Sunday, June 3, 2012

Kicks: Day Nine (A ghost town and a living legend)

IMG_3770smAfter a good workout this morning, we left Amarillo in the rearview mirror and once again headed west. Old 66 through the west side of Amarillo is a neat little artsy area, and it would be fun to spend more time there! I liked Amarillo quite a bit, more than any other city I’ve been to in Texas (although San Antonio is pretty cool, too). I hear that Austin is really a happenin’ place, but I haven’t been there yet.

Not too far out of town is Cadillac Ranch, an art installation that has been around for 40-some years. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s ten old Cadillacs buried nose-first in the ground. It sits in the middle of a field that is used for some sort of was plowed, but nothing was growing yet, so I don’t know what ends up there. It’s a bizarre juxtaposition of rural and urban, and what makes it even better is that it is participatory. Visitors are encouraged to add graffiti to the cars, and the ground is littered with cans of spray paint. (I hope someone picks them up and disposes of them properly every so often!) I found it oddly charming, and I left there with a smile on my face.

I’m not going to touch on everything we did today, just a couple more things that I found especially noteworthy. (For a further description of our day, visit Ken’s blog.)

One of the things I was looking forward to the most was seeing Glenrio, Texas. If you know anything about Glenrio, Texas, that will probably seem a little strange, but if you know anything about me, it won’t be strange at all! It is essentially a ghost town that straddles the Texas-New Mexico state line. It never had a ton of residents (maybe 30 or so), but those who resided there made a decent living by taking care of travelers on Route 66. There were a couple of small motels, service stations, and a diner. Glenrio was bypassed by I-40 in the early ‘70s, and the town quickly died. I believe there may be one or two residents left, because there was a barking dog near one of the structures, and it was posted with signs saying “Private Property” and “Dog on Premises” and other such warnings. Why anyone would choose to stay in such a place is beyond me. It was desolate and depressing, and almost spooky. The main picture here is the former Texas Longhorn Motel. One the way heading west, the sign read “Last Motel in Texas.” On the way heading east, it said, “First Motel in Texas.” Only a few letters are left on the eastbound side now.

I remember Shane telling me about his experience visiting Glenrio several years ago. He visited at dusk, and said that several dogs started howling as he walked around. He said it was a very eerie experience, and although we visited in the middle of the afternoon, with hot temperatures and the sun shining, it was still an eerie experience. The wind was very brisk, and there was very little noise other than the wind through the trees. The interstate was a distant whisper, and the lone barking dog quieted down once we went past him. I don’t even recall hearing any insects, and remember a deep silence, other than the wind. I took quite a few pictures, as well as a short video.

We took the Dirt 66 option south of Glenrio rather than the paved route, and I’m glad we did. It was in great shape—hardpack and gravel—and we had no problems. It took us past another ghost town, Endee, where all that remains are ruins of houses and other buildings. It is no longer considered a town. We saw the remains of an old railroad which was torn up some time ago, the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific. It was known by its acronym, CRI & P, and discussed as the Cry & Pee. I’m happy to say that I did neither! It was a fascinating trip down old 66 (formerly paved, but torn up to reduce maintenance costs), 18 miles from Glenrio to San Jon.

We left forlorn Glenrio and the former Endee behind us and headed towards a happier nostalgic place, Tucumcari, New Mexico. Tucumcari is known for its slogan (“Tucumcari Tonight!”) and its strip of old motels and service stations. Many old signs remain, but most have lost their neon or don’t bother turning it on. I was in seventh heaven with all the old motels and signs, but I was nearing ecstasy as we checked into the Blue Swallow Motel, probably the most famous of all the old motels on Route 66.

This is a true beauty, built in 1939. The owner from 1958 to 1998, Lillian Redman, passed away a while back, and a couple from Michigan bought it and began renovating it. We chatted for a while with Kevin, and he was very helpful and kind and you could tell that he is enthusiastic about the motel. He showed us the room (we’re in Cabin Five), and told us that while they’ve updated things like the bed, towels, and other such amenities (including free wifi), they’ve done their best to maintain the integrity of the original motel. The tile on the floor and in the shower in the bathroom are original; the overhead light fixtures are original, as are the bases of the lamps by the bed. Some of the windows are original, and guess what? There is a screenless window in the shower that I get to open up when I shower tomorrow morning!

The room keys are real keys, not key cards, and have the big keychain (you can buy them in the office, and yes, I’ll be getting a Cabin Five keychain!). The phone is also original, and it’s one of those heavy black desk phones...with a rotary dial! And it works! It doesn’t make the cool clicking sound I remember from old phones, but that sucker is heavy. It’s the real deal. This might sound silly, but I am fascinated by the little niche in the shower for the soap. Isn’t that cool??

The most amazing thing about the Blue Swallow is the sign. It’s one of the loveliest on the Route, and the entire motel is lit up with neon. When I asked about other signage in town, the owner said that the Blue Swallow probably has more neon than all the rest of the places in town combined. After checking it out after the sun went down, I would have to agree.

The large canopy sign is extensively lit, including the blue swallow at the top that blinks on and off; there is neon around the office, and around the roofline of the entire court motel; there are neon swallows over each of the garage bays. (I didn’t realize that the Blue Swallow had garage bays. Most are used by the owners for other things and are not available for parking now.)

For those seeking luxury and roominess, such a motel is not for you. For those who would like to experience a little of what it was like to head west several decades ago and stay in a small motor court like the Blue Swallow, you will love it. It is super clean, about as close to authentic as you can get, the owners are friendly, helpful, and obviously are enthused about bringing the Blue Swallow back to prominence as one of THE places to stay on the Road, and it has a charm that has survived for over 70 years.

Well done, Blue Swallow. Long may you run.


  1. One of our best days, with the Blue Swallow taking the prize.

  2. LOVE the key chain! I remember when Holiday Inns had green ones shaped like that!

  3. LOVE the Blue Swallow Motels. So nice that they remain complete with neon still shining bright. LOVED your video. There was an erie stillness there. Glenrio is haunted by the past that left it behind. GREAT travelogue. Been following your hubby's. Followed his link here today to you.


I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you?