From Shamrock we set out toward Tucumcari across the 178 miles of Route 66 that cross the Texas Panhandle. Some of my favorite 66 highlights were found on this relatively short strip of the Mother Road.
Despite its colorful architecture including a main street made of vibrant red brick, McClean, only 20 miles west of Shamrock, is a town that has seen better days. It felt abandoned as if the bus of progress broke down at its doorstep. A sense of loss was compounded by a battered mural that read, McClean, The Heart of Old Route 66. Check out the National Park Service and Texas Escapes to learn more about this peculiar little town.
1. McClean is absolutely worth a stop if only for the McClean-Alanreed Historical Museum located at 116 North Main Street. This museum had a scent of history and was chock full of attention-grabbing relics including artifacts and information relating to the World War II prisoner-of-war camp that was in operation just outside of town.
A lovely woman, Carol is her name, I think, supplied me with answers to the many questions I posed. The museum is a treasure trove of everyday-type objects donated from citizens of years gone by.
2. The Devil’s Rope Museum boasts the largest barbed wire collection in the world. This will likely be the first and last time I ever write any words relating to a barbed wire collection. Which brings me to this, how could you drive by McClean and not stop to see the largest barbed wire collection in the world? It’s located at 100 Kingsley street. Housed in a 12,000 square foot structure, the Devil’s Rope Museum shares space with the Texas Old Route 66 Museum.
3. Check out the 1929 Route 66 Gas Station. Located on Gray Street, this dandy Phillips Petroleum fill-up station is crisply restored and is an eye-catchingly bright.
The drive to Groom was prettier than the town, itself. We stopped only briefly to check out a few Route 66 highlights. Read more about Groom’s history at Texas Escapes.
1. Ya gotta see the Leaning Tower of Texas in Groom. With the words Britten USA plastered across it, this curious tower holds several theories about its lopsidedness ranging from tornados to jokesters, so check out Weird US to learn more about the gripping tales of leaning towers in Texas. It is a Groom icon and must-see.
2. One would be hard-pressed to miss the giant cross on I-40. Rising 19 stories above the Panhandle, this is the most ginormous cross in the western hemisphere, maybe even the world or the universe. On the south side of I-40 take exit 112 to visit the cross grounds.
What to do. What to do in Conway. I have an idea!
1. STOP and see the Bug Ranch. It’s about the coolest attraction on Route 66. We were the only people there to explore without interruption. Bug Ranch is much more than an attraction. It is veritable living art, a burgeoning graffiti artist’s haven. It’s a walk back in time, a walk in current pop culture, and a microcosm of society all wrapped into one VW Bug cemetery. Tags of lost love, broken windows, remnants from drifters, trash, signs of the coming Zombie apocalypse, and five VW bugs nose down in the ground makes this a most fascinating stop for the curious explorer and the eager photographer. Supposedly, Bug Ranch was created as a way to mock Cadillac Ranch, which is an attraction with 10 Cadillacs nose in the ground and up the road a piece (note my Texan lingo) outside of Amarillo.
To get there: You’ll need to turn north on TX 207. The Bug Ranch is on the entrance to the south frontage road, underneath the Motel-Cafe sign and beside what appears to be an old trading post which is next to an abandoned gas station. Interstate travelers can take exit 96.
2. There is a segment heading westbound out of town where Route 66 veers away from I-40. Supposedly this part of the road speaks to the beauty and independence of the original Route 66. We looked for it and perhaps found it, but didn’t see any signs to verify our supposition. So, we turned around and headed back to I-40. Had we one of those new-fangled devices, the kind that lets you make phone calls AND has the internet AND GPS, we would’ve discovered this lost piece of history. But we are digital renegades.
Amarillo, with a population of nearly 200,000 is the largest city in the Texas Panhandle. There are several Route 66 sites on 6th street in the historic district of Amarillo, and we took a quick drive around to check it. We didn’t stop in town, but we did stop outside of town to explore Cadillac Ranch.
1. Spend some more time in the Historic District on 6th street (13 blocks running east-west between Georgia and Forrest Avenues) to see the well preserved buildings that show historical significance to 20th century development and tastes ranging from Spanish Revival to Art Deco.
2. Visit Cadillac Ranch
Take Hope Road Exit 62 off of I-40 on the frontage road (Old 66)
I learned from the super cool young guy, Freddie, working in the gift shop at the Route 66 RV Ranch (just up the road) all about Cadillac Ranch. That, and some research I conducted on my own led me to this story. The original Cadillac Ranch was the sponsored project by an eccentric and forward thinking millionaire, Stanley Marsh 3. In 1974, he wanted to bring more people to Amarillo and about the same time (so I understand) a group of alternative architects and artists were looking for funding for their art installation. Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels of the art group, Ant Farm, eventually convinced Marsh to fund their project. They procured 10 junker Cadillacs ranging in years from 1949-1963 (to show the evolution of the model) and buried then in a wheat field halfway, nose-first in the ground, at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.
I learned the cars were painted according to seasons or events. For instance, during the Solstice, the cars were all painted white. On the birthday of Marsh’s wife, they were all painted pink. For Cinco de Mayo, red, white and green. On Marsh’s birthday, black. The graffiti didn’t start until the late 80’s when random folks jumped the fence and began first scratching their names into the paint of the cars and that erupted into full-on graffiti. Now, graffiti is to be expected as you can see by the pictures. Folks bring their own paint cans and leave them there for others to pick up.
In 1997 Cadillac Ranch was covertly moved two miles west along I-40 to a cow pasture, also on Marsh’s land. EVERYTHING was moved to this new location: cars, trash, every semblance of the current Cadillac Ranch Installation. Admittedly, I am conflicted about one thing. You guessed it: trash. There is a ton of trash on this site. And while the artist in me can appreciate the full effect of the installation, the anti-litter warrior in me wonders about the impact on the environment with rusting paint cans plastered in the ground.
Stanley Marsh, known for his patronage of artistic endeavors died just days after our visit to Cadillac Ranch. RIP. Like Cadillac Ranch’s Facebook page here.
The uber abandoned spot of Glenrio rings of true ghost town. Sitting on the state line, we discovered the Glenrio Historic District which is nothing more than dilapidated remains of an era long lost.
1. Just for fun and to pass the time, on your drive to Glenrio look out for the following signs:
2. While many folks just pass by Glenrio, don’t! Go through it and imagine what this little town was like when Route 66 was hopping and was THE vacation destination for thousands of travelers from all walks of life who ventured out across the country and happened upon what was once a bustling stopping place but is now a dejected ghost-town.
Texas Route 66 Quick Tips
Check out the following links (PDF’s) to learn more about the Texan Route 66 attractions.
Onward to Tucumcari!
Well, there she sits buddy justa gleaming in the sun
There to greet a working man when his day is done
I’m gonna pack my pa and I’m gonna pack my aunt
I’m gonna take them down to the Cadillac Ranch
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Our Journey West Across the US
Post #1: Macon Music in Georgia
Post #2: Boy from Tupelo, Mississippi
Post #3: Two Must-Sees in Memphis Tennessee
Post #4: Mosey Through the Arkansas Ozarks
Post #5: Gettin’ Our Kicks on Route 66 from Missouri to Sapulpa, Oklahoma
Post #6: More Route 66 Kicks from Sapulpa to Oklahoma City
Post #7: Don’t Mess with Texas on Route 66
This is Post #8: Route 66 Texas Panhandle
Post #9: Bound for Tucumcari, New Mexico
Post #10: Santa Fe’ed Your Soul
Post #11: The Winds of Taos
Post #12: The Good, the Bad, and the Heinous of New Mexico
Post #13: Dusky, Durable Durango
Post #14: Cliff Dwellings of Mesa Verde Colorado
Post #15: Moab Rocks
Post #16: No Clever Title for Richfield, Utah
Post #17: Leavening Las Vegas