Back on the Mother Road (Sort of): New Mexico to New Hampshire

May of this year, my brother flew down to New Mexico to tour my alma mater and help me drive my car back to New England. As it turns out, he’s not much for navigation or freeway driving, but what skills he lacks in those areas he makes up for by being a great adventure buddy.

Most of our trip was relatively boring because it’s hard to do lots of interesting things when you’ve got to drive for eight hours a day as well. With the help of Atlas Obscura, we did manage to make some pit stops worth blogging about. (Thus our chosen Instagram tag, #spookysiblingroadtrip.)

Traveling East out of Albuquerque you’ll cross some mountains and, soon after, the little town of Moriarty. A while later you’ll hit Tucumcari, a traditional stop on the Route 66 trek that we’ve always passed by. And then there’s nothing but flatness and windmills and a 75 mph speed limit to get you through the emptiness of the the Texas panhandle.

In the middle of this nothingness, there’s a teeny little town called Adrian. Adrian would be a drive-by town if it wasn’t for the fact that it sits in the dead middle of Route 66, half way between Chicago and Los Angeles.

Good morning midpoint!
Good morning midpoint! (As you can tell, my brother and I have laughably different ideas as to what a comfortable temperature is.)

 

 

Midpoint Cafe is dolled up in everything Route 66. (If you’re looking for gifts, it’s a good place to go.) The people are sweet, but the cafe has a limited menu with no vegetarian options after breakfast. By no fault of their own, they’re also frequently swamped with biker groups. As far as diners go, I’ve got really high standards – I grew up going to a local New Hampshire chain called Red Arrow Diner where the food is top-notch and cheap, the menu is huge, breakfast is available all day, and the hours are 24/7. As far as diners go, Midpoint is nothing too exciting. But if you’re making the trek, stop for the experience! If you’ve got kids or are a Pixar fan, it’s got a cool connection to the movie Cars, too.

Further East is the city of Amarillo, Texas. When driving the opposite direction, this is always our last hotel of the trip. When heading through Amarillo, we always make a stop at Cadillac Ranch, an art project that’s turned into one of 66’s most recognizable features. The amount of languages here is always astounding, as is the way people trek through a cornfield, almost reverential, to look at the spray paint covered Cadillacs.

Ethan spray painting one of cars.
Ethan spray painting one of cars.

After this we diverged from the mother road, traveling through Arkansas and then up through Kentucky instead of through Missouri to Chicago. Our route was longer by several hours, but it let us see a new part of the country and make a few cool stops we wouldn’t have been able to make otherwise, like our stop at a seafood restaurant featuring a Billy Bass Adoption Center.

Sadly, I lost all my pictures that weren't on Facebook or Instagram, including most of the "bloggable" ones.
Sadly, I lost all my pictures that weren’t on Facebook or Instagram, including most of the “bloggable” ones. Also, this picture features my first fish since Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. (I am a strongly habitual vegetarian, but I occasionally eat fish at special restaurants, like this one. Yes, yes, I know, I’m terrible or whatever. So sue me.)

Little Rock was much cuter than I expected, and we spent an hour or two walking around, enjoying the river. Next, we headed to Cave City, Kentucky.

Cave City was sort of like a dream. We got a little turned around and ended up in the downtown area, which was completely uninhabited except for several cats.

Imagine a whole street of this, completely empty for long minutes. A cat walks by. Another cat peers out of an antique store's window. The sky is moody. A Waillin' Jenny's song is stuck in your head.
Imagine a whole street of this, completely empty for long minutes. A cat walks by. Another cat peers out of an antique store’s window. The sky is moody. A Waillin’ Jenny’s song is stuck in your head.

We tried to find interesting regional food and ended up at a cafeteria that was in the process of closing for the night. The whole thing felt like a Crooked Still song should be faintly playing in the background. We eventually gave up on regional eats and settled for Mexican.

 

Cave City at Night
Cave City at Night

We stayed at a little Tepee motel. It was quaint from the outside, but I wouldn’t recommend it because of the bugs. Their dead little bodies were scattered around the windows, and I saw more than one crawl across the bed. I figured they must be bed bugs, but wavered later because so many were near the wood of the windowsill. (This feels like a good time to leave you a link about bed bugs: x)

wigwam-hotel-kentucky

Cave City sits adjacent to the biggest network of caves in the world, Mammoth Cave. It’s so big there are still unexplored sections! You can visit the top side of the National Park for free to walk or bike, or pay to go down into the caves on a guided tour. We did the Domes and Dripstones tour, which I’d recommend if you’ve only got a few hours to spend at the park. If you plan ahead and go on a weekend, there’s a strenuous, 6 hour caving tour called Wild Cave that sounds like an absolute blast.

Much of the cave’s history is tied tightly to the history of the African Americans who were integral to the cave’s early history. Standing in the interpretive center I poured over all the materials, killing time before our tour while hoping to learn something new. I stood in front of a display about one such explorer, absorbed in the material, when a park ranger approached me. “Interesting, isn’t it?” he asked, and I nodded. He pointed at the display and told me that the man I was reading about was his ancestor. After years of visiting National Parks all across the country, that little exchange is one of my favorite memories.

From Kentucky, we headed to Ohio, where we met up with a friend who assured me that yes, the state is mostly made of corn. After this brief sojourn we headed to the teeny little town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

What’s in Point Pleasant, you ask? Well, not too much, unless you happen to be really fond of cryptids, aliens, urban legends, and anything spooky. Which I am. (I even run another blog about it, I’m that much of a nerd.)

Point Pleasant is home to a legendary creature called Mothman. Is it an angel? An alien A sandhill crane? No one really seems to be sure. But Point Pleasant’s embraced the legend, and monster enthusiasts make pilgrimage to the tiny town from all over the states.

We then headed into Pennsylvania – home territory, at last! After a long day of adventuring in and driving through quite a bit of rain, I really wanted pasta for dinner. A simple request, in the decent sized town we were staying in.

Alas, it was not to be.

There isn’t really a short version of this story and the long version would need a post to itself, but I’ll do the best I can.

First, consider this: my brother can’t read maps. Not even if they’re in the GPS and showing exactly where we are on the road and exactly where we need to go.

Second, consider this: toll roads in Pennsylvania are BRUTAL. They’re expensive as heck, they’re hard to get off of, and if you get on the wrong road you’re gonna stay on the wrong road for an awfully long time.

With those two bits of background information, it probably makes a little more sense that we managed to miss the exit for the pasta place two miles away, managed to get desperately off track multiple times, ended up driving twenty miles away and settling for the first place that sold food besides the gas station. We listened to the same Crooked Still album five times straight through that day.

The next day we also found ourselves many, many miles off course, turned around, missing exits, and stuck in traffic for hours because of roadwork that wasn’t even happening at the time. There weren’t even any cryptids to break up the monotony. Finally we made it home to New Hampshire. I was exhausted, achy from so much driving, and I never wanted to see or touch or think about a car ever again, but hey. Ethan and I were still friends and several adventures richer, and that’s all that matters on road trips, right?

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