Big Trip, July 30: Too Much Steak
As you can see from the ceremonial passage under the former Glass House over I-44, Ace is off on another Westward trip. It's a slightly complex trip, really: off to California to finish Rt66 from Needles to LA, a week in LA sampling the art, culture and architecture, then a cruise to Mexico. Total trip time: 24 days; this is day one.
We started at Joplin, MO and our plan was to blast across Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico using Hwy 40 at warp speed, stopping only when neccesary until we reached Arizona where the newest members of Ace's driving entourage...
...would be able to sample some of that state's natural beauty before exiting to Rt66 in CA and taking it all the way to LA. If you've followed this blog, much of the territory prior to Seligman, AZ will look familiar. We'll try to show you new aspects of it, though. After Needles, CA, it'll all be new territory.
Of course, ya gotta eat, so we tried the Rock Cafe at Stroud, OK.
We'd never used a bathroom there, and so had missed the fact that the whole thing is pleasantly graffitied. Here's where John Lasseter, founder of Pixar Studios, drew Buzz Lightyear and Woody. Several of our Rt66 contacts have recently told us that Pixar did a research trip across 66 for the upcoming movie "Cars", but the Lasseter drawing is from 2001; I wonder if he was researching that early or if he's just a fan of the old road.
Note and picture added when re-editing in 2007: Yes, Lasseter was indeed reseaching Route 66 in 2001. As a matter of fact, Rock Cafe owner Dawn Welch (below) became the basis for the "Cars" character "Sally" the Porsche. She really looks much better than this, we caught her on a very busy day.
On out in Hydro, OK (love the name) we paid respects to the Rt66 business that is best known as Lucille's, closed since the death of Lucille Hamons in 2000. Lucille ran the business for 59 years, surviving the death of her husband and the opening of Hwy 40 to become a much-beloved matron of Rt66. Lucille's is on the National register of Historic Places and a sign that advertised an accompanying motel court is now in the Smithsonian Institution.
Lucille's is a great place to see a curbed section of old 66.
66 is seductive; whenever we'd exit onto it for some reason, it was difficult to tear ourselves away and get back on hwy40. This is a stretch between Hydro and Weatherford.
Driving and photography are not mutually exclusive activities, despite what more sensible people say. My passengers love it. Just check out the look of confidence.
Many of the pictures of signs, buildings, the road, etc., on this trip were shot through the car windows. Stopping was often impractical, especially in the urban areas. Many of the photos downright sucked and were deleted, but some were good enough to be informative.
The windmills in the mirror were part of a wind farm in Western OK. The things are huge.
Not too far away, new derricks were going up. The juxtipositions were thought-provoking on this gasoline-concious trip.
Some things are so cool, you just have to stop and see them again and again. The Tower Conoco Station in Shamrock, TX is one of them.
Note added in 2007: As you may have read before, and doubtlessly will read again, this building was the inspiration for "Ramone's House of Body Art" in the Disney/Pixar movie, "Cars."
On a day when we were paying over two dollars a gallon for gas, the Tower pumps were frozen at $34.4.
It is my understanding that the grant which allowed the station to be restored stipulates that no commercial business can operate within for ten years...I think thats about eight years from now. Until then, the Shamrock Chamber of Commerce holds special events inside. I hope I get to see a nice little diner open up inside, someday.
A sliver of the Blarney Stone is displayed in a Shamrock city park.
And an appropriate mural adorns a pharmacy.
But I think my favorite sign in all of Texas is "RATTLESNAKES EXIT NOW", a remnant of the long-defunct Regal Reptile Ranch at Alanreed. Someday I hope to catch this sign with some nice clouds or a sunset behind it; parhaps that'll be when I visit the Devil's Rope Museum at McLean on a future trip, where I've read some artifacts of Regal Reptile Ranch are preserved.
Just West of here, near Groom, is the leaning Britten Water Tower, last surviving element of the Britten U.S.A. Truck Stop.
It's not a high-tension power pole, its the (formerly) largest cross in the Western Hemisphere near Groom, TX. The 190 foot iron and sheet metal construction is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and was the tallest until one at Effingham, IL beat it by eight feet.
I had stopped here before to shoot exteriors, but had never been in the gift shop. Does anyone else find it odd that the baby Jesus seems to select a crucifix?
Adult Jesus regards the exit.
Its nice to know that Rt66 guidebooks have percolated into so many niches.
There are twelve stations of the cross statues outside. When I first saw this place, about three years ago, there were was a group of people flagilating themselves as they walked around them. I haven't seen that on any subsequent trips.
In nearby Groom, the Blessed Mary's restaurant serves up Tex-Mex.
We finally pulled into the Big Texan Steak Ranch and Motel in Amarillo, TX for the night
I always love the feel of this place.
Ace's waitress served him up the usual medium steak.
I use the Big Texan gift shop as a barometer for the popularity of classic tourist trap paraphenalia. In May I bought Mexican jumping beans and "rattlesnake eggs" here...last year it was a backseat driver's license...before that it was a nodding Armadillo for the back window. None of those were present this time, but I was happy to see these rattlesnake heads. I didn't want one, mind you, its just that my world, and my vision of the ideal Western road trip, requires that they be available somewhere like this.
I hadn't noticed this fine lenticular in the hallway before; I don't know if its old or not, but the nice thing it that it looks like it *could* be.
I'd been to the Big Texan a few times before, but had never seen the spectacle the place is famous for: the challenge of eating a 72 oz steak, with all the trimmings, in one hour. Do so, and it's free; fail, and it's $50.
Watching someone attempt this task had an odd effect on me. Its not like it's a noble cause or anything...its not like it's for charity...its not Chariots of Fire or Rocky...but, nevertheless, I was part of the following, and even Ace rooted for this guy. Maybe it was his positive "I'm gonna conquer this piece of meet" attitude, or maybe it was just a celebration of American excess at the end of a day watching Winnebagos pass wind farms.
It's exactly what it looks like; there are referees for this ritual who make sure, among other things, that the contestant does not trim too much meat away with the fat.
It was looking so good, but with about seven minutes left, I began to fear for the lad.
I should really point out that a Big Texan Steak is quite good...I just don't think most people should try to eat a 72oz. one in an hour.
After the spectacle of the steak, Ace made another friend.
Before turning in, I took a dip in the Texas-shaped pool as practice for snorkeling in Mexico.
I drifted off wondering if this piece of paneling looked more like a tiki face or Frankenberry.
If you'd like to see more pictures of these locations, check out an earlier blog entry from a trip made in May of 2005, three months before this one.