January 01, 2010


In early December I was feverishly working on my piece for the LOST underground art show, but Old Man Economy had just dealt me a financial spanking so attending the event didn't seem like an option. Then I started seeing the promotional stuff and I saw the list of other artists, and I realized that there will never be another event like this one (I still can't believe LOST concludes in a matter of months), and the fact that I'm a part of this thing is miraculous. So I whittled down my deluxe family vacation fantasy into a quick and lean blitzkrieg of the west coast. My friend and brother-in-law Vance, got on board with less than a week's notice.

The trip from my place to L.A. is extra awesome because the quickest route means going along what was formerly Route 66. I've explored the Mother Road a number of times, but this time I made sure to hit a handful of unfamiliar towns as well as my very favorites.

So here's a bunch of pics— nay, a photo essay documenting portions of my recent journey. All of them enlarge with a click.

Elk City, Oklahoma

This was the first thing that got us unzipping our camera cases. You're welcome.

My Route 66 guidebook cited this, the world’s tallest, non-operating oil rig, as the big reason to stop in Elk City. Marvel all you wish!

I'm a sucker for both cool old signage and garland-y public Christmas decorations, so this snapshot was a must.

A nice paint job on this one, though I'd sure love to see it aglow in it's original neon.
Is this the first time I've ever seen a motel advertise Starz?

Here's where I would shop if I lived there.

The building's sign is just as neat.

The local park was impressively done up for Christmas. It was also overrun with this gang of flying beasts. At first we thought we were lucky to spot them resting amid a long southern flight, then we noticed the minefield of droppings. These guys have been there a long time. I've still got a souvenir of this stop on my shoe.

The National Route 66 Museum looked really well done, but it was closed.

Shamrock, Texas

This beauty was the inspiration for Ramone's body shop in Pixar's Cars.

It houses their chamber of commerce.

I peeked through the windows of the "U Drop Inn" to discover a fantastic restored diner, though it doesn't appear to be operational.

Shamrock has a nice and active main street, with plenty of neat buildings like this library.

And here's the hospital. I guess that's the smoking section there on the right?

This is where I would buy shoes if I lived there.

I told Vance that I wanted to find one good "FAIL" photo on our trip; this is the closest I got. It's not quite failblog worthy, and thus the fail is me.

V-shaped roofs look so cool. The Incredibles have one.

McLean, Texas

Sure enough, as soon as we passed this sign about fifty rattlers attacked our van.

Gallup, New Mexico

Gallup is one of my favorite Route 66 towns, but it makes me wonder: what are the regulations on those blue interstate "Food This Exit" signs, because eastbound drivers are lured off the road with the promise of a half dozen food joints that turn out to be about five miles down the street. Thankfully they're at the end of a loop that throws you right back on I-40, but it seems like such a bait and switch. At least the detour is lined with stellar signs...

This place looks like such a wonderland. I must stay someday. Here's their website.
In keeping with the thrifty nature of our mission, Vance and I opted to sleep in the parking lot of a community college in Holbrook, Arizona. As I packed for the trip I was looking forward to some sweet, mild camping weather, maybe I'd even sleep under the desert stars. This fantasy crumbled when we started driving through snow in New Mexico. This went against all of my fanciful and uneducated presumptions about the torrid Southwest (which I now realize I've only traveled during summer months). Temperatures fell into the teens that night. If even an earlobe or a toe slipped from underneath the blankets I was swiftly awakened by the painful cold.

On the trip home we simply slept with the van running and the heat on. Why didn't this occur to me on that first bitter night?

The Sun was barely up, and we were tuned in to a crystal clear NPR station as we rolled through Joseph City, home of the iconic Jackrabbit Trading Post. I hope the many "HERE IT IS" billboards still proceed it. The darkness kept us from seeing all but this one which was right across the street.

There it is. The store wasn't open yet but thankfully their fiberglass Jackrabbit has 24-hour access...

Dear auto makers, Please start using this color again.

We made a brief stop in Flagstaff for gas and to siphon a wireless connection. While we checked email I snapped this beauty. Since when is "European Hostess" something you advertise?

Williams, Arizona

Welcome to my favorite Route 66 town. Williams (pop. 3,094) is gorgeous and bustling, and you can park in one spot and walk to dozens of appealing, one-of-a-kind businesses. It's also about an hour from the Grand Canyon.

Despite being in Arizona, I kept feeling like I was in an episode of Northern Exposure.

It's nestled in the mountains so unlike New Mexico I wasn't surprised to see an accumulation of snow.

Apparently Rod likes to speak his mind. I never saw the tree, but I'd like to have passed my own judgment on it.

No European Hostess? Forget it.

We were actually told by a local that a night at the Canyon Club could do wonders for our love lives. I'm paraphrasing.

While ordering a cup of coffee, I eavesdropped on a table of four locals who appeared very settled in to their morning routine. The topic was playing cards and why nobody uses them anymore.
"I love card games but I just don't have the time to sit down at a table and play 'em!" said the lady camped out at a coffee shop table with three friends on a Monday morning.

This was the first time I've driven this route without veering north in Kingman towards Las Vegas so this patch of California desert was all new to me. It's one of those stretches where gas stations post signs explaining why everything is twice as expensive.

Thirty-five hours later we arrived at my friend Henry's house. This gave us a couple hours to chat and clean up before we headed down to the Upright Citizen's Brigade theater to see an improv show called The 1988 Nakatomi Corporation Christmas Party...

This was my chance to see two of my favorite funnymen, Paul Scheer and Nick Kroll in action (not to mention a stage full of other great Upright Citizens). The show was a riot though I barely had the strength to smile by that point. Afterward Mr. Sheer was kind enough to suggest a number of fun spots for us to visit during our solitary day in L.A. You can see where he led us in Part II.


Brian Warren said...

Nicely done! Great photos Kirk. I've actually stayed at the Blue Spruce when our car was broken down in Gallup.

Sue said...

I wanna go on a road trip now! Great photos.

huckart said...

Thanks Kirk! Feel like I was there with you just a bit. I can appreciate your longing for the old auto paint colors to come back but having suffered through my early teens as the kid who's mom drove a baby blue ford fairmont I have to disagree with that one request.

Chris Adams said...

Fantastic Photos Kirk! I actually stayed at El Rancho in Gallup about 15 years ago and it is a paradise inside.

Anonymous said...

Kirk, I have some info on the European Hostess thing. I lived in Flagstaff for about 10 years and alot of those places were bought by asians and would give horrible service so they developed a rep there. That particular Western Hills was one of them. However they ran a terrific Kerioke (sp?) bar there about 10 years ago. I was just always grateful they didnt mess with that sign! HOWEVER the Canyon Club in Williams did. Those bastards! I will email you a pic of the original. I told you that once you photograph it. its only a matter of a short time before it is torn down and replaced with a crap one. Im still trying to figure out how that gets channeled but havent yet.


Kirk D. said...

Brian- I would love to know more if you ever happen to visit these halls of comments again. Recommended?

Thanks Sue! It felt weird traveling this time of year. I kept thinking it was summer again.

huckart- I would have traded our wood paneled station wagon for your fairmont any day.

Chris- I knew it! I hope to hear more sometime.

James- aha! Thanks for the insight. I'd like to see that original Canyon Club sign. At least the long one at the top of the building looked old-ish.