Tag Archives: west

Villa Capri Motel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Taking the plunge

I didn’t do a ton of traveling in 2016—all my adventures last year took place in the Pacific Northwest (and that’s fine with me!). Sticking close to home ended up being a necessity, as well, what with improvement projects around our 95-year-old house, and massive, years-long projects occupying me in the studio.

I have no idea what’s in store for 2017, or how much travel or sketching I’ll be able to squeeze in. I hope it’s lots, though, because I have big plans. I’m ready to dive into the new year—how about you?

Wishing you a happy, healthy, safe and successful 2017!

50 States pictorial map illustrated and hand-lettered by Chandler O'Leary

Rereading the map

I finished this map before the airwaves were inundated with red and blue election maps—and today it’s a good reminder that America is more than its electoral divisions. That there is good in every state, and that there is so much to love and celebrate in every nook and cranny of our nation. This is why I started the 50 States project three years ago, and I’m taking the fact that I happened to finish the series right before the most divisive election in living memory as a sign that I need to remember this fact going forward. After all, the real work of our country involves all of us.
 
Those of you who read this blog know that I express my love for every state—blue, red, purple, whatever—through my drawings. I will continue to do so, to feature the beauty and wonder and hilarity and kooky humor of every state. That is what will get me through the fear and sadness and anger I’m feeling now—and I hope it will help you in some small measure, as well. So the break I took from blogging to focus on my book is over; posting here starts back up again tomorrow.
 
In the meantime, you can celebrate all 50 States with me tonight at the Ted Sanford Gallery at Charles Wright Academy in University Place, WA, where the entire series is on display through November 29. From 5:30 to 6:30 tonight I’ll have a gallery reception and small pop-up shop. Let’s talk about the good that’s out there—from Paul Bunyan to Elvis to the World’s Largest Frying Pan, and everything in between, from sea to shining sea.
Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Halfway there

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.

When I started my 66 Fridays series back at the turn of the new year, I knew I was in for a long road ahead. But here we are, 33 Fridays later, already at the halfway point of the series! I figured it was only fitting to pair this post with a sketch of the symbolic halfway point of the Mother Road. Since Route 66 has seen so many changes to its path over the years, it’s unlikely this sign marks the exact midpoint—but it hardly matters. I’m glad there’s a marker at all, wherever they ended up putting it.

Some of you may just be tuning in to this series now, so I figured a recap of where we’ve been so far was in order. Like everything else on this blog, my subjects jump around in space and time. So below is a list of all the Route 66 posts I’ve done so far, loosely grouped by category.

Posts about Route 66 itself:
Intro: Mother Road, Mother Lode
Chicago’s Eastern Terminus
Sundown Towns
Burma Shave
Filling Stations of 66
Suicide Bridge
Where 66 Intersects Itself
The history under your wheels

Route 66 Attractions:
Meramec Caverns Billboards
The Round Barn
The Leaning Tower
Wild Burros
Paul Bunyans
Mufflermen of the Mother Road
The Harvey House Empire
The Armory Museum
Dino Drive-Bys
Petrified Forest
The Continental Divide
Cadillac Ranch

The Mother Road in Lights:
Albuquerque’s Googie Marathon
The Dog House from Breaking Bad
The Aztec Hotel
The Munger Moss and its Antecedents
Air-Cooled Comfort
Tucumcari Tonite

Route 66 Roadside Eats:
Lou Mitchell’s
Ted Drewes
Dairy King
Chicago Dogs
Rod’s Steakhouse
New Mexico Cafes

Other Route 66 posts I’ve done (outside the 66 Fridays series):
Tulsa Googie
The Golden Driller
Old Town Ristras
The Blue Whale of Catoosa

Thank you for traveling along the Mother Road with me for so much of this year. And we still have many miles to cover—see you next Friday with the latest installment!

Theodore Roosevelt National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Butte-iful

Like Saguaro, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is divided into two separate units. Unlike Saguaro, the North Dakota badlands are an old, familiar haunt of mine. Greener and less weathered than their craggy South Dakota siblings, these buttes have a similar mystery to them, all the same. It’s not hard to see why they were dear to Teddy Roosevelt’s heart—just as they’re dear to mine.

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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Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

A flash of intuition

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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Deadwood sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Hitching posts for Harleys

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.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Bridge over troubled water

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.

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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Cabazon dinosaurs sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Dino you are, but what am I?

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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