Get your kicks on.
This time last year, The Pom and I would be in America, cruising in the sexy black Chevrolet Camaro that we hired, along one of the most famous and also the most important highways in US history. They called it the Mother Road, often known simply as the Historic Route 66. Some may say, “Doing the Route 66, what a cliché.” We don’t really care what other people say as it has always been on our “Must-Dos” list. I am so glad that we finally did it and had a fantastic time. After 6 days, 7 states, 2 time zones, 1755 miles (2824 kilometres) later, we finally ticked “Route 66” off our bucket list. But let me tell you, it sure was one hell of a road trip.
Starting point – Holbrook, AZ | Distance – 0km
The Route 66 was one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System, it was served as a major path for those who migrated west. A total of 3,945km long, it linked from Chicago, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before ending at Santa Monica, California. For many road trippers who did the mother road, would usually start from Chicago and head west to LA, but we did it totally on the opposite direction. We decided to skip a small chunk of the Route 66 between LA and Arizona, as we were already on the road visiting all the national parks in Utah. So it would make sense for us to head South and start our Route 66 journey from a small town called Holbrook in Arizona.
We just wish we had more time for the road trip, but we only had 6 days to complete the whole journey. So most of the time we had to push through 6 to 10 hours of driving every day, it was very exhausting. I wouldn’t suggest you to do it at such a rush pace, I think 10 to 13 days would be ideal. Before the road trip, I had everything mapped out, making sure that we arrive at each checkpoint before night falls, and I also marked down all the things and places that we must-see-and-do. Trust me, we had visited quite a number of wacky places along the road. One of the places that The Pom was dying to visit is Holbrook, for one particular reason… …to spend a night in a Wigwam!
Wigwam Motel – Holbrook
We arrived at Holbrook after the sunset, but we able to find the Wigwam Motel with no trouble as the white conical teepee-shaped motel rooms were unmistakably visible from afar. The wigwam motel used to be a popular motel chains in the US, but now they are scarce and become distinctive historic landmarks. There are now only two surviving wigwam motels located on historic Route 66, one on the city boundary between Rialto and San Bernardino, California and this one in Holbrook, Arizona. Does this place look familiar to you? That’s right, you might have seen it on Oprah TV show where she (almost) spent a night in one of the wigwams here. There are 15 concrete and steel wigwams here at the motel, arranged as a square with the main office at the front. They kept the motel just like how it would be back in 1950s with old vintage cars parked right outside of each wigwam. No 2, our wigwam for the night. The base diameter of each unit is only 14 feet (4.3 metre) wide, and 32 feet (9.8 metre) in height. But you’d be surprise how much they can pack in in such small tiny space. Each room is equipped with double bed(s), original hickory furniture, a TV, a A/C, and even a small bathroom with sink, toilet and shower. At the beginning I was hissing at The Pom for such a silly idea sleeping inside a wigwam, but surprisingly I rather enjoyed the quirky and novelty side of it, definitely one of the highlights of our road trip. We were well tired and famished by the time we settling in our wigwam, a quick freshen up and off we went to look for food.Wigwam Motel 811 W Hopi Dr, Holbrook, AZ 86025, United States P: +1 928-524-3048
Butterfield Stage Co. Steakhouse
When you are in small town, the food options are rather limited, most of the time I just consulted Yelp! to look for something decent nearby, and we chose to dine at Butterfield Stage Co. Steakhouse this evening. The restaurant was decked out like an old western saloon, the wooden shed was literally covered with memorabilia and old photos depicting the history of the gold rush era in Holbrook. Booth seating filled the whole space of the restaurant and I particularly liked the cow horn on top of each bench that added a touch of the wild west. Throughout my US trip, I was seriously looking forward to some good American food in small country towns and this restaurant was right up my alley. The service was attentive and warm, our friendly waitstaff kindly told us to help ourselves to the salad bar while taking our orders. After so many days of meat diet without the greens during our US trip, the salad bar was like a holy grail where we finally could have some fibre in our system. To drink, local wine of course. We learned to appreciate Zinfandel, also known by the local as “lady drink”, a light easy-drinking wine here US which comes in two variety; the red Zinfandel was more to our liking, the white-rosé-ish kind… not so much. A sharing plate of buffalo wings hit all the right spot, the wingettes were still piping hot from the fryer, doused in a fiery tabasco hot sauce that had a slow burn that left tingling sensation around the lips, even the cucumber and blue cheese sauce on the side couldn’t help to put out the fire. The Pom had a strict diet regime during the trip, he tried his best to eat healthy and his grilled salmon with sweet potato fries was a wise choice. I had my eye set on the prime ribs, which came with two sides of your choice; I chose fries and corn cob. The ribs was little pricey as we expected full rack for the price we paid; nevertheless the meat was tender smothered in a smokey hickory barbecue sauce. Despite all the large portion of food we just ate, somehow we still managed to fit in a slice of cheesecake to share between us. The big wedge of cheesecake was creamy but leaving a layer of greasiness on the tongue, drizzled with caramel sauce that just made the whole dessert a lot more sweeter. Definitely not for the faint hearted. It was a good meal considered we were in a small town. We definitely slept well with a full stomach that night.Butterfield Stage Co Steakhouse 609 W Hopi Dr, Holbrook, AZ 86025, United States Opening hours: Mon – Fri 4am – 10pm
We finally got to see the real Wigwam Motel the next morning, it definitely shown wear and tear in broad daylight. The sunken bed wasn’t the most comfortable I must say, we both sort of had to cling on to the edges on each side of the bed to stop us from rolling to the centre. But that didn’t stop The Pom feeling extra chirpy and jumping for joy by fulfilling one of his fantasies on this road trip – sleeping in a wigwam. Ticked! We soon packed up and hit the road again, next stop was Albuquerque.
Albuquerque, New Mexico | Distance – 379km
I just love pronouncing the next city, “al-boo-kurrr-kee“. Albuquerque no doubt is the biggest and most populous city in New Mexico. This city was founded in 1706 as the Spanish colonial outpost of Ranchos de Alburquerque, and it remains with a strong Spanish cultural heritage until today. There were still a lot of miles ahead of us and we had no intentions to stay long in Albuquerque, hence we spent the mere few hours exploring the Old Town plaza where it all started.
Albuquerque’s Old Town Plaza
The Old Town looks much like it did when it was built centuries ago, it encompasses about ten blocks of historic adobe buildings. The San Felipe de Neri Church is the oldest building in the city, built in 1793. The Old Town plaza is a must visit destination in Albuquerque, you will find yourself lost in its earthy tone Pueblo-Spanish style architecture with flat-roofed buildings and soft contours of adobe mirror the Southwestern landscape. The old homes have since been converted into restaurants, art galleries, gift shops, and dried chilli peppers are often found hanging outside on the front porches of the shops. You can easily spend a whole day exploring all the shops in the plaza, we stumbled upon Discover Balloons, which sells nothing but everything about hot air balloon! Little did you know that Albuquerque also hosts one of the biggest hot air balloon event in the world annually. We walked out that shop with a Christmas ornament of a hot air balloon of course.
Church St Cafe
We didn’t really have the time to really go and look for the best restaurant in town, but simply walked straight into the first restaurant we stumbled upon and luckily, we found Church St Cafe that actually has a long and distinctive history. It was named Case de Ruiz, which translates to “The house of Ruiz”, believed to be the oldest residence in Albuquerque built in 1700’s sometime after the city was founded. If you are looking for traditional Spanish/Mexican food, then you’ve come to the right spot.
All diners were greeted with a complimentary basketful of tortilla chips with their homemade award winning fiery hot dipping salsa, a nice snack to go with my glass of agave margaritas while waiting for our mains. I seriously wouldn’t know what agave taste like, but the margaritas was surely potent and my Asian flush was no where to hide.
Be prepared, the portion size here in huge! My order of handmade tamale plate can seriously feed an army. Two pork and corn tamales were smothered in melted cheese and green chile sauce. It was served with sides of rice, lettuce and tomato salad, and also cheese coated baked beans. The Pom ordered the chicken tacos plate, thinking surely it can’t be a big meal if they are just tacos. Who was he kidding? Here it came with three huge tacos stuffed with grilled chicken, salsa and melted cheese, not to mention the heavy sides of rice and beans.
And don’t be silly, of course there were more. Each main also came with two unsweetened sopapillas bread which is hollow inside; tear them open to form a perfect pocket for any meat and veg fillings of your choice. We were full to the brim by the time we finished our meal, so sadly dessert would have to be skipped. We jumped back into the car and headed downtown to check out a few landmarks.Church Street Cafe 2111 Church St NW, Albuquerque, NM 87104, United States Phone:+1 505-247-8522 Opening hours: Mon – Sat 8am – 9pm Sun 8am – 4pm
Route 66 Malt Shop
Just when we thought we couldn’t fit in another thing, we soon found ourselves inside Route 66 Malt Shop looking for more food. Take a step back in time to the Rock n’ Roll era, passed through the neon glowing signage and into a retro diner with bright yellow walls plastered with posters of Hollywood stars of the yesteryears. Swing and jazz tunes were echoing through the black and white checkered floor from the jukebox, it was the perfect hangout for Marty McFly.
We weren’t here for food, but I won’t say no to a malt shake. Choices a plenty, but the peanut butter malt shake had my name written all over it. It was thick and sweet, clumps of peanut butter would get stuck inside the straw whilst I tried to suck even harder until it gave me brain freeze. The Pom went for something a little unusual, the sherbet shake is not as thick, a sour and sweet flavour without that fizzy tingling sensation.Route 66 Malt Shop 3800 Central Ave SE, Albuquerque, NM 87108, United States +1 505-242-7866 Opening hours: Sun – Thur 11am – 8pm Fri – Sat 11am – 10pm
We’ve seen enough of Albuquerque and made no haste to continue our journey as we still had a long way ahead of us before reaching our next destination. In New Mexico, it is worth to make a quick stop at the Clines Corners if you stumble upon it on highway Interstate-40. It is your one stop shop for petrol, food and souvenirs. Despite the next destination we wanted to visit isn’t actually on the Route 66, we simply had to do it since we were so close. We decided to make a detour and headed south to look for the extraterrestrial life at Roswell.
Roswell, New Mexico | Distance – 703km
We’ve heard and seen so much about the alien life in Roswell, we simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit and spend a night at this mysterious town. Roswell is the 5th largest city in New Mexico with the population of 48,000 people. It is a small quiet city where irrigation farming, manufacturing and petroleum production are the main sources that drives the economy of this town. We found parts of the city were a little run down and many were just industrial sites.
Everything here in Roswell is about the aliens, particularly loved the street lamps that glow in green with two black bulgy eyes painted on them to look like the green man. So if aliens ain’t your thing, then probably wise to give Roswell a miss and save yourself from hours of driving. We hit the road during Thanksgiving weekend, so most of the shops and attractions were actually shut for the festive season. Sadly we couldn’t get into the UFO museum and research centre, the kitsch Area 51 Alien Zone was also shut.
The only shop opened was a gift shop across the street where you could find almost everything about aliens. There was even a book about the conspiracy theory that Marilyn Monroe was murdered by U.S. government officials because she knew too much about the Roswell UFO coverup! Woah…. Mind blown!International UFO research centre 114 N Main St, Roswell, NM 88203, United States +1 800-822-3545 Opening hours: 9am – 5pm everyday
Food was last thing on our mind since the big meal at Albuquerque. The only other thing we found in Roswell that can be more peculiar than alien life would be Sonic Drive-In. It sure takes the idea of having fast-food without getting out of your car to a whole new level. Forget about Drive-Thru, we drove into the empty parking lot and parked our car in one of the vacant spaces equipped with a food menu and an intercom speaker. We perused the menu as long as we like, pressed the button, ordered our meal via the intercom and within 10 minutes, our meal was delivered to us. We unwrapped our burgers and ate inside the car, once finished just threw the thrash in the bin on our way out of the parking lot and drove off. Easy, perhaps too easy. Oh, God Bless America.
Tucumcari, New Mexico | Distance – 996km
Initially we were planning to visit White Sand National Monument, which is another 3 hours drive from Roswell. Sadly due to time constrain, we simply had to give up that idea and headed back north to continue our Route 66 journey. If you really want to experience what Route 66 was all about, then you simply have to visit the next town, Tucumcari, the gateway to the west. Old U.S. Route 66 runs through the heart of Tucumcari makes this small town with a population close to 6,000 a popular stop for cross-country travellers. Businesses like gas stations, restaurants and motels were dotted along the road to accommodate tourists as they travelled through on the Mother Road. But Tucumcari has definitely had its days, it was dead quiet when we were there, almost ghost town like. However, I did find Tucumcari fascinating, it is the dream place for travel photographers who would like to capture the essence of the real Route 66.
“Tucumcari Tonight!”, that catchy slogan has been inviting many motorists to stay the night in this town since the 1930s and some of the motels are still in operation since. The Blue Swallow Motel has been accommodating the wanderers since 1939. Too bad that we couldn’t stay here for the night as I reckon it will be a sight to behold when the whole strip is glowing with colourful neon signs beckon travellers to stop awhile and rest.
Route 66 Monument, Tucumcari
Another attraction in Tucumcari that you simply can’t miss is the Route 66 monument. This whimsical tribute to the Mother Road is a more recent addition, designed by artist Tom Coffin who was commissioned by the Culture Corridors for Art on the Scenic Byways and the Quay Council for Arts and Humanities. The sculpture of a stylised Cadillac-like tail fin motif evoking the 50’s and early 60’s, the golden age of American Cars, set on a sloping base made of sandstone tyres, two-lane road outlines and arrows pointing to the west. That would be our last stop in New Mexico before crossing the state border into Texas.
Amarillo, Texas | Distance – 1181km
Thank god it was only a short distance from Tucumcari to the next destination, we finally made it to Amarillo just before sunset. But before reaching the township of Amarillo, one must visit the awe-inspiring Cadillac Ranch along highway Interstate-40.
Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo
The Cadillac Ranch is a public art installation and sculpture created in 1974 by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels, who were a part of the art group Ant Farm. It is a life size art installation consists of 10 old Cadillac automobiles, half-buried nose-dived in the ground, at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. It is clearly visible from the highway, and though it is located in a private land (a cow pasture), visitors are encouraged by passing through an unlocked gate into the pasture. But what makes this art installation unique is that visitors are encouraged to write graffiti and spray paint the vehicles.
Here’s a random fact for you – The Cadillac Ranch was actually depicted in the Pixar’s film Cars as a mountain formation called Cadillac Range. And funny enough they have constructed the mountain as the centrepiece of Cars Land at Disney California Adventure Park. We eventually arrived at Amarillo exhausted and was already dark outside. Now imagine the whole America was celebrating Thanksgiving with a feast of turkey and pumpkin pie at home with friends and families, what could two Aussies do in a foreign land on a festive night like this? Nothing. We couldn’t even find a decent restaurant that was actually open that night except fast food chains. No where to go and we were desperate, ended up at a Chinese restaurant for all-you-can-eat buffet. “Stay classy.”
We finally got a glimpse of Amarillo city the next morning. Can’t really say Amarillo is a touristy city, it has suffered economic deterioration throughout the years. The historic 6th street was once the busy Route 66 where you still able to find antique shops, bars and restaurants all nestled inside quaint architecturally unique buildings. We bought a few knick knacks from a gift shop, including The Ultimate Route 66 cookbook. But we had seen enough and was time to move on.
Shamrock, Texas | Distance – 1336 km
Next pitstop was Shamrock, Texas. We only stopped here because of this significant landmark – Conoco ‘Tower Station’ and U-Drop Inn Cafe next door. This fine piece of art deco architecture was built in 1936, designed by J.C. Berry. Since Shamrock is a crossroads between US Hwy. 83 and old Route 66, this iconic landmark located right at the corner of those two main roads. The Conoco gas station is no longer in operation and the U-Drop-Inn cafe has also changed hands severals times but it wasn’t in operation and emptied out when we were there. The building is owned by the city and the Shamrock Chamber of Commerce operates out of the gas station portion of the building as an visitor centre and gift shop.
No doubt this is another icon of the Mother Road that inspired the Ramone’s Body Art building in Disney/Pixar’s Cars.
Elk City, Oklahoma | Distance – 1423km
Another hundred kilometres later, we crossed another state border into Oklahoma. There were more iconic landmarks dotted along the Mother Road before we hit the next big city. Our first stop in Oklahoma was Elk City just passed the border. Look for the giant Route 66 sign and you would find National Route 66 Museum, which forms part of an Old Town Museum Complex that resembles an early village settlement. It sucked so bad to be travelling on Thanksgiving day, all the museums were shut.
Clinton, Oklahoma | Distance 1469km
We then arrived at Clinton by midday. Another small town with a population of 9,000 odd; Clinton was once benefited from the presence of old Route 66, it was home of tourist businesses including several restaurants, motels and gas stations. Clinton is still a busy city where much of the old U.S 66 route that passed through the city is now designated as an Interstate-40 business loop. And the first state sponsored Route 66 Museum in the nation is located right here at Clinton. Built in 1995, the museum offers visitors a personal journey through the history of transportation in the state from animal paths and native trails to army and colonization roads, cattle paths, railroad tracks and the earthen roads which were only completely paved a decade or more after Route 66 was certified as a US highway. But then again, it was shut too! Grrr…… An original diner was towed all the way from another city and set up right next to the museum, this well preserved diner is now a piece of Route 66’s history. Oh well since all tourist attractions were shut, there really wasn’t much we could do except found a spot for lunch; and we didn’t go far as Yelp! directed us to Del Rancho literally just across the road from the museum.
Del Rancho Restaurant
If it wasn’t being recommended on Yelp! and without knowing anything about this restaurant, I probably would have never considered going inside. It looked a bit rundown from the outside with an old yellow signage of a little cowboy holding a burger perched on the side of the road. We parked right next to a van to discover a hunted elk lying dead at the back of the trunk, this was the real wild country for you. The restaurant possibly hasn’t had a facelift since its opening in 1959. The restaurant was in a terrifying shades of brown, from the tiled floor to the vinyl covered booth seating. And forget about touch screen ordering system, each table is equipped with an old school telephone box. I don’t think diners still use the phones to make order anymore, but definitely added a touch of quirky charm to this place. Now let’s put that healthy diet aside, and enjoy some good ole American food here. The shakes here were exactly how a classic old school shake should be; thick and rich with whipped cream on top. It was so thick that it came with a spoon as they expect you to eat it, and not drink it. I went for Peanut Butter shake again, more like eating peanut butter straight out of a jar. The Pom went for the safer option and ordered a strawberry shake.
Heard so much about blooming onion and I finally got to try it. The blooming onion was a monster! I would like to think they put a couple of onions together to create the blossom, if not they seriously are growing some big ass onions here in America. The onion was cut by using a special blooming onion cutter, then battered, crumbed and deep fried to a golden crunch, served with a spicy mayo dipping sauce in the centre. It was seriously addictive snapping the onion petals off the blossom and dipped into the spicy sauce, all I needed was beer.
But people don’t come to Del Rancho for blooming onion, they come here for Chicken Fried Steak. Claimed to be the “home of the famous steak sandwich”, this Del Rancho branch here in Clinton does a mean chicken fried steak and they are famous for it. But we both ordered chicken fried chicken sandwich which was like KFC’s hot and spicy chicken, but on steroid! “Chicken fried” is a Southern U.S. recipe, usually a breaded cutlet dish consisting of a piece of steak coated with seasoned flour then pan fried or sometimes deep fried in oil that has already been used to fry chicken. Our chicken fried chicken sandwich was a big hunk of chicken breast that was surprisingly juicy and flavoursome I believe from the buttermilk marination, deep fried with that spicy seasoning coating on the outside that was incredibly crunchy. Despite I was one step closer to heart attack, I had no regrets.Del Rancho Restaurant 2020 W Gary Blvd, Clinton, OK 73601, United States Telephone: +1 580-323-4484 Opening Hours: 10am – 10pm everyday
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma | Distance – 1604km
We had driven past so many small towns and cities along the Mother Road but it was nice to finally arriving at Oklahoma City, a big modern city for a change. Once again it was very late by the time we arrived at Oklahoma, we decided to stay on the outskirt of the city in a town called Yukon rather than paying high price for accommodation downtown. We had a quick freshen up and drove into city to look for food.
Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum
If there is only one thing you have to see in Oklahoma, then make it the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. This memorial park is the ground zero of the bombing disaster back in 1995 where Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building once stood, killing 168 people. While the Memorial Museum has an admission fee which was also closed at night when we were there, the outdoor memorial, full of symbolism is free for visitors to come and pay tribute to the people who were killed and those who survived the bombing. Monuments at each end of the memorial note 9.01am and 9.03, marking the beginning and the end of the bombing, framing the destruction that took place at exactly 9.02am. Once inside the grounds, visitors can walk along a reflecting pool. Nearby, there are 168 chairs represent the number of lives lost, with 19 of the chairs smaller representing the children who perished in the tragedy. Each chair glows peacefully at night with the name of the victim engraved on the glass.
Graffiti on the wall near the memorial, written by the Rescue Team 5 after the bombing. From there, we drove to Bricktown, an entertainment district to east of downtown Oklahoma City. Formerly a warehouse district, Bricktown has been revived into an entertainment hub packed with restaurants, shops and nightclubs. We walked past Bricktown Brewery and liked the sound of having a restaurant right inside the brewery and we weren’t disappoint. Once a candy factory, this former warehouse has been transformed into a micro brewery where visitors are welcomed to try a few of their concoctions and enjoy a meal from their modern-American bistro style menu. It is one of locals’ favourite haunts, inside was noisy but a good vibe, plasma TVs are broadcasting sports on different channels at every corner on the wall. The beer here was good, The Pom’s Wiley One-Eyed Wheat is served with lemon wedge, the wheat beer was cloudy, light but malty. And my Bricktown Brown was like eating a dessert, bold creamy texture with caramel malts.
The menu was quite extensive and trust me, I had the urge of order every single item on the menu. We had the beer and now we wanted some fries, not just any fries, but Fat Elvis Fries. Hello heart attack! The portion size alone shocked us, a full plate of sweet potato fries were covered in peanut butter sauce, sprinkled with chopped peppered bacon chips and also specks of dried banana chips. Believe it or not, peanut butter and bacon made everything tasted so much better.
The Pom ordered chicken tenders with two sides of steamed vegetables thinking it won’t spoil his healthy diet regime. Wrong. It arrived with strips of chicken tenders, battered, deep fried! It was a little dry on the breast but easily rectified with some ranch sauce, but it was the crunchiness that won me over.
I had my eyes on the catfish. It looked nothing like a fish fillet, the catfish was heavily coated with a thick layer of corn flakes then deep fried to a golden flakey armoury shield. The fish was sweet and tender without the muddy flavour, but I was more interested in the earth shattering crunch of the corn flakes, oh so crunchy… I chose okra for one of my sides, but totally didn’t expect that it also came deep fried. Not complaining, they were good and not at all slimy. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal here at Bricktown Brewery, but with only one complaint. We complain that we had too much food and couldn’t fit in the desserts. And it is not very often that The Pom who has the sweetest tooth would say no to dessert, and that night he was a changed man.Bricktown Brewery 1 N Oklahoma Ave, Oklahoma City, OK 73104, United States P: +1 405-232-2739 Opening hours: Sunday 12pm – 10pm Mon – Thur 11am – 1opm Fri – Sat 11am – 12am
Christmas in the Park – Yukon, Oklahoma
You have to admit that one thing that the Americans do very well is Christmas. When they do it, they go all out to impress! On our way back from downtown to Yukon where our hotel was, we stumbled upon the annual Yukon’s Christmas in the Park, it was definitely one of the most spectacular Christmas light displays I’ve ever seen, and it was quite something else. Oh no, you don’t walk the park to see the Christmas lights, you Drive-Thru it! This bigger than Ben Hur light show consists of over 4 million twinkling lights and over 300 displays covering 100 acres across 3 parks. We followed the line of cars slowly cruising past lights after lights, there were also parking spots where people were able to get out of cars to get up close to the displays.
Oh Oklahoma, thank you for putting up a good show. By now, we would have driven over 1604km of distance but we still only half way through Route 66. Best it’s time to call it a night and headed back to our hotel for a good night rest. We looked forward to the next leg of our journey and couldn’t wait to unfold all the surprises along this mighty Mother Road. [That’s the end of part 1. To be continued]