Thursday, January 23, 2014

the Cozy Cone comes to life

The day after Christmas, we started off on our road trip to Santa Fe, a destination picked because 1) its beautiful at Christmas; 2) it often has snow at Christmas; 3) Team Danger wanted snow; and 4) it  is was on my bucket list. 

The new tablets from Grandma came in handy, and the boys quickly found ways to use them even with the super bright sunlight streaming in through the car windows.

We geocached along the way, and admired the giant windmills and oil fields that mark western Texas' landscape.

The boys were happy, Carl was happy, and then we smelled gas (oil fields? little boys?) and a few seconds later, realized my mommyvan was smoking.

Four hours later, we had been towed to Lubbock, our van was left at a Honda dealership, and we had a rental car reloaded and on our way. Turns out there was some radiator issues, the main suspect being the oil change I took the van in for a few days before our trip, and perhaps the radiator fluid cap wasn't replaced properly so we leaked a lot of fluid. As far as car disasters on a road trip goes, this one ended up not being too horrific. We had to change my planned return route to backtrack to Lubbock and pick up my van, which means that the lovely town of Amarillo shall remain a mystery to us for now. A huge loss, I'm sure. But all in all - there are worse things that could have been. Here is Alexander's first attempt at postcard journaling on the trip.

The (normal) route of Austin-Santa Fe is 10.5 hours of drive time. Carl wanted to try and do the bulk of the drive the first day, so that we would only have a bit of a drive on Day 2. After some research, I decided we should spend the night in Tucumcari, New Mexico. It added a bit of drive time to our schedule, but not much. And how often does one have a chance to stay along Route 66?

The boys didn't know much about Route 66. What they do know comes from the 'Cars' movies. Radiator Springs is a make believe town, but its a hybrid based on several Route 66 towns, and Tucumcari is one of them.

Ryan was very excited to be staying on Route 66 - he hadn't ever really heard of it before that day, but I had talked their ears off during the drive about historical roads and Lightening McQueen and the interstate system, and I was pleased to see that at least one of my children was listening to me while playing on their tablets.

We stayed at the Blue Swallow Motel, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

How fabulous was this place?! It only has about fifteen rooms, and they serve tea and hot chocolate and muffins in the morning.

Our room had its own garage painted with murals, and it was very vintage and kitsch.

I loved pulling up, and seeing this room's "Cars" mural all lit up, with a motorcycle resting inside it. I felt very Jack Kerouac-like (husband, two kids, and packed to the brim rental SUV notwithstanding).

(bad photo taken with iPhone on incorrect settings)

Tucumcari is one of those classic Route 66 towns, with lots of neon signs trying to lure travelers to stop and rest a bit. The sign on the front, announcing that it has "100% Refrigerated Air," was used to advertise on Sally's Cozy Cone motel.

We ate dinner at Del's Restaurant that night, primarily based on the amount of neon out front (and the amount of cars, signalling its win in the popularity contest). After a good night's sleep on some very comfortable beds, we woke up the next morning to see a bit of Tucumcari and Route 66 before getting back On The Road.

There was much excitement about seeing some smallish piles of snow on the ground. (Even more exciting than when the snowflake symbol on the rental car first appeared the night before, signalling we were now in freezing temperatures).

With my original plan, we would have arrived at Tucumcari in daylight. The car trouble meant we pulled into town in the dark. In retrospect, I can't think of a better way to arrive in Tucumcari. The neon glows gave the town a wonderful atmosphere, and it really felt like we were back in the 1950s.

But in the morning, the town seemed a bit, well, depressed.

Its clearly seen better days.

The town has lots of great murals on the sides of buildings, recalling its heyday.

But seeing the murals of the town in all its glory made the town even more depressing to me. I've always been fascinated by the interstate highway system, and how Eisenhower almost single-handedly reshaped America and its roads after his time spent in Europe during World War II. The pure genius of creating highways that always end in 5s when they go north-south, or 10s when they go east-west, and then starting with I-5 in California and working your way east to I-95 along the East Coast, well... its brilliant. But it came with its costs, to which towns like Tucumcari can attest.

After we left Tucumcari, we stopped briefly in the town of Santa Rosa, New Mexico, primarily because I had read something that morning that named the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa as one of the top 10 dives in America. Carl and I thought that meant a diner for lunch (as in, 'dives and diners'), but it turned out they literally meant a DIVE spot in the middle of New Mexico.

Color us silly and surprised that people would be scuba diving in New Mexico, but sure enough, there were divers in this Blue Hole. You can see them starting to come up behind Alex here.

Santa Rosa, much like Tucumcari, was a depressed town along Route 66.

I loved the look of this church, though.

If you try and google directions for Route 66, you'll find the road doesn't exist anymore. It was officially abolished in 1985, replaced by a larger interstate that parallels the original road quite a bit. We traveled in as much as possible, and took the road's split up to Santa Fe and away from Albuquerque. Much squeeing occurred when we saw our first snow capped mountains.

We then drove a bit further to Las Vegas, New Mexico, which is nothing like its namesake in Nevada. It does boast having over 900 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, and it had some movies filmed there, like Easy Rider, No Country for Old Men, Wyatt Earp, Red Dawn, and Wild Hogs. So I thought it would be a good spot for lunch.

Well, this was also a fairly depressed town.

We tried to do a geocache where this train was located.

Thirty minutes later, no geocache was to be found, but I'm pretty sure I watched at least three drug deals go down as cars would pull up next to each other for a minute, windows rolled down, and hands extended out.

All of this made me quite sad for these towns that were once part of the glorious wild west and have their own part in America's early driving history.

I reflected a lot on that great scene in 'Cars,' when the town and Lightning McQueen have worked together to fix up Radiator Springs and re-lit all its glorious neon lights. Tucumcari at night reminded me of that.

But Tucumcari in daylight, and our brief visits to Santa Rosa and Las Vegas, reminded me of the first Radiator Springs that McQueen meets. Ready for a makeover.

The boys didn't mind, though. They LOVED Tucumcari, Route 66, and staying in real-life Radiator Springs. And it didn't hurt that we arrived there via our very own real-life Tow-Mater. ;)

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