I DROVE THIS ROUTE THREE TIMES: from the New Mexico border to the Oklahoma border, then back to the New Mexico border, then back to the Oklahoma border. The one-way distance is only 178 miles. Texas has the second-smallest piece of Route 66 of the eight states that claim it. It cuts straight across the Panhandle, as straight a shot as you can do—it’s like, How fast can we get across the state? What’s really interesting about the drive is the relationship between Interstate 40 and Route 66. They parallel each other the whole time. The only thing is, I-40 bypasses every single town and Route 66 doesn’t; it doubles as the frontage road alongside the interstate. The scene is typical of the Panhandle: It’s all flat—I saw lots of cotton along the way and lots of grain elevators—and sparsely populated. From one end to the other, I saw deserted structures and “Sorry, We’re Closed” signs. There’s no commerce of any significance anywhere but Amarillo. All along the route, in fact, Amarillo is referred to as “town,” as in, “We’re going to town.”
The pictures I took show what it’s like to experience this stretch of road—to encounter road coffee, road snacks, and indigenous food like chicken-fried steak, which was the first menu item at every restaurant I stopped at. And, of course, they show firsthand the decay of what once was.