Day 12 – Monument Valley

We set off this morning from Gallup and made our way north west, across the New Mexico State border and into Arizona, heading for Monument Valley. As we neared Monument Valley, the road into the visitor centre briefly crossed into the state of Utah before back into Arizona.

Monument Valley is a vast area that consists of huge rock formations, formed over hundreds of millions of years of erosion and plate tectonic activity. It’s used as the backdrop for many cowboy films, and is what most people would typically associate with the ‘Wild West’.

There is a 17 mile trail that you can drive, which takes you around a section of Monument Valley and offers spectacular views. As if we hadn’t driven enough already this holiday, we took the scenic drive through the valley. The roads were quite treacherous due to the recent heavy rain (which again we seem to have missed), but Leccy had fun driving along the track, even if our hearts were in our mouths on a couple of occasions!

It’s difficult to put into words the amazing views along the trail, but hopefully some of the pics will help do it some justice. We stopped off at many points along the route for pictures, with each stop offering a different and equally impressive view as the last. We were careful not to stray too far off the road and into the rocks when on foot, as there were warning signs to be on the look out for poisonous wildlife (rattlesnakes and scorpions) within the valley!

After a couple of hours at Monument Valley, we headed back to the hotel we had pre-booked for the night, which is in a tiny town called Kayenta in northern Arizona. If you were driving past, you could literally blink and miss it. Monument Valley and Kayenta both sit within Navajo land (native Americans), which is sacred. For us, this unfortunately means they don’t serve alcohol (the nearest place is over an hour away in Utah). So it’s a quiet night at the hotel playing poker before we set off in the morning to rejoin Route 66 and continue west.

Next stop: Flagstaff, Arizona

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Day 11 – Gallup

After picking up Route 66 out of Amarillo, we quickly came to our first stop of the day, the Cadillac Ranch. In typical Route 66 fashion someone had decided, for no particular reason, to half-bury 10 Cadillacs at a slight angle in a field by the side of the road. They actually make for quite an impressive view. The area surrounding the Cadillacs is littered with spray cans, and visitors are encouraged to graffiti the cars. We had fun leaving our names, and some other ‘choice’ comments on the cars.

Next we made our way away from Amarillo until we came to our next stop, The Mid Point Cafe in Adrian, Texas. This marks the mid-way point on Route 66, and is exactly half way between the start point in Chicago and the end point in Santa Monica, Los Angeles. It’s also the inspiration for Flo’s Diner in the Disney Pixar film Card. It’s nowhere near half way for us, as we have side trips planned to Monument Valley, Grand Canyon and Las Vegas, but it was still a nice feeling having reached the middle of R66. We had our pics taken and breakfast, before continuing on our way, out of Texas and into the state of New Mexico.

We had a quick stop at Glenrio, a small ghost town that has now been abandoned since the interstate bypassed Route 66. It’s quite an eerie place. The only inhabitant we found was a small turtle in the grass.

We had a choice of routes, as R66 splits into two in New Mexico. We opted for the Santa Fe Loop, which is a bit of a detour but takes in the historic city of Santa Fe. The journey to Santa Fe was probably the most enjoyable stretch of R66 so far, and is typical of what we’d imagined it to be. Long, straight roads, with heat waves rippling across the road in the distance, and surrounded by vast plains with mountains off into the distance. As we approached Santa Fe, the landscape became more rocky an mountainous.

Santa Fe itself was definitely well worth the visit. It was originally a Native American settlement, and was then colonized by Mexicans. Due to this, Santa Fe had been heavily influenced by both cultures. It almost feels like you are in a remote town in Spain as opposed to the US. We had a late lunch on a rooftop terrace overlooking the town square, then set off for Albuquerque.

As we approached Albuquerque, where we scheduled to stop, we made a decision to push on further. We are due to visit and stay in Monument Valley the next day, which is quite a distance from Albuquerque. As we we were feeling relatively fresh, we decided to take a couple of hours out of the next days driving and continued on to Gallup.

When we arrived in Gallup and checked into a hotel, we saw on the local news that we’d been very lucky with the weather on our dive across New Mexico. The state has been hit with severe storms, and many roads are closed. There’s been some mudslides and a lot of flooding to. We had noticed large clouds off into the distance throughout the day and flashes of lightening, and almost everywhere we drove looked like we had just missed a downpour. But luckily for us, we only hit rain for a couple of minutes during the whole day.

From Gallup, we’ll be taking a detour north up to Monument Valley and spending the night there, before driving back south the next day and continuing on Route 66.

Next stop: Monument Valley

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Day 10 – Amarillo

It turned out that Oklahoma City on a Friday night is actually pretty lively! So much so that we set off for Amarillo the next morning slightly later than planned for health reasons (4 hangovers). We were on the road by 10am and headed west, out of Oklahoma City and towards Texas.

Our first real stop was in a tiny town called Texola, which is the last town in the state of Oklahoma before you enter Texas. I use the term ‘town’ losely, as it is basically a couple of houses and a shop. We visited the shop, which is essentially a gift shop, and Sticky couldn’t resist buying some more Route 66 memorabilia (he’s going to need an extra suitcase going home).

As we left the shop and got back into the car, we were surrounded by 4 or 5 dogs which started barking furiously at the car an trying to bite the tyres as we drove, jumping in the way of the car. They followed us for a few hundred metres, meaning we had to drive very slowly to avoid running them over, but we serenaded them with some DMX on the stereo and I think they enjoyed the barking.

We crossed over into Texas, and continued to head west towards Amarillo. The landscape by now had changed dramatically, and as we cross what is known as the ‘Texas Panhandle’, it feels like we are in the wilderness. Either side of the car is just flat, yellow plains that stretch out for as far as you can see, and makes you feel like you are literally in the middle of nowhere.

Next up, we stopped in McClean and visited the Devil’s Rope Museum, a museum that is dedicated to barbed wire. Barbed wire was and apparently still is crucial for allowing cowboys to manage their animals, hence why they’d even consider dedicating a museum to it. We had a quick look around, but to be honest it was about as exciting as it sounds, and as my hangover decided to take a turn for the worse, we left after around 20 mins.

We continued west, past a leaning water tower and giant crucifix which are two more well known R66 attractions, and made our way into Amarillo.

We hadn’t booked any accommodation in Amarillo, so the plan was to drive around and find a cheap motel. R66 enters Amarillo through an old part of town which is pretty run-down, probably a result of the interstate bypassing this area. As we drove around and saw the state of some of the motels, we began to have serious doubts as to if we would stay there at all and the car looked more appealing than what we were seeing, but we eventually came to central Amarillo which was a lot nicer but seemed almost deserted. We plumped for the first decent hotel we found, paid a bit more than we had intended for the added peace of mind that we were not going to be massacred.

Amarillo and Texas in general is an interesting place. It was surreal seeing people walking around in cowboy hats and boots, and in almost every gas station are signs asking people not to bring their guns inside.

There is a famous restaurant in Amarillo called the Big Texan, which offers a free 72oz to anyone who can finish it within an hour, and has featured on Man vs Food. We headed there but the wait for food was long and we wanted to be finished in time to watch the Mayweather v Canelo fight, so we ate somewhere near the hotel instead. We finished the night of watching the boxing in the bar. Probably 90% of the bar were Mexican and cheering on Canelo, so we made a quick exit when Mayweather won back to the hotel.

Next stop: Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Day 9 – Oklahoma City

Looking at the map, there were quite a lot of attractions that we fancied stopping off at on the way to Oklahoma City, so we decided to get up early and be on the road for 7am. We left Springfield and made our way South West, along rolling green hills. After an hour so we left the state of Missouri and entered Kansas.

Route 66 only runs through Kansas for around 13 miles, but there is quite a lot to see. The interstate that bypassed all of the old towns on Route 66 doesn’t run through Kansas at all, so the old towns along the route rely on passing tourists to keep them going and as a result everyone in is very welcoming.

We spent some time in the town of Galena. There is an old jail cell on the street so we took pictures of ourselves messing around, then moved onto another small town. Leccy and Sticky decided to have a chat with a guy who runs an antique shop, as it was the only place open, and asked why everything was closed. Apparently, the people there don’t get up until at least 11am!

We then followed R66 along across a river, over a bridge known as The Rainbow Bridge, which is a small white arched bridge in an idyllic setting. Apparently there used to be 3 in Kansas but this is the only one that remains. We continued along into the town of Baxter Springs, and stopped off for some breakfast, before following the road out of Kansas and into the state of Oklahoma.

We spent the rest of the day following R66 west through Oklahoma, stopping for the occasional photo. One stop of note was the Blue Whale of Catoosa, which is a large blue whale next to a lake by the side of the road. It has a water slide and diving board and was made so the owner of the lakes children could use it whilst swimming in the lake. The lake is no longer swimmable, and is now a dark shade of green, but the whale is another famous landmark along Route 66 and was worth a stop.

As we continue to follow the road, the change in landscape is becoming more noticeable. When we set off through Chicago, the landscape was a lot greener, and Missouri saw forests for log stretches of the route. Now we’ve entered Oklahoma, it’s getting a lot flatter and there are less trees, just open fields. The soil is also dark red, which I guess is a sign we’re starting to get closer to the desert.

We’re now in Oklahoma City, so are about to pop out for some food and see what Oklahoma City has to offer on a Friday night.

Next stop: Amarillo, Texas

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Day 8 – Springfield

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We set off at 9am and made our way out of St Louis on Route 66 and headed south west through the state of Missouri.
Our first stop on the way was at the Meramec Caverns, an underground cave system with rock formations and underground rivers and lakes. Our tour guide was your typical young hillbilly who probably wanted to be a police officer but failed the exam. He had a torch which he likes to spin around and pop back in its holder whenever he had to put it away, and I’m sure in his mind he pretends its a gun. To be fair he was very knowledgable and enthusiastic about his job, but his hillbilly accent kept us amused for the whole tour.
The tour took around one and a half hours, and culminated with a light show in a kind of underground theatre, with flashing lights shining onto the largest rock formation whilst ‘God Bless America’ played on the sound system. It finished with a giant US flag shining onto the rock. We just sat there kind of bemused, wondering why they’d decided to make a natural attraction so tacky.
It was nice to come out of the caves and into the sun at the end of the tour, as it was pretty cold within the cave system. We got back on the road and continued South West through Missouri.
Our next stop was at the US66 Outpost on the outskirts of Fanning, home of the Worlds Largest Rocking Chair. It’s one of the places Billy Connolly visited in his documentary driving Route 66, and his book is on display inside the shop with the pages that show his visit to the rocking chair marked for visitors to read. After having our pictures taken next to the chair, we headed inside the store which had an impressive collection of Route 66 memorabilia.
Inside was a friendly old lady who gave us the background to why the chair was built, and let us try some moonshine. The moonshine was 50% alcohol and there were 5 flavours. Baz, Leccy and I each tried 3 shots, whereas Sticky declined as he was driving. After buying some memorabilia, we set back off on the road. It was a good job Sticky didn’t try the moonshine, as within 5 minutes of leaving Baz, Leccy and I had all dozed off in the car for a couple of minutes. That stuff was strong!
The rest of the day was spent on Route 66, zig-zagging over and under the interstate that runs parellell. We stopped for some more pictures at Devil’s Elbow, a bridge that passes over a river in a picturesque wooded area, then made our way into Springfield, Missouri where we planned to spend the evening.
Next stop: Oklahoma City

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Day 7 – St Louis

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After almost a week zig zagging our way from Boston to Chicago, it was good to finally be staring Route 66. The start is off of Lakeshore Drive, a main road that runs parallel with Lake Michigan, and Route 66 runs away from the lake and West. So we set out, passed the Willis Tower and on our way.
Leaving Chicago on Route 66 was a strange experience, as you pass from gleaming skyscrapers, to plush houses, to a run-down part of the city in a couple of minutes. Also, something we’ve all been surprised by in the big cities is how many homeless people there are. Boston, Washington, New York and Chicago all had large amounts of homeless people. In Washington, there are people sleeping on the streets a few hundred yards from the White House which is quite a contrast.
Anyway, we spent the rest of the morning following old Route 66, stopping off for photos at various attractions including an old fashioned fully restored gas station. Route 66 was decommissioned some years back as they built the Interstate motorway which effectively bypasses all of the towns on Route 66, but the route is still there, it’s just difficult to find. We’ve been using a detailed guide book and specialist map to help us trace it, although there are still lots of roadsigns in certain places that let you know you are still on the route.
We made our way South East through Illinois until we came to Springfield, Illinois. Apparently Springfield is one of the most popular town names in the US, hence why they chose the name for the Simpsons, and we’ve already passed through a number of Springfields in the past week.
The Springfield we stopped at in Illinois is famous as the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. The house where he lived up until becoming president is still there in the same condition it was when he lived there, so we stopped for a tour of the house which was interesting. All of the furniture in the house is either original or been restored to how it was, allowing you a look back in time.
After Springfield, were back on the road and on our way to St Louis as the sun began to set. We arrived into St Louis at around¬†9pm, making sure we passed by the Chain of Rocks Bridge which crosses the Mississippi river. After a bite to eat, we walked down the the river front in St Louis to see the famous St Louis Arch. As it was dark, the view and pictures weren’t great. Even though the arch is lot up, it’s nowhere near the same as how the landmarks in Washington are illuminated (Sticky was getting angry with how much electricity they were wasting in Washington!).
Next we had a stroke of luck as we strolled past the baseball stadium. The St Louis Cardinals were playing, and it was coming to near the end of the game. We asked a steward outside the stadium how long was left and if there was anyway of getting in. He laughed at first, but we played on the whole ‘we’re from England’ and he said he’d as what he could do. After talking to his colleague, he came back and with a shake of our hands and a friendly ‘Welcome to the United States’, he let us in free of charge to catch the last part of the game. I’m not particularly upto scratch with the rules of baseball, but it was still cool to be at a game and take in the atmosphere.
After the game, we visited a bar across the street from the stadium which was full of fans celebrating the Cardinals win. We were told by the barmaid of a rooftop terrace bar around the corner at the Hilton so headed there afterwards. From there we finally got to take a decent picture of the St Louis arch, as well as the baseball stadium. We then headed home for some shuteye after our first day on Route 66.
Next stop: Springfield, Missouri (another Springfield!)

P.S it’s good to read everyone’s comments. Glad you’re enjoying the blog!

Day 6: Chicago

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The weather in Chicago was scorching, so we took advantage and spent the morning on the beach. Chicago sits on Lake Michigan, but the lake is so huge it goes on for miles and miles and you almost forget that it’s a lake and not the sea. It’s also surreal sitting on the beach and swimming in the lake with a skyline of skyscrapers behind you.

Next up, we took a river boat tour around the river that runs through Chicago, snaking its way between the skyscrapers. The boat then took us out of the lock and onto Lake Michigan, offering a photo opportunity of the whole Chicago skyline and a view of the pier. The breeze from the boat was also a welcome relief from the sweltering heat (it must have been close to 100 degrees as it was still 94 at 7.30pm!).

After the boat, the boys decided the Empire State Building in NYC wasn’t tall enough, so we made our way to the Willis Tower (known usually by its former name the Sears Tower). We stopped just before to take a picture of the sign at the start of Route 66. It seemed quite strange knowing we’ll be driving the full length of it to LA, which seems so far away right now.

We arrived at the Willis Tower and made our way up to the sky deck on the 103rd floor. I can’t say I was thrilled at the prospect, especially after the Empire State Building was high enough and only 86 floors high, but up we went anyway.

The view from the top of the tower is pretty spectacular, and it’s so high that you can see into 4 states. The fact its enclosed definitely made me feel a lot safer than the Empire State, but I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed any second of the time I spent up there. There are special glass cases with clear walls and floor which you can step out onto, so that you feel that you are basically outside the top of the building and floating on air. Needless to say, there was a brown person missing from all of the group pics that were taken from the viewing platform.

We finished the day with dinner and then stopped off at a bar on the way back to the hotel, but the nightlife wasn’t up to much on a Tuesday night so we headed back to the hotel as we were due to start Route 66 the next morning.

Next stop: St Louis