|Day 1: Hitting the Road-- Broken Arrow to Albuquerque
woke early Monday, Aug. 25. Everything was packed. It was the opening
day of the Burning Man festival. Before going, I posted to my LiveJournal
that I was dropping off the face of the Earth for a while. I finished loading
up the car, and headed out the door at 8:13 AM. It was 72 degrees in Tulsa,
a hazy but otherwise cloudless day.
I made it to the Turner Turnpike at a quarter to nine.
The hills of northeast Oklahoma rolled before me, the static of cicadas
buzzing through the open windows. I like to drive with the windows open,
almost never using the air conditioning. This part of the journey took
me down the famous Route 66 through Tulsa all the way out west. At the
toll booth, the ticket taker was named Tim. The signs on the turnpike saying
how far it is to Oklahoma City are a little misleading, since you get off
the turnpike before the City. Note to people driving through Oklahoma
for the first time: If you hear something that sounds like you've got
a flat tire, by all means stop and check it out, but it's probably just
the Oklahoma roads. I stopped for a soda just after 10, and connected with
Interstate 40 west at 10:24. That's when I started to lose the signal on
Tulsa radio stations.
The landscape flattens out once you get past OkC, and
doesn't get interesting again until the Canadian River. I passed through
Yukon, Oklahoma, the home of Garth Brooks (it says so on the water tank).
Near El Reno, I started seeing signs for the Big Texan, the place in Amarillo
that sells the 72-ounce steak (free if you can eat it in one hour). I stopped
at the Cherokee Trading Post at Exit 104 for $10 of gas. Attractive rolling
prairie surrounded me. In the west, one lone cloud appeared. He was soon
joined by others. (There's another Cherokee Trading Post at Exit 71, which
can be a little confusing.) Noon passed--I'd been on the road for four
hours, and I was still in Oklahoma. Prairie turned into red hills
about Exit 57, and I started seeing a big plane circling overhead--a B-52?
Further on, I thought I saw a C-130, too. I passed through Clinton, Oklahoma,
home of the Route 66 Museum,
which is just down the road from Elk City, home of the Route
66 Museum. The sky was full of clouds as I neared the Texas border.
The last rest stop in Oklahoma has picnic tables under "teepees."
I hit Texas at 1 PM, where the mile marker signs started
counting backwards again. At the 149 mile marker, there's an old, rusty
sign that says "Rattlesnakes Exit Now." Was it the remains
of a bygone tourist trap, or a dire warning of things to come? I rolled
up my windows, just in case. The otherwise flat Texas landscape turns rugged
in the Red River basin, and the highway winds it's way around gullies and
canyons until about marker 122, then straightens out again. In Texas, about
150 miles of the original Route 66 still remain. Traveling west on Interstate
40, the old Route 66 serves as the service road alongside the main highway.
Groom, Texas sports what it calls the largest
cross in the western hemisphere. The thing is 19 stories tall, and
can be seen from five miles off. At Amarillo, I stopped for another $15
of gas, and I began to realize I'd grossly miscalculated how much money
I'd need for gas on this trip. I figured I'd be all right so long as I
didn't stop to buy food. As I-40 rolled westward, the flat Texas panhandle
gave way to pretty vistas of sage, with blue hills on the horizon.
I hit the New Mexico border just after 4 PM. At San Jon,
the great mountain overlooking Tucumcari loomed on the horizon like some
sleeping titan. I was starting to get tired. Just before 5, I passed Tucumcari,
the Heart of Route
66. There were signs
pointing to the "Historical Route 66" (not historic, but historical).
Regiments of clouds marched across the sky as I traveled past green and
charcoal blue mountains, the late afternoon sun turning shadows ruddy shades
of violet. An awesome outcropping of red stone burst into view alongside
the highway. A roadrunner zipped across the road; no sign of any wily coyotes.
I found a classic rock station... not with songs from the 1980's, but classic
Heading westward at marker 261, the road stretches ahead
in a straight line for over 10 miles. I marveled at the perspective, and
wondered if people got the same feeling looking down the Nazca lines in
South America, or when the stars line up under Stonehenge. The highway
slowly climbed into higher country. At Clines Corner, New Mexico, I could
see mountains to the west, and a big thunderstorm to the northeast. A dealership
was selling prefabricated homes, one of which was manufactured to look
like it was made of adobe. Prefab pueblos? I came over a mountain
pass, and sunlight twisted the clouds into fierce, phantom shapes. Satori's
gas light came on just as I was coming into Albuquerque. I'd traveled 658
miles in just under 12 hours. After settling in for the night, I cooked
myself a chili/macaroni MRE for supper, and called home to check in.
Interstate 40, by the way, runs for 2,565 miles from Wilmington,
North Carolina all the way to Barstow, California (Home of the Route