Texas Motels

Check out our growing collection of motel postcards from this state.

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[66 Courts] Crossing over the state line we head for Shamrock as fat drops of rain pour from a huge Texas sky. At the Rambler Motel, I note a sign: "Ice is for room use only. Do not fill ice chests. This means you." Freshly cut lumber lines the doors of this motel that sits along route 66. The street is festooned with signs announcing this town's affiliation with the Mother Road. We're just down the road from the famed U Drop Inn (now closed) with its undeniably art deco architecture. At noon, the building looks like a raygun pointed toward the sun. Before we can leave town, a local pulls beside us: "Hiya Ohio, welcome to Texas. I know something you don't know. Your left brake light is not working." After we thank him for his warning, he recalls: "One time the police gave me a ticket for the same thing. I said, 'I didn't know about it!' - he said, 'you do now.'"

[camera]Rambler [camera]Watt Court [camera]U Drop Inn

Behind the Watt Court in McLean, horses graze on a flat prairie. In his 1946 Guidebook to Highway 66, Jack Rittenhouse noted that during World War Two, a large POW camp used to be located east of this town. It's been raining on and off as we straddled the interstate toward this town that maintains close ties to the old route. Next to this roadside relic, dogs pace and bark, sensing our presence. Sections of the Watt's adobe-looking facade have been ripped away, revealing the horizon behind. Across the street, I visit the Texas Motel - with its neon state outline that glows red at night. In the office, three dogs bark with amazing persistence. At first, I imagine that if I stare at them with a kindly disposition, they're loud exchange will subside. But I soon realize that they'd bark that way for an hour if necessary.

[Cactus] Down the street, we stop at the Cactus Motel. Gordon talks with me about the recent explosion of interest in the Mother Road - and the rapid increase of international visitors, many from Germany and Belgium, who long to experience America away from the superslabs. As we're chatting, a trucker steps in, complaining about a broken rig. Gorden offers an over-the-counter diagnosis and suggests a local garage: "you go anywhere else and you'll be doing it over." He tells me that this motel once went by the name of Westwind until sometime in the sixties. He also recalls a vicious hailstorm that knocked out the neon in the sign in 1974. Today, he plans to create a new postcard to top off the recent renovations of the motel. I sure hope any advertisement includes the Boot Garden that sits next to the building. The long branches topped by weathered cowboy boots offers sure truth that we've arrived in the Lone Star State. Sadly, as of 2000, the Cactus Motel has lost its distinctive sign.

Further along in Groom near the giant cross reputed to be the largest in the Western Hemisphere, we stop by the 66 Courts, long abandoned to weeds and stagnant water (see image at top of page).

[camera]Motel Relic

Heading toward Amarillo, multiple billboards advertise the Big Texas Steak Ranch with its promise of a free meal to anyone who can consume a seventy-two ounce slab of beef within an hour. Jenny and I agree that it is physically impossible for either of us to stomach that kind of meal and that the ride after a successful attempt would be pretty awful for all of us anyway. But the meal we do order is amazing - one of the best steaks in Texas.

[camera]Big Texan Steak Ranch

West of town we come across Cadillac Ranch, that notorious pop-art symbol of automotive excess. In Route 66: The Mother Road, Michael Wallis quotes Stanley March 3, the man who commissioned the ten-car piece: "I didn't want the Cadillacs just placed in the ground haphazardly. I wanted folks on the highway to realize the Cadillacs had been planted there by members of a highly intelligent civilization. That's why they were put in concrete at the exact angle of the Great Pyramid."

Heading toward the setting sun, past innumerable co-op silos and aging deco diners, we stop in Vega and the Vega Motel. Dragonflies flit above warm air pockets and deep green leaves dangle from tired oak. On the radio, the Dead Kennedys belt out a raucous version of "Viva Las Vegas." As the sun sets, we near the border of this brief stretch of Route 66. We hope to reach Tucumcari, New Mexico - that fabled city of 2,000 rooms - by twilight. The windows are down as we savor the moment. This kind of scenery must be breathed to be experienced.

[camera]Vega Motel

During our Summer 2000 visit to Texas, we also headed south to El Paso and then east: Off I-10, we get onto 180 and discover a clutch of solid motels on Montana Avenue. The nicest of the bunch is the Coral Motel with its black velvet paintings, wooden beam ceilings, and southwestern themed blankets. The owner must like them, posting: "Do not use room linen to polish shoes." Lean back and your head bumps against and iron headboard bolted right into the masonry. In the bathroom, the standard colors for tile: mint green and Pepto-Bismol pink. Stepping into a room at the Coral Motel is like stepping into a partially completed set for a time travel movie in which the details aren't quite right. You've got new carpet and a 1980s touch-tone phone competing with 1960s furniture: which time continuum will win? The next day, we head for Van Horn and the Smokehouse Restaurant that offers a free museum of almost a dozen vintage cars in near pristine condition and plenty of petrolina. Don't forget to stop by the Taylor and Sun Valley motels when you're in town.

[camera]Taylor Motel [camera]Sun Valley Motel

At the Sands Motel in Kerrville - near Ingram's Stonehenge II - the trees look like giant bonsais and the doors are of the sliding glass variety. The Sands is an almost perfect u-shape of white columned buildings surrounding a blue pool. The owner and his son, a former Marine (though, to be technical, there are no "former" Marines) have run the place for about six years. Down the road at the Diamond Shamrock quick-stop, David the cashier has clearly found his niche. Road weary drivers stumble in, blinking away the dust and heat: "Can I get you an ice cold drink?" he purrs. An old lady in a white wig with corroded dentures knows what she came for: "just give me two Scoal, long cut."

In Austin, Congress Avenue rolls right up the heart of the capital past some genuinely funky shops and classic motels. You'll pass a neon cowboy astride a giant jackrabbit and a fiberglass waitress serving burgers at Fran's. Before the road bisects acres of glass and steel that surround the stately capital building, stop by the Don-Mar Motor Court. Dave motions me in, assuming I'm settling on cabin number 17. I explain that we're here to photograph the courts, "they're history!" I exude. He sighs, his girth settles as he looks at me straight: "we just found a dead guy up there a ways. That's history." The courts have long been a first step for folks making their way in Austin. At $200 a week, they're not fancy, but the sunflowers and plastic flamingos are mighty welcoming. Dave's been around these parts since the 1970s, his hill country twang tells the story: "I remember behind the office there, used to be lots of trouble with hookers. They'd do their johns right up against the wall. That's where I learned my sex education." Down the road, the Austin Motel advertises itself as a genuine motel classic in an age of chains and mediocrity, and they're right. Every room offers vintage furnishings and unique decor. But watch out for the capital city prices. Before you get back onto the road, stop by the corrugated tin-roof Iron Works B-B-Que on First and Red River. An Austin institution, you'll find no frills, but some of the best smoked meat in the country. Grab a bottle of Big Red creme soda and sit outside on the picnic tables where everyone is a local, even the tourists.

[camera]Sands Motel [camera]Don-Mar Motor Court [camera]Austin Motel

Check out our growing collection of motel postcards from this state.

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All photographs copyright © Jenny Wood. Text copyright © Andy Wood.