The Journey West: Broken Arrow to Albuquerque
Life managed to throw a bunch of distractions into my plans that year. I did have the presence of mind to get all my car's fluids checked and topped-off. The garage said one of my fan belts was looking worn, so I took Satori, my faithful steed, to a shop and had the belts replaced. I felt confident she was in top working order.

I really meant to get an early start Friday, August 22nd. I meant to get up at my usual time and be on the road by 6 AM. Instead, I woke up at... 6:40. Eeek! I rushed around the house, grabbing essentials. I tried to copy a CD of music, but the computer picked that morning for the CD drive to fail on me. After a quick shower, I pulled out of the driveway at 7:30... and had to turn back because I'd forgotten the hard-boiled eggs I'd made for my trip. At the Kum 'n' Go, gasoline was $3.35 a gallon. A girl named Fine took my cash when the card reader on the pump wouldn't work. I felt very anxious about getting on the road. It was already 78 degrees out and overcast when I crossed the Arkansas River.
I finally got on the Turner Turnpike at 8:15. I was still anxious about losing time. Fortunately, I had a CD of music I'd copied from chase scenes of movie soundtracks. That got me down the road. Chester's CD of MP3 music wouldn't play on either of the CD players I had in the car. A little ways down the turnpike, the sun tried to break through the clouds.
The breeze was cool and pleasant when I stopped at the toll booth. Scattered clouds played across the sky all morning. I got to Oklahoma City at 9:30, and by 9:45 I was on Interstate 40 headed west. The wind picked up as I left town, but I could see clear skies far to the west. I passed the town of Yukon, home of Garth Brooks and one of the historical crossroads of the Chisolm Trail. This was a road I'd traveled before, but to be honest, I hadn't traveled it in three years.

I started to relax. I was back on the road again, and it felt great. I watched a dozen bare-chested bikers zoom past headed east. Alongside the highway, I saw horses grazing in fields. It was a little more than 200 miles to Amarillo when I stopped at the Cherokee Truck Stop at Exit 108. I got some more gas and rearranged the gear in the car. Breakfast was beef jerky and dried fruit. Back on I-40, I passed a sign advertising "miniature donkeys." At mile marker 85 I crossed over the Sparland Rose Memorial Bridge.

The original Highway 66 paralleled the highway in many parts, and I enjoyed looking at the old buildings on the historic road. At Weatherford, tall wind-powered generators sprung from the horizon. They were all over the place. I was sad to see the Route 66 Drive-in was in disrepair and for sale, tall weeds lining the fence. The original Route 66 was kept up in places where it was used as a service road, but in lots of places it had degraded back to just gravel. At one place, it disappeared into the Earth as it crossed with a creek, but beyond the creek a backpacker was walking along the old trail. As I got closer to the Texas border, hills of red dirt sprouted up along the south side of the highway. The wind really picked up. I could see a ghostly waning Moon in the pale blue sky. I saw a motorcycle parked all alone by the side of the road-- not a rider in sight anywhere. The day suddenly got hotter. It suddenly occurred to me I might be smelly with sweat.

At noon, I decided to try putting a can of pasta on the dashboard and letting the sun cook it. I knew it would take a while. Shortly after noon, I crossed the border into Texas. The skies were completely clear. Ten miles out of Groom, Texas, I could see the "largest cross in the Western Hemisphere." At 190 feet, the Groom cross is pretty big-- but not as big as the new 198-foot cross in Effingham, Illinois. The leaning water tower by the side of the road was still there. I rolled down my window to take a picture, and the wind blew my hat off. More wind-powered generators appeared along the road. At 1:48 I rolled into Amarillo, where I stopped for a pit stop. I liked the town's adobe-colored overpasses. I'd planned to pick up some Texas beer while passing through, but neither of the places I stopped at had any beer. I had also meant to stop in town for a big lunch, but my late start scrapped that idea. So, I just waved at the Big Texan restaurant as I drove by. Amarillo had lots of road construction; traffic was down to one lane. Traffic was back to normal as I headed west out of town. I waved at the Cadillac Ranch, which I visited in 2000, planted unceremoniously alongside the south side of the interstate. Ahead, more wind-powered generators were spinning and under construction. The air was heavy with the smell of cattle feed lots. There was a big one to the north that just went on for miles. Phew! As I closed on the New Mexico border, the landscape got more rugged. Mesas appeared off to the north. I crossed the border at 3:17 and entered the Mountain Time Zone. A dark blue ridge rose to the south. More wind-powered generators appeared in a line that ended at San Jon.

It was close to 4 PM when I made Tucumcari. The day was starting to wear on me. The highway ran parallel to a line of railroad tracks, and for a few minutes I paced a trainload of storage containers until it disappeared through some dramatic cuts in the Earth. Old Route 66 was sandwiched between the interstate and the railroad tracks for a while. Beyond Palomas, mountains appeared to the right and left, the Palomas Mesa to the south. I kept seeing places I’d like to stop and take pictures of, but I was anxious to get more miles behind me. Besides, the Sun had already begun its long, slow climb towards the horizon, and I still had hours more driving ahead of me. It was a quarter to five when I passed Santa Rosa. I opened a window, but all I got was hot air. Everything inside the car was hot. I worried about the hard-boiled eggs in my cooler, and whether they’d still be good to eat. Along the north edge of the interstate, Route 66 was a broken, unmaintained asphalt strip. In many places, it had degraded into a gravel path, and where it veered off onto private lands it was simply roped-off. At San Ignacio I passed more wind generators. It looked like there was more than a dozen of them. Forty-four miles from Albuquerque, mountains came into view ahead. I started listening to a Santa Fe oldies radio station.

At 6:21, 646 miles after leaving Broken Arrow, I made it to Albuquerque. That’s where I stopped at a Wal-Mart for some supplies. I also made a pit stop at a convenience store called Bubba’s. I still had miles to go. The Sun seemed to speed up its descent as my goal got closer. The late afternoon sunlight highlighted the colors in the New Mexico landscape. It was all I could do to keep from turning away from the road to look. Just past the town of Bluewater, as the Sun was fading behind the mountains, I pulled off the interstate and onto Highway 412. There was a sign with just the silhouette of a cow; I figured that either meant open range ahead, or that I was close to a Wendy’s. Another sign said “dangerous curves,” and they weren’t kidding. I followed the road for seven miles into the mountains. Going around one sharp curve, I caught a glimpse of Mt. Taylor and the mountains to the east, just gorgeous, bathed in hues of purple and mauve. Coming around the last corner, I went through a small trailer community, hidden by the hills and not listed on any map. They had their own church and everything. There was nobody at the gate when I arrived at Bluewater Lake State Park. I followed the instructions on the sign for after-hours camping, and put my $8 in an envelope. Daylight was fading fast as I drove into the campgrounds. The road looped around several times with lots of places for vehicles to park. Each campsite had a picnic table and a little barbecue. I picked one near the restrooms and parked Satori at 9 PM. I’d traveled 759 miles in 13 and a half hours.

I walked to the men’s restroom, which was a dry toilet about 40 yards away. There was a lock on the door, but no light. Fortunately, it did have toilet paper. Halfway through the process, I suddenly hoped there wasn’t a rattlesnake lurking in the depths below. I settled down in my camp. At the picnic table, I ate two of my hard-boiled eggs. My experiment with dashboard cooking seemed to be a failure; the can of pasta was hardly warm at all. Across the lake, I could hear music. A steady stream of campers and trailers kept arriving at the park until just after dusk. As I ate, I realized I didn’t pack any bug spray. There were mosquitoes, but at least they were lazy mosquitoes; they’d land on my arm or leg, and then look around like they couldn’t remember what they were supposed to do next. I climbed into the back of Satori, where I’d laid out a cot to sleep. I was tired from driving, but still too keyed-up to sleep. So, I used my cellphone to call the LiveJournal voice post line to let everyone know where I was. Darkness fell, and one by one the stars winked into life. I could see the Big Dipper right outside Satori’s rear window. The only other visible lights were pinpricks from the other campers, the closest about 50 yards away. Just then, a screech owl shrieked just above my van. I may have invaded his territory when I set up camp. Another owl answered him, and they had a discussion for about five minutes before silence once again fell. I sat in the back of the darkened van, letting the peace of the place soak in.

It was quiet… too quiet. I never went to camp when I was a kid. I never sat around a campfire telling scary stories about escaped madmen with hooks for hands. Usually, if I know a story’s going to be scary, it doesn’t scare me. I know what’s coming. What really scares me are the normal stories, the average stories, the stories where everything’s peaceful and good and calm, and then something horrible happens—that’s what’s scary to me… Kind of like... spending the night in a state park, all safe and secure, where nothing bad ever happens, right? Right…?

Near Amarillo
Old Route 66 Gas Station
  Albuquerque to Las Vegas
The Journey West
The Sketchbook
The Journey East
Broken Arrow to Albuquerque
Black Rock City to Provo
Albuquerque to Las Vegas
Provo to Pueblo
Las Vegas to Beatty
Pueblo to Broken Arrow
 Beatty to Black Rock City
Links: I-40 RV Guide 
Grants, New Mexico 
Hotels Near I-40 
All original content copyright 2008 by Tim Frayser.
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