Monday, September 24, 2007

Cadillac Ranch

Sept 23
We transitioned from the southwest to the Midwest today, and all on I-40. What a road. Long. Flat. Straight. Fast. LOTS of trucks…. Way too many trucks. We saw sagebrush in New Mexico, and farmland in Texas, and actually things got greener with slightly more rolling hills in Oklahoma. There was a lot of wind, too—and lots of wind farms: huge tracts of windmills spinning steadily. And off to the side, like a ghostly companion, runs the famous Route 66, often reduced to a mere access road to the interstate.

We crossed into Texas (and into the Central time zone) just at noon—which meant it was almost immediately 1:00. I planned for us to stop in Amarillo, Texas, for two reasons. The first was Cadillac Ranch; but we drove right past it! I hadn’t figured I needed detailed directions: “just west of Amarillo, in sight of I-40” was what I read on the Internet, and I assumed it would be in my AAA Tourbook. Nope—it was mentioned in the book, but NOT with a specific exit! I looked in all of my various sources, with no luck; and pretty soon we were inside the city limits of Amarillo, with no Cadillac Ranch in sight. I was extremely peeved, to say the least.

The second planned stop was harder to miss: “FREE!! 72-OUNCE STEAK!!” Thus proclaim the billboards for The Big Texan , for miles (even while we were still in New Mexico). To our disgust, the frequent billboards never actually said which exit to take! Luckily we saw the horribly kitschy western-themed mess on the opposite side of the highway as we whizzed past, and by then had figured out the approach to highway-side businesses in Amarillo: you take the exit after you see what you want, then head back on the service road which runs on either side of the Interstate. We got off at the right time, circled back, and pulled into The Big Texan. I considered taking a photo for the blog, but the place was almost too painful to look at: bright garish colors, a big steer in front (think Hilltop Steak House, those of you who have been in Saugus, Mass. I provided the link in case you can't resist peeking, LOL!), and big signs outside in addition to the 20-foot tall “Big Texan” on the roof. Inside there was a large gift shop, a saloon-style bar, and the restaurant with the iconic “72 ounce steak AND fixins!” at the doorway. If you can eat the entire thing in an hour, you get it for free! Otherwise, it costs $72.

Needless to say, we were not interested in challenging ourselves with 72 ounces of steak! But we did each get a larger portion than we needed, in order to have leftovers later. The steak was very good, and we had a great lunch (Gotta eat steak in Texas, right?) As we left, we saw someone sit down and heard an announcement, “The clock is running!” He was sitting at a table on a platform in the spotlight, and from the looks of him, he might have had a good chance of a free lunch! But as I said to Joey, what’s the downside? Other than risking folks coming over and staring while you are eating, if you don’t get the lunch for free, at least you get great leftovers!
The surprise of the Big Texan, however, was the sign out front as we came in, telling us it was a “free wifi zone”! So we brought in the laptop, and while we waited for lunch, I uploaded the past two days of blogs from Mesa Verde. I also googled Cadillac Ranch, and found Roadside America online with some directions—it was between exits 60 and 62.

So after lunch, we headed back down I-40 for 12 miles until we came to Cadillac Ranch. Once we knew where it was, it was definitely visible from the interstate. We parked and walked through the multi-colored gateway to the field (the trash container at the gate is also multi-colored!) Cadillac Ranch is an art installation—10 Cadillacs noses-down, planted in a working field (the crop was so small today that I don’t know what is growing there at the moment.) Well, anyway, we LOVED it! Not only was it great fun to see something we’ve heard about for years, but Cadillac Ranch is always a work in progress. The site was littered with empty spray paint cans, which previous visitors had used to add their own touch to the installation. Joey checked them all until he found a can which still had green paint in it. So after a discussion on the appropriate contribution, he painted “Deb and Joe On the Road” onto one of the Cadillacs. It was totally cool! We loved our stop there, and for the price (free), it could not be topped as a fun thing to do.

We got back in the car again, and drove another 100 miles until we crossed into Ohhhhhh-klahoma (yes, of course we sang!) We were feeling really fine when suddenly, to our shock, Mo’s engine turned off abruptly. Joe steered onto the road shoulder, but when he tried to restart the engine, it turned over without catching, and when turned off, it gave a loud backfire. This happened twice, and we were quite stunned, since none of the dials had shown any abnormality. Once again I called Good Sam, but once again, Joe pulled a rabbit out of the hat and got the engine started. This time it seemed to be a problem with one of the hoses—he had some hose-repair tape, and when he attached that, the engine started up again right away. After pulling off the highway (one of the scariest parts of the breakdown was being on the shoulder of the road, with trucks whizzing by at 75 mph; we couldn’t even open the truck door safely!), he rechecked his repair, we held a consult, and decided that we would continue on the road, but would only go as far as the next campground, rather than pushing on as we’d planned and boondocking. It is amazing how this kind of stress is so draining!
So 40 minutes later we pulled into yet another KOA (we have gotten our membership’s worth, that’s for sure—and we are using the air conditioning, too!) and tomorrow Joe wants to check the engine out one more time. But for now, it looks as if, again, we may be back in business. Tomorrow’s plans, God willing, are to drive from here (about 30 miles west of Oklahoma City) to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where we hope to visit one more national park.

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