Route 66

here

The plan is simple. Fly to Chicago, get a hire car, drive to Los Angeles with a series of stop offs for eating and sleeping. We might do some sightseeing too.

If you are interested – drop in now and again between Tuesday 20th October and 7th November 2015. I will provide pictures, route video footage and the odd eating out tip in case you ever want to participate in such a mad caper.

With Route 66 road signs providing such clear directions (see above), nothing could possibly go wrong.

Tight at the Start

This will be short and probably not all that sweet. We are exhausted after just arriving at our first destination http://www.milenorthhotel.com/ . Getting to the 28th floor was just the last leg of a pretty challenging day. It’s 945pm Chicago time, 0345 am Nairn time.

Last night we planned the perfect preparation for an early flight by staying at the clean and comfortable Premier Inn, Glasgow Airport. Eating dinner there was a mistake though, ‘responsibly sourced cod’ on the menu was presumably so called as the most responsible person on the staff went to Iceland in town to get it. The fries had seen the fryer once too often too.

On arrival at the airport we were welcomed by Mrs Goat-Gruff who was most unhappy at us trip-trapping over her morning as she played American security guard and treated us to twenty questions about our luggage and smirked as she announced we had a five hour delay on the flight. How lovely! Five hours in Glasgow airport. Still we got ten pound worth of food each to help while away the time.

The rest of  the journey went well enough, good movies on the plane. A very tight connection for Chicago. A very tight squeeze in the middle of two giant Chicagoans commuting from New York as we got the last two seats on the last flight. And finally a tight-bottomed three quarters of an hour with the locals on the CTA train to Downtown Chicago. It’s probably just because I’m too tight to pay taxis or buses that I prefer to take the train – $5 beats $25 every time.

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Off to sleep. Proper eating starts tomorrow.

Sleep tight.

To the Starting Line We Come

Here it is – it’s the beginning of the road just a couple of blocks from the edge of Lake Michigan and just in front of the Art Institute of Chicago – famous for Van Gogh’s self portrait and a picture of a farmer holding a pitchfork (both subject to copyright and not shown for that reason – not worth searching for).

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It was way too expensive to get in there so we headed straight for the real art of Chicago.

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Found a mile or so along route 66 at Lou Mitchell’s famous restaurant. http://www.loumitchellsrestaurant.com

The French toast was served with whipped butter and crispy bacon.  A plate of smoked salmon with poached eggs, hollandaise and fried tatties completed our sampling of this exceptional wee cafe. The service was short, sharp and to the point. Amazing coffee topped up whenever it got to the dregs, donut ‘holes’ served as a pre-breakfast treat and a small tub of ice cream to clear the palate after. There’s no airs and graces, just whopping big portions and enough fat to close every artery in your body.

The picture belo will raise your heart rate several beats per minute so don’t look if of a nervous disposition.

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…. and there’s worse to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

AfSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESter hobbling out of Lou’s fat-fest we ‘did Chicago in a day’. Here are the highlights….

Trump Tower standing as ugly as sin next to the Wrigley building. Trump’s building leers over the site of Fort Dearborn where US troops slaughtered the Potawatomi Native Americans and went on to build monstrosities such as Trump Tower to gloat over the top of their graves. This is a man who believes he should be president

 

Chicago’s CTSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESA trains run above ground instead of under it. They are raised on amazing raised iron structures and are constantly screeching around the city overhead. You could spend all day looking at them.

They are rivetting (ahem!)

 

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES  The Willis Tower has these protruding glass platforms 103 floors up and people queue to stand over the streets and imagine they are Superman. Route 66 is directly behind this strange couple.

 

 

 

 

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The Chicago Federal Reserve Bank has two piles of money in its little museum. This cube of one million dollar bills and a stack of $20s.

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The Chicago Tribune building has a wall containing a number of bricks and stones from other famous building around the world including this piece of Edinburgh Castle.

If Edinburgh Castle falls down any time soon we know who is to blame.

There are bits from the Great Wall of China, the Pyramid at Giza and other weird places. Not a thing from Inverness though.

There are great parks in the city and the river flows right through the centre of the Downtown area. The parks are full of unusual arty things that are mostly nonsense but sometime’s fascinating. Like the ‘bean’.

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It’s a giant reflecting bean shaped structure which attracts huge amounts of attention. You could spend half the day playing around it.

 

 

 

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This art work sits in the opposite ‘wtf’ category.

 

 

 

 

Ok – so that was Chicago (yes there IS more to it than that it but it’s the food that matters).

We couldn’t face lunch so we deferred until later afternoon and then visited the Cheesecake Factory in Mile North http://www.thecheesecakefactory.com/.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA This being the Pecan and Caramel cheesecake with a lump of chocolate brownie on the top (kind of resembling something a small dog might have done).

There was also a similarly large sliced of Key Lime Cheesecake. With two drinks the sum of $25 was probably too much. It’s nice, but not $25 nice.

 

Dinner was another fat-laden error of judgement.  A pizza pie from https://giordanos.com/ at the Navy Pier. Prepare your nerves again.

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Yes – it was astonishingly good but best eaten on a different day to Lou Mitchell’s breakfast and should certainly not be tripled up with cheesecake.

What were we thinking?

 

 

Monstrous portions in Chicago.

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Chicago to Springfield

Our hire car pick up went fairly seamlessly and Alamo were surprisingly easy to deal with. No hard sell on the ‘lost keys insurance’ and no major pushing to upgrade. We always thought that we would want to negotiate a wee upgrade but in the end had to settle for something fairly simple.

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Sadly our cases wouldn’t fit into the boot and it didn’t even have a roof!

As it turned out the ride that would take us across America was secured after some deliberation over the difference between a $17 a day extra cost or a $5 dollar one. A Ford Fusion.

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And I would even let herself have a shot if she could prove she knew the difference between left and right.

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Don’t be fooled – she had to shuffle over to the driver’s side after getting it wrong.

So we set off and played dodge the tolls for a while until we could get a lock on to Route 66 and make our way to a suitable food outlet for a long overdue breakfast.

In actual fact we were still a bit tender from yesterday’s efforts so we decided to settle for a trip to a food market where yet again we were astounded at how much bigger and better everything is here.

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These pastries were a good double the size of the equivalent back home. The picture doesn’t do them justice. We also stocked up on bottles of water at the market just to keep ourselves hydrated along the road.

Next stop, that famous giant they refer to as Gemini.

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I know what you are thinking but that photo doesn’t do HIM justice either. He’s massive!

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The little restaurant this big loon advertises, the Launching Pad, was closed so that mean’t lunch had to wait.

We spent some time in Joliet where there is a little gift shop and advice centre for Route 66 travellers and the staff there were amazingly knowledgeable and pleasant. We really started to get a feel for the friendliness of Route 66. It lasted all day.

What didn’t last all day was our resistance to the growing pangs of hunger. So our trail took us to a wonderful little themed diner on the advice of a new friend from Joliet. She was bang on about the quality of the grub.

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Here was the lunch.

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That’s a ten ounce Ribeye on that bun and the cheese steak must have been a smiliar sized steak sliced up. Sides were coleslaw, potato salad, fries and pickles. With unlimited top up Cola the whole lot was $30. That’s just over 20 quid.

Back on the road to https://www.americascarmuseum.org/ which is about twenty miles further in in a small town called Pontiac. This is absolutely essential for Route 66 because it tells you so much of the history and you also get to see the VW Camper that they turned into Fillmore in Disney’s Cars.

Here he is… 😀

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It’s a terrific free museum and to give you a flavour here’s the back lot where there are several murals by the ‘Walldog’ artists. http://www.pontiac.org/index.aspx?NID=386

Youtube link – https://youtu.be/CCx67Yk4VWY

We were running out of time by now and Springfield was still 100 miles away. We made tracks and got in just after sunset. Sadly, after unpacking and parking the car, just about everything in this place was closed and there was nothing worth looking at for dinner. Heaven knows how we will survive until breakfast.

Anyway – we are on the 26th floor, stunning view over the city and tomorrow is another day. We will drink water and eat mixed nuts from the mini market. Maybe the rest will do us good.

Springfield to St Louis

Springfield is the home of Abe Lincoln. It’s where he bought the only home he ever owned and where he is buried. It’s a quaint place, pretty quiet but spread over quite a large area.

We set out early with a focus on breakfast (given we skipped dinner last night). Word amongst those in the Route 66 know suggested either Jungle Jim’s or Cozy Dogs (https://www.facebook.com/Jungle-Jims-Cafe-155419487819360/ – http://www.cozydogdrivein.com/) – needless to say we eventually tried them both.

It was no easy path to breakfast though. The dilemma began with the fact that parking had cost us $7 for 24 hours and we had a good few hours of that left to use. If we removed the car to go to the distant suburbs where these restaurants were located we would incur a second charge. It should tell a tale about my love of food versus my meanness that we stayed hungry so that we could keep our car parked at the hotel while visiting Lincoln’s House. I’m not food daft you know.

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This is Abe’s writing desk which is one of few original pieces in the house. This is the spot where the man who finally abolished slavery from the United States sat. He was a reluctant president we were told and he lived four years into his presidency before he was shot. It was a pretty inspiring place and you get a real sense of how much the people of the US respect him.
GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAThey revere him so much they have rubbed his nose down to the metal on this sculpture located in front of his tomb.

Apparently it is good luck to rub his nose and, to be fair, we had a go just in case it’s true.

I pretended to be interested in the tour for about another half an hour before the hunger pangs really started to take hold.

The car was removed from the parking lot and off to Jungle Jim’s we went.

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My breakfast was medium rare ribeye steak with hash browns and eggs ‘over easy’ while my good lady had her usual French Toast with maple syrup and whipped butter. With tea (‘not iced! You mean you want it hot?’) it cost us $30 with a decent tip and a baseball cap souvenir. It was good value but the food was nothing compared with what we had at Lou Mitchell’s. Lucky for us we only had to wait a couple of hours before going to Cozy Dog for our next meal (come on, we had to catch up from last night!)

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Cozy Dog offers corn dogs on a stick. I loved them but I was alone on that one. The well cooked fries were great and the little cafe is really great fun.

There’s so much love in a corn dog!

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And they have so much respect for a woman’s opinion.

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The bill was under $20 but what we ordered was really only a top up. I could probably have had four corn dogs with a proper hunger.

The long road to St Louis lay ahead and we really only stopped for an ice cream on the way at a modern roadside gas station. It is curious to consider that they might be the future locations of nostalgia in the way that these Route 66 icons have become.

St Louis is famed for its Arch marking the way west. The city is considered the gateway west and it is from here that the road turns that way. We’ve now passed through the whole of Illinois and crossed the Mississippi (correct spelling) to Missouri.

The arch is difficult to describe because I think you just have to stand near it to get any sense of the sheer scale of it and just how incredible the engineer must have been to build it. It defies description. I captured the first moment we saw it here

This is us coming off the interstate into the city and seeing the arch as we approached our hotel.

There’s a car that takes you to the top where you can look across the city and South or back across the state of Illinois. The murky Mississippi (right again) sits just under it. You have to lean over a window to see out.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThis is the bottom of one of the legs. It’s colossal.

But if you think that is colossal!

Check out the burger from http://www.calecos.com/ in Downtown St Louis.

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This burger is a final confirmation that St Louis is very easy to miss the importance of. You wouldn’t really think of a holiday here for any other reason than it being a part of Route 66. But consider this burger a damn good reason to make the journey. I once declared that I made the best burger in New York after much frustration at finding one. It was hiding in St Louis!

The meat was perfect, soft like the bun and char-grilled. I put Provelone Cheese, bacon and onion as extra toppings. We had soft rolls and butter as a free starter and two drinks for $30.

It completes a wonderful section of this trip and hopefully hints at how great things get as we venture West towards the Pacific. We have two hundred miles to go tomorrow but I feel well fuelled.

St Louis to Springfield, MO

An important point about Route 66 – unless you have a month to do it and you do it in the summer months when the days are long, it takes some planning.

Having meandered along the route stopping off at everything for a while it becomes obvious that the day is passing very quickly and the road to the next stop is still several hours away. You have to choose what you really want to see and do and what can just be skipped.

For example do you really need to see a big chair?

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAOF COURSE YOU DO!

It’s totally brilliant. It just makes you smile for no good reason at all.

It has no meaning whatsoever other than to make you divert a little from your trip and lure you into a souvenir shop to waste money on daft Route 66 memorabilia. Which we did.

That is half the joy or course. What does it mean to travel Route 66 anyway? It’s a journey of discovery, but mainly to discover the many creative ways people have come up with to sell you fast food or badges you don’t really need. What kind of discovery is that?

But then today we came across something much more than just a gimmick. The Meramec Caverns http://www.americascave.com/ are situated near Stanton, Missouri and represent a genuine marvel of nature. The caves are 14 miles long and are filled with Stalactites and Stalagmites at various stages of development. Some are reckoned to be millions of years old, some a few hundred. The scale and beauty of the place is amazing.

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They have done some clever lighting in the caverns to jazz things up although I don’t think it really needed this. The other-worldliness of the place is just as obvious without it.

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They have also put together a story about Jesse James using the caves as a hideout and built in some nonsense such as this.

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The tour was an hour long for $21. It wasn’t grudged but knowing that the money goes into private hands (the landowner pockets it) is a bit of a sickener. It’s a place that should belong to the country if you ask me.

After being here we were pushed to get to Springfield, MO before dark and did in fact have to drive through the city in darkness (something I wanted to avoid if possible). It also mean’t that food had to be whatever was closest.

Hold on! I never mentioned breakfast or lunch. Oh yes! They didn’t happen.

Well that’s not quite true. We went to a food mart, bought some cereal and milk and a couple of apple pastries for breakfast. Then we had an enormous ice cream at the caverns for lunch. There just wasn’t enough time in the day.

Dinner was at Houlihans, an American chain restaurant which was the only thing in walking distance of our hotel. It turned out to be pretty good though. For me…

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The one above was a pathetic chicken wrap with half a packet of nachos thrown on the side. The one below was a rather delicious roast beef sandwich with gravy, creamed horseradish and green beans. I got lucky with the menu I guess. $30 – wouldn’t make a point of going here again unless similarly trapped at a hotel with this restaurant and only this restaurant nearby.

So the highlight of our day to this point was a smelly old cave that Jesse James may or may not have hid in (I’m being harsh – I did enjoy it… I would have loved it free though).

But then came the marvellous redneck paradise of Missouri – Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World.

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This place is the Disney World of hunting, fishing, shooting and other such blood-lustiness. The number of pick-ups in the car park gives a strong indication of the target customer. It’s packed with all manner of killing devices from guns to fly swatters and the ancillary equipment needed for bloodsports – tents, boats, waders, mountain-man clothing, moonshine, Marlboro cigarettes and souvenir T-shirts. Well perhaps not the t-shirts.

The shop can best be described as the one place a man will willingly go to shop and not stand at the door holding two bags and wishing his wife would decide which (insert terrible swearword) pair of (insert alternative and equally dreadful curse) shoes she wants. She’s the one who would want to leave first!

Tomorrow we have around 300 miles to cover to Oklahoma City so I expect we will struggle for food stops again. This is not a sad fact of the holiday, it’s the best part. Route 66 is about the journey, not the stop-offs. They are just there for rest and sustenance.

You’ll just have to bear with us.

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Springfield, MO to Oklahoma City

As suspected, there were going to be days when all we really did was drive long distance. If you really want to know what that is like on Route 66 have two minutes of our four and a half hours today. Enjoy and see you in two minutes – or ten seconds if you get bored.

Breakfast and lunch were again sourced from Walmart for eating on the road. I’ll not trouble you with the roll filled with pre-made salad but the Pecan pie is worth a look. All 500 calories of it.

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The most notable things about driving through Missouri and Oklahoma are the number of Pick-Ups on the Road and the number of RVs. Sometimes both at the same time!

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Yes, that was a tow. Take the RV on holiday, make sure you have the Pick-Up for day trips and, of course, you need a couple of off-road buggies for the kids. I wonder where they keep the boat.

I can confirm you can’t get them in your shopping basket.

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We arrived in Oklahoma City at around two thirty giving us just enough time to visit the National Cowboy and Western Museum (http://nationalcowboymuseum.org/)

This marvellous place (if you like the Western Genre) is full of art by artists focussing on the Western theme but also contains one of the best collections of Western Movie antiques and curiosities in the world. You can’t help but love being three feet away from Rooster Cogburn’s wardrobe (including hat and eye patch)!

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… and what about Gene Autry’s guitar?

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There’s no doubt the museum has some amazing paintings and art work by some extremely talented artists, but a man of fairly basic culture such as I really only cares about seeing things like the gun used to charge down Ned Pepper’s gang while the Duke held his reins between his teeth.

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Or getting his picture taken next to a raging bull at the rodeo.

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If you don’t believe that bull is real let me remind you of a previous blog entry when I tamed New York’s finest bovine.

https://alastairgarrow.wordpress.com/2013/09/24/a-big-load-of-bull/

I guess we should move to the food now….

Dinner was eaten at the Wedge (http://www.thewedgeokc.com/) – yelp.com reckoned it was the second best (but closest) pizza to be had in the city. It was indeed the second best to any pizza I’ve eaten.

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Trust me it looks a lot better than it tasted. In fact it didn’t really taste of anything other than garlic. To be fair the pizza dough was excellent but there was no sauce. Those tomato slices provided the tomato ingredient. It was sorely missing some Italian seasoning and, while it improved a little when I added some salt, you can’t really enhance a flavour that doesn’t exist to start with.

It was as if someone went to Italy and learned how to make perfect dough but missed the class when they taught how to make the sauce. Without the sauce it’s just cheese on toast!

$30 was decent value with two drinks and a salad but we came away with no lasting impression of the place. It’s a shame, it was quirky and the service was good. The wood-fired oven looked impressive. Once they learn to make sauce it will be amazing I am sure.

So we have entered the state of Oklahoma, our third state of the trip. Kansas slipped by us as we cheated on the interstate to make up time. Local accents have gained a certain Southern twang and the days have stretched half an hour. The weather is bright and warm.

The food is the only downturn in our fortunes and I am hopeful for vast improvements tomorrow. it’s another long one though. The road to Amarillo.

Will I sing it?

The hell I won’t.

Oklahoma City to Albuquerque (via Amarillo)

If Oklahoma City favours Cowboys and gives a little sympathy to the plight of the Native Americans, by the time you get to Albuquerque the switch has been fully made. In the middle is Amarillo which seems to be a bit of both.

The trading posts (gift shops) move focus from big hats and various objects made out of old guns and dead creatures to shops full of native crafts. The people are massively welcoming wherever you are.

They are also a bit heavy on the old religion though…

They say the Bible Belt stretches from the East Coast along the Southern States into New Mexico (just) and that has been pretty evident. Crosses abound in the shops with various designs and ‘y’all have a nice day’ comments are just waiting for a ‘jesus loves y’all’ coming back.

I’m not that religious but if you take a look at what happened to us entering Albuquerque you will see why tonight I am kneeling for prayers before bedtime. (look out for the moment I see the light and the object on the hill-side to the right as we go under the bridge).

But getting back to Oklahoma and that trip to Amarillo (Me: ‘Is this the way?’ Wife: ‘Sweet Maria!’). We left the city early after a Walmart special and lost an hour calling for help after our cash card was rejected by the supermarket. Apparently Walmart don’t do cash cards. It was another long trek to Amarillo but we got some great stops in.

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The Route 66 National Museum is not well documented as a must-see but we reckoned it was terrific. It costs $10 but that gives you access to the Route 66 museum and three or four other small museums in Elk City. There are areas celebrating local heroes from rodeo, Miss America 1981! and a massive barn full of farming relics.

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If you need a seat there are plenty.

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The Route 66 museum is a bit theme park like but there are cars you can sit in an pretend you are at the drive-in.

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Just keep your hands to yourself!

We then ploughed on (ahem) the town of Erick where we ate our Walmart Rolls and took snaps of other old relics.

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It was a sad place really. This old gas station was totally abandoned and simply used as a tourist stop off.

Amarillo was our next stop and we took to the trail behind our hotel to run a 5k just to make us feel as if we were deserving of our dinner. We had plans for a Big Texan!

The receptionist looked slightly confused when we asked if there was anywhere we could walk about in town (this was before we decided on a run). The cities in this part of America are so widely spread about and devoid of side walks you really have to take the car everywhere. I suppose with so much space available it never made sense to Americans to build close to one another.

We were advised of a ‘trail’ behind the hotel and after being told to ‘be careful’ we decided running would be the best option. It was a dusty old trail alongside the highway and we did an out and back in a little too much heat than we are comfortable with. Still, it was about the food.

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I’m afraid the pictures of our dinner at http://bigtexan.com/ don’t show it in the best light. But then I don’t think the Big Texan performed at their best that night either. The waiter was a charming fellow but he really had no idea who had ordered what and we waited a long time to receive our order, not all that hot, and with added sides he obviously couldn’t find customers for. He just gave them to us to make up for the delay. Despite being a ‘warm’ meal it was both massive and delicious. My steak was 12oz Ribeye with mac-n-cheese and baked potato side. My good lady had a pile of fries covered in other food. It was about $50 with unlimited drinks. They do a free limo service to the hotel but we skipped that.

Amarillo doesn’t offer up much unless you drive a good bit. The Cadillac Ranch is a hoot though.

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Someone buried these into the mud and called it art.

Everyone who ever visited brought spray paint and made it art.

Poor me – I arrived with no spray paint.

A young lad who had more spray paint than any boy ought to have offered me some.

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I got my picture taken as part of a creative work I call ‘Young American Boy is My Hero’.

Amarillo was done. Bed beckoned and the road led next to Albuquerque.

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Oh yes! The wife had her hair done there.

In the morning we made home made waffles again (this time cinnamon) at the hotel.

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Our first stop was in a place called Tucumari where we gawped merrily at a huge variety of roadside signs (one of the best towns on the road for this) and had ‘his and hers’ ice cream at the Cornerstone Deli where we also obtained sandwiches for lunch later on.

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In Adrian we reached the mid point of our journey!

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And promptly hit the road for the New Mexico border trading post known as Russell’s Truck and Travel Center.  http://www.russellsttc.com/

Well none of our guide books told us about this place. Russell (whoever he is) has the most incredible collections of classic American cars anywhere – in mint condition. His museum is free.

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And if you think the bodywork on that looks amazing….

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He has other memorabilia dotted around the free museum and everything is as good as the day it was bought. He must have spent an age and a fortune putting it together. This place is petrol-head heaven.

Our sandwiches were eaten in the parking lot and they were pretty average in terms of taste. They looked the part.

As we headed into New Mexico the landscape started to change quite rapidly. Gone were the green pasture lands, corn fields and cattle ranches. We now had vast open plains of brown with bushes dotted throughout. The landscape started to rise and became rocky and rugged the closer we got.

What a welcome we got from the natives!

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Review video above for accompanying music.

On arrival we headed straight to the Old Town which is about a square mile of quaint little shops and restaurants full of crafts and tourist gifts. A Mexican and Native American influence makes it quite a fascinating place and the whole city reeks of Breaking Bad scenery. If you are a fan, it is great to see.

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This was dinner venue http://www.churchstreetcafe.com/

We were advised by a friendly local that this was true Mexican food.

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Now this place is charming, friendly and probably authentic. But it tasted pretty poor to me.

I expected fire, I expected flavour I couldn’t deny, I expected a difficult time in the toilet.

I got …. well mush if the only word I have for it. Apparently the chicken Burrito (left) was very nice but the mush surrounding it remained on the plate throughout. The Pork Tamale (right) was mush and about a quarter of it remained along with the other mush surrounding it.

It wasn’t even spicy mush.

As a quaint and traditional extra we were presented with two Sopapillas with honey at no extra charge. These are triangular doughnut thingys which are served after the meal. These were delicious.

At $40 for mush and two delicious Sopapillas, drinks of course, it was not quite what I hoped for. Maybe we chose badly, maybe I don’t understand authentic, maybe it was just bad.

Now there were some wonderful people we chatted to who knew a wealth about the local culture. Equally there was a lot of tat on sale at hugely over-inflated prices.

But I’m not so sure everything in the Old Town area of Albuquerque was totally genuine. The cacti didn’t even have any prickles.

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Oh well. Still having a great time and Arizona awaits tomorrow.

Albuquerque to Holbrook, AZ

If yesterday fell short on the food front, today made up for it in spades. The scenery was also pretty exceptional.

Probably the poorest thing we ate today was at the Rio Grande Inn, Albuquerque – and it was very good.

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French toast with bacon and eggs, oatmeal (porridge to you and me) with syrup and toast. The coffee (as it has been since we arrived in the US) was excellent too. It all could have been warmer but that is nit-picking.

We headed into the Old Town, Albuquerque again this morning to catch up on gift buying and met a local Scottish lass in her 37th year as a resident of New Mexico. Her accent was as thick as ever it was but with a slight ‘elastic’ quality if that makes sense. Her ‘dinna ken’ was ‘dynna keyn’. Anyway she didna ken we were from Scotland and made the fatal American error of asking us if we were from England. Thank goodness her sweet shop was full of fascinating stuff for us to forgive her. Meeting her was good fun.

We had to make tracks again today as we had well over 200 miles to complete and our next stop was lunch at Gallup, NM. You can’t not stop at Gallup. It’s in the song for a start and, more to the point, it sounds like gallop (a thing horses do). It is also sounds a bit like scallop but virtually no other word at all. That makes it quite unique.

What also makes it quite unique is the fabulous Chili Factory (no website but see yelp.com for fairly accurate reviews). At first glance you think ‘chain restaurant’ and almost ignore it.

You must NEVER ignore the Chili Factory!

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Now we took a bit of a chance with this because I had almost vowed never to try Mexican again. I had made up my mind that I was an uncultured peasant who did not appreciate ‘mush’. But I think we wanted to give New Mexico a last chance before we headed into Arizona. It hadn’t lived up to its name so far and my expectations were pretty low.

It was brilliant.

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Don’t let the paper plates fool you. It was definitely set up like fast food (and it was fast), but it was fresh and tasted as I wanted it to. Full of flavour and fire. Chatting to the owner I learned about how she set the business up with her husband and had brought her own recipes to life in the small restaurant. We had to try dessert and were not disappointed.

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To the left the deep fried ice cream. To the right a portion of cinnamon coated Sopaipillas. Like light fluffy pillows, just air really (no calories I am certain). We added some of the ice cream with them to great effect.

Joyously happy we set off further down the road.

We only had one essential visit today (near our destination) but we were so struck by the scenery that we dropped off a few times for photos. This short video shows us approaching Lupton, AZ where there are a series of Native Navajo Trading Posts. The rock behind them was used for the film Grapes of Wrath in the 1940s.

It’s a pretty dramatic rock, with so many ledges and outcrops you can easily get carried away making up stories in your head about cowboys and Indians fighting over something or other.

Another stop along the way is the highest point on Route 66 where it is declared everything West flows to the Pacific and everything East to the Atlantic. It feels more significant somehow than the halfway point. Maybe it is the sense of it being ‘downhill from here’ or just that the guide book suddenly has fewer pages left to go than we have already read.

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The intended stop was the Petrified Forest near Holbrook and it was both a beautiful place and one full of mystery. It had a alien-like feel to it.

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The main event of the national park is a vast collection of ‘petrified tree trunks’ littered about the place. The trees were of a crystal like quality but still retaining their appearance as wood. Quite bizarre.

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Which of these looks the most petrified?

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Anyway, the cost of entry to the 28 mile route through the national park is $20 and you really believe it is probably worth it to preserve these amazing objects and to gain exclusive access to such a marvel of nature.

However once you get out of the park and head into Holbrook it turns out the damn things are everywhere!

Every second shop in Holbrook sells bits of these things polished and made into trinkets. The logs are used to mark the perimeter of car parks for heaven’s sake. They sell for hundreds of dollars in the gift shop at the end of the park but they line the streets of Holbrook for any Tom, Dick or Harry to snaffle. The lesson is – if you want to support the national park and see some incredible scenery, pay the $20. If you just want to see the petrified wood, go to Holbrook.

We parked up at our hotel and quickly found out it was a ‘motel’. Not the class of establishment we have enjoyed up to now and we can hear every word out neighbours are saying. Dinner was the best treat of the day – and quite possibly the week.

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The Mesa Italiana (yelp.com again if interested) is just a block from our motel and we were delighted to find it so close. Especially as it is so good.

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Salad and garlic bread with plenty water on the table before you even start eating. Juice top ups come free.

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The Salmon Alfredo with Penne was magic. No cheap creamy sauce here, this was made with full cream, garlic and went down an absolute treat.

Same feelings expressed for the Chicken Cannelloni

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The service was great too. We were offered more bread whenever it went down, topped up water and juice was quick too. We had a slice of cheesecake to finish.

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Forty two dollars the lot!

We tipped well – it was worth it. Finished off a great section of the trip. Wasn’t expecting much of this part but it turned out to be a real treat.