The next morning came rather early, as the trucker who shared our discreet location as a good place to spend the night, fired up his diesel at 3am and prepared to hit the road. We drifted in and out of sleep until first light and then prepared to hit the road ourselves. As we were now into the much less dramatic scenery of Western Arkansas, and headed toward the rolling hills and plains of Oklahoma and finally the doldrums of the Texas Panhandle, we decided to take a little detour side trip and visit “POP’s” on old Route 66 in Arcadia, OK. As we left Interstate 40 and approached old HWY 66, a police car came screaming down the two lane highway. With lights flashing and siren blaring, we assumed that some dire emergency was taking place. Following not far behind the police car was a lone Hearse. Surprised by this I tried to imagine a scenario in which a dead man needed a high speed police escort to get anywhere in such a hurry. Perhaps he was late for his own funeral, or maybe he was just dying to get buried? Anyway I pulled to the side as they screamed on by and into the distance without further explanation or even so much as a fine how do you do.
Shortly thereafter we were greeted by the 66ft tall soda bottle in the driveway of Pop’s, a large gas station/drive-in and soon found ourselves immersed in an odd blend of a nostalgic 50’s roadside soda fountain and a modernistic designer soda shop.
The old gas pumps have been replaced by state of the art, and somewhat art deco pumps, and the soda fountain boasts a dazzling array of craft brewed sodas from around the world. The glass walled building is completely lined with a huge array of colorful soda bottles that reflect the light and create an almost soda pop cathedral like feel to the building. Needing some lunch and deciding to kill two birds with our stop, I chose a Portobello Mushroom Turkey Burger from the totally non-traditional diner menu, while Kate indulged in a huge Chicken Melt sandwich. Both were complemented by soda fountain milkshakes made with the old fashioned boat motor style milkshake machines.
Unable to resist the lure of such soda pop label icons like Moxie, and the old Doctor Pepper bottles with the 10-2-4 motto (remember that?) still emblazoned on them, I staggered happily away with a six pack of assorted unhealthy and decidedly decadent sodas with such titles as Parrot Punch, Route 66 Root Beer and Flat Head Lake Cherry Cola. Feeling totally bloated and totally guilty for our indulgence, we waddled back onto HWY 66 until it merged back onto the much more modern and urban HWY 40 and headed east for Amarillo, TX.
Having called ahead to assure ourselves of a “camping” spot at the Walmart in Amarillo, we pulled in with confidence to the store. We were quickly greeted by a security officer who asked us if we were planning to spend the night. Briefly taken aback by the reception, we answered yes and that we had called ahead to make sure it was acceptable. He quickly assured us it was no problem and simply wanted to point out the areas of the parking lot where we were welcome. He then added that there would be security on site all evening and to let them know if there was anything we needed. Now that’s a Texas welcome! We were joined in the lot by a diverse group of fellow vagabonds, some in six-figure motorhomes, some in rag-tag trailers, and some in beat-up old vans with newspapers stretched across the windows to keep out the parking lots bright lights. It was obvious that other than the folks in the motorhomes, this was the only place to spend the night for some of these people and that this recession/depression was far from over. We spent yet another surprisingly quiet night there and rose early to begin the last leg of our journey.
If you have followed our blog, you know that we have spent quite a bit of time in Texas, a State so large that when you drive across it you usually have no choice but to spend quite a bit of time in it. As it is such a large place, the diversity of the landscape there can be amazing, the hill country, the modern and hip city of Austin, the Riverwalk in San Antonio, the Gulf Coast, Big Bend, and the list goes on and on. But for the most part, the large parts of Texas across which the Interstate Highways run is miles and miles of nothing, and the sooner you get through it the better. Having driven back and forth across the state more times than we like to count in the last year, we were pleased to cross it at the Panhandle, which blessedly is the narrowest part. What’s weird is, and I am not quite sure how or why Texas ended up with this appendage sticking up like a giant middle finger between Oklahoma and New Mexico, but as you leave the rolling hills of Oklahoma, and before you reach the colorful wind blown plateaus of New Mexico, you have to traverse the completely flat and nearly featureless prairies of the Texas Panhandle. It’s almost as if when they handed out the land, the early mapmakers took a look at the Panhandle and said “OK, this part sucks, we will give it to Texas”. Don’t get me wrong, if you look hard enough there is some scenic beauty, like the Palo Duro Canyon just outside of Amarillo. Texans boast (as Texans are known to do) that the Palo Duro is the “second largest canyon in the U.S”. This is a boast they fail to temper by telling you that means in overall size, not depth or length, and that the 120 mile long and 800 ft. deep canyon has a bit of a ways to go to reach the 277 mile length and 6,000 ft. depth of the Grand Canyon. Nonetheless, it is a thing of beauty in a land of flat plains, but you have to drive a considerable distance off the Interstate to find it, and we were just happy to see the “Welcome to New Mexico” sign in our windshield and the “Welcome to Texas” sign in our rear view mirror.
Within hours we were approaching Santa Fe, and were welcomed by the brilliant blue sky and brisk cold temperatures. Santa Fe is a gem in the desert, and the “City Different” as it is known is not only one of the oldest in the country but one of the quirkiest as well. We look forward to enjoying it for a bit.