Christmas rentals are always in high demand so I usually try to plan far in advance. And because we’re a pretty large group…16 of us when all of us can make it, it becomes quite a challenge. To further complicate matters when I made the reservation last May we were unsure exactly where we’d be before and after the holidays. So when we left Washington DC after Thanksgiving we had quite a drive to our holiday destination: Tucson. And then we decided we’d like to go by way of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shelbyville, Indiana, so we could connect with good friends and relatives adding 250 miles to our trek. But hey we were already committed to 2256 miles so what’s an extra 250 miles. We had allowed nine days for driving so we could stop see sights along the way.
We both love Pittsburgh and it was extra special because we were spending the night with one of my best friends, Rita. After a delightful dinner meeting up with her son and girlfriend, we headed off to see the Winter Light Show at Phipps Conservatory. The rain let up; the weather was unusually warm for late November and the show was amazing! What a wonderful time we had! I always love it when we can meet up with those special friends who no matter how long since we’ve seen each other, we just pick up where we last left off.
The next morning we headed for Indiana where we met up with my cousin and had a great night catching up with his family. We hadn’t given much thought to our route to Tucson having made many trips across the country when our kids were young. But then Bob sugested that we travel via Route 66! What a great idea. We stopped in Bloomington long enough for me to run into Barnes and Noble and find a book suggesting stops along the way. I had no idea there would be so many to choose from. The clerk suggested Moon’s Route 66: Road Trip by Candacy Taylor. So my decision was made. Great choice. We found the book offered lots of suggestions and she gives specific directions to reach the sites. (This is a great help when GPS fails to recognize destinations like The Blue Whale in Catoosa!)
I had no idea that Route 66 doesn’t exist any more except for an historic road. In some states, the book said we’d find it more difficult to follow than in others. Boy, were they right! We first caught up with Route 66 in St. Louis. We spent our first night in Arnold, Missouri, and spent the evening poring over the book and choosing the highlights we wanted to see. There were so many things to choose from: historical sites, kitschy things, birth places of famous folk, the list semed to be endless. We decided we’d like to see a blend of things keeping in mind that we wanted to be in Tucson on December 7 and it was already December 1.
Our first stop was Laumeier Sculpture Park in Kirkwood. This is a collection of 80 sculptures including a giant eyeball (by Tony Tassett).
From there we drove on to Cuba, Missouri, known for their wall murals. The murals were painted as part of a revitalization project and they depict the town’s history. My favorites were the Blue Bonnet Train from World War II. And also the one of Amelia Earhart. Evidently in their hey day many important personages visited Cuba!
Not far from Cuba we came to the World’s Largest Rocking Chair. Wow, a giant eyeball and the world’s largest rocking chair in the same day. I couldn’t help but wonder how they ever got that rocking chair up to that height!
Driving on to Waynesville we came to highway signs marking the Trail of Tears. We thought it was a long trek to drive from DC to Tucson. But here was the reminder of the thousands of Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Ponca who after being moved to Ft. Cass, Tennessee were then forced to walk to Oklahoma under horrific conditions. Nearly 800 miles!We had hoped to visit the Trail of Tears National Historic Site but as we came into Waynesville people were lining both sides of the street with police managing traffic. Waynesville only has a population of 4800! Where did all these people come from? Finally, we realized we were driving down the middle of the main street where everyone was waiting for the Christmas parade! This was obviously a really big deal! No way were we going to be able to turn into the memorial!
Our next stop was Marshfield the hometown of Dr. Edwin Hubble. Taylor had told us in her book that there is a replia of the Hubble telescope in front of the courthouse and we wanted to see it! And although there isn’t much else to see in this quiet town we were glad we stopped! Having seen the World’s Largest Rocking Chair we decided we could pass on the World’s Largest Fork in Springfield and instead moved on to Carthage, Missouri, to spend the night.
We didn’t use Taylor’s suggestions for places to stay as we always stay in Choice Hotels. They’re clean, easy to find and include breakfast, and we save an enormous amount of money by staying in the same chain and taking advantage of bonus points. For our trek to Tucson we had accumulated enough points to stay free for three nights.
We generally ask the hotel clerks for suggestions where to eat and this time she was a bit stumped because it was a Sunday. She directed us to El Charro, a fantastic Mexican restaurant not far from the hotel. We again looked over our guide book as we ate and realized that our stops were taking longer than we had anticipated and the fact that Route 66 is sort of a “on again, off again” route that too was adding to our time.
Our first stop the next morning was to be closeby near Diamond, Missouri, to see the George Washington Carver National Monument. Unfortunately we came to a sign that told us the bridge was out and we weren’t able to get there. So instead we headed on down the road to Joplin where we wanted to see Thomas Hart Benton’s Mural. I don’t know a lot about art but I love the realism of Benton’s murals and remembered how he was commissioned to do a series of murals representing the state of Indiana for the Chicago World’s Fair in the 1930’s. This was a definite must see! It didn’t disappoint!
Commerce, Oklahoma, the home of Mickey Mantle was next. Again, Taylor’s directions took us right to his modest childhood home. The plaque on the house describes how as a young child Mickey’s father would come home from work and pitch baseballs to him in the side yard. The shed with the dents from missed catches still stands. Not far from his house, near the high school baseball field, stands a monument to number 7. As a kid growing up in the 1950’s the Yankees and Mickey Mantle, in particular, make up my first memories of baseball.
Even though it wasn’t listed in our Route 66 information, we wanted to stop in Claremore to see the Will Rogers Memorial and Museum. As luck would have it the museum was closed on Mondays but we did enjoy the beautiful grounds! From there it was on to Arcadia and its more than 66 feet high pop bottle lit with LED lights. And although we didn’t see it at night, it must be quite a sight!
My favorite stop on all of Route 66 was the Centennial Land Run Monument in Oklahoma City. There are horses, wagons, men, women and children, even a dog and they are literally larger than life. Paul Moore is the sculptor and his great grandfather was one of those who participated. I hadn’t realized there was more than one land rush in Oklahoma. This monument represents the first in 1889 but others took place later in other parts of the state. The huge procession, one of the largest bronze sculptures in the world, is over 350 feet long and protrudes into the river! It truly defines the word, “Sooner!”
We spent the night in Elk, City, which is located on the Great Western Cattle Trail. It’s been called by different names and there’s a lot of controversy between the Texans and the Oklahomans about its exact name but the bottom line is that from 1876-1895 this was a major cattle trail! Not that long ago!
Murals are also a favorite of mine. So in Sayre, a quiet almost ghost town sort of place, we stopped to see the WPA mural on the wall of the post office. This mural is by Vance Kirkland, but has a Bentonesque sort of feel to it. It also represents the Oklahoma Land Rush. We found it sad that we encountered virtually nothing along the way that talked about the impact on the Native American displacement.
As we crossed into Texas we began to realize how sparsely populated the area is when we encountered a sign that said, “No gas between Shamrock and Amarillo” a distance of nearly 100 miles. Not far after we entered the panhandle of Texas we came upon The Leaning Tower of Texas. (Little did we know when we were in Pisa in September that we had our own leaning tower right here in the US!) Some people think it was caused by an earthquake or other natural event or that it was struck by a plane but it appears that it was just a marketing idea! Not much further down the road we stopped west of Amarillo to take a picture of Cadillac Beach, a place where 10 Cadillacs from the 50’s and 60’s are buried nose deep.
Today the cars are covered with graffiti and it’s become common place for tourists to add their individual marks with spray paint. (We saw several doing just that when we were there.) I wished I could have been there after they were first buried before all the defacing.
Continuing down Route 66 this sign seemed to say it all: Shamrock, Texas, is where Native Americans herded bison until the late 1880’s. When Route 66 came through here in the 1920’s The U – Drop Inn cafe was built. One of the few art deco buildings of its kind. Today the building is the home of the Chamber of Commerce we met a delightful woman there who shared with us a lot of the area’s history. We found it interesting that there are four Tesla chargers in their parking lot. The woman at the Chamber told us that the town had approached Tesla about making Shamrock a “Tesla Town” and Tesla agreed! She went on to say that every week or so a few cars stop by to be recharged! (We did find the tow truck from the late 1940’s or early 1950’s to be an ironic touch.)
This would be our last night on Route 66 and we thoroughly enjoyed it. But at the same time it’s a bit overwhelming. It’s as though every town along the way has their own mark to try to attract tourists. For us the best sites were those that had historical significance, those sites that helped us understand the people who had lived there for the past hundred years. What a lonely existence it must have been before modern transportation and communication.
Our next stop was Santa Fe. We had planned on spending a month here after the first of the year until we realized its altitutde and the cold weather we’d encounter. So we decided an afternoon would have to do and we’d try to come back in a warmer season. We headed to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, the largest collection of O’Keefe’s work in the world. The museum is relatively new having opened in 1997 and was designed by Richard Gluckman (who also designed the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh). We spent about two and a half hours there and that enabled us to see it all. I like smaller museums where I can wander leisurely but don’t have to make decisions about what I’m going to see and what I’m going to skip. Although O’Keefe didn’t move to New Mexico until 1929 it had a major influence on her work. We would have liked to visit her home, Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, but time didn’t permit. We’ll definitely have to come back to this beautiful area.
When we got up in the morning we were not pleased to find the ground covered wittih snow! It didn’t last and by the time we had arrived in Las Cruces the temperature had reached the high 60’s. We spent the night, stopped to see the Road Runner and headed for Tucson.
Nine days and more than 2700 miles after leaving Washington, DC we arrived in Tucson! It’s been a fantastic trip! We were surprised by the topographical changes we encountered virtually every day of our drive. The desert itself changes from location to location; sometimes filled with cacti, other times with brush. We had no idea that the southwest produces cotton! We passed signs between Las Cruces and Tucson about every 15 miles that warned us to be alert for dust storms and if encountered we should: pull off the road, turn off lights, take foot off the brake and wait in the car! Luckily the sky was clear all the way! We now have a week to relax and get into a routine before much our family will arrive for the holidays