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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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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