“ It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end. ”
– Ernest Hemingway
“ I am no longer afraid of becoming lost, because the journey back always reveals something new, and that is ultimately good for the artist. ”
– Billy Joel
Andy and I decided to venture out on our 13 day photo project on the morning of Thursday, October 10, 2013 to begin our epic journey that would carry us across the heart of the United States and back, while exploring some of the country’s most unique and beautifully ancient landmarks. Andy and I had discussed travel and lodging options and most of our plan was somewhat dependent on our Kickstarter funding program to materialize, which thankfully it did through the generous support of our fans and backers of whom I can not thank enough. We raised almost $6500 and were thankful for the opportunity to give back great rewards to those that supported us and our vision.
Andy, having traveled across country on two prior occasions had a very good idea and thought process of our initial itinerary, including travel times, lodging and stops for refueling and breaks. I initially had the grand idea of “roughing” it literally with tents and basic food provisions in a cooler. With the help of our Kickstarter funds and Andy’s connections and hotel rewards, lets just say, we didn’t have to rough it. We were able to stay comfortably in nice hotels and inn’s during our almost two-week project.
I arrived at Andy’s place in Elmira, NY at around 7:30 on the morning of the 10th and we were on the road a little after 8:00 a.m. Our chariot for the next two weeks on the road was a brand new Subaru 2014 Crosstrek which we would find both comfortable and roadworthy taking us from desert sand dunes to rocky terrains and snowy mountain passes. Amazing.
Our first leg took us approximately 9 hours to Chesterton, Indiana. We stayed at the aptly named Hilton Garden Gateway Boulevard as this was our gateway to an amazing 13 day adventure. Our plans didn’t include a whole lot of work that first night other than shooting the Indiana Dunes at sunset and grabbing some good dinner and hitting the hay for the very long trip that awaited us early the next morning. After checking in, we had just enough time to head over to the Indiana Dunes State Park to grab a handful of sunset shots on the beach.
After blowing off the sand from our feet and gear following the shoot at Indiana Dunes, we headed over to a cool little cafe called the Octave Grill that Andy had visited on his last trip out West for some good food and cold beer. Andy dropped off some prints for the owners that he had promised from his last shoot of the area. Here is a link to check out the Octave.
After finishing our meal of good burgers, sweet potato fries and the local microbrew we headed back to the Hilton worked on some edits from the dunes sunset shoot and called it a day. Day number one was in the books. We set our alarms for 5 a.m. for the long exploration down old Route 66 towards our next stop, The Hampton Inn/Suites in Tulsa/Catoosa Oklahoma. Following a restless sleep reminiscent of a childs anticipation of opening gifts on Christmas day, we awoke a little after 5 a.m. following a series of snooze button slamming, headed down to grab breakfast, packed our gear and hit the road.
Our first stop was the beginning of an adventure/exploration filled journey on Route 66. We stopped at the vintage Ambler’s Texaco gas station in Dwight, Illinois just as a vintage car club was wrapping up a tour. We were lucky enough to have had the chance to talk with some of the old timers about their prized classic restored autos and were able to grab some photos of a few of them before heading into the old Texaco station to talk with the folks who ran the visitor center. We were treated to some very cool stories, history and a nice cold Coke and were allowed to snap a few shots of this nostalgic location and even put some push pins on the tourist map. Surprisingly, we were the only pin stuck in Elmira, NY. The man and his wife were more than kind and enjoyed sharing their 80 plus years of stories with us.
Ambler’s Texaco Station in Dwight, Illinois was our point of entry on Route 66. We parallel the old highway at various points that it had been moved over its lifetime and we drove a great distance on it as well. During our second day on the road we spent much of it exploring the old American highway and its quiet little towns now in the shadows of bigger industries, shopping centers, hotels and modern America. On route to our second destination, Tulsa, Oklahoma, we were able to stop at various places along 66 to rest and take some amazing photographs of old abandoned drive-ins, bridges, back road farms, abandoned vehicles and more. Here is a link to Ambler’s Texaco Gas Station in Dwight, Illinois.
One cool stop along the way on Route 66 was at the old Tee Pee drive-in near Sapulpa, Oklahoma.
Located along historic Route 66, The Tee Pee Drive-In was built on the outskirts of Tulsa in 1950 with a capacity of 400 cars. Over its 50 years it has passed through numerous owners. The current owner tried to make a go of it in 1998 and 1999 but didn’t succeed. It did not re-open for the 2000 season. The current owner is looking for a person to take over the operations and re-open the drive-in. For Sale is the only thing on the marquee today.
Although we didn’t stay too long in this location due to the fact we had a long, long day still ahead of us, the abandoned drive-in theater along the original section of Route 66 was quite a treat. If we had more time to spare we would have loved to explored the old buildings on the grounds in hopes of filming the old projectors if they were even still there. Sapulpa is another one of those small towns along Route 66 rich in history. Below is a link to the Sapulpa Historical Society page.
Making our way still down old Route 66, Andy and I passed so many places worthy of stopping to take photos that we would have never arrived at our destination on time and really threw a kink in the schedule. We did allow for some exploring and stopping along the way however en route to our next stop in Tulsa. I can’t however begin to describe how many old and abandoned places we passed on the way. If only we had a year or more to spend on the open road. This was truly American history.
Another cool drive-in, or whats left of it, the sign, sits alone near Mitchell, Illinois. We thought it was pretty cool and easily accessible standing right along side the road so we pulled over for a couple quick shots of the vintage sign.
The Bel-Air opened in the mid-1950’s as a single-screen drive-in, situated off the historic Route 66. It was originally part of the Mid-America Theatres chain, based in St. Louis. In the 1970’s, a second screen was built. At one time, the Bel-Air Drive-In could accommodate about 700 cars.
Its concession building also housed a tiny indoor seating area, with a large picture window, for when the weather was bad (since it was originally open year-round).
BAC Theatres ran the drive-in from 1982 until it closed in 1987. The Bel-Air Drive-In was completely demolished by the mid-1990’s except for its colorful and classy marquee (a large, bright red bell is behind the name of the drive-in), still in fairly good shape (except for the “R” in the “Air” part of the theater’s name is missing).
An industrial park is being constructed on the site of the Bel-Air Drive-In.
Along the route we also stumbled upon another abandoned gas station. Lucille’s/Provine station near Hydro, Oklahoma was opened by Carl Ditmore in 1929, this is one of the few remaining examples of a two-story fuel station with the owner’s residence situated above the pumps on an upper floor. W.O. and Ida Waldroup changed the name to Provine Service Station after buying the station in 1934 and would later add tourist cabins to provide five motel rooms on-site. Lucille and Carl Hamons acquired the Provine Station in 1941 and operated by Lucille Hamons from 1941 until her death on August 18, 2000, the site was added to the US National Register of HIstoric Places in 1997. The last fuel was dispensed in 1986 and the station ultimately became a gift shop, with demand in the 1990s driven largely by nostalgia surrounding a road which by then had become not merely a decommissioned highway but a powerful symbol of a bygone era.
As we passed acres upon acres of farmland, old and new, we saw many abandoned farms from the 1950’s to present. I felt meager at times in my attempts to document such American history and decay and I am certain, despite my attempts, photographs can not clearly portray the beauty and demise of such an American landscape as much as photographs can never give the viewer the true, epic sense of the Grand Canyon. Yet, I feel honored and blessed to have had the opportunity to explore and share, however feeble in my attempt, to share this wonderous beauty through my photographs.
Following a long day of travel and exploration along the famous and historic Route 66, nightfall was finally upon us after traveling the road for about 15 hours. In the distance as we near Tulsa/Catoosa we can see flashes of lighting in the darkness to the Northwest. Andy and I talked about how cool it would be to capture a true mid-west storm however as we checked the radar and satellite the storm was moving away from us as we traveled Southwest to Tulsa. We finally arrive at Tulsa/Catoosa Hampton Inn/Suites at about 11p.m. and notice that across the street the night was alive and bustling with activity as the Tulsa Hard Rock and Casino was still going strong. We unloaded our gear for the night and then headed out to do some night shooting of the casino lights and activity. We weren’t out for more than 30 minutes when the rain started coming down pretty heavy. So we tucked our cameras up under our shirts and high tailed it back to the hotel and dined on snacks while we spent the next couple hours editing the days goods. I think we got three hours sleep that night before we were off early the next day en route to Texas.
Texas definitely had some nice things in store for us including a neat little junkyard in a small town named Shamrock with a little old lady who was the spitting image and had the same charisma as Flo from Mel’s Diner.
We spied this cool junkyard using the Stuck on Earth app and Google maps while researching locations along Route 66. Shamrock, it turns out, was featured in the Disney/Pixar movie “Cars” using the old classic style garage that was in the movie. We found the old junkyard at the beginning of town situated in a fenced in two acre lot behind a boarded up building that, to be honest, looked a little shady and I was uncertain about approaching to ask about the junkyard out back, but we definitely were not going to jump the fence and risk some old-fashioned Texas justice. So, reluctantly I approached the front door that had a sign affixed to it bearing the name of some consulting firm.
As I knocked on the door while Andy kept the car running in case we needed a quick getaway I heard a raspy voice cry out “come on in”. Much to my surprise, the small room was filled with poker machines, smoke and about a half-dozen middle-aged women smoking and drinking the afternoon away. They were extremely hospitable and offered me a chair. I politely declined explaining to one of the women about our photo project and that we had traveled from Elmira, NY and were on a mission to photograph abandoned locations along Route 66 en route to Utah. She chuckled and said her daughter owned the property but she was not around so the nice woman gave us permission to jump the fence and take as many photos as we wanted of the old cars. She just asked that we be careful of ants and snakes. No problem and thank you was my reply. We gave the women a few of our business cars and told her to look us up and check out the photo documentary project in a few months. She gave us a big Texas hug and told us of some other worthwhile locations to check out along the road. This woman, however raspy and gruff, was definitely grandma material. Up to this point the folks we ran into were very friendly and courteous and more than willing to talk about Route 66. Having seen so many amazing things along the way, this stop in Shamrock was my personal favorite so far. I was itching to get some shots of vintage autos and this place was mecca so far, or so I thought. Little did I know what vintage and classic beauties lie just a few days ahead in Nevada !!
After tooling around this amazing old junkyard in Shamrock while avoiding fire ants that seemed to be everywhere and stepping over shod snake skins, we climbed back over the fence, thanked our Texan host and headed down the road towards Amarillo. We did take a moment to drive by the fairly commercialized and restored old gas station featured in the movie “Cars” as “Flo” had encouraged us to do. We however did not stop to take pictures of this modernized landmark as we were looking for true rust. It was kind of cool however to see this old Conoco Station. Here is a link to the restored 1935 Conoco Gas Station in Shamrock, TX.
From here we decided to continue on our way to Gallup, New Mexico where we would spend our 3rd night in preparation for shooting the epic national parks, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, and Zion in Utah where we would finally make camp for four nights in the spacious and comfortable Victorian Inn in Kanab, Utah. So as we waved goodbye to Shamrock in mid afternoon and headed towards Amarillo, Andy was telling me about the world-famous Big Texan tourist attraction similar to the South of the Border attraction in South Carolina. Not far from the Big Texan was the also touristy “Cadillac Ranch”. These would be our only other stops on day three before arriving late in Gallup, NM where we would crash and arise again on only a few hours sleep.
The Big Texan was Big. It had a motel, attractions, restaurant, large gift shop and more. We spent about an hour there looking around and purchasing souvenirs for the kiddos back home however chose not to stay and eat there, however the huge steak challenge was somewhat appealing. Free 72 ounce steak..Yeah, if you ate it in like an hour or something..No thanks. Besides, I wanted to check out Cadillac Ranch and grab a couple of sunset shots before we bid farewell to Texas. So we bagged up our merch, took a couple iPad candids and headed toward Cadillac Ranch. If your ever in Amarillo, TX do yourself a favor and stop at BT.
We were not able to get any sunset shots at Cadillac Ranch unfortunately do to the mobs and mobs of people who kept showing up. Actually it was difficult to get any shots without people in the frame. I was able to grab a few shots while dodging folks, their shadows or the spray from their incessant spraying of paint onto the tourist monument. While it was cool to have seen and experienced, I knew much greater and powerful experiences waited for me over the course of the next ten days. We had just heard while driving through Oklahoma that the state of Utah was going to pay to open its National Parks as was the Grand Canyon since the government was still locked in its shutdown crisis. This was a HUGE relief for us as the majority of our project was to document the National Parks including Zion, Arches, Bryce and the Grand Canyon. The excitement was building. Our next stop would be the Hampton in Gallup, NM then off to Shiprock and Monument Valley on day 4. The first three days traveling Route 66 was amazing. Andy and I had a lot of ideas to share about our project, our studio back home which had just opened prior to our journey, and just good old stuff to chit chat about like art, music, relationships, goals, support and life in general. After logging almost 2100 miles in three days with Andy doing much of the driving we had an idea what was in store next now with the parks open but our expectations would be far greater than we even imagined. This, was just the beginning. Stay tuned for part III of Beauty and Decay, Stories from the Road, Into the West.
In the meantime here is a link to my Route 66 galleries as well as Andy’s. I hope you enjoyed the read. Thanks for your continued support !!