A watershed momentContinental Divide, NM

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

If you’ve ever done a coast-to-coast road trip, you’ll have crossed the Continental Divide somewhere. (Depending on your route, you might have crossed it more than once in the same day.) It’s easy to take for granted now, but back in the days of early overland travel, finding and crossing the divide between the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds was a big deal.

Luckily, the U.S. highway authorities still think the it’s a big deal, and want to make sure you notice it. From Montana to New Mexico, the Great Divide is well-marked wherever a road crosses it. Whether it’s a gravel goat track, a county road, or a four-lane freeway, you’re sure to find some sort of commemorative sign or plaque. And nothing tops the marker on Route 66.

Heck, the Mother Road comes through with more than just a wayfinding marker: these folks have made a bona fide roadside attraction out of river drainage. And more power to them—this is Route 66, after all. I’d expect nothing less.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

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A flash of finStrait of Juan de Fuca, between Washington state and Vancouver Island

Humpback whale sketch by Chandler O'Leary

After all this talk of dinosaurs, I had a hankering to show you a sketch of a real, living, breathing giant. When I witnessed this gal diving off the coast of Vancouver, all I was able to see was, well, the tip of the iceberg. But that’s okay—it was easy to picture the rest of her, swimming just below the surface of my imagination.

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Dino you are, but what am I?Cabazon, CA

Cabazon dinosaurs sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Now, I’ve seen a lot of roadside dinosaurs in my day, but for me, nothing can top the iconic giants of Cabazon, CA. For one thing, unlike some others that come to mind, these guys are beautifully crafted and amazingly realistic (and no wonder: their designer, Claude Bell, created all the statuary at Knott’s Berry Farm in the 1940s and 50s).

Cabazon dinosaurs sketch by Chandler O'Leary

For another, these dinosaurs are no mere statues: like their distant cousin Lucy, they’re buildings. And since they now house a bizarre creationist museum and gift shop (which I could not bring myself to pay money to support by entering), I think that now officially qualifies them not just as dinosaurs, but also as ducks!

Cabazon dinosaurs sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Best of all, these dinos were prominently featured in the cult classic and ultimate road trip movie, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. When I finally got here last year, it felt like completing a pilgrimage.

And yes, of course I did the Pee Wee laugh when I got there! You don’t even have to ask.

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Extinct but very much aliveHolbrook, AZ

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

Unlike the Columbia River Gorge and the Oregon Coast, the section of Route 66 that crosses eastern Arizona is actually a place known to contain real, no-kidding dinosaur fossils. (And unique ones, to boot: there’s a large concentration of Triassic-era early dinosaur species here.)

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Unsurprisingly, the Mother Road in that part of the state is positively crowded with roadside attractions that fill the dinosaur niche—most of them centered around the town of Holbrook. No matter what kind of concrete dinosaur you’re into, Holbrook has something for everyone. The prehistoric portrayals range from cartoony…

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

…to surprisingly realistic…

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

…to absurd…

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

…to downright hilarous.

Amazingingly (and unlike many Route 66 landmarks), every dino-themed attraction here is still in business, still trapping tourists. May they live long and prosper—while they keep drawing crowds, I’ll keep drawing pictures.

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Jurassic forestBetween Gold Beach and Port Orford, OR

Prehistoric Gardens dinosaurs sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Speaking of incongruous dinosaurs, if you ever find yourself traveling up Highway 101 along the Oregon coast, you might be surprised to see a brachiosaurus head poking up through the trees. Just like the Columbia River Gorge, the Oregon rainforest isn’t a place you’ll ever find actual dinosaur fossils. Still, there’s something about the misty hillsides and impossibly tall trees that make it easy to imagine yourself standing in a primordial place.

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Prehistoric pit stopVantage, WA

Gingko Gem Shop dinosaurs sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Remember when I posted that sketch of the Ginkgo sign in central Washington a couple of years ago? Well, I was so excited about the typography on that sign that I neglected to talk about what the sign advertised: the Ginkgo Gem Shop. On our way to Spokane that year, Mary-Alice and I stopped in to buy souvenirs: you know, petrified wood, agates with googly eyes glued to them (you think I’m kidding!), your basic roadside staples.

Anyway, the best part about the Ginkgo Gem Shop are the incongruous concrete dinosaurs that stand outside the entrance. (Note: the velociraptor below is cast from the same mold as was one I spotted along Route 66 in Arizona!)

Gingko Gem Shop dinosaurs sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I say “incongruous” because thanks to the Columbia Flood Basalts that covered much of Washington under miles and miles of black volcanic rock, you’re unlikely ever to find a dinosaur fossil in these here parts. But that’s okay—after decades of roadtripping through desert landscapes, this is exactly the sort of place I’d expect to see a concrete dinosaur.

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One if by land, two if by iceBoston, MA and Kittery Point, ME

Boston sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Even though New England was the heart of the original thirteen colonies, in my experience you’re more likely to find this type of flag flying here than this one. For me there’s no real surprise here: Boston is a city that takes its sports seriously, and the Bruins flag is as much a symbol of Beantown as the Old North Church. I can certainly relate—New Englanders are my people and hockey my sport, but even beyond that, I know what it’s like for a winning goal to feel something like a religious experience.

Bruins Madonna sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Don’t believe me? Ask Our Lady of the Slapshot here.

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Tucumcari toniteTucumcari, NM

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

Most of the must-see treasures of Route 66 are individual landmarks or legends: Meramec Caverns, the Oatman burros, the Gemini Giant. But one of the most important stops along the way is an entire town. Welcome to Tucumcari: Googie oasis of yore, midcentury Cibola of 2000 motel rooms.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Today’s Tucumcari is somewhere halfway between worlds, simultaneously a time machine and a crumbling architectural ruin. To me it felt the way it would to visit Pompeii, only to find the city still inhabited. This is the place where, much like the stretch of 66 through Albuquerque, you can find rusted neon masterpieces everywhere you look—

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

—except here, the neon is equally likely to mark a still-operating motel as a defunct one.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Yet while the town’s pulse still keeps a beat, that mythical number of motel rooms has diminished somewhat.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I’m sure the motels aren’t the only ones—for every business still standing, I had to wonder how many had disappeared.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Still, Tucumcari seems to take pride in its place along Route 66. Take the famous Tee Pee Curios (no, I didn’t misspell my sketch; the building uses both spellings at once!), which remains one of the most documented attractions of the Mother Road.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Sadly, I didn’t get inside, as we rolled in to town too late the night before, and we had to leave before it opened for the day. Still, it was good to see the place in such fine fettle, new coat of paint and all.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

But that’s okay: the real gem of Tucumcari, and perhaps the crown jewel of all of Route 66, was where I got to devote my time. The Blue Swallow is the perfect symbol of Tucumcari: still alive, still authentic, still beautiful.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The night we spent at the Blue Swallow was the one we’d been looking forward to the most on that trip, because we just needed proof that there were still places like this left on the planet. As soon as we crossed the threshold to our room, we knew the place was in good hands.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

It was like stepping into 1939. The place was meticulously authentic (not to mention spotlessly clean and bright). Whatever wasn’t actually original to the room (and almost all of it was) was carefully restored to the correct period—right down to the 1939 Bell rotary-dial phones. Heck, even the price of the room was a total throwback.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

For me, at least, the Blue Swallow was incredibly comfortable. Maybe it’s because I live in an old house with old furnishings and old fixtures, but I just felt right at home. Anyway, this is the sort of thing I want on a road trip like this. I would have been incredibly sad if we’d opened that door to find the plaster replaced with drywall or a huge flat-screen TV taking up one wall. As it was, I nearly cried from relief to find things just as they were from the beginning.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Places like the Blue Swallow and towns like Tucumcari are an endangered species. American culture, in general, prefers the new and novel to the historic—the freeway to the meandering path. That’s why it’s such a miracle that there’s any Route 66 left to enjoy at all. For every vintage motel that manages to keep thriving with each passing year, another closes its doors. And that’s why it’s going to take all of us to keep these places alive.

Still, whatever the future might hold, I’m glad to see there’s still a beating heart in Tucumcari tonite.

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Big brothersAtlanta, Springfield and Wilmington, IL

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

International Fiberglass’s midcentury giants are scattered around the country, and the Muffer Man diaspora certainly includes Route 66, as well. But the fiberglass beefcakes along Illinois’s diagonal streth of Route 66 an extra-special breed. These men are called simply the “Brothers,” and most of them have unusual variants of the standard Muffler Man “physique.”

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

First up is this rather bizarre guy, currently located in Atlanta, IL. It seems a little random that he’s holding a hot dog rather than the standard muffler (though in my experience, Muffler Men almost never hold actual mufflers these days), but his origin story makes everything clear. You see, this guy, named “Tall Paul,” originally stood outside Bunyon’s* hot dog stand in the Chicago suburb of Cicero. When he was originally commissioned in 1966, the owner of Bunyon’s had him outfitted with a custom fiberglass frank instead of a muffler. After Bunyon’s closed its doors in 2002, Tall Paul was sent “downstream” along Route 66 to the town of Atlanta, where he’s housed on long-term loan. While he looks handsome here in Atlanta, I still wish I could see him in situ in Cicero, amidst his Chicago-dog brethren.

* Bunyon’s, as in Paul Bunyan, except it was purposefully misspelled to avoid any possible trademark infringement.

Muffler Men sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Next are the fraternal fiberglass twins of the capital city of Springfield. The guy on the left, who admittedly is not right on Route 66 (but not far off of it), is a former Carpet Viking in new garb. And on the right, just a block or two off of the Mother Road, is the Lauterbach Tire Man, now newly re-capitated after a 2006 tornado quite literally blew his head off.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And then there’s the mutant masterpiece of Illinois 66, a particularly odd and endangered specimen known as the Gemini Giant.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This guy stands sentry outside the now-defunct Launcing Pad Drive-in in the town of Wilmington. When he was commissioned in 1965, the owners of the Launching Pad capitalized on the Space Race fad of the era, and customized their guy with an astronaut helmet and handheld rocket. Even his name, devised by a local schoolgirl, referenced the Gemini space program. The result is not only one of the most unusual muffler men, but also one of the most recognized Route 66 landmarks.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The empty Launching Pad property and the Gemini Giant are both currently for sale—they went up for auction just this April, but failed to meet the reserve price. Despite an uncertain future, the town of Wilmington appears to be committed to preserving the Gemini Giant. I certainly hope so—if any of the Brothers were to disappear from Route 66, they’d leave some awfully big shoes to fill.

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