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Route 66, part IV:
Albuquerque to the Mississippi River

Passing through Albuquerque

This portion of your Route 66 experience leads you from New Mexico to the Mississippi River via the Texas Panhandle and Ozark Mountains.

In Albuquerque, be sure to try the fabulous blue corn enchiladas at the M & J Sanitary Tortilla Factory (505) 242-4890, 403 Second Street Southwest, just south of the Greyhound terminal and across a bridge over the railway tracks from the Amtrak station.

This inexpensive restaurant offers the best New Mexican-style food Dr. Voyageur has tasted.

Starting at Albuquerque, Dr. Voyageur urges travellers to detour north to Taos via Jemez Springs, Santa Fe, Chimayo and Truchas, and then go east to I-40.

Interestingly, the original Route 66 travelled via Santa Fe—good for tourists, but not for truckers.

North of Taos, along the Colorado New Mexico border, runs the narrow-gauge Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad from late May through October.

Based in Chama, New Mexico, and operated by a volunteer group, the C&TS, part of a line that once served the mining camps in the area, passes through rugged and isolated western mountain scenery using authentic preserved equipment. Check out its web site for more details.

Otherwise, at Albuquerque, continue east on I-40.


Tucumcari

Tucumcari, still in New Mexico, is a must stop.

Detour off I-40 onto the main business street of Tucumcari.

No other town has preserved so many 1950s-era Route 66 buildings, such as the Blue Swallow Motel.

You'll love the circa 1950s neon signs.

Tucumcari takes much pride in its Route 66 heritage.

It also offers less expensive accommodations than many 1-40 towns.


The Texas Panhandle

Starting in eastern New Mexico, continuing through the Texas Panhandle, and on into western Oklahoma, Interstate 40 becomes really, really boring and flat and monotonous to the max.

This is a section to travel quickly and even drive at night, if pressed for time.

Amarillo, which means "yellow" in Spanish, is worth a stop, however.

Say what you will about their town stuck in the Texas Panhandle and its countryside, but Amarillo folks are a friendly and tolerant bunch.

When the most popular and highly paid television personality in America, Oprah Winfrey, an American of African descent, hosted a show that clearly implied that mad cow disease existed in the U.S., with apparently no proof whatsoever, and thereby caused tens of millions of dollars of damage to the Texas cattle industry, Texas beef interests sued.

As the trial in Amarillo dragged on, Winfrey was hosted with warmth and affection, and even had local restaurant veggie items named after her. The trial ended with a "not guilty" verdict.

Amarillo prides itself on being different.

Speaking of different, just west of Amarillo, along I-40, stands the Stanley Marsh Cadillac Ranch.

Your taste in art may not lie in burying Cadillacs nose down (at the same angle as Cheops' pyramids) in the Texas prairie (better to admire their fins), but Mr. Marsh's and Dr. Voyageur's tastes sure do.

What a handsome sight are those buggies lined up on the Texas prairie!

Moreover, there is always the Big Texan "Steak Ranch" restaurant at 7701 East I-40 in Amarillo.

Let's just say that this place is somewhat vegetarian unfriendly to put it mildly (Try the Furrs Cafeteria instead if you are vegetarian).

However, if you like rattlesnake or steak and a cowboy atmosphere, the Big Texan Steak Ranch is your spot to dine.

Mad cow or no mad cow disease, eat an entire almost 300 gram (72 oz) steak at one sitting at the Big Texan, and you get it free. A surprisingly large percentage do.

But, please tell Dr. Voyageur that you will not try this assault on your until now pristine physiology. Sitting on your bum while driving for miles is no time to overeat to such a gross extent.

In Texas, the more than ample helpings at the Big Texan may be the extreme, but very large portions are the norm.

Food really hangs off the plates in Texas, and the bellies hang low. See the "Eating Well" page for descriptions of some of the local treats.

Dr. Voyageur loves this state!

Near Amarillo, the flat land opens up to Palo Duro Canyon, more than 300 metres deep, preserved in a state park.

Spectacular in its own right, this area seems even more awesome by contrast to the uninteresting land around it. Reach Palo Duro by driving some 18 miles south of Amarillo on Interstate 27, and then by going 10 miles east on Texas Highway 217.

While driving through Texas, you may notice that the Texas flag flies as high as the U.S. one, unlike the custom in other U.S. states.

As part of its agreement to join the United States, the Republic of Texas gained the right to fly its flag with equal prominence. By law, the other states must fly theirs at a lower level.

Down in Austin, the Texas state capitol building looks a lot like the one in Washington, D.C., but the Texas one is—you guessed it—larger.

The Republic of Texas joined the Union in a merger of equals, not as some junior partner in an acquisition.


Oklahoma — the "Sooner" state

Oklahoma's nickname Sooner State grew out of the way the state was settled by people of European descent.

As you may remember from the movie or play Oklahoma!, new settlers massed on the borders of the Oklahoma Territory prior to the official start of homesteading date, and waited for the signal to cross the border.

When the legal settlers arrived at some of the best spots, however, they found many of the most choice places already claimed by settlers who had snuck in ahead of time—snuck in sooner.

Oklahoma chose to honour these sneaky but creative citizens with its nickname, the Sooner State.

Along Interstate 40, prior to Oklahoma City, you reach the old Route 66 town of El Reno.

Get off the Interstate and explore the old downtown of what was once the largest city in Oklahoma.

El Reno makes a good place to stay overnight, instead of Oklahoma City.

In Oklahoma City, eat. These people know how to dine.

Try the Classen Grill, 405 842-0428.

Finding it is a bit difficult.

Finding its street, Classen Boulevard, is no problem, but when you head north from the centre city, Classen Boulevard suddenly ends.

But, go around the limited access highway that blocks Classen and you will reach the cafe at 5124 North Classen Boulevard, almost immediately north of the limited access highway.

Everything on the Southwestern breakfast or luncheon menu is delicious, and nothing is too expensive.

At Oklahoma City, turn northeast onto Interstate 44, part of which is a toll road.


Visiting the Ozark Mountains

As you leave Oklahoma City, the countryside becomes more lush again

You're heading toward the Ozark region.

The Ozark mountains are very old, and thus have eroded to be little more than hills. However, the land is often too rugged for row crops, which makes an ideal habitat for hardwood forests.

This is a pleasant change after eastern New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle, and western Oklahoma!

Just east of Tulsa, an important oil centre, turn east onto U.S. Highway 412.

Continue east on U.S. 412 into Arkansas.

Just across the state line, turn south and southeast onto State Highway 16, which enters a scenic Ozark region.

Continue to Highway 16 to Fayetteville.

The liberal university city of Fayetteville, an anti-slavery pocket in the Deep South in the years leading up to the War between the States, makes a super place to hang out for a day or so.

A young Bill Clinton attended and later taught law at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

In the Bentonville and Rogers area, just north of here, Sam Walton founded Wal-Mart and amassed one of the largest fortunes in the world.

This unassuming man continued to drive an old and not air conditioned pick-up truck and to live in a rather modest home for the remainder of his life.

From Fayetteville, continue east on Highway 16 into a rugged Ozark area.

This is beautiful country. Do not plan to drive very fast on these roads.

Turn north on State Highway 9 near Clinton.

Continue north on 9 to U.S. Highway 63 near the Missouri border.

Go north on U.S. 63 into Missouri.

Still in the Ozarks, just past Thayer, go north on State Highway 19.

Turn west on State Highway 106 a short distance to Alley Spring, in the Ozark Scenic Riverways National Recreation Area.

Do some exploring here. Dr. Voyageur has not stayed at the Alley Spring campground run by the National Park Service, but he knows that it is pleasant.

Go back east on 106 to State Highway 19.

For river canoeing and camping, go north on 19 to the Round Spring area in the National Scenic Riverway park.

The somewhat rowdy nature of this unsupervised campground at Round Spring (a tired Dr. Voyageur and friends wanted to go to sleep before 1:45 a.m.) is balanced by the lack of McDonald's and other fast food chains for miles and especially by the beautiful Current River, which is adjacent. The striking blue colour of the river comes from it being composed mostly of spring water. Little sediment clouds the water.

North of Round Spring one can rent a canoe and be picked up down river. Follow safety instructions, as this river is far less placid than it appears at first glance. Deaths occur every year, but this should not deter the more prudent from enjoying a great river experience. Park Rangers give evening fireside safety talks at Round Spring.

Go back south on Highway19 to Highway 106.

Turn east on State Highway 106.

Drive south on State Highway 21.

Turn south on paved county road D.

Go west a very short distance to Van Buren.

At Van Buren, drive south a short distance to Big Spring, a spring truly worthy of its name, within the Ozark Scenic Riverways park. This huge spring forms its own river as it flows out of the ground.

Big Spring is the site of a big, more family orientated campground than Round Spring (Dr. Voyageur slept better here). In the adjacent town of Van Buren, outside the park boundary, are a number of budget motels (none tried by the doctor) and down home cafes and snack bars. Well off the beaten track, nothing is expensive.

Continue on to Part V: Mississippi River to Virginia.

Go to >> Route 66, part I: Introduction
Go to >> Part II: Santa Monica to Las Vegas
Go to >> Part III: Las Vegas to Albuquerque
Go to >> Part IV: Albuquerque to the Mississippi River
Go to >> Part V: Mississippi River to Virginia
Go to >> Part VI: Understanding the War Between the States
Go to >> Part VII: Virginia to Washington, D.C.
Go to >> Part VIII: Washington, D.C. to New York City
Go to >> Part IX: Planning your Route 66 trip

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