Route 66 (well, mostly) from Amarillo to Albuquerque

Friday, October 27 through Sunday, October 29

This is long, sorry! And no pictures. But I promise there will be pictures soon, so many pictures, too many pictures!

I spent Friday trying to deal with the real world in and around Amarillo. It was horrible: I had a text fight with my son, discovered that my Verizon bill was much higher than I though it should be and, bah, read the goddamn news. I begin to think that one of the attractions of Palo Duro was the complete absence of internet and cell phone signals.

Anyway, after I left the Market Pantry grocery store (A+++, would shop again – Yelp does seem to be amazing at finding grocery stores, btw) and conjoined Starbucks, which is where I last updated this blog, I went on out to Cadillac Ranch. I have always wanted to see it; I think I had built it up in my head until it was something mixed with about every piece of 70s and 80s site specific art work. The real thing is, well, not that big. It’s just some old cars, upended in a cornfield. But I didn’t find it underwhelming. I actually loved it. I loved how it has weathered and how it’s an ongoing changing participatory completely anonymous and democratic work of art. It was freezing cold and a dude who reeked of weed kept trying to tour guide me around but I didn’t care. I liked it. I liked it so much that I decided to go ahead and stay the night at the nearby Cadillac Ranch RV Park. Which is not associated but has a gift shoppe, but that gift shoppe was closed for the winter.

I drove around in circles and then found a space next to a van and motorcycle. Hipsters, I thought, Instagram #vanlife people, we’ll get along. I looked around and thought, actually this is in fact a trailer park. And then I thought, before there was #vanlife there were people with motorcycles who lived in vans and we called them. . bikers. Or methheads. Or scary, scary fucks. Oh god! I thought and I considered leaving, but then an old man with an oxygen tank drove up in a maroon Oldsmobile and I knew I was there for the night. He was the manager. I went into the office immediately after a Native American guy with a truck camper – we chatted briefly about his camper; he seemed like a really nice guy and I felt safer with him there – and paid my $25 for a night in the trailer park. I tried to peer around the doors; there was a hint of vanished glories in the room I could see. It looked like a dining room or a conference room. “Disconnect that water!” shouted the old man, “It’s gonna freeze!” And I did so. And it was a quiet quiet cold cold night on the fringes of Amarillo. The guy with the van was not a hipster or a biker, just a dude who looked hungover and sad.

The next morning, which was Saturday – yesterday! Time gets so weird when you’re on the road! – I headed on the back roads to Santa Rosa, New Mexico. The Garmin proceeded to direct me along miles and miles of deserted, rutted, Texas dirt farm tracks. The scenery was great, if desolate, but the bouncing. . . was not so great. When I finally got to pavement I directed it to never do that again. It was unrepentant as robots so often are.

Then I drove and drove along old highways, through towns like Hereford “Beef Capital of the WORLD” and Bovina “Name Sorta Says It All” * and there was a train racing along next to the highway, which was glorious and disorienting all at the same time. I crossed into New Mexico. The landscape changed. The tumbleweeds began to get bigger. The tumbleweeds first appeared in Oklahoma but they were puny and small, just a branch or two. Then in Texas they started gathering steam, getting gradually bigger and bigger into the west until I saw one today on I-40 in New Mexico that was fully road runner cartoon worthy, easily 4 feet across and tumbling madly. The West! It is a strange place!

I stopped in Fort Sunter – not Fort Sumter, that’s quite different and I know it well, hee – but another Fort in a small New Mexico town. I went to the Billy the Kid museum. It was amazing. The people who run the museum apparently started with Billy the Kid stuff – he died nearby, I forget, the whole thing was spelled out in wild murals as well as newspaper clippings and a video and on and on but I drifted by in a daze and didn’t take it all in – and then they just decided, fuck it, let’s collect it all. All of it. All the things. Pottery and butter churns and typewriters, bikes and Barbies and guns, wagons and cars and knives and mysterious clay figures somebody said they found once and, marvel of marvels, a taxidermied Siamese Hereford calf with six legs from 1958 and an admonitory label that said they wouldn’t display it except people kept begging them to put it back, they remembered it from their childhoods. And of course they did. It was kind of like an antique barn and kind of like a flea market and kind of like a museum and it went on and on and many of the labels were hilarious and dry. I liked it enormously.

Then I drove on through deserted land, just deserted, the sky huge and the land huger, like a bowl, like every faded Western movie on a Saturday afternoon TV station in 1974. I can see why there are aliens in New Mexico: it looks like Mars and also, if you wanted to keep a low profile when you were scoping a planet out, New Mexico would suit your needs ideally. There’s room for entire fleets of galactic starships out there. Who would know?

I ended up in Santa Rosa. Santa Rosa has a killer collection of dead motels and even deader mid century motel signs, all lined up on Route 66. They also have a state park, but I drove all the long way out there and it was full. So I tried, despite bad reviews, to go somewhere called Rosita’s RV. I drove around and around the block, cursing the Garmin and Google Maps in equal parts until I decided that it no longer existed. It was getting dark. There was no Wal Mart. I went to La Loma RV Park on the strip. A skinny smoking man with big silver rings on every finger told me to meet him in the office. “A tall woman!” he marveled, “They’re hard to come by!” It was $27. He gave me a wifi password. “Tear that up,” he said, “I got tired of chasing off those people who just sit out here and use my wifi.” There was a bar next door, so I brushed my hair and went in for a vodka. The waitresses were in costume and excited. The bartender was young and surly. The bar was more of a restaurant, although I heard them talking about a party later. And so there was a party later, with thumping endless bad dance music that I could hear quite clearly, in between whistles from the never ending string of freight trains on the other side. At 6 am I wrote a scathing review on RV Parky but at least the wifi sort of worked.

And then it was time for I-40. It was terrifying and horrible and packed with semis; it’s just one long incline that never stops; we went about 50 which was the best we could do. White knuckling two and a half long dreadful hours. At least in North Carolina we have truck climbing lanes and we mark the grades. Here, it was just interstate, two lanes each way of vertical interstate and nothing around except billboards for the next tourist trap truck plaza. I wonder where they all live, the people who work in those places.

Albuquerque! I went to the Petroglyph National Monument. “What kind of shoes are you wearing?” asked the ranger in the visitor center, “I think you can make it up the Boca Negra Canyon trail,” she said, “It’s steep but you can do it.”

I did do it and it was steep and my heart kept beating like it was going to explode, so I kept stopping long enough to carefully not look down the treacherous slope of volcanic scree below me. The petroglyphs were really cool. I took a selfie. I tried to stay out of the way of all the other tourists, but that was hard. I tried not to feel like a complete doofus as I was way out trailed by contemptuous 80something Europeans in high tech trail outfits. I chatted with a man from Florida. His brother used to live in Asheville. Of course he did.

And now I am sitting in the parking lot of the Sams Club. I think it cost me more in goodwill money to stay here than it would have to go to the extraordinarily expensive KOA on the other side of town but this way I get to leave with extra wine and yoga pants. There is a distinct dearth of RV parks in Albuquerque. So tonight is the night I boondock for the very first time. I am alone here in this huge parking lot in a completely commercial district and the Sams Club has already closed. I’m terrified that they will try to kick me out even though Tammy in Customer Service assured me it was OK as long as I was gone by tomorrow. But so far so good and tomorrow, Amelia is going to the RV doctor to get some work done and Moby and I are heading on up into even higher mountains to stay with old friends in Lake City, Colorado. Wheeee! The adventure, it just keeps on continuing!

ASTERISK in the interests of strict accuracy I must report that I made that Bovina slogan up. It’s not the official one. I didn’t memorize that one but I do remember that there are 1,543 people in Bovina.

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