Thursday, July 28, 2016

Highway 64

US Highway 64 is near and dear to my heart.

Strange statement, right? A road. An ordinary, run-of-the-mill, get-me-to-work, road.

But, as in just about everything that crosses my path, there's more to this story than miles of pavement. This is not just any road. It's a road that has intersected with my life in more ways than one.

To begin with, I live within siren wailing distance off the road. Maybe a little closer, more like noisy motorcycle revving distance. Our house is in a subdivision here in western North Carolina, a turn or two off the main thoroughfare, far enough for peace and calm, close enough for convenience.

If I drive east, staying on Highway 64, I'd eventually run into the Atlantic Ocean where the road terminates in the North Carolina Outer Banks. Been there. On 64, the only choice.

If I drive west, staying on Highway 64, I'd pass the schoolhouse I wrote about in my Lessons Learned book.

If I drive further west, further, further and further, staying on Highway 64, I'd arrive in New Mexico a stone's throw from the vet's office where my daughter works (and six miles from her house).

If I drive even further west, staying on Highway 64, I'd cross the Rio Grande on a bridge that scares me beyond imagination. This photograph shows the bridge spanning the river's gorge. Follow the river upstream and you'd be within hot air balloon eyesight of the back deck of my daughter's house where I greet the morning with a cup of hot tea.

Distant picture of bridge, taken after a hike on the western rim of the gorge

My husband Van, standing on the highway 64 bridge

With the creation of the interstate highway system, roads like Highway 64 became localized, funneling the major traffic to faster, more efficient routes. Here's where my story takes a turn, a right turn, heading back east turn. 

With a logic only my husband and I could fathom, we decided to explore US Highway 64. We had driven a load of odds and ends to our daughter's house in Taos, New Mexico. By the way, important to this story fact, odds and ends fit better in the back of a pick-up truck. We came out following Interstate 40 through western North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas until just after the state line in New Mexico where we took a side road across the mountains to Taos. This was a journey of two and a half days, not bad, except, remember, this was a pick-up truck with plenty of room for odds and ends (including his golf clubs) but only two seats in the cab, with a back space for overnight luggage, pillows and the all important food stash and ice cooler.

We visited for a week and helped renovate her back deck (so I would have a beautiful spot to sit and sip my hot tea and watch the hot air balloons). We plotted our return trip. Not hard to do. Drive six miles, get on US Highway 64 east, drive over a thousand miles, and get off a quarter mile from our house. No cheating. We would follow this road regardless, we decided. Ha!

"Be sure to stop in Cimarron at the St. James Hotel," a North Carolina turned New Mexico friend told us over breakfast the morning of our departure. St. James it was, our first major find in our journey. We stopped in and walked through the lobby where once upon a time the likes of Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, Kit Carson, Jesse James, Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid had also stopped in and walked through the lobby. Talk about feeling history!

Highway 64 took us all the way through the panhandle of Oklahoma, followed by the part that makes up the pan to go with the handle. (Enid, Oklahoma is a real place to me now after years of filling it in crossword puzzles...just another gem I uncovered on this trip.)
A view of the panhandle out the back window of the pick-up.
And an extinct volcano, out in the middle of  Oklahoma's nowhere.

We found a volcano.We found salt flats. We found a distributor selling tornado shelters. We found Cherokee, Oklahoma. We found Okies from Muskogee. 

We drove a few miles off the route to the museum of the Western Cherokee nation. Our eyes were opened seeing and hearing the Cherokee perspective beyond the North Carolina boundaries.

Museum of the western band of the Cherokee Nation

We drove the back country through Arkansas on a route that appeared to us as quicker and shorter than the huge dip Interstate 40 takes to Little Rock. We crossed the Mississippi on the interstate (no other choice) bridge and picked up the road again in Memphis, Tennessee. Off the beaten track in the back woods of southern Tennessee, we followed a sign that I never considered before. I walked a few steps to take its photograph thinking of those who walked the same steps with a vastly different purpose.

We drove through Tennessee's Davy Crockett State Park and spent yet another night (one of four on the return trip) this time in Chattanooga in the shade of Lookout Mountain. We crossed into North Carolina early on the final travel day and assumed we would be home in a few hours. Wrong. 

Highway 64 goes through some of the most rugged land North Carolina has to offer. The road itself was bypassed by newer highways. When the sign said "No thru trucks" we should have realized what was in store. But we were determined to follow this through all the way, even if it meant cliff hangers. Cliff hangers we found.

What our determination meant was a view of the river traffic jam. 

And a view of a State Park...

                         And a national forest.

Will we do it again?

No, even though this highway is near and dear to my heart, and even though it was well worth the effort. Yet there are other back roads and by-ways waiting to be explored. Those we'll take. We've already got out the map.

Catch of the day,


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