THE BLOG
11/29/2014 03:15 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Route 66, Ride for the Relay, Day Eight

Saturday September 13, 2014 -- Acoma, New Mexico to Winslow, Arizona

What an action-packed day of beauty at every turn! We started our day at the Sky City Casino and the weather was cool, but the forecast predicted high 90's in the afternoon, so we dressed accordingly.

From the very beginning of the drive, we were wowed by the New Mexico landscape. There's a reason so many artists have found this place compelling. I think it's something about the contrast between the dusty rolling plains dotted with sage brush and the craggy adobe-colored stone outcroppings and emerging red mesas. The constantly evolving tale of geological evolution keeps my mind in a perpetual state of wonder: "How did all this come into being?" And then "Boy do I wish I could come here to paint"!

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Our first stop was an Indian Trading Post at the Continental Divide. This was just one of many we saw today, but it was special (not just because they had a ladies room with two toilets next to each other with no wall in between?!) It was situated next to the official marker for the line that goes vertically through our nation: on one side water flows to the Pacific, on the other side to the Atlantic. Amazing!

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We all did a little shopping here (another fun past time on this trip) and I wondered, how many Route 66 shirts will I come home with? - or do I really need yet another Route 66 shirt?

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Our next stop was Gallup, New Mexico and the El Rancho Hotel (famous because John Wayne used to love hanging out here with his pals Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Reagan, Mae West, and other celebs when he was shooting his famous westerns during the 1930's and 40's). Its no wonder this landscape evokes a feeling that is deeply "American"; many of us grew up thinking this was the "wild west".

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I walked all through town taking pictures and found yet another Indian Trading Post that had a cool car outside. I walked inside to ask about the car and met the sweetest couple, Tina and Pete Leyba. He was proud to share that he had owned the 1960 Chevy since it was brand new and I learned all about their life together: they have run this store for 50 years (part of the 6th generation of ownership) and have been married for 57 years. When it was time to leave, I hadn't even had a moment to look at their jewelry collection, but felt like I'd made two new friends. So next time you're in Gallup, New Mexico, look up the Leyba's.

Our group had lunch at Earl's, a "must" visit when you're in Gallup. The place was filled with Native Americans out with friends and family enjoying themselves. We learned that Gallup is the center of the Navaho Nation and we met a number of them selling their wares both inside and outside of the restaurant.

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Not far west of Gallup the landscape began turning riotous colors with red mesas rising up around us and rock formations that reminded me strongly of the Sedona area. Somewhere out there we crossed over into Arizona - we never saw a sign telling us so, but knew from our GPS. Boy, how did we ever live without these devices on our phones? Ours has been a lifesaver many times over on this trip!

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Our next stop was The Painted Desert and The Petrified Forest. It's so interesting because you drive along for miles with the flat monotone landscape stretching in all directions with big 360 degree skies and fluffy cotton candy clouds marching eastward. From surveying this flat horizon in all directions, you would never believe what awaits once you drive through the gate into the National Park. I'm going to let these photos tell the story - we just kept saying "wow" for most of the drive.

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Just west of the park is one of my favorite attractions on Route 66, The Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. Richard and I had visited several years ago in January and I took a lot of pics and used one of them for a painting. I couldn't believe that the car I painted was still parked in exactly the same spot! So here it is now on the left and my painting on the right titled "Snow Shadow at the Wigwam Motel".

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I was sad that the Rock Shop with all the big dinosaurs outside was not open - on a Saturday? I took lots of pics of the friendly dinosaurs and once again peeked through the fence at the huge piles of petrified wood and rocks and wondered about the owner of the store and the story of the place. Like so many attractions on Route 66, a story of survival or a story of loss?

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A really great photo op awaits between Holbrook and Winslow: the Jack Rabbit Trading Post! A funny little store with a gimmick - put a giant rabbit out front and a cool sign and folks will come to your gift shop! I bought a few postcards and marveled at American ingenuity - that's our roadside heritage, after all!

Winslow, Arizona was our home for the night. We liked the idea of entering the famed "standin' on a corner" town on old Route 66 to get the real flavor of the place. But we were saddened to see nothing but boarded up and abandoned buildings. We did love the brilliant mural and statue of Jackson Browne commemorating his song that made the town an icon. Of course we had to take the classic shot which has been done by thousands I'm sure.

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Thank goodness we followed recommendations from a friend and had dinner at La Posada Restaurant. The famed hotel had top notch food so our day ended on a great note.
Thanks for coming along on the ride. Tomorrow we will visit the Grand Canyon!

Mary Anne Erickson is an artist who has been documenting the demise of our roadside culture for over 30 years in paintings and photography. Her work can be seen at www.vanishingroadside.com and you can follow her Route 66 adventures at www.facebook.com/Rtesixtysix.