As we fly from Chicago to Albuquerque, the land below slowly changes. Tiny rectangles of farmland start are replaced by parched discs of wheat or cotton, irrigated into circles. These suddenly stop and the land looks like creased brown paper, with the occasional scrawled black line of a canyon or a cliff. For about an hour its virtually uninhabitated; no farms, no towns, just miles and miles of emptiness. The roads, and there are a few, are always dead straight, Roman in their single-mindedness to get somewhere.
There’s snow on the Rockies. But the air in Albuquerque is fairly warm. The lady at the car rental has never been to Amarillo, our next destination. It’s a long way. five hours on the Interstate and out of New Mexico and into Texas. The landscape here is scrubland and rocks. I keep expecting to see John Wayne on a horse. The colours are browns and bleached out, with advertising boards lining the road advertising fireworks and BBQ restaurants. We stop once for a coffee and a piece of pie. P gags on his slice of pecan. I’d forgotten how glutinous it is, a thick layer of sweet brown jelly topped off with soggy nuts. Maybe he had a lucky escape. The lemon cream pie looks like something that might be flung in a panto.
Route 66 runs alongside the highway and so we take a detour and head into one of the small towns that it runs through. It obviously found it hard to recover when they built the interstate and many of its motels and small shops are boarded shut. Inside a shop with a door shaped like a teepee, I buy some postcards from an old man who, judging by the bumper stickers on the glass counter, is a Vietnam vet. He takes my dollar without a smile. And then we drive on towards Texas, past small outposts that lie abandoned, past countless road stops all serving Macdonalds and KFC.
We reach Amarillo after driving for several hours through the pitch black dark. Far from being the slightly quaint cowboy town I’d imagined, it is a huge city, sliced up by the freeway. Strip malls line the side of the road, dazzling in their attempt to distract the eye with bargain motel rates and eat all you can buffets. We drive around looking for the centre but can’t seem to find it. It doesn’t seem to have a centre, just dozens of roads all leading out of Amarillo. We can’t find a groovy place to stay. It’s turning into an Amariallo nightmare. We get completely lost and end up in an area where the petrol station has had its windows barred. Finally we ask for directions at another petrol station and are directed to the Holiday Inn. It’s not groovy but it is full of cowboys for the rodeo which is almost as good.