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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Portal to the PacificSeattle, WA

Seattle tunnel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This weekend marks my eighth anniversary of living—and sketching—in Washington. I’ve covered a lot of ground in that time, but I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of all I want to see, do, and draw here. All I can do is roll up my sleeves, put that pen in my hand, and keep filling pages.

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Big winnerSeattle, WA

Seattle giant trophy sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The Summer Olympics are starting this weekend, though I must confess I’m more of a winter sports gal. So I’m not sure how much attention I’ll end up paying to the spectacle—still, if anyone is looking for a trophy to hand out, I think I know where there’s a really big one…

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Fill ‘er upVarious locations along Route 66

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.

Polly want a pit stop?

If you’re going to take a road trip, at some point you’re going to need to refuel. And nobody knows how to fill your tank like the folks on Route 66. Of course, since the route crosses a big swath of American oil country, you’ll know that the milk of the Mother Road is petroleum.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Cuba, Missouri

The thing is, though, the designers and architects and advertisers and engineers responsible for putting gas stations all along the route got into the spirit of 66 in their own unique ways. Forget what you know about ugly garages lining Interstate exits—many of Route 66’s filling stations are downright works of art.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Cuba, Missouri

And many of them look absolutely nothing like gas stations.

Interestingly, the Mother Road was built at a time when more and more Americans owned automobiles—all over the country there was an increasingly large demand for petrol. Filling stations moved into town centers and residential neighborhoods, and some oil companies wanted their fuel stops to blend in with the neighborhood architecture.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Since American architecture is highly regional in nature, many of these “camoflaged” filling stations took on the look of their local culture—Spanish-Mission-style canopies in California, limestone façades in the Ozarks, clapboard farmhouse lookalikes in the Plains, etc. And then, of course, architectural tastes changed over the years, so you’ll find examples from the Victorian era to midcentury pop-Googie, and everything in between. (Not to mention the tradition of kitschy filling stations shaped like random objects or weird ho-made roadside giants.) Finally, each oil company wanted to attract customers away from the others, so they relied on creating distinctive architectural styles as a form of branding. The result is a veritable encyclopedia of diverse and spectacular specimens—and Route 66 might just have the best collection of all.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Albuquerque, New Mexico

After a few hundred miles, we started getting really good at spotting the buildings that used to be filling stations (this is an obvious one, but many had been deeply camoflaged, or totally remade in some other image, or else fallen into ruin). And we also developed a knack for pegging which style belonged to which company (above is a classic 1930s Texaco design).

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Then again, sometimes a building would throw us completely—the sealed-up garage bays hint at the Blue Dome’s history, but if I didn’t know better, I would have guessed this was once a Greek Orthodox church or something.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Spencer, Missouri

The filling stations of Route 66 also serve as markers of time’s passage, and the rise and fall of communities along the way. This one is all that remains of a ghost town in Missouri that fell into disuse when the highway changed its route. (I’m not talking about the advent of the Interstate, either, although that’s a common story—this place lost its prime spot decades before that, when the 66 alignment was simply moved to a spot further south.)

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Ranco Cucamonga, California

While many petroleum relics have faded into oblivion, others are being brought back, at least in some form or other. Above is one of the oldest specimens we found (it actually predates the birth of Route 66 by nearly a decade). While part of the structure has been torn down, at least the main part of the station is getting a lovely facelift.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Needles, California

It’s not just the oldest samples being preserved, either. This guy is only a little over fifty years old, but it, too, has been returned to its former glory.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Normal, Illinois

For many old stations, however, the opposite is true. Countless specimens either sit empty, their original purpose unknown to the average passerby—or else they get cannibalized and transformed into some other creature, usually without any fanfare.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Hydro, Oklahoma

These stories of disrepair and restoration interest me greatly, of course, but what really gets me is the story of each place: the whys and wherefores of each station, and the tastes and quirks of the people who either built or ran them.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Cool Springs, Arizona

After all, Route 66 crosses through some seriously unpopulated territory. Many of these old filling stations were the only game in town—or in the most remote corners, something closer to the last chance for salvation.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Commerce, Oklahoma

While others, meanwhile, live on in notoriety, attracting tourists to the spots where blood was shed or infamous characters once stood.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Odell, Illinois

Still, most tell the story of perfectly ordinary people running perfectly ordinary businesses along one of the backbones of American travel and commerce. They might be extraordinary today, but usually that’s boils down to having somehow lasted long enough to stand out amongst more modern surroundings.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Shamrock, Texas

I’m glad, at least, that I’m obviously not the only one who has noticed these things—that there is an army of conservators and historians and artists and boosters out there, preserving as many of these old filling stations as possible, and documenting the ones that can’t be saved.

I know that these days, oil companies have fallen out of public favor (heaven knows I have my own beef with the oil industry)—regardless of their nostalgia, these places are also reminders of American excess and the damaging effects of fossil fuels. Yet however we may be careening toward Peak Oil, these relics still have a place on the Mother Road—the path that might just traverse this country’s Peak History.

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Tile typographyNew York, NY

NYC subway tile sketch by Chandler O'Leary

New York might not have an ornate theatre marquee bearing its name, but it does boast a style of typography so iconic it’s practically synonymous with the city. I’m talking about the tile mosaics that grace many of the city’s subway stations.

I’ve racked up many months’ worth of visits to New York over the years, so you can imagine the amount of sketching I’ve done there. But the subway tile might just be my very favorite thing to draw in the whole city. Not only is it absolutely exquisite, but it’s also perfectly unique. Like the street tiles of New Orleans, all it takes is one glance, and you’ll know exactly where they’re from. Which, if you ask me, is where cities find their strength: the things that set them apart.

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Magnificent MarqueeChicago, IL

Chicago Theatre sketch by Chandler O'Leary

When I was in Chicago last summer, I finally got to cross a big thing off my sketching wish list: the iconic lights of the Chicago Theatre. By the time I was done, I couldn’t help but wish that every city had its name inscribed on a giant, gorgeous neon marquee. I mean, I-Heart-NY shirts are nice and all, but if I were New York, I’d rather see my name in lights.

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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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