Day three flowed into day four of the grand adventure seamlessly. After exploring the ghostly streets of McLean the charming community of Shamrock seemed like a metropolis.
The heavy, dark clouds threatened to put a damper on the evening when we pulled up in front of the iconic Udrop Cafe forever immortalized in the animated classic film, Cars. We snapped a couple of quick photos as intermittent rain drops began pounding the Jeep like a drum The weather and long day were beginning to take their toll and so soon we turned our attentions to the search for lodging and food. This also provided an excuse for cruising the streets and tagging locations for further exploration. Apparently the threat of storms had led many to seek shelter for the evening in Shamrock. So, time and again we found there was no room at the inn and as a result when a vacancy was found at the Best Western Shamrock Inn there was no haggling on my part even though this turned out to be the most expensive evening of the entire trip, $85.00. In the grand scheme of things this resulted in but one problem – throwing our budget off track. To compensate we used the added expense as an excuse to simply retire to the room for a light supper and some much needed relaxation. As it turned out this decision was quite fortuitous. Our search for a grocery store led us to the restored Magnolia Gas station downtown and a preWalmart era locally owned grocery where we picked up some yogurt and sandwich making items. This little store with its hometown feel and friendly staff proved to be the final piece and we chalked Shamrock up as one of our favorite places. The evening was a long one. Naps rather than sleep interrupted by tornado warnings, pounding rains, and deafening thunder left us a bit punchy and tired for the start of day four. Still, being on the road again and a stop at lonely little Texola soon banished the fatigue just as a spring shower washes the streets clean. Under pewter skies we strolled the quiet streets and gave the imagination free reign. Jack Rittenhouse noted in 1946 that Texola, “…a sun baked small town has an old section of stores which truly savor of pioneer days.” Even with a small remnant population there can be little doubt Texola is for all intents and purposes a ghost town with ample opportunity for the photographer.
After three days of fighting winds and storms the cool temperatures and pleasant breezes inspired us to slow the pace and follow Route 66 through Erick, Hext, Sayre, Elk City, and Canute. In Foss the long suppressed urge to explore was given free reign and we found a quiet place under a tall tree to park the Jeep. As with Texola, Foss is not a ghost town in the traditional sense but there are still a wide array of vestiges that give indication the little town was once more than a wide spot in the road.
One empty old station nestled in the brush had a restroom paneled with the old style aluminum press sheets used by newspapers. The print was faded to the point of being almost unreadable but on one was the date 1965. We deviated from Route 66 after learning that there was a small herd of buffalo on a farm near Arapaho. For weeks and countless miles I had been teasing my wife that this trip could only be deemed a success if we saw real, live free roaming buffalo.
In Clinton we stopped at the Route 66 Museum, a must see attraction that will require a minimum of one hour to get the most out of your visit. Initially we were torn betweenn the museum in Elk City and the one in Clinton as our schedule prohibited two lengthy stops. A flip of a coin helped make the decision an easy one.
One of the primary restrictions on our time for day four was the desire to explore the area of Bridgeport and Geary. Having read about the history and scandal of the bridge at Bridgeport, and its replacement to the south on the Canadian River in Jim Ross’s book, had really piqued my interest. We were not disappointed. What a fascinating area filled with a wide array of attractions, sites, and, best of all, quiet places for a picnic. At Yukon we closed our eyes, sucked it up, and hit the interstate to expedite our drive through Oklahoma City. See, I have a very low tolerance for miles of urban traffic punctuated with stop and go. As this was to a relaxing trip it seemed a very logical decision.
To celebrate our survival of the gauntlet we stopped in Arcadia at Pops. We had hoped to also explore the round barn but it had closed at 5:00 PM, about twenty minutes previous to our arrival. We sampled an Australian ginger ale and picked up a six pack of various types of soda as a souvenir for our son. My son has an odd sense of humor that mirrors mine and as a result how could we resist buying soda with names like Kitty Piddle and Rat Bastard?
As a result of the late hour we decided to skip calling Jerry McClanahan or dropping in unexpectedly. Instead we added this as well as a stop at the Rock Cafe to the list of to do items for the return trip. We found Chandler and Stroud to be entrancing little communities that we could easily call home and so we mentally added them to the list of towns that had enamored us on this trip. The only criticism we can offer is they are not surrounded by desert! One of the more intriguing stops on this portion of our trip was Depew. As the sun was fast setting in the west we earmarked this little community for further exploration, perhaps on the return trip. The day drew to a close with us cruising through Bristow. This leads to a lodging recommendation. The Carolyn Inn, at the east end of town near the turnpike entrance, was a pleasant surprise. The property is old but clean. The staff was very friendly. The aamenities were basic but the cost, $60.00 including tax, was quite acceptable. As with every day of the trip this one ended with eager anticipation about the day to come. For day five the schedule included Afton Station, Kansas, exploration of the ghost town trail in Missouri, and a pleasant evening in Springfield.
There was the faintest hint of dawn in the sky when I rolled from bed on day three of our grand adventure on Route 66. The morning was deceptively calm but we were prepared for another day of strong winds as we rolled east onto the plains of Texas thanks to the Weather Channel. As we planning a day of backroad adventure in spite of the winds I had topped the tank off the night before ($.2.87). Now all that was needed before taking to the road again was topping off our tank and loading the Jeep. I used the coffee maker to heat water for some instant oatmeal to go with the muffins purchased in Holbrook and then made coffee. This was followed with some fresh fruit and yogurt at the complimentary continental breakfast.
As it rained for most of the night we decided that discretion was the better part of valor, even with the Jeep, and skipped the Cuervo cut off. Instead we followed I-4- to exit 291 and began the days adventure with the exploration of Cuervo. Route 66 and the trappings from that highways glory days are found on the north side of the interstate. However, the most fascinating remnants, those that predate the highway by decades, are found on the south side of I-40.
Long before we had satisfied our curiosity the winds were again howling and we were on the road again. The old highway between exit 291 and 321 is a stunning string of abandoned businesses, ruins, and lonely old homes that stand in mute testimony to more than a century of history. In Tucumcari we stopped at the legendary Blue Swallow to pay a visit to Bill who once was the used car manager for the parent company that I work for in Kingman! After a pleasant visit and some photos I gave him a few of the large 11×14 inch prints of scenes in Hackberry and Route 66 on the eastern slope of the Black Mountains and saddled up for San Jon, another orphan of the double six that clings to life with its busy service centers at exit 356.
The drive was a pleasant one but I must confess my patience with the incessant wind was wearing quite thin. This was our third day on the road and we had yet had the opportunity for a leisurely picnic or long stroll without a face filled with sand. As my wife derives a great deal of pleasure from cruising the back roads in the Jeep we changed seats on the east end of San Jon where the pavement gives way to rutted gravel and headed east in search of the tattered remnants of Endee. What a delightful drive!
Prairie dogs raced us across the old bridges, the views were wonderful, and vestiges from the railroad that gave rise to the town in 1902 begged us to explore. Our complaint was but one, we fond an ideal place for a picnic under a grove of trees across the road from the ghostly remnants of Endee but the winds had increased in velocity! Undaunted, we pressed on and soon the rutted gravel track gave way to four lanes of cracked, empty pavement and we rolled into the eerily quiet village of Glenrio. I can’ be sure but in the back of my mind there is a shadowy memory of a stop here (1963?) for gas, a cold soda, and a flat repair.
We climbed from the Jeep, took a few photos, and watched sand blow down the old highway that was once served as a stream bed for an endless flotilla of Buicks, Edsels, Fords, Hudsons, and Studebakers. Jack Rittenhouse, in his now classic A Guide Book To Highway 66 published in 1946 noted, Endee had a population of 110 and a “business district” that included a gas station, small garage, grocery and a handful of cabins as well as a school. Glenrio had a store and gas station and was the smaller of the two communities. Our return to I-40 and the modern era was a rude awakening after miles of savoring the solitude, the empty places, and the land of shattered dreams. As solace we set our sights on the legendary Midpoint Cafe in Adrian.
I never tire of this wonderful time capsule from the pregeneric world. We basked in the atmosphere of small town friendliness as we enjoyed coffee, a grill cheese sandwich, and a piece of peanut butter/chocolate pie. We drew our visit out for more than an hour before resigning ourselves to the need to bid adios to this little corner of heaven for the weary road warrior. The disappointment of knowing that soon we would again be returning to the sterile world of the interstate highway was tempered with a stop in Vega.
The wide array of treasures and hidden gems found here belies the towns size. To be counted among these are the refurbished Magnolia Station that dates to the 1920s on an older alignment of the highway near the courthouse. Our on again off again trip had made it difficult to coordinate a number of stops. On more than one occasion this led to missed opportunities. In Amarillo the casualty was Bob Lile. I have been corresponding with Bob for some time and his gallery at the Sunset Gallery is the official point of sale for our limited edition prints. Still, we have never met and I was eagerly anticipating a visit. We also missed Becky Ransom at the Big Texan. So, I stopped at a couple of book stores to sign inventory and then we took to the road again. We found Conway to be rather pleasant, what there was of it, and in Groom, near the old station at the intersection, we discussed a trip to Jericho. The decision was made for us when the sky opened and buckets of rain poured upon us from ominous black clouds.
With Jericho scratched from our list until the return trip we turned to Alanreed and McClean. The rain had stopped but the sky was still grey when we parked in Alanreed and the air was heavy with the smell of fresh mowed grass. In our very loose game plan day three was to end at the Cactus Motel in McLean. As we also planned on stocking up at a supermarket we shelved those plans and instead toured the empty streets and decided to call it a day in Shamrock.
I have fond memories of McLean and as a result its current state that gives the impression it is the set for a post apocalyptic movie thriller made me feel rather uneasy. In 1969 when we stopped here to discuss the purchase of a windmill from a shop east of town that sold and repaired them, this town had a healthy pulse and a charm that is difficult to describe. Now … Day four of our adventure actually began with the end of day three. But that is a story for another day.