Monday, October 10, 2011

I-40 Road Trip - Texas

New Mexico seems to flow seamlessly into Texas, except that as soon as you cross the border, the road smooths out and the wind picks up. It’s the most memorable thing about the Panhandle. Trees grow sideways, pointing to the north-east, never having had a calm day to spread in any other direction. 

The mesas and bluffs more typical of New Mexico eventually disappear and give way to a landscape that reminds of giant swells in a calm ocean. By the time the road reaches Amarillo, the land has flattened out to a finely honed plane, pierced by an occasional silo, known as a grain elevator, rising to ten stories or more. Every town seems to have one, and sometimes the concrete buildings are all that is left of a crumbling little burg.

Several land owners have started farming the wind. Over twenty five wind turbines are lined up taking advantage of the constant source of energy. At over a million dollars a pop, that’s quite an investment.

I spent five years of my childhood in the Panhandle of Texas. Back then, it couldn’t quite qualify for the Buckle on the Bible Belt Award. But it was definitely one of the holes.

Now I find that it qualifies as a winner, hands down.

In India, it was amusing to see non-religious businesses named after gods. There was the Hanuman Dry Cleaners; “We move mountains to serve you,” a reference to Hanuman’s picking up an entire mountain and flying it to a healer so he could find the right herbs to cure the prophet.  Other businesses had Ganesh or Ganesha, Shiva, Kali, Durga, and Buddha in the names.

So it should not be surprising that people in the US have taken to the idea. In Amarillo there was a huge sign that advertised the Jesus Is Lord Travel Center, “Cash the same as Credit!” I never actually spotted the place though for a while I thought it might be approaching. On the horizon arose an enormous white cross, as tall as a grain silo. The place was Groom, Texas and indeed it was taller than the elevators, lording over the multitudes of single level homes.
Cadillac taggers

West of Amarillo, about 5 miles, there is a most interesting ‘tourist’ attraction. It’s called Cadillac Ranch. A farmer who owns a large stretch of cultivated land planted 8 Cadillacs, nose down in the middle of the field. It’s apparently the custom for people to spray paint the hulks. There are signs just outside the fence that forbid spray painting on “this side” of the fence. Of course the signs themselves have been graffitti’d and so has the nearby trash dumpster. A short walk to the crop of Cadillacs in the late afternoon revealed a colorful array of messages and symbols, painted over many layers of the same. It reminded me of the big rock in White Rock, NM where every few days the locals paint the entire rock a new color and then add birthday greetings, congratulations, or political statements. Some scientist from Los Alamos National Lab did a core drill and discovered the rock has grown eight inches thicker since people started doing this forty years ago. 

Cadillac Ranch

A real cowboy at Cadillac Ranch


Colorful Caddy



Clouds built up in the west giving a glorious red and gold sunset just as I pulled into McLean, Texas in search of dinner. It’s a disappearing town dominated by a Mega Church along old Route 66. In fact, a faded sign advertises McLean as The Heart of Route 66. Just as that road was absorbed by I-40 and only minute stretches of it remain, so it is with McLean. There are three going enterprises in town that I could see: a gas station/convenience store, small motel, and a Grocery-Deli on an otherwise empty main street. I ordered some food from the deli and then took a walk around the town. The streets are still paved with red bricks, a common practice back in the 1930s and 40s. The town has a city hall, a library in a good sized building, about seven closed and apparently deserted antique stores and one lawyer’s office. Many buildings had collapsed or been torn down. Others were boarded up. I think the whole town would make a great set for a movie, but it would need some fixing up first.

Even though the town seemed deserted on this Friday night, several people came into the deli to pick up pizzas or other groceries while I was there. The owner has only lived there for a year, having moved from Houston. That must have been culture shock! Her daughter is 15 and goes to the high school which has about 50 kids total. The town was decked out with “Go Tigers” and Homecoming greetings. She told me their team only has six players. I wonder if there is a micro football league? Football is so huge in Texas, even an almost ghost town still has an amazing spirit.