I barreled out of the plains of the Texas Panhandle into New Mexico just like the greatest cowboy of all time. Pecos Bill was his name and riding on top of tornadoes was his game. With the wind in my hair and shifting through all of my six gears, I felt that life was almost perfect...except I was in serious need of putting some real food into my gut. I was still recovering from the 5-pound Texas steak fiasco in Amarillo and empathized with the awesomest cowboy of all time--it's not easy performing legendary deeds all the time, I realized. My stomach protested and rumbled in tune with my Harley. "Guys like us have it hard," I said to the ghost of Pecos Bill in my head, starting to feel delirious and sorry for myself. "So hard for a superhero cowboy to fit in time for a snack." The ghost just shook its head.
New Mexico's Route 66 has 604 delectable miles to consume, filling me up with at least the frontier spirit. Once you cross over the border from Texas, the first section of Route 66 is not motorcycle-friendly. Unless you like deep gravel and bomb-sized craters, it's best to take I-40 through what's called the Llano Estacado, or the "staked plains," which are a continuation of the dusty flatness of the Texas Panhandle. Old cowboy lore has it that these plains were created when they were trampled by a cyclone ridden by my new hero, a man who was so tough that as a baby, he teethed with a bowie knife instead of a pacifier and was raised by coyotes. How about a moment of respect for the one, the only, Pecos Bill!
Just like me, Pecos Bill was a great rider. After a while, Pecos got bored of riding horses all the time, and that's when he took to blazing a trail through the Southwest on the clouds of violent storms. Poor dude had to do with what he had. Unlike me, he never got to have the chance to ride a steel horse through the West, and that's when I started to feel like the greatest cowboy hero of all time.
Delusions of grandeur aside, I drove on through this part of Route 66, which is as flat as a cowboy's wallet the morning after payday and so level that in the old days the pioneers had to drive stakes across it just to find their way. The stakes are gone; all you have to do is follow the brown historic Route 66 signs that follow I-40 closely.
The desert clipped by me hypnotically, and I was lulled with the stillness of the passing lands and the trapped moments of time until I finally stopped to stretch my legs in Tucumcari. As Captain America said in Easy Rider, "I'm hip about time." At Tucumcari, I set my watch back for Mountain Time when, in a tragic moment, my trusty timepiece slipped away onto the hard concrete. The fragments of the watch scattered on the Mother Road in slow motion and reflected blue, green and yellow light from the surrounding historical neon signs. I left my old notions behind, and from then on through the rest of the state, I felt that I was in a time warp spanning more than just one hour in the past.
I was finally able to hit the chuck wagon at La Cita Restaurant when I stopped at a sombrero as big as the second story of a building. "This is different," I thought. "Never seen a sombrero this tall before." Time for some New Mexican food!
Heading west into the dusky red beauty of New Mexico's highlands, you leave the flatness of Pecos Bill's tornado ride and head into the Great American Desert. This here is the real West. I don't recommend trying to cheat by staying on I-40 after Santa Rosa. This is where the Mother Road gets to leave I-40's side and meanders north through the mountains of Santa Fe, then south to Albuquerque and into Indian reservation territory.
To keep myself out of trouble, I can't tell you what reservation I was in when I got busted by the cops. It helps that I can't remember anyways. The land and roads in the reservations are perfect and pure. Red cliffs that overlook twisting winds of road that coil like a rattlesnake. I spotted some graffiti on a picturesque boulder, which upon closer inspection I saw was a painted Route 66 sign. I had to get some photos of this; it was visually arresting. I walked off the road to take some shots. Oh yeah, to be truthful, I did climb the boulder a few feet off the desert ground to get a better angle.
Seeing the graffiti on the rock reminded me of the old graffiti that the Indians put up in this area before our roads ever scarred their sacred land. If you keep your eyes open, you will get to see some ancient rock art. I am not talking about Jimi Hendrix album covers here. I'm talking about the old-school kids who created petroglyphs! The natives in this area liked to tag walls just as much as modern youngsters. I wonder if little Johnny Thunderfoot ever got busted for tagging on all the rocks and had to elude the angry chieftains.
I was taking a photo of the more modern graffiti of the Route 66 sign. A few cars cruised down the road and honked at me. I figured they were all just saying hi, until a res cop pulled up with his flashing blues going off.
He stopped and called out, "What are you doing!?!"
"Just taking pictures! Don't worry!" I waved him away.
"Do you know that this is sacred Indian land?!? You can't take pictures!" He looked at me, shaking his head. "Give me your camera."
"Uh, no." There was no way that homeboy was going to get his hands on my ber-expensive camera. That'd be like confiscating a cowboy's six-shooter! I told him, "I'll just erase my pictures."
The cop stood over my shoulder, breathing on my neck as he watched me delete my photos. I took my time and clicked around until he was satisfied. It was enough for him to set me free.
He told me to drive safe and warned me not to take any more photos of the reservation. I watched him drive away first, and I checked my camera. I "mistakenly" missed a few of the photos of Route 66 on the rock ... should I keep them? Look around to see if I did. (P.S., I saw many postcards of the same photograph, so I don't feel as bad.)
As I hopped back on my steed, I once again felt the spirit of Pecos Bill stir in my soul, and I rode away like a desperado.
Before entering the extremely hot deserts of Arizona, I pulled over for a good night's sleep in Gallup. The neon glow of the El Rancho Hotel (ElRanchoHotel.com) lured me in like a case of beer, a box of doughnuts and a La-Z-Boy chair on Super Bowl Sunday. The pristine hotel is listed as a National Historical Site and was where all the movie stars and well-to-do Route 66 tourists stayed. Each room is named after a movie star who stayed there. I got Ronald Reagan's room, and I think he left a tight and curly one on the bar of soap. B