Thursday, November 4, 2010

Route 66 Journal - Day 3

7:42 a.m.

Red Rock Canyon State Park
I was awakened by the warden, coming to collect the camping fee—a bit sooner than I expected, but I did not really mind. Despite the early hour, the temperature had already begun to climb, slowly rendering the inside of my polyester tent uninhabitable.

I washed up and had a quick breakfast, then broke camp and went on to explore Red Rock Canyon State Park before heading out to find a mechanic. The tour, however, did not last as long as I initially thought it would. While the park was nice—a network of small fields nestled at the foot of red cliffs—there was really not much to see. It was more of a weekend destination for families than the adventurous wild I was looking for.

After only about a half hour, I left Red Rock Canyon State Park to look for a mechanic and see if I could continue my journey westward.

10:13 a.m.

On the way back to the interstate, I came across a small garage. Though the place was not very reassuring—a medium sized hangar in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by the stripped out husks of cars and trucks—I decided to give it a try.

“Since I am already here, I might as well check the place out,” I though.

After explaining my trouble to the old, tobacco chewing mechanic, he agreed to take a look at my truck, raising the vehicle on a platform and quickly crawling underneath. Luck, however, seemed to elude us. No matter how hard the man looked, he could not find what caused the vehicle’s strange behavior. With nothing concrete, he gave up after about a half hour.

“Son, ain’t nothin’ jumpin’ out at me,” said the old man while lowering the truck from the platform. As he was driving it out of the shop, however, the front right wheel popped so loudly that everyone in the garage looked up. Immediately, he put the vehicle back on the lift and finally located the problem: a loose A-frame.

From then on, fixing the problem was relatively simple: only a few screws needed to be tightened. The bad news was that the garage manager wanted to charge me 75 bucks for the repairs, which I thought was unreasonable even with the amount of time his mechanic spent on my truck. I was convinced that they simply saw my Texas license plate and figured they could get more money out of a stranger, but I was not going to take the ride! After a few minutes of friendly arguing, I was able to haggle down the price to $40, which I thought was reasonable.

Relieved that my problem was solved and I could continue my trip, I headed back to the freeway in a pleasant mood. It was an incredible feeling not to have the car trouble lingering over my head. I found a classic rock station on the radio and put the pedal to the metal with a growing smile on my face.

1:38 p.m.

Clinton, Oklahoma provided me with another example of how much Route 66 governs the lives of those living around it. This small town actually had an entire museum dedicated to the Mother Road which, of course, I decided to check out.

1:51 p.m.

National Route 66 Museum, Elk City
A few miles from Clinton, Elk City presented a familiar picture. The town was also heavily influenced by the Route 66 phenomenon; so much so that it too had its own museum named after the Mother Road—although a rather unusual one of that. Looking much like a mock-up western town, the National Route 66 Museum of Elk City introduced a somewhat odd representation of the historic highway.

2:13 p.m.

While driving through Oklahoma, I had become accustomed to the many Native American trading posts along Interstate 40. Offering handcrafted jewelry and various other artifacts, these shops were an iconic part of the region.

After leaving Elk City, I decided to stop at one of these trading posts to stretch my legs. While walking around, something unusual caught my attention. By the parking lot, in a large corral, I saw buffaloes! With a growing curiosity I walked to the fence to inspect the animals. Of course I was quite familiar with these majestic creatures, I even wrote a paper about them; yet, I have to admit I had never seen one in real life. Much to my surprise, they seemed a little smaller than I imagined—of course, they may not had been fully grown.

3:24 p.m.

Washita "Battlefield" Memorial
I took a detour to Cheyenne and the nearby Black Kettle National Grassland. It was a little out of my way, but I could not leave Oklahoma without visiting the Washita Battlefield Memorial—although, those who know history probably agree that the Washita Massacre Memorial would be a more appropriate name for it. I pulled into the deserted parking lot and head out to explore the place where the horrific events of 1868 took place.

Standing on the famous “battlefield” put me in a strange mood, experiencing both excitement and sorrow at the same time. I was glad to visit such an important historic landmark; yet, my joy was tainted by history itself. Knowing what happened on that prairie made me feel melancholic and wish I could see the Little Bighorn where justice finally caught up with Custer.

After paying my respects to the fallen at the memorial, I went out to explore the “battlefield.” Although, historically speaking, there was not much to see, just an open field surrounded by small hills, it was interesting to walk on the open prairie, once home of the Planes Indians. The wind blew through the tall grass producing an almost watery sound that made me constantly look for a hidden stream, but of course, there was none.

On the way back to the interstate, I could not help but wonder about modern human values. I could not get over the fact that I was the only visitor at the memorial. I thought that a place with such tremendous historical and cultural value would attract more people. But, obviously, I was wrong.

Further pictures: #1#2.

3:57 p.m.

The terrain was turning more and more prairie-like, even along the interstate. Small hills still ruled the landscape, but trees had become almost completely absent. Wind generators took their place, making use of the constant wind that gushes through the land.

5:12 p.m.

I just crossed into Texas. The familiar green sign greeted me, the one I see almost every day in Texarkana.

5:32 p.m.

Shamrock, a sleepy little town not far from the Texas state line, presented an odd mixture of cultures. Deep within the South, the town adopted a characteristic Irish identity. Most businesses had typical Irish names, and the color green seemed to dominate the settlement. Even though, I wondered if there were actually any Irish people living there.

By the time I reached Shamrock, I had been driving for quite some time; so, I decided to stop for a little shuteye. I found an empty parking lot at the local hospital and, despite the horrible heat, took a short nap.

6:10 p.m.

Panhandle Landscape
After Shamrock, the landscape had become increasingly flat, just fields and pastures running so far into the distance that it made my eyes hurt. Watching the endless horizon made me feel like an insignificant, little bug. It also reminding me of a slogan I often wondered about: “Big Sky Country” on the Montana license plates—a phrase that I now have a much better understanding of. If I closed my eyes, I could almost see the vast herds of buffalo roaming the land and the various Indian tribes following them.

Further pictures: #1#2.

7:05 p.m.

About sixty miles from Amarillo, I came across a Texas welcome center. Remarkably built with a huge star cut into the concrete, it looked more like a monument than a rest stop. The place was also located beside a small but impressive canyon system, a nice break from the flat landscape. I took a short walk around the building, amazed by the number of grasshoppers inhabiting the region. Every time I took a step, literally hundreds of them jumped into the air. Sometimes, I had to shield myself with my hands otherwise the wind would blow the little animals right into my face.

8:38 p.m.

In the middle of the Texas panhandle, the city of Amarillo became my final destination for the day. With an approaching thunderstorm and my plan to visit the nearby Palo Duro Canyon the next day, it was an ideal place to spend the night; where exactly, however, was still a question. Originally, I was going to stay at one of the many campsites around the city, but the storm rendered that idea moot, leaving me with either a motel or my truck. Money still being on short supply thanks to my adventurous nature, logic dictated to stick with my truck. The uncomfortable conditions of the small cabin, however, still gave me Goosebumps, and not the good kind. Thus, I decided to leave the truck as last resort and try my luck with the motels firsts. The plan was to find someone who was willing to throw me a night for twenty bucks. Ridiculous it may sound, Amarillo had plenty of motels competing for customers, and I trusted in people’s good nature anyways.

After getting turned down by two Indians—what is the deal with Indians (from India) and the motel business by the way—Fortuna finally smiled at me. At the third place, I found a girl who was willing to help me if I promised to leave early the next morning—before her manager would get there. Even though I knew the receptionist’s offer was an incredibly lucky break, I was torn, afraid I might get her in trouble. But she insisted that it was okay; so, I ended up with a motel room for a price that I thought was impossible. Apparently good people still exist.

While the thunderstorm was raging outside of my window, I slept splendidly in a cozy bed.

Distance covered on the third day 

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