit. Henry has around 40 of them (!), with a half dozen ploughed into the ground, like a VW version of Cadillac Ranch. It doesn’t seem like a lot to bring the tourists in, but like anything a little bit weird on Route 66, they do – in their droves.

Of course, there’s also Henry’s gift shop, filled with Route 66 stuff for sale (it’s a small shop, so doesn’t take long for a look over). Henry sees the Corvette, and drags me off to his dark workshop, where he has a red ’84 C4 Corvette, with the digital dash. He’s obviously proud of it, and shows off the engine to me – you could eat your dinner off there, even though the car has done 170K miles. The light is too dark to get a decent photo, but I have a drool over it anyway. His is the base model with few options, and even has cloth seats – the standard seat, which most owners dumped for the leather option. Bit it’s a stick shift (manual to you and me) and he loves it for that.

We got back on the road, as we’d spent far too long at the arch in St Louis and at Henry’s, we needed to make up some time. Mid-afternoon, I almost soiled my pants when my phone starting shrieking for no apparent reason. A quick check showed an emergency warning of flash flooding in the area we were on. I’m not sure how the authorities knew my number or where I was, so that’s a little disconcerting. Even more disconcerting is that just after I got the message, the sky turned a dark black, and then the thunder and lightning started up. It was an incredible sight to see, as we’d get double and triple flashes of lightning, and thunder that rolled on and on.

Another Route 66 landmark

No rain came, so we went on with our plans to stop in the town of Pontiac. There were a couple of reasons to visit Pontic; the town has a very cool Route 66 mural I want to get a photo with, and there’s a car museum I want to go to. We head to the mural, passing a number of others on the way. It’s now coming to me that towns either really grab a hold of the whole Route 66 thing, or they don’t at all. Pontiac certainly does. We get a photo, then cruise back to the town square, which takes all of thirty seconds. Pontiac is a nicely compact town centre.

I headed off to the Pontiac Oakland Car Museum, while my wife goes shopping. I’ll have to own up here; I didn’t do any research on the car museum, before we got to town. The name of the museum and the town we were in should have been the giveaway – the museum only has Pontiac cars. Well, there are a few pushbikes too, but they Pontiacs as well. Still, for a donation it’s a good place to check out, and I drool over a Trans Am Pace Car (one of the cars that was on my original list of potential cars), a Fiero and juiciest of all, a 1970 GTO Judge.

We’ve seen a few Fieros on our travels already – some parked up, rusting away, but some mobile. They’re an interesting little car, and remind me heavily of the Fiat X-19.

But the GTO Judge…drool drool. There’s a video running showing how it came to be. Apparently John DeLorean wanted to sell this car, but there were rules around power output and the size of the car. DeLorean got around this by adding the GTO as an option (for all of $295), and the muscle car was born.

After Pontiac, we settled back onto the interstate towards Chicago, until the rain hit. And boy, did it hit us. Lots more thunder and lightning, and rain so heavy people were pulling over. It was hard to see the lanes at times, and it went on like this for the 100-mile trip. Not fun, but we made it to Chicago in the dark, and parked up for the night.

Day 20

We drove into Chicago central today, and paid US$54 for 8 hours’ parking. The parking costs are horrendous in the city, so I can see why some people get the train in and leave their cars at their hotel. But we did want to take the Corvette in, to take it to the end (well, beginning really) of Route 66 for a photo. It wouldn’t have been the same if we didn’t do this.

5,500km later, we made it

So that’s Route 66 done and dusted. After 5,500km and two weeks of slowish driving, we made it. Sure, we did it back to front by ending the journey in Chicago, but buying a car in LA was a far better option than buying one here.

The ‘bean’, a well-known and heavily visited Chicago tourist spot

After wandering about the city for a while, getting the obligatory photo at the ‘bean’, we headed to a local coffee shop to meet up with Rick, from the walking tour company. We paid $25 each to do a 3-hour walking tour along the riverfront, and it was well worth it. Often when we turn up to a new city, we just walk around aimlessly, looking like tourists.

It was so much better to talk to a local, and hear the history of every place we walked past; every building, the location and stories behind the Dearborn Fort site; we stood there, right on the site while Rick gave us all the history behind it. It was an excellent walking tour, and thoroughly recommended. We only walked about 1.5 miles, so it wasn’t a hard 3 hours of walking at all. Part of the history included taking us to a place on the river where 844 people lost their lives on an overloaded boat; It was the saddest of stories, and all the more impacting when you are standing right there, looking across to the same building (that’s still standing) that they used as a morgue. Sobering stuff.

After eventually getting out of the city, we headed back to the hotel. Tomorrow we were aiming to do the 7.5-hour drive to Bowling Green, Kentucky, but we’ve decided to split the drive up and stay in Indianapolis instead. Just a shame though, there’s no racing on while we are there.

Day 21

It was a nice 20 degrees Celsius as we left Chicago, and jumped straight onto the interstate to head south towards Kentucky. At some point, we cross into the state of Indiana, and before the day is out we’d be in Kentucky.

Compared to all the kitsch towns of Route 66, the drive today was pretty boring. 75mp/h, all day long. We only had a 700km drive today, but with stops for food and coffee, it still took a while. And that’s not to mention the road works, that seemed to go on and on and on…one lot went on for 37 miles (around 60km)!

These duallies look enormous from the rear

Instead of driving to Bowling Green, Kentucky (who comes up with these names?), instead we’ve stopped short and are staying in the city of Louisville – but still in Kentucky. It’s just a few hour’s drive tomorrow to get to Bowling Green.

We find a hotel, and parked outside is a very nice, blue C7 Corvette. I drool over it quite a bit – I love our $7,500 C4, but who wouldn’t want the (almost) latest model?

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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