The Book is Out !

Well, actually, the book has been out for some time as I completed it at the end of 2010 but I have had so many enquiries about it that I have published details here. Since I had the photographs and much of the text in this blog describes the journey it didn’t take too much effort to convert it into a book. I designed the layout and produced it with blurb which permits the book to be viewed via their web site. It is a hardback with 150 pages packed with over 350 photographs mostly in colour but with a few monochrome images produced from colour originals.

I produced it primarily for Françoise, my wife, and myself as a record of a fantatsic trip and have been very surprised by the positive feedback and requests to purchase copies. It’s not cheap since it is a large coffee table type book printed to order but the quality speaks for itself. Judge for yourself at http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/1771981

Day 14: The End of the Trail

The end of the trail in Santa Monica

Today, we ride the last stretch from Victorville to Santa Monica. Gary gives us our usual riders’ briefing before we set off. Not only do we have to watch out for potholes on California’s poor quality roads but we have to watch out for the traffic. We will be on the freeway for much of the journey and that means fast-moving traffic and lots of it. Not only that, LA drivers don’t leave much space between vehicles and they will often cut across several lanes in one move. We have to keep our wits about us. It takes just under two hours to reach Santa Monica pier. We had noticed that it was much cooler as we approached the coast – the sea breezes made a welcome change to the heat of the desert.

It was a fantastic sight to see the sea. We had made it! We had travelled the 2600+ miles from Chicago to Los Angeles. We headed for the car park next to the pier and parked up. We walked up to the steps that take us to the roadway and pose for photographs next to the Will Rogers memorial plaque set in the grass above the beach. Then we head for the pier and lunch. Gary had booked us into Bubba Gump on the pier, one of a chain of seafood restaurants inspired by the 1994 film Forrest Gump. The decor was great and the seafood made a refreshing change. Françoise and I were both tempted by the prawns stuffed with crabmeat. I had a Lotsa Lava drink (coconut, pineapple and strawberry) – fantastic. So good, in fact, that I had two! Françoise went for a mango and lemon sparkler that arrived in a glass that sparkled with LED lights set into the base. She was able to keep the glass too. Afterwards, we had an hour or so to wander round. We strolled to the end of the pier taking snaps along the way.

When we met up back in the car park, we moved to the side of the car park for one final group shot that Gary took with his camera. He promised to send us copies. Then onto the bikes once more to Bartel’s Harley-Davidson in Marina Del-Rey to hand back the bikes. Our trip was over. We spent a few minutes in the dealership before a mini-bus arrived to take us to our hotel for the night. There was one last event – the farewell dinner. We met in the hotel foyer and went to a private area of the hotel restaurant where Bearnard Behr was waiting. We enjoyed a good meal and Gary said a few words summarising our achievement and the friendships made within the small group we were. Gary also handed out some souvenirs (I won’t spoil the surprise for future Route 66ers). Dave was also presented with a Harley-Davidson T-shirt that said It Ain’t Over ’til the Fat Boy Sings. Dave was disappointed to not get a Fat Boy at the outset and this little surprise brought a smile to his face. Niell spoke on behalf of us all and gave a few words of thanks to Gary along with a card and a little something from us.

Gary said that he had a full day the following day and wasn’t sure whether he would see us before we left for the airport. We said our goodbyes and made our way to our rooms knowing that we would be flying back with more than what we came out with. We planned to check in an extra case on the flight home (done in advance at the hotel which is the more cost-effective option). Luckily for us, Neill had purchased a Route 66 case along the road and therefore had an old case that was surplus to his requirements. We gladly found a use for it. We had filled two bags on the way out and now we would be returning with three.

So, this is the end of the trail. We had made new friends, made lots of discoveries, seen and done many things and, above all, thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The organisation was superb and many thanks go to H-C Travel in the UK, California Sunriders in the US and, especially, Gary who put an awful lot into this trip, as I am sure he does for every trip, to make it special. The memories will stay with us for a very long time as, I hope, this blog as a record and as a source of advice and guidance to others thinking of making such a trip. We certainly did get our kicks on Route 66.

Note that the photo gallery spans several pages – click on the page numbers below the thumbnails on the Photo Gallery page to see more pages of images.

Day 13: It’s Hot in the Desert

In the Desert on Route 66

We are now in California and there is still some desert to cross. The heat of the Mojave Desert is very noticeable. Gary tells us that a cold front is passing over so it is only about 105°F – last week it peaked at 128°F. Even so, it is uncomfortable to ride in and dangerous if we start to suffer from hyperthermia. We are fortunate in that we have cool vests. Bill bought one in the Harley dealership the day before. Others don’t have this luxury and Gary advises them to ride in the long-sleeved white t-shirts we bought back in Winslow. Though there is a reluctance to ride without proper protective clothing, Gary tells us that it is better to keep cool, stay alert and not have an accident than to overheat, pass out and have an accident. It’s so easy to feel sleepy in the heat and that’s where the CamelBaks also help – taking a sip of ice-cold water really helps the concentration.

We take a stop at a café/shop where we have a coffee. In the meantime, our cool vests are soaking in the ice chest in the back of the support truck. Our cool vests also have sleeves meaning that our arms are cooled as well. Françoise and I look strange as we put on our vests and then put our armoured mesh jackets over the top. The others look cool in t-shirts but we look hot fully togged up. In fact, we are quite comfortable. Wearing the cool vest is just like air-conditioning in that our bodies and arms stay cool. They work even better in the desert than they did in Missouri because the desert is so much drier and so the evaporation, and thus cooling effect, is more intense. We keep them on even when walking around and they provide a cooling effect.

After leaving the café we see the EagleRider party stopped in the road. I first thought that somebody might have had an accident but it turned out that they stopped for photographs with the Route 66 signs painted on the road. We stop further up the road for our shots at a location where we had greater visibility of approaching traffic. Since the road was quiet (maybe a dozen vehicles an hour might go by), we were able to set up a recreation of the Wild Hogs poster shot. We took a number of other photographs while we were there. In the distance we saw EagleRider making their way towards us. I fancied filming bikes riding over the Route 66 road marking. Niell, Bill and Gary stayed by the road to greet them as they rode past.

We then took off on our own to ride to Amboy. We couldn’t miss Amboy as it was about the only place for miles and was marked by a large Roy’s Café sign. We sheltered in the shade, drank more water, took photographs and visited the shop. Roy’s Café shut down many years ago and is still closed as a café but that might change in the future. It was purchased by the owner of the Route 66 Museum in San Bernardino with the intention of restoring everything to its former grandeur. At present, only the shop is open for a small selection of souvenirs. In fact, it was the whole of Amboy that was purchased. Amboy is a small town with about ten buildings and twenty residents. It even boasts a post office! We were told about the nearby volcano (Amboy Crater) and we passed quantities of black rock on the way out which we assume to be old lava flows. The crater itself is not particularly large at 250 feet high and 1500 feet in diameter. The most recent eruption was about 10,000 years ago.

We stop at another Dairy Queen for a welcome ice-cream before finding another diner along the way for a late lunch. It was a straight run into Victorville after that. That evening we had a party in Gary’s hotel room where we watched “The F Word”, an episode of South Park where the residents call Harley riders fags. Gary also surprised Pat with a birthday cake. It was a fantastic cake (Gary also trained as a chef) and we all wondered how Gary had managed to produce it in the short time between arriving at the hotel and meeting up with him in his room. It was a good relaxing evening and slightly sad since we knew that our trip was coming to an end.

Note that the photo gallery spans several pages – click on the page numbers below the thumbnails on the Photo Gallery page to see more pages of images.

Next: Day 14: The End of the Trail

Day 12: Rugged Terrain Ahead

Old Dodge Truck at Hackberry

We skipped breakfast at the hotel in order to have a bite at Westside Lilo’s Café in Seligman. The food and ambience were excellent. Behind the café was a field with lots of classic cars in various states of decay. Naturally, I wanted to photograph them and Gary warned us once again to watch out for rattlesnakes. Then we rode down to the other end of Seligman to the Snow Cap. Gary suggested that I might want to get a shot of Angel Delgadillo who happened to be in town despite being ill and only released from hospital the day before. It turned out that he was being interviewed by the BBC for a series of programmes on Radio 2 celebrating 25 years since ‘The Mother Road’ was decomissioned. I got my shots of Angel (see the photo gallery) and then he left to go home to rest.

We had a few minutes in Seligman to visit the shops (last decent stop for Route 66 souvenirs) and Françoise found a Route 66 neon sign for a good price. OK, a neon sign in your own home might seem a tad tacky but neon signs typify Route 66 and were used from the 1930s to advertise companies and services along the way. We just had to have our own neon sign. The vendor didn’t accept cards so I had to use the remainder of my cash. I inspected it carefully and ensured that it worked before packaging it up again and then wondered how we were going get that back home in one piece. I still had photos to take and time was running out so Simon and Viv kindly volunteered to look after it while I went off with my camera. I rushed back to the Snow Cap for our 11am rendezvous to find that it had been delayed – Gary was now in on the BBC thing and was being interviewed by Charles Hazelwood, the well-known conductor. Not surprisingly, when Charles learned that Gary was leading a group of bikers on Harley-Davidson motorcycles across America and that the bikes were just around the corner, he had the idea of ‘conducting’ us as we revved our engines and sounded our horns. Sounding the horn might have been a good idea but the horn on my bike was still an embarassment as it hadn’t recovered from getting wet several days earlier in Oklahoma. It produced a miserable pheep pheep more in keeping with a Puch Maxi moped! We were told that our ‘performance’ could be included in the programmes to be broadcast over three evenings starting on 5th July and might even appear on the BBC web site.

Our next stop was Hackberry where there was a general store and disused gas station. It was good to find some shade and rest from the heat which had been building the further west we went. There was much to photograph at Hackberry with lots of abandoned vehicles and all manner of curiosities. We were amused to watch the lizards scurrying about on the ground. Time was moving on and lunch beckoned. We headed off to Kingman for a brief stop at the local Harley dealer before going to lunch at Mr D’z Diner. The diner was decorated inside and out in a striking combination of turquoise and rose pink. Gary suggested that I might want to have my on-helmet video camera ready for the roads after lunch. As soon as we were out of Kingman, the scenery became more dramatic. Once again, we were riding besides a railway line with a freight train made up of four locomotives and over a hundred wagons.

We stopped at a small gas station at a place called Cool Springs. It is no longer an active gas station but is now a gift shop and small museum – another victim of the declassification of Route 66 and it being supplanted by Interstate 40. In its heyday, Cool Springs was an important stop to fuel up and get water before crossing the Black Mountains through Sitgreaves Pass. In the early days of Route 66, Sitgreaves Pass was the most daunting section especially to early vehicles with low engine power, poor brakes and poor lights. In fact, some drivers had to traverse the pass in reverse gear or paid locals to take their car over the pass. There were two reasons to use reverse gear. Firstly, reverse is often lower than first and thus gives more power from the small and inefficient engines of the day. Secondly, fuel was gravity fed on those early cars and a steep climb upwards might result in fuel starvation and the engine stopping.

So what’s special about Sitgreaves Pass? Well, it’s narrow, there are gradients, there are hairpin bends, there are steep drops right at the edge of the road and few safety barriers. At the top, it is 3556 feet above sea level. Today, the road is better than what is used to be with modifications and some barriers though there is now the added hazard of roaming donkeys (burros) and the risk of donkey droppings making a bike ride more challenging! This was a gold-mining area and the pass was named after army captain Lorenzo Sitgreaves who, in 1851, was tasked with finding a wagon road through the Black Mountains and into California. As an already established trail, it became part of Route 66 but it was a dangerous road. There is a section known as Dead Man’s Curve which is a sharp hairpin with a steep drop that was notorious for accidents. In fact, it is still possible to see wrecks rusting away at the bottom of the slopes. Travellers, unfamiliar with the road, perhaps at night or in rain, may not have realised that the road turned sharply and carried on over the edge. Good road markings and safety barriers were non-existent at that time. Also, the mining companies were losing money as their drivers were being killed or their cargo of ore lost as they went over the edge. There are countless little memorials on that mountainside though, to be fair, some have been added more recently as last wishes rather than because they met their end on that section of road. The mining companies eventually blasted a safer corner through the pass. The reason the burros are here is because they were simply turned loose by the mining companies when they closed down their operations. Today’s burros are the descendants of those that worked in the mines.

Descent of the pass takes us into Oatman, one of the original mining towns. It was established over 100 years ago and became a flourishing town of 3,500 after two prospectors struck a $10 million gold find in 1915. Oatman was named in honour of Olive Oatman, a young Illinois girl who was kidnapped by Indians and forced to work as a slave. The main employer in the area, United Eastern Mines, shut down their operations in Oatman in 1924. World War II saw the closure of the remaining mines though the town continued to thrive as it was on Route 66. That was until 1953 when it was totally bypassed and Oatman became a ghost town. Today, Oatman is preserved as an example of the early mining towns and it’s sole existence now is for the growing tourism trade wanting to see Route 66. After the shops and restaurants close in the evening, Oatman becomes a ghost town once more. The only thing we didn’t see was tumbleweed blowing down the main street.

From Oatman we make our way towards Needles and our stop for the night. The scenery is enjoyable but our riding is marred once again by the low evening sun in our eyes.

Note that the photo gallery spans several pages – click on the page numbers below the thumbnails on the Photo Gallery page to see more pages of images.

Next: Day 13: It’s Hot in the Desert

Day 11: The Grand Canyon

The Colorado River winds its way through the Grand Canyon

Well, the day has arrived for one of the big highlights of the trip. Actually, that’s not true. Let’s just say that this is another of the many highlights of this trip. When booking the trip, the wording suggested that we could ride to the Grand Canyon or take the train. I had planned to give the bike a rest and take a leisurely trip on the train. As it turned out, taking the bike was the better bet because it gave us independence and fitted in better with travelling as a group especially for those wanting the helicopter trip – and we did!

The Grand Canyon is about 60 miles north of Williams and so all of us took an easy ride – it was effectively one long straight road with little chance of getting lost. Only Bill and ourselves had elected to take the helicopter trip. This would be Françoise’s first pleasure trip in a helicopter. The only other time she had been up in a helicopter was when she was rescued from the French Alps. I had planned to treat her to a trip over Niagara Falls in a helicopter some years ago and we almost did it. It was all booked and we were at Niagara when we were told that all flights were grounded – that day was 9/11.

Today, there was no such problem and Gary took us to Maverick Helicopters where we waited for our flight. Our pilot was called Tanner and the helicopter was very comfortable with headsets and microphones so we could all talk to each other. Tanner had been with Maverick for a year and was an experienced pilot making up to 9 Grand Canyon flights per day. He had lost his leg in a work accident 8 years earlier and was air-lifted to hospital in a helicopter and that’s what gave hime the desire to fly helicopters.

The flight lasted about an hour and there was a real moment of awe when we crossed the rim and saw into the canyon. Seeing it from the air is an amazing experience and even then it is not possible to gauge the size of the canyon – it is, after all, 277 miles long, an average of 10 miles across, and up to 1 mile deep! The helicopter flight is highly recommended. After the flight, it is possible to purchase a video of the actual flight which had been recorded by a camera in the helicopter with the data being written to a hard disc in the helicopter and handed over to the ground crew for making DVDs afterwards. It isn’t HD quality but serves as a great reminder of a memorable experience.

We then had lunch at We Cook Pizza (what an original name for a pizza restaurant…?). Afterwards, we rode into the Grand Canyon National Park, took a right and headed out to Desert View, a vantage point some 30 miles east. We saw lots of dead trees catching the sun on the way in and made a mental note to stop and photograph them on the way out. We rode with Bill to Desert View and stopped there for some time taking photos. Apologies for all the canyon photo shots in today’s gallery but there is so much to see. It is very difficult to capture the enormity and grandeur of the Grand Canyon in a small two-dimensional image and it’s a place you really have to see with your own eyes to appreciate. Since the canyon stretched so far and heat haze and UV degraded the scene, I tried to capture shots with trees and other objects in the foreground to give some sense of scale and used the canyon as a backdrop.

On the way out, we stop for the dead trees and spend several minutes there with our cameras. We check in with Gary as we exit the park and make our own way back to Williams. We wanted to have some time to wander round Williams with our cameras once more as it is such a photogenic town and the low evening sun adds mood to these shots. On the way back we could still see the tremendous cloud of smoke over the national park to the east where the forest fire was still raging. The blaze consumed 14,000 acres, engaged 800 firefighters and caused 1,000 residents of Flagstaff to be evacuated. The fire was believed to have been started by an abandoned camp fire.

We decide to eat in town that evening and so I ask one of the locals for advice on a good place to eat. We would like to have tried Twisters but it was Sunday and it was closed. We were recommended to try the Red Raven which was a little more expensive but the food and hospitality made it worthwhile. When we left, it was dark but still warm and we took a slow wander back to the hotel and our bed.

Note that the photo gallery spans several pages – click on the page numbers below the thumbnails on the Photo Gallery page to see more pages of images.

Next: Day 12: Rugged Terrain Ahead

Day 10: Standin’ on the Corner

Standin' on the Corner in Winslow, Arizona

Today, our destination was Williams for the second of our rest days but our first stop was the Petrified Forest National Park. Again, we were given a fixed time to wander around and take photographs before meeting up at the end of the road. We could have easily spent more time here and we’re conscious we only saw a fraction of what was there but this was a Route 66 tour and not a National Parks tour so we had to make the best of the time available. As it turned out, the first couple of stops gave us fantastic views of the Painted Desert and we spent so much time taking photographs that it left us no time to see the petrified trees. In fact, we jumped on the bike and rode through the park bypassing other areas of interest and made it to the rendezvous point with just four minutes to spare. There are several shots of the Painted Desert in the Photo Gallery for today, maybe too many.

Our lunch stop was Joe and Aggie’s at Holbrook and we heard that they were expecting a large Norwegian tour party that day. Gary suggested that we made our way there promptly in order to get served before the others arrived. Joe and Aggie’s dates back to 1946, the year when Bobby Troup headed west in his Buick convertible and wrote (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66. The food is a cross between Mexican and American and is rated highly. Not being fond of anything too spicy, I went for the Hot Beef with Mash and Gravy which actually was quite tasty and very much in a home-cooked style. It made a welcome change to the usual predictable menu choices found in so many other diners.

Holbrook is a typical old Route 66 town. Round the corner from Joe and Aggie’s was a store selling dinosaurs. It may not have been there when Route 66 was built but was there later and became associated with the road. I was amused by the sign that said “To take photographs of dinosaurs, for personal use only, not responsible for accidents”. On first reading it suggests that you might provoke them and get eaten but I suspect that what it really meant was that there is a danger of being struck by a vehicle if you stepped back into the road to photograph the dinosaurs. I did see a more amusing sign from the road on the way to the Petrified Forest that morning. It read “Free postcards. Free polished petrified wood. Meteorites half price.”

Just down the road from Joe and Aggie’s is the Wigwam Motel. It is decorated with classic cars in front of them (though mostly not restored) and, apparently, the hotel is still in use today. The sign at the front challenges “Have you slept in a wigwam lately?”. These are not real wigwams but motel rooms made to look like wigwams and they have all modern facilities inside. I spent a while photographing the ‘wigwams’ as well as the vehicles here.

Our next stop was Winslow made famous by The Eagles with Take It Easy. It was their first single and was released on 1st May 1972. It was written by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey, lead singer for the Eagles. It’s not clear whether Glenn Frey stayed in Winslow and got his inspiration from there. Winslow was the largest town in northern Arizona but suffered badly when Interstate 40 was opened. It became one of the many ghost towns along the old route. The La Posada Foundation (now called the Standin’ On The Corner Foundation), determined to revitalise Winslow, decided to create a park in Winslow focussed on Take It Easy. They purchased some land with a building on the NW corner of Kinsley Avenue and Second Street, created a park, commissioned trompe-l’œil artist John Pugh to paint a mural on the side of the building, and sculptor Ron Adamson to create a bronze of a 70s man with a guitar to stand on the corner. The mural also depicts a girl in a flatbed Ford thus echoing the lyrics of the song. The building was destroyed by fire in 2004 but the wall and the mural were preserved – the rest of the building was subsequently torn down. Though the song refers to a corner in Winslow, Arizona, there is no evidence to suggest that this corner is the one (if Glenn Frey ever had a particular corner in mind when he penned the words of the second verse) but the tribute itself is enough to bring tourism to the town and help it survive.

While in Winslow, we buy long-sleeved t-shirts in case we need them for the ride through the desert. We have cool vests but buy them anyway to give us some options. Besides, it’s nice to have a Standing on the Corner in Winslow, Arizona t-shirt.

Next is a longish stretch of Interstate. We see in the distance what appears to be low cloud drifting northwards. It appears more like volcanic activity creating an ash cloud the closer we get. It turns out to be a forest fire on the hillside in one of the national parks near Flagstaff. Roads are being closed and traffic queues forming as the fire spreads. Gary decides to bypass Flagstaff and go straight to Williams. We stop off at the Grand Canyon Harley-Davidson dealership for a break. This is a large dealership split into two buildings. One houses the showroom while the other, across a large car park, houses a Route 66 museum and a bar/diner. We get a coffee there and take some photographs. I made my way over to the showroom to find Bill trying the bikes again. I purchase a cooling neckband for Françoise whose neckband has disappeared (Gary later finds it buried below the ice in one of his ice chests).

We eventually make Williams as the sun goes down and gives a golden glow to the town. We rush to the hotel to freshen up and get out again with our cameras before all the light is gone. The hotel is one of the few with decent guest laundry facilities and one where we arrive before EagleRider and thus have a chance to use the facilities. Gary gave me some laundry detergent and I put a load into the washer. It needed $1.75 in quarters. The dryer takes the same and it is a relief to get some washing done at this stage of the trip. Others have been buying t-shirts as they went along and presumably washing other things in their rooms. The walk to the centre of town takes about 20 minutes. There is a staged gunfight happening and I stop to speak to a couple of musicians while they took a break. The mayor of Williams was also there and I get his photograph. I wander further down the road taking several pictures along the way. I stop at John’s Auto Truck business and ask if I could take some photos. I was refused. I got talking to them, explained who I was, talked about Williams and Route 66 and then eventually they (John, the owner, and his father) permitted me to photograph them. They ask for copies and give me their business card – I will send them prints from England.

We eat that night in Doc Holliday’s, the bar attached to the hotel restaurant. The food is OK but not the best. Certainly, Françoise was less than happy with her ribs. The group watch Wild Hogs on the bar TV. The film is based in Madrid where we were the day before and we recognise places we had seen. We go to bed looking forward to our trip to the Grand Canyon the next day.

Note that the photo gallery spans several pages – click on the page numbers below the thumbnails on the Photo Gallery page to see more pages of images.

Next: Day 11: The Grand Canyon

Day 9: Wild Hogs on the Loose

Wild Hogs 2010

After having breakfast in town (there is no restaurant in the hotel), we move out of Santa Fe and continue our journey. Today’s destination is Gallup but our first stop is not far away in a small town called Madrid where the film Wild Hogs starring John Travolta was filmed. We visit Maggie’s Diner in Madrid (featured in the film) which actually isn’t a diner in real life and neither is it run by somebody called Maggie. The diner was actually built for the film and is now a retail shop selling gifts, t-shirts and things to do with the film. The film was made in 2006 and released in 2007 to negative reviews. However, that didn’t stop it making $253.6m!

The rest of Madrid was interesting to look at but much of it was geared towards the tourist trade. I did find one old house that hadn’t been touched in years. Like most of the houses here, it was a pre-fabricated timber construction and brought in by railroad in about 1870 as three sections and bolted/nailed together on-site. This particular house has been with the present owner for the past 30 years and he doesn’t want to alter it in any way. So, it is slowly rotting away except for the new roof which he obviously needed if he wanted to remain living in the house. I gleaned all this from a local who who was keen to tell me the story.

Our next stop was Alberqueque. This is quite a large city and we passed many signs for long gone establishments on the way through. We made our way to the old town for lunch in a very civilised restaurant known to Gary. In fact, we had a table reserved on a shady part of the patio where we all relaxed over a leisurely lunch.

Just outside of Alberqueque we stopped before a large bridge which Gary explained was the bridge crossing the Rio Grande. We took our cameras and followed the footpath but, to be honest, it was a little disappointing when we got there. It was hardly ‘Grande’ at all. The water level was quite low and it looked rather muddy. Maybe they should have called this the ‘Big Muddy’ instead of the Mississippi. I can just see John Wayne there now looking a little embarrassed with his horse stuck in the mud.

Further down the road we stopped at an old and overgrown garage that once used to belong to the Whiting Brothers. Very little is left of it and Gary warns us once more to be aware of rattlesnakes as we stroll around with our cameras. The Whiting Brothers were a well-known name along Route 66. When the road was first built they used lumber from their father’s business to construct a gas station. Many others followed and as profits increased, their sites added cafés, grocery stores and even motels. Like many other establishments, they suffered from the opening of the Interstates and the company folded in the 1990s.

Before reaching Gallup, we make one more stop for an ice-cream, though in my case it was a coconut milkshake. I have to admit that I had two – they were fantastic.

Our stop for the night was at the El Rancho hotel, a very characterful independently-owned hotel. Though our room was good it was, unfortunately, a smoking room and suffered from an overpowering smell of stale tobacco smoke. We asked if we could change rooms and we were given another room on the ground floor. This turned out to have two single beds and a very small bathroom. At least it didn’t smell, but was perhaps the poorest hotel room of the trip. We accepted the room – it was for one night after all.

Note that the photo gallery for today spans several pages – click on the page numbers below the thumbnails on the Photo Gallery page to see more pages of images.

Next: Day 10: Standin’ on the Corner

Day 8: Rest Day in Santa Fe

Bike and Burro, Santa Fe

There was no rush to get up today but we did so anyway as we wanted to catch the early morning light which was casting some great shadows. Since the hotel had no restaurant we had to go out for breakfast and so we took our camera gear with us. We wandered around photographing the buildings, people where we could (the Indians didn’t like to be photographed) and shop window displays. The Azuni and Navajo Indians selling jewelry outside the Palace of the Governors were quite photogenic but they all shied away from being photographed. After an hour or so we found a French style café called the Café de Paris and decided to stop for breakfast there. It was served outside under large parasols and was most relaxing. We spent more time taking photographs before heading back to the hotel. We then visited the library close to the hotel so Françoise could use the Internet terminals to respond to e-mails which required more typing than was practical on my iPhone. In the meantime, I started writing postcards as the charger I had bought in Walmart had done a good job and successfully charged Françoise’s Palm to recover the addresses.

Since we had had a latish cooked breakfast, we skipped lunch and met up with Gary, Bill, Simon and Viv to go shooting. This was not part of the tour – it is actually Gary’s day off but as he was going to Tina’s Range Gear anyway, he thought it would be an interesting thing for us to do since, after the Dunblane tragedy, it is no longer possible to own or shoot a handgun in the UK. After having never fired anything more powerful than a .22 rifle in my teens and knowing that I was a better shot than my two army-trained brothers, I thought I’d give it a go. Gary is a fully-qualified firearms instructor and gave us a comprehensive safety briefing beforehand. He also closely supervised us during the shooting. We had the chance to fire several rounds with a Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolver and a Glock ACP semi-automatic pistol as well as a few rounds with a Smith & Wesson 629 .44 Magnum. Viv went along with Simon but was a little apprehensive and decided not to shoot after hearing how loud the first few shots were (even with ear defenders, and eye protection of course). Françoise enjoyed herself and turned out to be a good shot, as did Bill. It was a different experience and one we have to thank Gary for. As Gary said, we might not shoot again but if we did come across a situation where we had to take charge of a handgun, at least we would know how to handle it safely.

On the way back to the hotel we dropped into another Walmart for some odds and ends. I tried to convince Gary that Walmart was almost as big as Tesco in the UK… We went into town together as a group once more for dinner that evening where we all recounted tales of how we spent the day.

Note that the photo gallery spans several pages – click on the page numbers below the thumbnails on the Photo Gallery page to see more pages of images.

Next: Day 9: Wild Hogs on the Loose

Day 7: Passing Through Texas

The Stanley Marsh sponsored art exhibit 'Cadillac Ranch'

Gary warned us again about the right of way for traffic entering and leaving the Interstate that runs parallel to Route 66. In Texas that means that cars may cut straight in front of you even if you appear to be on the main road. It’s a killer system and we have to keep our wits about us. It’s easier to see in practice than to explain it in words.

Our first stop of the day was at Tripps, the H-D dealer in Amarillo for a chance to buy other H-D goodies for those into such things. It was also good to look at the bikes. I have to agree that Harleys look good as a bike. In fact, I’d rather look at a Harley than ride one. Harleys have form but their function is from a bygone era while Japanese bikes have function but very little form. Maybe only BMW combine the two with some degree of success but I digress…

Just outside of Amarillo is the Cadillac Ranch, perhaps one of the more well-known off-beat art exhibits in the US. It was created in 1974 by a group of artists called Ant Farm and installed on land owned by Stanley Marsh, a local millionaire and patron of the arts. There are ten Cadillacs here planted nose down into the soil facing west and at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza. The cars date from 1949 to 1963 and represent a number of evolutions of the car line, most notably the birth and death of the defining feature of early Cadillacs – the tail fin. The cars are covered in graffiti and vistors are positively encouraged to add their own. Consequently, it is a continually evolving artwork. It has been re-painted a number of times – once in pink to mark breast cancer awareness, once in white for a TV commercial, once to their original colours for a special Route 66 event, and a few times in flat black. The new paint barely lasts 24 hours without fresh graffiti appearing. The exhibit was moved from its original location to it’s present site in 1997.

Next we had a longish ride to Adrian which is at the mid point of Route 66 and we posed in front of the sign for a group shot. Adrian is 1139 miles from the start of Route 66 in Chicago and 1139 miles from its end at Santa Monica. Next, we were over the road to the Midpoint Café where we had cinammon rolls and coffee. Since we skipped breakfast that morning, this went down rather well. The café had other tempting food and I succumbed to a portion of coconut cream pie – that was absolute heaven! All the food is freshly prepared and I highly recommend a stop here. Outside is a flatbed truck for you to add your name to – if you can find space that is! Not long after leaving Adrian we say goodbye to Texas and the suicidal Interstate junctions and cross into New Mexico.

We ride for an hour or so to Tucumcari and lunch in Kix on Route 66. Since I had eaten a late breakfast I wasn’t too hungry so settled for a relatively light corned beef hash. I usually avoid corned beef in the UK but thought that corned beed in the heart of the steak state should be OK. There wasn’t a great lot of difference though my opinion may have been biased a little by crunching on a small stone in the corned beef. We spend some time wandering the main street taking photographs. Many of the businesses along the street had ceased trading and the properties were in decay. One notable establishment that still seemed to be operational was the Blue Swallow Motel which was, not suprisingly, painted in blue. This motel was of the traditional construction with a forecourt surrounded on three sides by rooms but each had a garage built into it. The inside of each garage had wall paintings and many depicted Route 66 scenes.

As we walked back to our bikes, Gary was giving us the hurry-up. There was a storm approaching and he wanted to avoid it. We rode briskly along the Interstate but the high cross-winds made Françoise feel uncomfortable on the back. We got to Santa Rosa and the Route 66 Auto Museum managing to avoid the storm. This museum has a large number of restored cars courtesy of Bozo who runs the local garage. These are mostly classic American cars and gave us another photo opportunity, but not before we enjoyed a well-earned ice-cream.

Not long after leaving Santa Rosa, we turn off the road to take a smaller road to Las Vegas (this is the New Mexico Las Vegas, not the more famous Nevada one). We stop soon after the turn and Gary says he is cutting us loose. We can travel the next section (40 miles or so) at our own pace so long as we rendezvous at the garage at the end of the road at a certain time. The others go ahead and we leave last. This was a fantastic road to ride with amazing views, good road surface and ideal weather. We soon reach and pass Bill who is enjoying the ride. We see Pat stopped (he was getting his camera out). We came up behind Simon and Viv who slowed for photos and before we knew it, we had passed everybody except Neill who we thought must have raced down this road. Then he went past us but going the other way! After leaving last, we arrive at the garage first. This is probably because we didn’t stop to take photos. We are both keen photographers but know that some landscapes have to be experienced first-hand and photographs don’t do them justice. So, we just took it steady and really enjoyed that stretch of road.

After fuelling up we headed for Santa Fe and our rest day. We were now more than half way and looking forward to a break. We followed part of the old Santa Fe Trail to Santa Fe. This was the least enjoyable part of the day as we were now riding into the sun as we headed west. This would be a problem on other days too.

When we arrived at Santa Fe, we were greeted by something different again. Gone were the traditional brick and timber buildings that we had seen so far. Instead, we saw a Spanish pueblo style with adobe-coloured exteriors. Our hotel was quite central meaning that the centre of Santa Fe and the art galleries and restaurants were within easy walking distance. It would also be good to stay two nights and to not have to pack a bag for loading onto the truck the following morning. We dined out in a pleasant roof-top restaurant that evening. Another good day had passed.

Note that the photo gallery spans several pages – click on the page numbers below the thumbnails on the Photo Gallery page to see more pages of images.

Next: Day 8: Rest Day in Santa Fe

Day 6: Show Me The Way To…

Bikes outside The Big Texan Steak House and Motel

I’ll leave you to guess the destination while I hum a Tony Christie song in the background…

Today was a day full of surprises – much to see, much to do, and much to photograph. Our first stop was the Route 66 Museum in Clinton. This is the biggest and best museum we’ve seen so far and we spent some time there. I spent a lot of time looking for interesting angles to photograph the exhibits while the others watched a film about the early days of Route 66. I bought the DVD so I can watch it at leisure at home. There is yet another gift shop and we extract our wallets once more. I wanted to buy a beige tee-shirt but it was the only design that they had sold out of. This has been my luck so far – I saw a very good leather waistcoat (vest) for $25 at the Route 66 Interpretive Center the day before but did they have my size? Nope! I console myself with a Route 66 key fob to put on the zipper tag of my rucksack to differentiate it from Françoise’s.

Further down the road we stop at Elk City for some photos under the big Route 66 sign for their museum there. Then we stop again at a disused section of Route 66 for a brief photo-shoot and ride under some trees that now grow over this section of road. Gary hurries us along as he knows what’s in store for us at lunch in Erick.

We stop at the Sandhills Curiosity Shop and are immediately approached by two people in red-striped outfits who welcome us to ‘The Redneck Capitol of the World’. They are Harley and Annabelle who are also known as “The Mediocre Music Makers” and deal out what they call “Insanity At Its Finest”. We are shown around their home (the Redneck Castle) and then entertained in their establishment on the main street. It’s difficult to describe this rather bizarre experience but, thankfully, they have their own blog and they have recently made a film. There are photos in the gallery of them and their establishment. This is also where we have lunch and make our own sandwiches from the bread and cold meats provided as well as grabbing a cold drink. To sum up, these are real characters who have now become part of Route 66 folklore. The road and legend will outlive them but at least we saw them at their finest. It’s not something you’d forget in a hurry.

We now cross the border from Oklahoma into Texas and our next stop is Shamrock (the town was given its name by an Irish immigrant, George Nickel, in 1890). This is where we stop to see the wonderful U-Drop Inn. This was built in 1936 and is a fantastic example of the Art Deco style as applied to a garage (gas station) and diner. Apparently, it is even more impressive at night with it’s neon accent lighting. In its heyday on Route 66, the U-Drop Inn was the only café within 100 miles of Shamrock and enjoyed brisk business. Over the years it changed hands several times, was renamed several times and painted different colours. When Shamrock was bypassed by Interstate 40 and Route 66 decommissioned in 1984, Shamrock became a ghost town and business declined. It no longer was a viable business and the bank took it over before it completely closed down in 1997. Realising the significance of the building, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places thanks to efforts of various State and local historical associations. With help from the city of Shamrock and government funding, this building now has recognition and has been restored to its original appearance and now serves as a museum, gift shop and home of the city’s chamber of commerce. (There is a superb 360° view of the U-Drop Inn at 360 Cities).

Not far from Shamrock is McLean, the site of the first Phillips gas station on Route 66 built in 1929. The fuel was manufactured by the Phillips Petroleum Company and the brand “Phillips 66″ only appeared after its products were tested on Route 66 in a car that was travelling at 66 mph. The logo for the fuel also echoed the Route 66 road signs but had an orange background.

Before Gary shows us the way to Amarillo, we head onto the Interstate and take an exit to an observation area where we have excellent views over the great plains (the Panhandle). The building at this point is half sunk into the ground and acts as a tornado refuge. We were warned to stick to the paths as there are many rattlesnakes resting in the shade of nearby bushes.

We make it to the Big Texan Steak House and Motel in Amarillo in some wonderful evening sun (it had been another hot day). We dine in the Steak House that night but none of our party accepts the challenge to eat a 72oz steak in an hour for free. There is a bar and gift shop associated with the Steak House. The gift shop is a little tacky and even houses a rattlesnake in a vivarium at the end of the shop. The bar is similarly tacky with gimmicks and a funfair-like shooting range and a massive rocking chair. Still, the food was OK. What we did notice was that the further west we went, the less likely there would be bottled water in the room. There would be coffee-making equipment but in a hot area there was no water. It wasn’t easy to buy bottled water either and sparkling water (like Perrier) was a rarity. Also, if you wanted tea, it had to be cold flavoured tea – no hot tea with milk. If you wanted a cold non-alcoholic drink it was either Coke, lemonade of some kind, root beer or iced tap water. I can’t say I was fond of the taste of their tap water.

Today was a packed and interesting day with lots of photo opportunities. As each day passed, what we saw and did just seemed to get better and better. At least, the wet and windy weather of Oklahoma fast became a distant memory.

Note that the photo gallery spans several pages – click on the page numbers below the thumbnails on the Photo Gallery page to see more pages of images.

Next: Day 7: Passing Through Texas