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Old 04-08-2010, 06:11 PM
 
Location: The Great White North
414 posts, read 886,752 times
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...and it leads to one of my (oddly) favorite towns in the US, Tucumcari, NM. I've been toying with the idea of driving from its start to Tucumcari since I figured out it was there (and where it led) for the past few weeks. Anyone ever driven the entire stretch? Thoughts about it? At least on the map, it looks like it goes through some interesting places: southern MO, the Flint Hills in KA, the Texas panhandle, the OK panhandle, and eastern NM.

Now I just need to find a nice stretch of time for a roadtrip...
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Old 04-09-2010, 05:50 AM
 
Location: Texas
14,078 posts, read 17,652,720 times
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That highway doesn't end at Tucumcari; it goes on to El Paso, TX.

I haven't driven every inch of it, but I have traveled a good bit of it so I'll tell you what I know.

I guess I don't have to tell you about the short portion in Illinois as you live near there. For the first few miles of it's route, it's just the old road beside the newer interstate, so you know what that means. Small, by-passed towns with abandoned gas stations and old motels now run by foreigners.

Once you cross the Mississippi into Missouri, it's just a rural highway which passes through some little farming communities. In fact, it's like that for most of it's route across MO and that's not a bad thing for lingering along looking at real Americana.

At Fulton, MO, you can stop and see the Winston Churchill Memorial and Library. It was at Fulton where he first used the term "Iron Curtain" to describe eastern Europe under Soviet domination and the memorial includes a pretty good-sized piece of the old Berlin Wall.

If you're old enough to remember the comic book character "Beetle Bailey," you can take a short detour over to Columbia, MO to the campus of the University of Missouri and visit the Beetle Bailey sculpture.

From Fulton, your next destination is the state capitol at Jefferson City, one of our smallest state capitols and a very neat little town spread across a bluff high above the Missouri River. Whenever the river floods badly, a good bit of the downtown area goes under water, but the Capitol Building itself stays high and dry. Inside is the Missouri State Museum which outline's the state's interesting history.

If you're a Civil War buff, Jefferson City is where a Union militia army under the command of Col. Nathaniel Lyons overthrew the seccessionist minded, Constitutionally elected government and kept Missouri out of the Confederacy. It was entirely illegal and done without orders, but it stuck. That action, and the resultant chase of Confederate militia through the countryside, ultimately ended up in the Battle of Wilson's Creek, near Springfield.

After Jeff City, US-54 is a busy road which is mostly 4 lane to handle the traffic going back and forth to Lake O' the Ozarks and a nightmare for driving during the summer. The area around that lake, and the Harry Truman Reservoir, is like Pigeon Forge light in places and very crowded. It's a beautiful lake, though, and you might consider renting a boat and spending a day exploring the rocky bluffs that make up most of the shoreline.

From the lake region to Kansas, it's just rural America again and the only thing of interest is the little town of Nevada, MO, home of the Earp family before they moved west for fame and fortune. I don't know if there are any museums or memorials built in their honor.

Next up is Ft. Scott, KS, so named for the wonderfully restored pre-Civil War US Army post of the same name which sits on a hill above the town. At the time of its construction, Ft. Scott was the official end of the world. A military road connected it to Ft. Leavenworth to the north and Fts. Gibson and Towson down in Oklahoma and the road was considered the beginning of the frontier. Once you left Ft. Scott traveling west, you were on your own.

Also, note as you drive along that the area seems to be a series of small, tree covered hills. Not all of them are natural. That region was the center of lead mining around the turn of the 20th century and up until WWI, so a good bit of those pretty little "hills" are actually old tailings from strip mines. Look closely and you'll see small lakes which follow the outlines of the hills. Those are the old pits from which lead was extracted.

From Ft. Scott to Wichita, KS, you make the transition onto the Great Plains. It's a fairly decent two-lane road without a whole lot of traffic, so you can slow down and look around. The only town of any size before El Dorado is Iola, from which comes most of the Portland cement in our concrete. Just south of there a few miles is Chanute, KS and a very interesting museum, the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum. The Johnson's were world famous explorers and the museum tells their tale. Most of us have never heard of them, but back in their day, they were like rock stars and the press worldwide kept up with everywhere they went. It's a must see.

I haven't driven US-54 west from Iola in a number of years, but I don't recall it passing through the Flint Hills, though it may. The center of the Flint Hills is north of El Dorado, closer to Emporia, as is the Long Grass Prairie Natural Preserve. All of that part of the Great Plains was originally long grass, high enough to reach a horse's belly, but years of farming and ranching have reduced it to over-grazed short grass. The LGPNP is the last surviving bit of long grass prairie anywhere.

Not much to see in El Dorado except the oil refinery, so far as I know, so go on to Wichita. It's the second largest city in Kansas and began life as a railroad town and terminus of Texas cattle drives. It has a wild and wooly past, so do a little research and enjoy what it has to offer. It's also tornado central in the spring and summer, so don't ignore the weather while traveling. In fact, don't ignore it anywhere in Kansas or western Missouri. After all, when you continue on to Liberal, KS on US-54, you'll pass right through Greensburg, site of that deadly tornado a few years ago and home of the reality TV show, "The Greening of Greensburg." Just to the north of Wichita is the town of Hesston, where the strongest tornado ever recorded struck a decade or so ago.

As you go west, the terrain becomes more and more flat and bleak as the prairie begins to give way to more desert-like conditions, mostly a result of over-farming and over-grazing. This area was the Grand Central Station of the Dust Bowl and all the topsoil blew away. You will be seeing the after effects of the Dust Bowl all the way to Tucumcari. Read up on what it looked like before, and what those people endured during the 30's, and it will make your drive more interesting as you compare what was to what now is. Along the way, you could take a short detour up to Dodge City and visit Front Street, a fairly accurate re-buidling of the notorious strip of saloons and cathouses from the cattle drive days. Marshall Dillion may not have actually patrolled those streets, but the Earps and Masterson's did.

Liberal is your next stop and it's not known as "Pancake City" for no reason. It's that flat! You can see forever and the only thing which breaks the horizon is grain elevators. It's different, I'll say that! There used to be some sort of tourist trap there built around Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, but I don't know if it's still there. If it is, you'll see the signs.

The Oklahoma Panhandle was once known as "No Man's Land" and you'll see why. It's pretty desolate and mostly uninhabited even today. The population there was actually greater before the Dust Bowl than it is now and those "Grapes of Wrath" Okies who set out for California mostly came from there. The only things which keep that whole region going now is grain farming, meat packing and cattle feed lots. You'll know when you're getting close to feed lot because you just can't hide the smell of tons and tons of manure! LOL You'll pass by some of the largest feed lots in the world before you get to New Mexico. Incidently, the Guymon, OK school system now is over 50% Spanish speaking due to the Hispanic workers in those industries. I think that makes it unique among Oklahoma schools.

By the way, from SW Kansas to Tucumcari, be prepared for high winds. It blows all the time.

Dalhart, TX is the home of the XYZ Ranch, which once covered half a million acres, and mythical home of Pecos Bill.

By the time you get to Tucumcari, you'll be making the transition from the Great Plains onto the intermountain prairies and, before you come to Alamagordo, you'll be in the southern Rocky Mountains. US-54 follows I-40 over to Santa Rosa, then cuts down into the desolate, hot valley which culminates in the White Sands, just west of Alamagordo. Make sure your air conditioner is working! And, be sure to visit the White Sands National Monument. Even if it's 120 degrees, you'll feel chilled when among the gigantic piles of pure white sand. You could detour to the west and visit Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb was set off. Take a look at the terrain around you and you'll see why they did it there. There is so little out there but sand and rocks that they could set off a nuclear weapon and nobody would notice. Incidently, Alamagordo is the home of the only German Air Force base in America. It's part of Holloman AFB.

From there on to El Paso, you're down range for any missle shots taken from Ft. Bliss, the Army's missle center. In fact, you're actually on the Army post for the whole way. If they are shooting a missle, they'll close the road until they're finished. It really, really gets hot out there, so be prepared with plenty of water. Those mountains to the east contain some pretty good places to pan for gold, if you're interested, and the ones to the west are called the Organ Pipe Mountains. Use a little imagination and you'll see it.

US-54 ends at the Mexican border in downtown El Paso. Except for the obvious prosperity differences, El Paso is really just a suburb of Ciudad Juarez, which you can see right over there. That part of the border region is a fascinating place, so explore it thoroughly. Ask the locals if it's safe to venture into Juarez and which parts of town to stay out of. And, don't miss the tram ride to the top of Franklin Mountain which overlooks the urban area.

That's all I know about it!
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Old 04-09-2010, 05:47 PM
 
Location: The Great White North
414 posts, read 886,752 times
Reputation: 506
Wow, awesome write-up! Thanks!! I'll have to print it off when I eventually make the trip...

I know a bit about the two far ends of the route (having lived in both IL and NM), and I've driven the section between Griggsville and Louisiana, but I've never really spent much time "in between". I originally thought it would be a fun trip to take while going down to NM to look for teaching jobs, but it looks like I should put more time into it than 2-3 days :-P Maybe a combination camping/sightseeing trip would be worthwhile...I could always go off the road a bit to get to the Flint Hills or the Palo Duro canyon.

The original idea was to just take it to Tucumcari and follow I-40 from there to Albuquerque, but it looks like the southern NM portion of the highway has too much to miss out on.

Anyways, thanks again for the great information Now I just need a free week or two...
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Old 04-11-2010, 04:14 AM
 
Location: Not where you ever lived
11,544 posts, read 25,982,050 times
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Tucumcari is one of my favorite towns. Awesome Chinese restaurant - but I like Roswell, Inn Of the Mountain Gods, Riodosa and Las Cruces better. I spent one winter in Albuquerque. It's like El Paso, it sprawls for miles. NM as a whole is an interesting and magical place. I was always disappointed with winter holidays. No Xmas trees - just lighted cactus, harvesting cotton, peppers drying on the roof. tops etc. Winslow, AZ has the best Denny's Restaurant in America.

I've driven most of US 54 more times than I can count. It is basically 1200 miles of boring 2 lane highway that is mostly desolate with with few services. That was only the first 300 miles. First of all it takes 2 good 12 hour days to drive it. If you serious about moving, take 7-10 days and enjoy the beauty of America. Assuming you want to visit both El Paso and Albuquerque there are two routes - northern and southern. If you will allow me to make a suggestion, I can give you different routes where you see the best of US 54, most of it, plus some very interesting places - like the little Grand Canyon, beautiful scenery along the way. I am not an extravagant traveler. I would rather buy a local newspaper than a trinket, and it is a lot more interesting.

My routes are a mix of 2 and 4 lanes, and you are never far from services or too bored. You will also miss most of the big towns and ratty traffic. I would leave the day that school lets out to avoid the June and July traffic and heat. It you get caught in testing at white sands you can wait for 4-6 hours for roads to open. While you are in that part of NM, you can stop at the Carlsbad caverns and watch thousands of bats fly out at sunset. There is much to see and do and most of it is free.

You can also go to Mexico, shop, buy Rx 50-75% less, and a quart of Vanilla extract at the liquor store for less than $5. You'll pay $4 for 2 ounces anywhere else. Griggsville - the Martin bird House town? I don't know how many times I've driven through it on trips between Mt.Sterling and Pittsfield. It you live in that area you might know Fr.Tom. I lived in SW MO too. If you like the Civil War, you'll find the Carthage battlefield and CW cemetery and also the Pea Ridge Battlefield. It's not too far from Eureka Springs or the Mill at War Eagle.

If you are interested DM me.

Last edited by linicx; 04-11-2010 at 04:32 AM..
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Old 04-11-2010, 08:06 PM
 
Location: Jonquil City (aka Smyrna) Georgia- by Atlanta
16,248 posts, read 21,310,682 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AbqTeacher View Post
...and it leads to one of my (oddly) favorite towns in the US, Tucumcari, NM. I've been toying with the idea of driving from its start to Tucumcari since I figured out it was there (and where it led) for the past few weeks. Anyone ever driven the entire stretch? Thoughts about it? At least on the map, it looks like it goes through some interesting places: southern MO, the Flint Hills in KA, the Texas panhandle, the OK panhandle, and eastern NM.

Now I just need to find a nice stretch of time for a roadtrip...
Well have fun on that trip! Be sure to enjoy the exciting glittering city of Wichita on your way.
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Old 04-11-2010, 09:57 PM
 
Location: SWUS
5,421 posts, read 7,886,283 times
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Originally Posted by stillkit View Post
By the time you get to Tucumcari, you'll be making the transition from the Great Plains onto the intermountain prairies and, before you come to Alamagordo, you'll be in the southern Rocky Mountains. US-54 follows I-40 over to Santa Rosa, then cuts down into the desolate, hot valley which culminates in the White Sands, just west of Alamagordo. Make sure your air conditioner is working! And, be sure to visit the White Sands National Monument. Even if it's 120 degrees, you'll feel chilled when among the gigantic piles of pure white sand. You could detour to the west and visit Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb was set off. Take a look at the terrain around you and you'll see why they did it there. There is so little out there but sand and rocks that they could set off a nuclear weapon and nobody would notice. Incidently, Alamagordo is the home of the only German Air Force base in America. It's part of Holloman AFB.

From there on to El Paso, you're down range for any missle shots taken from Ft. Bliss, the Army's missle center. In fact, you're actually on the Army post for the whole way. If they are shooting a missle, they'll close the road until they're finished. It really, really gets hot out there, so be prepared with plenty of water. Those mountains to the east contain some pretty good places to pan for gold, if you're interested, and the ones to the west are called the Organ Pipe Mountains. Use a little imagination and you'll see it.

US-54 ends at the Mexican border in downtown El Paso. Except for the obvious prosperity differences, El Paso is really just a suburb of Ciudad Juarez, which you can see right over there. That part of the border region is a fascinating place, so explore it thoroughly. Ask the locals if it's safe to venture into Juarez and which parts of town to stay out of. And, don't miss the tram ride to the top of Franklin Mountain which overlooks the urban area.

That's all I know about it!
I would like to correct a few things within this post, as I live in NM and very frequently travel this section of road.

1. There is no German AFB in the US- the Germans and the Luftwaffe planes stationed there are not independent. They are a training attachment; there isn't really space in Europe for them to do a whole lot of extensive testing so some of their personnel and planes are stationed there year-round for training excercises (I've run into a few of their pilots around Alamogordo, usually at the Wal-Mart.)

2. They are just the Organ Mountains. You can hike around up there, there is access to the park on the Las Cruces side of the mountains (Dripping Springs) and the hikes you can take up there are just gorgeous. Hike as far up the mountain as you can and look down at Cruces, the view is beautiful.

3. El Paso is not "just a suburb of Juarez", you are totally wrong there. El Paso and Juarez are almost polar opposites of each other. Juarez at the moment is pretty much one extremely large, violent slum and I would NOT RECOMMEND going there, AT ALL, unless you have a real reason to go, like if you have family living there. They will be able to instantly see that you are an American and could quite possibly (and very easily) make you the target of a kidnapping, robbery, etc.

El Paso is filled mostly with Army families and people of Mexican descent who have relatives just across the bridge- if you are going to explore El Paso, go explore on the east side or go to the mall on the west side, it's really nice.

4. You cannot just drive onto Trinity, it is an extremely strictly regulated area. It is on White Sands Missile Range land and as such is only open to the public two or three times per year, around April. While it would be fascinating to see, you unfortunately cannot just wake up and decide that you want to see what an atomic bomb testing area looks like.
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Old 04-12-2010, 06:55 PM
 
Location: Texas
14,078 posts, read 17,652,720 times
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Originally Posted by JordanJP View Post

4. You cannot just drive onto Trinity, it is an extremely strictly regulated area. It is on White Sands Missile Range land and as such is only open to the public two or three times per year, around April. While it would be fascinating to see, you unfortunately cannot just wake up and decide that you want to see what an atomic bomb testing area looks like.
Thank you for that. I stand corrected. I really thought it was open all the time.
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Old 04-13-2010, 09:29 PM
 
Location: SWUS
5,421 posts, read 7,886,283 times
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Originally Posted by stillkit View Post
Thank you for that. I stand corrected. I really thought it was open all the time.
Nope, it wouldn't be safe. There's a lot of unexploded ordinance out that way.
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