Amarillo to Santa Fe

Or “Halfway!”

Today’s a big day, not because it’s one of the longest but because we’ve so much to see. Mick and I kicked the day off in the gym after yesterday’s calorie orgy, joined Mike for breakfast, packed up, checked out and hit the road heading for our first stop of the day. Just outside Amarillo, sitting back of the highway about a quarter mile lies Cadillac Ranch . An art installation consisting of a row of 10 Cadillacs planted nose first in the dirt with their tails in the air. The cars are all but shells now with any of the soft furnishing long since perished to the elements. Decorated with graffiti the cars visually explode in neons and luminous colours against the dark, barren canvas of the  landscape. The site is littered with aerosol paint cans inviting the visitors to leave their own artistic renderings on the bonnets, roofs, trunks, hubcaps or indeed anywhere they can find a space. The layer of spray paint on the cars is close to two inches thick, coat upon coat of names, pictures & memories from thousands of visitors since the early 70’s. Obviously growing up in the Northwest the boys and i are no strangers to spray cans so we tooled up, picked a spot and prepared to knock a small but arty hole in the Ozone layer! 

We all chose something close to our hearts and got to spraying. In fairness Leo Davinci has nothing to worry about in terms of competition but there’s a kind of beauty in leaving our mark  and knowing that though it will be buried under countless layers of other people’s art, a little part of us is back there on 66 and it’s probably going to be around for as long as we are (if not longer!).

Next stop, the Midpoint Cafe, a little diner exactly half way to California. And what a diner it is, if you can imagine it, it’s probably there.. Old jukebox, coca cola freezer, road signs, neon signs, vintage number plates, booths and leather topped swivel stools with chrome bases. The diner is exactly half way from Chicago to Cali and through luck or design (i didn’t choose our seats so have no claim to stake here) we ended up straddling the midpoint line with Mick and I on the west side and Mike on the east. The diner is famous for pies (as am I!), the many books written on Route 66 will confirm this but that was under the diners previous owner, the new owner has apparently pimped the recipes so we sat down with a coffee and summoned the bringer of pies. After a swift perusal of the menu Mike chose the chocolate chip pecan, Mick mixed it up with a chocolate peanut butter cream pie and I took it old school and went with the apple pie!

Quite frankly, this is the best plate of Pie in the known universe! I’ve made some bold claims in these journals, culinary and otherwise but I want you to rest assured, I do so with witnesses and though I may be flowery in the telling of the tale, facts are facts! Mike looked up from his pie and declared “before you ask, 10!” Mick concurred by mumbling something indecipherable and nodding, he was after all, mid pie. All of the pies we’re melt in the mouth delicious and served with ice cream. My apple pie had the lightest dusting of cinnamon and a bake so delicate and flavoursome I spent the next 2 hours hoping we’d left Mike’s Oakleys at the diner so we’d have to go back!

As well as being a Mecca for pie lovers the diner also has a gift shop with the best selection of Route 66 tat we’ve seen yet. Good tat knows it’s tat and doesn’t pretend to be anything above its station! While we were visiting the Route 66 museum in Elk City I tried to pick up some Native American Jewellery (they’re bloody Indians!) for Ashley, my girlfriend, and when I read the packet, it honestly said “this product is not made by Native Americans and is by law not a Native American product!” – that is bad tat! So with good tat purchased, amazing pie consumed, plenty of pictures taken around the Mid point marker we set off for Santa Fe..

Not long after crossing the state line into New Mexico and getting a good look at the new and spectacular landscape (some of which I missed as I was reviewing pictures from earlier in the day)  Mick announced the fuel gauge was running low. There was never really a danger of running out as these cars have a big reserve tank but theres a lot of material for your imagination to get hold of so you squash the  “what if?” questions quickly or you’ll worry yourself into a ditch!

After the pit stop, It was my turn to drive again, set the cruise control for 75, sit back and get comfy. There’s a really good reason Americans struggle building cars that can corner well.  They don’t have corners! They have right angles as they lay out their towns and cities using grids (which along with being able to turn right on red are two automotive tips we could learn from our lost colony!) and they have long, sweeping arcs an oil tanker’s turning circle could accommodate, but aside from the occasional off ramp I can honestly say there’s more tricky corners on my drive to a gig in marple than we’ve seen in the last 1100 miles across America!

 The landscape changes are very gradual out here but driving across New Mexico has been the most dramatic change yet. The deep lush vegetation has really started thinning out revealing the ground beneath, not the emerald green of Illinois but a lighter green like the frayed, faded baize of an old pool table. Bushes and shrubs of dark green stand out against the pale backdrop looking almost black by contrast. 

Then we crested a hill and we were in a western! As the road dipped the landscape changed again, the road dropping us down to to the floor of a wide canyon with the flat top of the plain we had just left now becoming ravine walls off to our left and right in the far distance. Where there once was green on the ground, now the earth and dust, rich with iron has a glowing orange hue of ochre, a colour scheme it shares with the ridge, only there it’s slightly darker, the elements doing their work on the exposed rock face. The heat haze from the 2 lane blacktop was  giving us the illusion of standing water and a rippling of the horizon line while the impossibly straight road lay ahead of us, rising and falling with the lay of the land all the way to the shimmering horizon.  The hill we just descended now filled the rear view mirror with an almost perfect echo of the view ahead. Our 4×4, which looked so big in the parking lot of the diner, was of no consequence in this place. It was a lonely spec on a sandy ocean.

Half way down this road, out in the middle of this starkly beautiful place, I felt a tear trickle down my cheek. A morning with the boys thinking of loved ones at the Cadillac Ranch, reminding us how far we are from home, then this place, this timeless declaration of the planets complete indifference to us, our irrelevance to its perpetual, tectonic re-imaging of itself, its ancient spinning process that brought us together, to this moment to witness this truly breathtaking vista. That moment will stay with me forever! I only wish I could do it the justice it deserves. 

Later, the road started long climb and we were heading toward Santa Fe and some properly biblical weather! We’d all caught the sun earlier in the day but now there were storm cells flanking us to the south & north as we continued west and with lightning on the horizon and rain fall visible ahead we expected the worst. I had a brief moment of panic as I could see what looked like grey smoke in the wing mirror. My first thought was a blown gasket or maybe the brakes were smoking and I hadn’t noticed due to the cruise control but it turned out to be spray off the road. The rain it seemed was heading in the same direction we were but was ahead of us. 

As the weather eased we started to get a better view of the spectacular Sangre de Cristos mountains. From a distance the mountains appeared black but as we got closer we could see they are actually coloured by the same emerald green bushes we saw earlier. From this closer vantage point we also got a great view of the rockies beyond the dark mountains snowy caps. 

A short drive later we were at our hotel, or should I say THE hotel! The Santa Fe Hilton Golf course & Spa Resort at Buffalo Thunder is the size of the Trafford Centre with a Casino that runs the length of the facility underneath the hotel! The suite is a good size and everything is very slick,  black marble tops on the desk, table and bathroom. It does however feel like the interior designers all got stoned and watched Pocahontas before staggering to the drawing board and designing the rooms Native American decor. The TV/mini bar cabinet has a long green dragon adorning the front while the bed headboards are inlaid with 6 wooden panels of 1 foot square symbols straight out of the Davinci Code! That with the paintings of warriors and abstract rug patterns definitely let’s you know the heritage of the hotels ancestry.

Dinner was taken at the Casino’s Turquoise Trail – Bar and Grill and met with everyone’s taste. Mike’s rib eye steak scored a 7/10, Mick’s Pork Chop & sweet potato waffle fries got an 8/10and my Veggie wrap, salad & coleslaw got a solid 7/10 also. However, mine & Mike’s strawberry malts were a definite 9!

So, this is our home for the next couple of days, a well earned mid tour break. Not sure when the next update will be unless one of us wins big in the casino which with my family’s heritage pertaining to games of chance and Mike’s adage that “there are no poor bookies!” means that ‘rain man’ Mick has all his work ahead of him (I’ll get us cream suits and ray bans!)

J W – Ace of Spades- Doyle xxx

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