The next morning, while walking to the rest room, I encountered a lady who exclaimed, “I can’t get over how cool it is.” I politely explained, “Ma’am, in case you didn’t know, we’re sitting here at a high elevation of approximately 6700 feet.” She gave a kind of “ah-ha” nod and climbed into her SUV with Texas plates and roared off, leaving me thinking, “I hope I didn’t confuse the poor lady.” As I pulled onto the eastbound highway, I recalled that the 90-mile stretch of road between Texline and Raton (through the northeastern comer of New Mexico) was rather unique in that one would only see vehicles with either Texas or Colorado plates, some of whom I presumed to be in pursuit of the ultimate vacation in either South Padre Island or the Colorado Rockies. Incidentally, the only NM plates I ever saw were on state maintenance vehicles.
As I neared the state line, an empty “coaler” passed me headed north to the Powder River Basin in Wyoming for a fresh bituminous load. I stopped for gas in flat and desolate Clayton and then crossed into the Lone Star State where a sign greeted me with the now familiar slogan, “Drive Friendly”. As I drove across the interminable flatness of the Texas Panhandle, I caught up with a fully loaded coal train headed for the Port of Houston. I passed through Dalhart, which happened to be a strategic railroad junction for a town of its size (pop. 6854), and then approached the tiny town of Hartley (pop. 3987) whose imposing “skyline” consisted of four towering grain elevators – so typical of small West Texas towns.
I headed due east 25 miles to Dumas (not pronounced d (y) u-ma as in the author of The Count of Monte Christo), a wind-swept, sun-bleached community of 12,194 hardy soles. I drove due south on U.S. 287 to Amarillo on an almost imperceptible declivity that dropped me almost a thousand feet in a distance of only 45 miles. Since the terrain was so flat, I easily caught sight of Amarillo’s one and only “modrin” skyscraper, a glistening forty-story glass and steel monument to capitalism, erected during the frenzied downtown building-boom of the 1970s. I breezed through a ghostly downtown, which once boasted of having the “Brightest-Lit Main Street in America” back in the 1940s and 50s when nightlife flourished with movie theaters, restaurants, and even nightclubs (I recalled seeing a nostalgic night photo of just such a scene on the front cover of a local phone book).
I made my way east on I-40, which indiscriminately had buried historic Route 66 under a swath of Interstate concrete. I made my usual stop at Pilot Gas for the reasonably priced petrol and then headed southeast across the southern portion of the Panhandle, sort of retracing my trip in reverse, you might say. My odyssey had seemingly gone by so fast (I was in the 26th day) that it felt like only a week ago I was passing through Claude, Estelline, and Clarendon. Yes, the jaded adage, “Time flies when you’re having a good time” certainly held true.
Since I could feel the oppressive heat of the outside air, there was no way I was going to spend the night at a rest area, so I decided to give the Best Western in Childress a try (instead of driving another 60 miles to the Village Inn in Vernon). I was able to check into a comfortable ground floor room that was replete with an ironing board (and iron), hair dryer, coffee maker, and a small frig. To add to the amenities, I was within biking distance of the local United Super Market, which I patronized to purchase some delectables from their deli. I reclined in the comfort of my cool room watching a Texas Ranger baseball game and thinking, “This is my last night on one splendid journey.”
After checking out, I grabbed an Egg McMuffin takeout at a nearby McDonalds and headed east to Wichita Falls where I filled up for one last time. The 90-niile stretch of Hwy 287 to the junction with TX 114 had always been a real drag, not only because of the bland landscape, but I seemed to never see any coal trains on that particular run. However, there was one elevated point along the highway just south of Decatur where I could see for miles out to the west the rolling hills of North Central Texas. I eventually exited at Hwy 114 and passed the newest addition to the NASCAR circuit, the homogenous Texas Motor Speedway, another gigantic traffic-generator for North Texas.
As I passed by the gargantuan D/FW International Airport and approached the “model” office and retail development of Las Colinas and couldn’t help but notice the bumper-to-bumper surge of out-going 5 o’clock traffic relentlessly commuting to Grapevine and other distant communities. It was sheer madness. I somehow endured the abominable traffic of the Metromess and finally arrived at my home base, Apt. 415 after 3,825 miles in 28 days, averaging a comfortable 142 miles a day. As I rested against the steering wheel, thanking The Lord for a safe trip, I recalled a passage from Larry McMurty’s Roads reading, “I have finally been to where the road goes, and shouldn’t need to go looking for awhile.” Enough said.