Park rangers of the Mother RoadPetrified Forest National Park, AZ

Petrified Forest National Park 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.

The last post was a big fat tribute to the National Park Service, which celebrated its centennial yesterday. So it’s only fitting to spend today telling you about Petrified Forest National Park, which is the exact center of the Venn Diagram between the national parks and Route 66. In fact, it’s the only national park to contain a section of the original Mother Road.

Petrified Forest National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Of course, even if you didn’t know anything about Route 66, Petrified Forest is still infinitely worth visiting. There is the namesake petrified wood, of course, but it’s the landscapes that touched this artist’s soul.

Petrified Forest National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Around every bend in the road was some new desert vista, each one vastly different than the one before. And with every passing cloud the light changed, essentially remaking the land in a totally new image, all within minutes.

Petrified Forest National Park and Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And just when you’ve all but forgotten what brought you here, you crest a hill and see a telltale line of telephone poles, still marching westward to the horizon.

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Our best ideaVarious national parks in the West

Mt. Rainier National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Mt. Rainier National Park, WA

Tomorrow is the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. All of America seems to be celebrating right now, and rightly so. In my opinion, our wildest pockets are our true national treasures, and our national parks, as Wallace Stegner said, our best idea.

Olympic National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Olympic National Park, WA

So since I’ve spent a good chunk of my sketching life in national parks both close to home…

Arches National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Arches National Park, UT

…and far afield…

Crater Lake National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Crater Lake National Park, OR

I figured I’d add my voice to the celebratory din, in the form of a little sketchbook retrospective.

Badlands National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Badlands National Park, SD

Beyond the centennial itself, I’m always up for toasting the parks. Not only do I think park rangers are the best people on earth,

Redwood National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Redwood National Park, CA

but I also sometimes think they’re the only thing standing between wildness and destruction.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM

And anyway, I’m not exaggerating when I say I’m a total park nut myself. It’s my goal to visit every NPS property before I die, including national parks, historic sites, national monuments, everything. (Actually, I’ve crossed a goodly chunk of them off the list already—

Guadalupe Mountains National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX

—and I even have the stamps to prove it.)

Olympic National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Olympic National Park, WA

I know I have a long path ahead of me before I reach that goal,

Grand Canyon National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

and getting there won’t be easy.

Big Bend National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Big Bend National Park, TX

Yet I can’t tell you how grateful I am that the opportunity exists in the first place—

Rocky Mountain National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

that so many people have fought to preserve these wild places, and won.

Saguaro National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Saguaro National Park, AZ

Best of all is the feeling that no matter how long it might take me to get to each park with my sketchbook,

Glacier National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Glacier National Park, MT

I know it’ll be there waiting for me, as close to unchanged as humanly possible. Thanks to the National Park Service, the window of opportunity remains open.

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Remember the AlamoSan Antonio, TX

Alamo sketch by Chandler O'Leary

It’s been awhile since I ran my Mission Mondays series, but I figured it was high time to add an honorary member to the list. Because after all, America’s collection of Spanish missions are not limited to California. And there’s probably no mission more famous than the Alamo.

Alamo sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I visited the Alamo last winter, on my first visit to San Antonio. After all those sunny days visiting California missions just a couple of weeks earlier, it was a surprise to find it cold and rainy deep in the heart o’ Texas.

Alamo sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Still, while the weather didn’t exactly provide a desert-southwest feel to the surroundings, it ended up creating a contemplative setting that somehow seemed more fitting for the Shrine of the Lone Star State.

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Time-tested tablesSanta Fe and Albuquerque, NM

Plaza Cafe 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.

Next time you’re in New Mexico to admire the hollyhocks, you’ll be sure to work up an appetite. And Route 66 is dotted with some of the best lunch spots in the Land of Enchantment. My favorite is probably the Plaza Cafe, the oldest recipe in Santa Fe (yes, Route 66 goes through Santa Fe…or it did, anyway; that’s a story for another day). I didn’t know that fact when we walked in, but it makes sense: both the food and the decor make this place a keeper.

El Camino Dining Room sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Downstate a bit in Albuquerque is another Route 66 relic that is still alive and well. You might recognize it from my earlier post featuring its sister property across the street. Like the Plaza Cafe, this place is quintessentially New Mexican, inside and out.

El Camino Dining Room sketch by Chandler O'Leary

El Camino was chosen for us by some local friends, and it turns out they knew us well. From the impeccably preserved interior to the killa-dilla sopapillas, I was ready to move in by the end.

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Hollyhock havenSanta Fe, NM

Santa Fe hollyhocks sketch by Chandler O'Leary

While lavender will always remind me of the Pacific Northwest, I’ll forever associate hollyhocks with Santa Fe. Maybe it was being there during their peak season last summer—or maybe I love Georgia O’Keeffe too much. Either way, for me hollyhocks will always go best with adobe, rather than English cottages.

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Purple hazeSan Juan Island, WA

Pelindaba Lavender Farm sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Here in the Northwest, we’re in the thick of my favorite season right now. I don’t mean summer, per se, but lavender season. Our climate is pretty much perfectly suited to growing lavender, so other than maybe the south of France, there’s no better place to stand on a purple hillside, awash in scent.

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A flash of intuitionJust west of Amarillo, TX

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.

There are few Route 66 landmarks more iconic than the art installation known as Cadillac Ranch, so the Tailor and I were really looking forward to seeing it in person. Unfortunately, however, long before we reached Amarillo we knew we’d lose the race for daylight. To make matters worse, a big thunderstorm was rapidly approaching from the west, the intermittent flashes of lightning coming ever closer, ever more quickly. Not exactly ideal weather to go fumbling around in the dark in search of roadside attractions. After all, it’s not like Cadillac Ranch is in the center of town—it’s out in the middle of an unmarked field, and I had a sneaking suspicion there were no floodlights trained on those cars.

The Tailor really wanted to stop anyway, and said, “Surely it’s lit after dark. It’s so famous!” I told him I didn’t think so—according to our maps we were within spitting distance of it, and there was nothing but inky black out there. Besides, the Texas Panhandle is so flat that if it were lit at all, we would have seen it from miles away.

I’m sorry to say I was right about that: it’s not lit. At all. It’s not marked in any way—at least, not by any method that could be discerned by headlight. We drove back and forth a few times on the mile-long stretch of beat-up frontage road to which I’d narrowed down the location, while I peered through the passenger-side window into the darkness, hoping a flash of lightning might give us a clue. Finally I broke down and, for the one and only time on our entire Route 66 trip, consulted the GPS map on my phone to see if we’d found the right place. With the one available bar of mobile service, our insistence on paper maps was at least vindicated: we had gotten the location precisely right.

“This is the spot, ” I said. “Can’t see anything, but we’re looking right at it.”

“Wait,” he answered, “maybe we’ll catch a glimpse of it in the storm.”

We waited. A few heartbeats of silence.

And then: CRACK.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

A fork of lightning, directly in front of us, not half a mile ahead. The flash illuminated ten unmistakeable silhouettes for a split second that felt like an eternity.

We looked at each other and simultaneously burst into nervous cackling, our eyes wide, the hairs on the napes of our necks standing on end.

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New kid on the cobMitchell, SD

Corn Palace sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Last year I had the chance to revisit South Dakota’s world-famous Corn Palace for the first time in nearly a decade, and I had quite a surprise waiting for me. It’s common knowledge that the maize museum gets all new corn mosaics every year—but today’s Corn Palace has had more than a simple facelift. If you click that link above, you’ll see what I mean—they didn’t just replace the corn, but put in new turrets and onion domes, as well.

Personally, I think this change is a huge improvement. No longer a simple brick building with plastic domes stuck on it, these new additions are far better-crafted, hearkening back to the palace’s glory days of elaborate Victorian turrets and exotic canopies. Plus, the corn murals were real beauties last year—the icing on the, er, cornbread. All I can do is raise a cob in salute—bravo, Mitchell!

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Hitching posts for HarleysDeadwood, SD

Deadwood sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I’ve mentioned before that I always seem to end up in the Black Hills right in the middle of the Sturgis Rally. Well, last summer I didn’t just sneak by on the highway—I jumped right into the fray. My destination wasn’t Sturgis proper, but rather nearby Deadwood, that infamously lawless frontier town of yore. I hadn’t been since I was a tiny child, so I figured it was high time I stopped by again.

And when I got there, I had a good long chuckle. Because somehow seeing all those motorcycles lined up like horses at their hitching posts, and all the weather-beaten wild-west road warriors who belonged to them… Well, somehow the scene fit the setting better than any costumed reenactor could have done.

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Bridge over troubled waterPasadena, CA

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.

Route 66 was commissioned during something of a golden age of American infrastructure design. Thanks to various building booms and organizations like the WPA, the highway is studded with functional architecture that is also incredibly beautiful. One shining example is the magnificent Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena.

Curving gracefully across the Arroyo Seco that divides Los Angeles from its inner-ring suburbs, the bridge was once the tallest concrete span on earth. Sadly, this may be what inspired the bridge’s more well-known moniker: Suicide Bridge. Over a hundred suicides have taken place there over the years—the vast majority of them during the Great Depression. With so many deaths to its name, the bridge also has a reputation for ghost sightings and other haunted tales.

I knew none of this on the day I crossed (and sketched) the Arroyo. To me, the bridge was just a stunning welcome to Los Angeles, the last major city on Route 66. I guess it’s a fitting way to cross over into the City of Angels.

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