Way Out West: Cruising Route 66 from Weatherford to Texola
From fine dining to “mediocre music,” western Oklahoma offers travelers a diverse array of unexpected experiences.
|Photo: Emily Priddy|
West of Weatherford, Route 66 wiggles back and forth across I-40 like a fidgety child. Its serpentine path leads travelers through vibrant downtowns, across tough, ruddy ranchlands and past windswept cotton fields and the weathered ruins of long-shuttered outposts as it snakes toward the Texas Panhandle.
On the Hill
We begin our journey on the outskirts of Weatherford, one of us peering through bifocals at three different guidebooks as the road takes us past giant wind turbines and rust-colored mounds before depositing us at our first destination: a dignified stone building at the top of a hill overlooking Clinton.
This is White Dog Hill. Located in the old Clinton Country Club, this comfortably elegant restaurant boasts a creative menu and a spectacular view of the city. After dinner, sunset-gilded Adirondack chairs in Popsicle colors coax us outside for coffee and conversation on the gracious terrace on the building’s west side.
Heavy on the History
Clinton is keenly aware of its Route 66 connection. Although it is home to McLain Rogers Park, featuring a Route 66-themed miniature golf course, Clinton’s biggest claim to fame is the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, which houses an extensive collection of Mother Road memorabilia and one of the old highway’s best gift shops.
Visitors can check out Walkmans at the front desk to listen to a guided audio tour narrated by Michael Wallis, author of the 1990 bestseller Route 66: The Mother Road, as they wander through a host of elaborate exhibits, including a black-lit hippie van and a working neon sign from a now-defunct motel.
Whispers of the Past
Just west of Clinton, near the tiny town of Foss, stands an abandoned service station. The ghost sign on the east side of the building informs us, in peeling red and white paint, that this is Kobel’s Place.
Kobel’s is the first of several silent storytellers along Route 66 between Clinton and Elk City. A few miles beyond the old gas station, we cruise into Canute, which is home to two long-shuttered motels: the Washita and the Cotton Boll. Although closed for years, the buildings retain their historic neon signs.
A dainty tearoom may seem an unlikely biker hangout, but more than a few gleaming Harleys have roared up to Country Dove Gifts and Tea Room, drawn by the restaurant’s famous French silk pie.
Rolling into town just after noon, we indulge in a slice before heading down the road to walk off a few calories at Ackley Park.
The park – which features a carousel, miniature train rides and a duck pond – is just east of the Old Town Museum Complex. The complex is home to the National Route 66 Museum, which resembles a giant, walk-through diorama of the road’s history, complete with enormous kachina dolls and a pink Cadillac.
A dainty tearoom may seem an unlikely biker hangout...
Over the Bridge
Between Elk City and Sayre, an old bridge – its steel trusses painted school-bus yellow – carries Route 66 across Timber Creek. Decked out in bee-print rain boots the same color as the bridge, one of us clambers down to the water’s edge in search of an interesting angle for a photograph.
In Sayre, we pay a visit to the RS & K Railroad Museum, located a few blocks off Route 66. The tiny museum is packed with model trains and railroad memorabilia. Its knowledgeable owner, Ray Killian, gives travelers a crash course in railroad history and equipment.
After a tour of the museum, we head downtown to shop for antiques and admire the bucking broncos on the marquee at the old Stovall Theater and the silver dome atop the Beckham County Courthouse, which appears in a scene from The Grapes of Wrath.
Way Out West
As the sun sets, we start looking for a place to rest. An old sign – its neon long gone, but its porcelain enamel surface still vibrant – catches our eye. A dark-green cactus stands out against a screaming yellow backdrop as bright orange letters spell out the words “Western Motel.” Encouraged by the motel’s well-kept grounds, we ask to see a room. We are not disappointed: Recently remodeled, the Western Motel offers immaculate rooms at reasonable prices. It’s an ideal stopping point before we head into Erick for the next morning’s zany adventures.
Erick, Oklahoma (population: 1,061 or so) is home to four internationally known musicians: Roger Miller, Sheb “Purple People Eater” Wooley, and the self-proclaimed “Mediocre Music Makers,” Harley and Annabelle Russell.
We pay our respects to the late “King of the Road” at the Roger Miller Museum, located at the intersection of Roger Miller Boulevard and Sheb Wooley Avenue. The small museum houses a nice assortment of memorabilia, including Miller’s FFA jacket and the handwritten lyrics to “King of the Road.”
Mediocre Music Makers
Down the street at the SandHills Curiosity Shop, Harley and Annabelle Russell – decked out in matching red-and-white-striped overalls that they refer to as their “redneck tuxedos” – greet us with hugs, kisses and a barrage of self-deprecating humor. Their over-the-top shtick – which includes Harley’s occasionally ribald jokes, Annabelle’s wide-eyed reactions and plenty of music – is not for the faint of heart. A few folks have left in a huff, but more adventuresome travelers find it best to relax and join in the fun.
Go Directly to Jail
A few miles west of Erick, a lonely, rusted-out sign stands sentinel behind a barbed-wire fence. The sign is the last remnant of an old reptile pit. A dozen wild turkeys, fat and sassy after gorging themselves on the grasshoppers that seem to be everywhere, dash across the road in front of us as we near Texola.
Texola’s primary attraction is the Old Territorial Jail, a one-room, cinderblock jail located a block north of Route 66. Sunlight streams in between the bars on the windows as we stop to take a picture just before sunset.