Tag Archives: NM

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The tourist trade

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.

One of the grandest Route 66 traditions is the souvenir shop—or as it is more frequently named here, the trading post. And few Mother Road icons have such a long history. Starting as supply hubs and early post offices for fur traders, wagon trains, survey expeditions, gold prospectors and the like, trading posts were bastions of commerce and news in remote places.

The contemporary version of the trading post has sprung out of twentieth-century myths of the Old West: modern tourists wanted to experience a slice of the Pony Express, or send postcards from Boot Hill, or bring home a piece of Navajo jewelry—in air-conditioned comfort, of course.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And nobody has cashed in on trading posts quite like Route 66: the Jackrabbit, the Continental Divide, Tee Pee Curios, the list goes on. On the Mother Road, the term “trading post” has become synonymous with “tourist trap”—many of these places combine commerce, entertainment and the flavor of the Wild West (or in the case above, the Hillbilly Ozarks). Far beyond a simple pit stop or junk store, some have more in common with theme parks.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And while some have their roots in the actual Old West, many of these pit stops were built after Route 66 was run through. (Subsequently, in places where the modern Interstate diverted traffic away from 66, many of these trading posts are crumbling or closed altogether.)

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Thanks to historical examples like Hudson’s Bay Company, or the Hubbell Trading Post on the Navajo Nation, which has operated on the pawn (barter) system since the 1870s, we tend to associate trading posts with Indian Country. Route 66 is a prime example: half of the route (over 1300 miles) crosses through Native America, connecting more than 25 Indigenous nations. And since the vast majority of the Mother Road’s trading posts (and nearly all of those west of the Texas-New Mexico line) deal in Native goods, it’s no wonder a road trip through the Southwest makes us think of kachinas and beadwork.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Though many of these shops are run by white owners, some are owned and operated by tribal members themselves.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Regardless of who owns them, the overall effect of these places can run the gamut between eye-frying…

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

…and downright melancholy.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Gallup, New Mexico, has a little of both. Known as the “capital” of Indian Country, the town of 20,000 or so is the gateway to many American Indian nations, home to nearly a quarter of a million Indigenous people. As a result, Gallup is chock-a-block with trading posts and pawn shops, where local Navajo, Hopi, Zuni and others pawn their jewelry and other handmade goods in exchange for cash, staples or dry goods—and the shop owners then sell the jewelry to tourists. Nearly all of these shops are run either by white or, increasingly, Middle-Eastern owners.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Gallup’s pawn shops have a controversial history, with some establishments accused of dealing in fake goods or cheating Indigenous makers out of a fair price for their work. So I did a little homework before we arrived, and chose Richardson’s as the place we’d visit. The shop has been in operation for over a hundred years, and though the Richardson family is white, they have a long reputation of being reputable dealers with a good relationship with the nations it represents. We marveled at the beauty on display there—some of the jewelry were incredible “old pawn” antique pieces.

Santa Fe sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Still, my favorite trading experience on our Route 66 trip was when we had the chance to buy goods directly from the makers. In Santa Fe we shopped at the famous market at the Palace of the Governors, where artisans representing all of the region’s Indigenous cultures sell handmade jewelry, pottery, textiles, etc. at fair-trade prices. Each artist has to apply to the Native American Vendors Program to be included in the market, and the museum at the Palace of the Governors monitors each vendor to make sure the goods are authentic and the prices fair to the makers. (And bonus for history nerds like me: it’s really something to know you’re standing in the oldest continually-occupied public building in the country while you’re at it.)

Santa Fe sketch by Chandler O'Leary

In the end, I could only afford a couple of small items, but I was happy to know I was paying what they were actually worth (I don’t haggle, especially not with fellow artists), and that the proceeds would go directly to the maker. And best of all, I got to hear the stories behind each piece, from the person who made it.

That seems like a fair trade to me.

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Santa Fe chili ristras sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Courtyard pantry

I live in the Pacific Northwest, where the weeks after daylight saving time ends can be pretty grim. To combat the dark gray days, I surround myself with color. On my studio table is a big bouquet of fall flowers in a bright yellow pitcher. In the root cellar are piles of rainbow root vegetables and parti-colored squash. And just like I’ve done before, I’m flipping through memories of red chili ristras and cheerful desert courtyards in my sketchbook, looking forward to the sun’s return.

Albuquerque hot air balloons sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Hope floats

I spent the whole weekend digging through dozens of old sketchbooks, searching for something I could post as some sort of post-election metaphor. Something that stood for a new day, for rising above the hateful muck we’re all slogging through…something. Anything.

Welp. Yeah.

It’s corny, I know. On that morning last year I thought seriously about taking artistic license with the flag balloon, since overtly patriotic objects aren’t really my style. But for whatever reason, I reported it accurately, keeping it as-is. And now I’m clinging to it as an image, corny or not. I have a feeling that drawing is going to provide a lot of ballast for my little metaphorical balloon in the months and years ahead. Time to relight the fire, and—fair winds or foul—do everything I can to stay afloat.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Criss-cross corner

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.

In downtown Albuquerque is an unassuming corner with a curious distinction. This is the place—the only place—where Route 66 intersects itself.

It’s not so unusual to have several Route 66-es in the same city—after all, Tulsa has at least three, and St. Louis changed the alignment of the route so many times I’ve lost track of the number. Yet nowhere else along the Mother Road do two different alignments actually cross each other. You see, when Route 66 was first established in New Mexico in 1926, the logical thing to do was to send the road through the capital city—so off to Santa Fe it went, and then it curved southward to come into Albuquerque from the north. At that time, there was no straight-line route across New Mexico, so travelers coming to Albuquerque from the east had no choice but to take that winding, partial-dirt, mountainous road through the capital first. But then, quite suddenly, all that changed: just a few years later, a new 66 cut an arrow-straight path into Albuquerque from the east and bypassed Santa Fe entirely. (And today many people have no idea that 66 ever went to Santa Fe at all.)

Like everything else along Route 66, there’s a story behind this. The short version is this: Arthur T. Hannett, who was governor of New Mexico when Route 66 was born, lost his reelection bid in 1926, and found himself with an axe to grind. Convinced he had been ousted by a conspiracy on the part of his political opponents at the state capitol, he hatched a scheme to reroute 66 away from Santa Fe in revenge.

The trouble was, he had only a little over a month before his successor would be sworn in. So he ordered nearly every piece of road-construction equipment in the northern half of the state to be diverted to his project, and made every construction worker he could get his hands on work nonstop to cut a new road bed from Santa Rosa to Albuquerque. The workers slept at the construction sites, toiled through snowstorms and skipped the holidays, and the new 69-mile road was completed in just 31 days. By the time the new governor, Richard Dillon, took office on January 1, 1927, it was too late. Despite opponents trying to block the project during those 31 days (including sabotage attempts where people put sand in the gas tanks of the construction equipment), nobody could deny the convenience of a straight, fully-paved road. The new route saved hours of driving, so before long, motorists were already using it heavily, leaving Santa Fe in the dust. It took another ten years before the road was paved all the way to the Texas border and the new section gained the official Route 66 designation, but by then it was already the main arterial across the state.

KiMo Theatre sketch by Chandler O'Leary

That story isn’t the only thing interesting about the corner of 4th and Central. That spot’s other claim to fame is what might just be Albuquerque’s best and most iconic building: the KiMo theatre.

KiMo Theatre sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Built in 1927 in a spectacular blend of Art Deco and Pueblo Revival styles (who knew those two went together so well?!), the theater’s name translates to “mountain lion” in Tewa, the language spoken by many of the region’s Pueblo people. The KiMo narrowly escaped the wrecking ball in the late 1970s, when residents voted for the city to buy the building. After an extensive restoration completed in 2000, the KiMo is once again hosting public performances.KiMo Theatre sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Yes, that symbol above is what it looks like; and no, it doesn’t mean what you might think. The swastika is an ancient symbol that once had positive connotations in many cultures before Hitler twisted it to his own ends. To the Navajo it stood for the Whirling Log, a healing symbol, and to the Hopi (whose traditions the above design emulates) it represents spiritual wandering.

Oh, and hey: apparently the building is haunted. The theater staff leave appeasement offerings in a back stairwell and everything. The place was closed on the day we were there, so I couldn’t get a look at the inside, but you can bet I’ll be back. Neither angry ghosts or vengeful ex-governors can stop me.

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Harvey House map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Harvey hospitality

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 travel Route 66, you’re sure to come across the name of Fred Harvey. If you haven’t heard of him, you’re far from alone. Yet Harvey and his commercial empire had a lot to do with creating, collecting and curating that slice of Americana we call the Southwest.

If I were throw another name at you, though, I bet you’d be able to place it: Howard Johnson. That’s right, the hospitality magnate who, in the 1960s and 70s, controlled the largest restaurant chain in the United States. Well, I’m not knocking Johnson (or all that fabulous midcentury decor), but Harvey did it first, and best.

Harvey got his start in the late 1870s, when the West was still very much a wild place, and the railroads were busy cutting new paths over the old overland trade routes. Harvey was revolted by the food the railroad companies offered their passengers—he figured if eastern travelers could access the same quality of cuisine they’d find in a New York City restaurant, they’d get over their fear of “roughing it” and head West in style. His employer, the Burlington Railroad, turned him down, but the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway saw merit in the idea. Harvey signed a contract with AT&SF, and the first American restaurant chain was born.

Grand Canyon sketch by Chandler O'Leary featuring El Tovar Hotel, a former Harvey House

Before long, Harvey had added hotels and tour services to his repertoire, and by the early twentieth century there were “Harvey Houses” scattered all over the Southwest. Some of his best-known properties still stand—including nearly all of the historic buildings that comprise the South Rim complex at the Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon sketch by Chandler O'Leary featuring Hopi House, a former Harvey House

Early conservationists like Teddy Roosevelt were horrified by the prospect of commercializing the Grand Canyon, yet one could easily argue that if Fred Harvey hadn’t done it, someone else most assuredly would have (and they did! Google the mayhem that is Ralph Henry Cameron sometime, if you’re curious).

Grand Canyon sketch by Chandler O'Leary featuring Bright Angel Lodge, a former Harvey House

One vote in favor of Harvey was that each of his establishments was thoughtfully designed to be at once beautiful, well-made, reflective of its natural surroundings and sensitive to its area’s cultural heritage. (I’m sure that last box wasn’t checked as well as it might have been, but considering the era in which these places were designed, the fact that any cultural sensitivity came about at all is nothing short of astonishing.)

And we have one person to thank for much of that:

Harvey House and Mary Colter sketch by Chandler O'Leary

That’s right: Fred Harvey’s right-hand man was a woman. And it’s Mary Jane Colter’s style and sensibility that come through in the most memorable Harvey Houses. She is the one who created much of that unified “look” that we associate with the American Southwest. And that’s because she did her research—she looked at all the different regional architectural styles of the various Native cultures of the region, and blended them with the popular architectural styles of the day: Arts & Crafts, Mission, and various revivals of European and even North African traditions.

Colter went one step further, and did something that was way ahead of her time: she actually hired Native artists and craftspeople to complete many of the details on and in her buildings. She worked most often with Hopi painter Fred Kabotie, who contributed elements like the murals at the Painted Desert Inn and various interior details at Hopi House. In working with artists like Kabotie, Colter’s buildings have an authenticity to them that, along with their craftsmanship, elevates them way above your average tourist trap.

La Posada Harvey House sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I didn’t know any of this before my trip, nor had I ever heard of Fred Harvey before. Luckily for me, many of the surviving Harvey Houses are located along Route 66, so I had ample opportunity to find out—

Barstow Harvey House sketch by Chandler O'Leary

—and to gaze in wonder at so many architectural treasures still standing along the Mother Road.

Santa Fe sketch by Chandler O'Leary, featuring Hotel La Fonda, a former Harvey House

Most serendipitous for my Harvey education was our decision to drive the original (and less-traveled) pre-1937 alignment of Route 66, which took us to Santa Fe. For one thing, Santa Fe is home to the most magnificent example of extant Harvey Houses: Hotel La Fonda.

Santa Fe sketch by Chandler O'Leary, featuring Hotel La Fonda, a former Harvey House

The place is often nicknamed “the oldest hotel in the United States,” but that’s not exactly true. What is true is that an inn or fonda has stood continuously upon this location for over four hundred years. Harvey must have known that particular historical tidbit, because La Fonda doesn’t mess around. Every inch of the place is jam-packed with Harvey’s version of Southwest Americana.

Santa Fe sketch by Chandler O'Leary, featuring Hotel La Fonda, a former Harvey House

The hotel has been remade and renovated seemingly endlessly over the years, but you can still find traces of its history (and Mary Colter’s interior touches) everywhere.

Santa Fe sketch by Chandler O'Leary, featuring Hotel La Fonda, a former Harvey House

La Fonda is the place where you learn to recognize the Harvey style—where even if you don’t know the history behind any of it, you’ll still know it when you see it.

Harvey House artifacts sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The other thing Santa Fe gave me was a glimpse of Harvey’s empire on a micro scale, thanks to the New Mexico History Museum at the Palace of the Governors. Far beyond capitalizing on the idea of a hospitality chain, what Fred Harvey really understood was branding. And branding really isn’t even the right word here: while other hotels might have an “identity,” Harvey went way beyond that. For his employees, he created a culture. For his customers, he created something more akin to mythology.

For an amateur graphic design historian like me, I felt like I’d struck gold at the Palace of the Governors. Their Harvey House exhibit displayed the length, breadth and depth of Harvey branding—beyond any logo, their aesthetic covered everything from letterhead to jewelry to employee pamphlets. Harvey’s penchant for hiring professional artists paid off on every front: every last detail was carefully considered, equally beautiful, and a stand-alone work of art.

Harvey House artifacts sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And that brings me to the most famous and curious piece of Harvey branding: the Harvey Girl.* A living, breathing icon, the Harvey Girl became the very embodiment of the taming of the West.

Fred Harvey felt that while the romantic idea of the Wild West might be a draw to tourists, its rough-and-tumble connotations would be more of a hinderance than anything else, as wealthy customers viewed western travel as dangerous and uncomfortable. To counteract this notion, Harvey committed to hiring only educated young women from the East and Midwest to wait upon, entertain and guide his guests. The Harvey Girls had to adhere to strict codes of dress, conduct and morality; live in single-sex barracks run by middle-aged den mothers; and sign year-long contracts which forbade them to marry while employed by the Harvey Company. The idea of “civilizing” the West, one genteel lady at a time, was a smash hit, and the Harvey Girl became so iconic that Judy Garland even played one on the silver screen.

What really interests me, however, is that the Harvey Girls—and there were 100,000 of them in all—were the first female workforce in America. The guests may have seen them as mere waitresses, but in reality these were educated women who were responsible for far more than carrying trays or taking orders. Later, as automobiles became popular and Harvey started his Indian Detours auto tour service, Harvey Girls—renamed “Couriers” or even, ugh, Indian Maids—comprised the entire staff of tour guides. Most had college degrees, and each Courier was required to have a working knowledge of local history, botany, geology, archaeology, anthropology, geography, or any other subject the tourists might inquire about.

* Note: Much of my Harvey Girl information comes from Katrina Parks’s wonderful documentary, The Harvey Girls: Opportunity Bound. Excerpts from the documentary are included in the Harvey exhibit at the Palace of the Governors, and it is these that introduced me to Ms. Parks’s work. She is currently working on a new project called The Women on the Mother Road—her website features some of my Route 66 sketches, and I’m excited and honored to be included!

Petrified Forest National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary featuring Painted Desert Inn, a former Harvey House

I tell you all of this to illustrate just how far-reaching Fred Harvey’s empire was, how much of modern American history was touched by his ideas. The Harvey Houses weren’t just another hotel chain—they were an astonishing and vast collective work of art. And they were an incredible economic engine that provided work to thousands of people—many of them highly skilled artists, designers, craftspeople, historians, scientists and anthropologists.

chandler_oleary_route66_az_harveyhouse_painteddesertinn_ceiling

The Harvey Company also employed many unskilled laborers, like the Civilian Conservation Corps (one of Franklin Roosevelt’s “Alphabet Soup” agencies founded during the Great Depression), who built and then painted this glass skylight at the Painted Desert Inn.

Petrified Forest National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary featuring Painted Desert Inn, a former Harvey House

More than anything, I think it’s this constant mixing of things that marks Harvey’s legacy: east and west, Native and Anglo, public and private. (For instance, the hotels and restaurants themselves were funded by the private railroad company, but many of them were located on or near public lands, and many used government-funded labor to build them.) I don’t think Harvey gets much of the credit for it, but the WPA (Works Progress Administration, another Alphabet Soup agency) borrowed heavily from Harvey House ideas and aesthetics when they built the national park lodges in the 1920s and 30s.

And sadly, it’s no wonder: while the national park lodges still stand, protected on public land, very few Harvey Houses survive today, and even fewer are still hotels or restaurants. Many of them were demolished in the 1970s and 80s—an awful time to be an historic building—and still others hold on as empty shells, stripped of all their glory and slowly decaying.

Petrified Forest National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary featuring Painted Desert Inn, a former Harvey House

Still, Route 66 is the best path to take to discover what’s left of Fred Harvey’s world. As you drive the Mother Road along the old Santa Fe railway, remember that somebody came before you—leaving the lights on and turning back the covers, all in hopes of making the West feel more welcoming.

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Mt. Rainier National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Our best idea

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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Plaza Cafe sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Time-tested tables

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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Santa Fe hollyhocks sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Hollyhock haven

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.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Fill ‘er up

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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Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

A watershed moment

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 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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