I-40 is Like an Old Friend

We have safely arrived in Scottsdale, AZ, and are enjoying the company of our family.  It was nine days in the car, visiting with lots of great family and friends that we haven't gotten the chance to see in a while.  Incredible hospitality was ours, and we are thankful.  However, there is one old friend that we hadn't seen in a while that deserves special mention:  Interstate 40.

I-40, especially west of Oklahoma City is, for me, the quintessential American road trip, and that kind of road trip is truly a uniquely American experience.  Open roads.  High speed limits.  Vast distances with nothing in between except little peppered bits of classic Americana.

Western Oklahoma and the panhandle of Texas (still part of "West Texas", apparently) are about the same:  amazing flat nothing-ness.  In 2001, I took a rather famous road trip to the Grand Canyon with some friends, and I still remember someone (I can't recall who) telling me that the only thing that impedes your vision is the curvature of the earth.  I thought they were exaggerating.  But no.

America is big.

And then you get to Amarillo, a town of about a thousand hotels and restaurants, a big train station, and little else.  However, deserving special mention is "The Big Texan", a restaurant I have never visited, but has lots of billboards, which are really like the tour guide of I-40.  A 72-oz steak for free if you can eat it.  And a free limo service as well, presumably so that they can get you home to one of your many hotel options after your steak-eating attempt puts you into a uremic coma.  According to the picture, they are open for breakfast.  I can only imagine.

As soon as the majesty of the vastness of this region wears off (which may or may not take longer than the time it takes your car to accelerate to the 75 mph speed limit), you don't have too long to wait until New Mexico.  You have been subtly climbing thousands of feet since Oklahoma, with nothing to show for it except a reduced fuel efficiency on your car, and all of a sudden you are in the high desert at 7000 ft.  The scenery truly is beautiful, with the same vastness, but a little more to admire.

The thing about New Mexico is that you are constantly reminded of the fact that the I-40 you are driving is, in fact, the old Route 66, that once was "America's Main Street".  Nostalgic billboards are everywhere, and homemade roadside attractions are still of the type you would imagine from old road trip movies.  In fact, many of them were there then, and haven't changed much.

Every town has way more hotels than would be justified for a town it's size, testifying to the "stopover" nature of these locations, including the famous "Hotel el Rancho" in our old once-upon-a-time home in Gallup, NM.  According to the billboards, Hotel el Rancho is "Home of the Movie Stars", using the present tense for something that you're quite sure is now past tense, which further buttresses its charm of yesteryear.

Once you cross the Arizona state line, the environment has been distinctively Navajo for quite a while, and you can stop at Fort Courage if you like.  Don't be fooled by the gigantic "Pancake House Restaurant" sign or the prominent gas station.  Those services are no longer available.  We know.  We stopped there years ago to find a place to feed baby Maggie, and ended up huddled in an unused cubby hole of the remaining souvenir shop.

From there, it's a straight shot past the Petrified Forest and the Meteor Crater, on to Flagstaff.  Just hang a left and coast down 4000ft in altitude until you ditch the snow and enter the valley of the sun.

When you move away to another country, you may fear that some things will be changed irrevocably by the time you get back.  I don't have such fears about this little corner of my home country.