Ken Hartke

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I'm retired and living solo "out west" in the New Mexico desert. I've been an observer and blogger for years and usually have four or five blogs going but wrote for myself or for friends. A lot of it was travel stories or daily random postings -- but it was a good experience. Red Room allowed me to share things on a wider scale and with its demise, I (maybe) found a more public voice.

In Praise of Old Hotels -- Part 7: Route 66


There is nothing quite like it -- an east-west highway running 2,400 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles...or actually Santa Monica.  America's own Silk Road connects the Great Lakes to the Pacific Ocean and laces together a bazillion points along the way. The iconic highway existed in a variety of different local configurations for over fifty years until it was finally replaced by the interstate highway system. Now we follow I-44 from Chicago to Oklahoma City and then pick up I-40 west from there....but the old Route 66 is still out there.


If you want to find it today, look for the "Historic Route 66" signs and the relics of once thriving roadside businesses, like Lucille's road house gas station and tourist court near Hydro, Oklahoma. Lucille's is one of the many places that have been at least partially preserved along the old highway. Some places are tourist icons while others are living on in a second or third life long after the highway surrendered to the interstate. Some are crumbling ruins.




You can't stay at Lucille's anymore but in Tucumcari, NM you can stay at the Blue Swallow Motel, one of many Mother Road era motels that still exist in this town at the junction of old Route 66 and US Highway 54. I understand that the place may be under new management since I was there but I'm sure the old owners were very careful in selecting a buyer when they finally decided to sell. They practically tucked you in at night so I'm sure they were picky about new owners. It looks like room reservations can now be made online at their website, which is a change from the former owners


The Blue Swallow Court opened in 1941 on Route 66 as it passed through Tucumcari. It has been modernized ...a little, but mostly it is much the way it was back in the 1940s and 1950s. Rooms are small but big enough. Décor is 1950s including the vintage television. The telephone is a 1940s era Bakelite rotary phone.


Each room has a garage where you could park your Hudson or Studebaker back in the day. Today, there are murals painted on the interior walls of the garages and the doors are often kept open to show them off. Mine was a scene from the movie "Easy Rider" but there were others including some from "Cars".  Outside you can sit and relax in the lawn chairs on your porch or maybe even the glider.  When I stayed I spent about an hour chatting with the owner out on the porch chairs. The two guys in the room next door came out and talked for a while. They were from Denmark and were on a cross-country trip on rented Harleys. They said there is a regular travel business catering to Europeans for one-way Harley trips along old Route 66.  They picked them up in Chicago and would turn them in in Los Angeles and fly back home from there. If I had a dollar for every lost Brit or European I've met on Route 66 I'd probably have enough to buy a good supper at the Pow-Wow restaurant. Europeans seem to be in love with Route 66, even more than the Americans who race by on the Interstate.

Under the former owners,  an added perk was a free breakfast if you checked out and were on your way at 7 AM. The free breakfast wasn't at the, it was down the road a little at the Pow Wow Restaurant and Lounge. The 7 AM exit was to allow the owners to get the rooms ready for the next guests...this is really a "mom and pop" operation. They managed the place and did much of the renovation on their own. They had a friend do the murals.

Tucumcari is a struggling place but probably the biggest town between Amarillo and Albuquerque. It has quite a collection of Mother Road era motels and tourist shops.



If you can't get in at the Blue Swallow (and it is difficult at times), try The Safari Inn across the street. The Safari is  a retro Route 66 motel that dates back only to the 1950s. The Safari does a pretty good job of recreating the 1950-1960 era but with some nice upgrades where it counts.  The rooms are nice and feature some of the nostalgic stuff from the 1960s.   They have a nice patio lounge area with retro furniture where the weary traveler can sit out in the evening and unwind with a six-pack from up the street.  This is not a fancy place.  There are a few vintage cars parked around that make it feel  very 1960-ish.


If you don't want to unwrap your food or eat off of a tray, most motel owners will recommend places including the Pow-Wow Restaurant down at the western end of the Route 66 strip. I've eaten there several times and it is an okay place and a good spot to get your first (or last) New Mexico food, depending on your highway direction. The Pow Wow has a shuttle van so you can call them to come get you so you don't have to climb back in the car. The last time I was there I had two loaded chicken tostados and a cold beer. They will sell you a six-pack to take back to your patio or the lawn chairs at the motel. When I went back to the motel in the shuttle I met a couple from Bristol, England. They were driving old Route 66 and then heading up to the motorcycle rally at Sturgis in South Dakota.  We sat out in the motel's patio area and relaxed and talked for a while before heading off to bed.

I'm sure there were many places like the Blue Swallow or the Safari Inn tucked away in small towns all along Route 66. Now, in the age of the interstate you have to look for them.

*   *   *


Recent Comments
Ah, Ken, what you're doing to me. The first time I drove the venerable 66 across the country at age 17 -- that trip was from Phill... Read More
Wednesday, 30 September 2015 01:42
Stephen Evans
I remember the show, but that's as close as I got, I think. Read More
Wednesday, 30 September 2015 04:52
Ken Hartke
You still see a few folks driving those Corvettes and similar classic cars along the old highway. There must be a whole industry t... Read More
Thursday, 01 October 2015 15:26
3782 Hits

In Praise of Old Hotels — Part 6: A Couple of Fine Tourist Stops

Santa Fe, New Mexico and Cody, Wyoming both thrive on the tourist trade. Santa Fe has a long history of travelers coming and going and Cody is a popular stopover for travelers heading to Yellowstone National Park. Today, Santa Fe is not wild west but shows a more refined and elegant side even though it has a rough and tumble history linked to the Santa Fe Trail. Cody is wild west through and through and seems to magnify this aspect…it practically rolls in it.


The Irma Hotel was built by Buffalo Bill Cody and named for his daughter — that would be Irma. It was opened in 1902 and has been a local landmark ever since. The saloon on the ground floor is famous for the cherry wood back bar which was a gift from Queen Victoria…who died in 1901 and never visited the saloon.  The place is popular with bikers on their way to Sturgis or other western motorcycle rallies.  We were there between two rallies so there were a lot of interesting bikes lined up out front.

Buffalo Bill’s ownership ended in 1913 when he sold it to his wife to keep creditors from taking it. Eventually the hotel passed into other hands and was expanded. Apparently some rooms are restored and furnished with antiques but we stayed in a more “modern” room that was spacious but looked like an old Howard Johnson’s room. I wasn’t impressed with the room but we were here during the busy summer season. The place was pretty crowded. I assume the restored rooms are much better.  Here is a picture of a room we didn’t see.  I halfway expected to see a mechanical bull in the room but it was fine.




 The place really is as theatrical as Buffalo Bill. It could be described as a saloon with a hotel attached. The saloon was crowded and seemed to take up most of the ground floor of the building. we were hard pressed to find a place to sit but everyone was having a good time and the beer was cold. Queen Victoria's bar is impressive.


 One of the features of the hotel is the theatrical reenactment of a wild west gunfight out in the street. Tourists take their places on the covered sidewalk as the lawmen and outlaws face off and eventually shoot each other. This is quite a cliché but the hotel guests seem to eat it up.

We also went out to Stampede Park to see the "Cody Night Rodeo", a nightly rodeo during the summer months. This was not my first rodeos, so to speak, and this one was pretty good. If you like horses and horsemanship, you will enjoy it. We left before the bull riders started...not my thing. Like everything else in Cody, it was a little over the top…but it was entertaining.



In the heart of Santa Fe, down by the plaza, sits the 1920-era Hotel St. Francis. It is reputed to be the oldest hotel in Santa Fe, which surprises me a little considering the long history of travelers coming to this place and the fact that Santa Fe was the seat of government way back under Spanish and Mexican rule.  Hotel St. Francis is about a block away from the city plaza and the Palace of the Governors and a similar distance from the Basilica of St. Francis.

The hotel is more Mediterranean in style than Southwestern or Pueblo but the color scheme seems to fit in with the local buildings and the Santa Fe ambiance. There was a time when the Southwestern style was considered uncouth. The Basilica of St Francis is French Gothic as is the Loretto Chapel. Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy (the inspiration for Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop) was French so some things look a little odd now that the town has embraced its Spanish and Pueblo past. There are other hotels that feature the Pueblo style if that is what the traveler wants. The hotel furnishings are sparse in comparison to some other historic inns or hotels. A lot of the furnishings seem to be made by local craftsmen.

Rooms are small but comfortable — one doesn’t come to Santa Fe to sit in their room so the size isn’t a problem and is a reflection on the era when the hotel was built. We stayed a couple days and the room was adequate. We spent almost all of our time out walking around town and I don’t even recall eating at the hotel. There are great restaurants and pubs within walking distance.  We did have a few Irish Coffees in the hotel bar one evening and it was very nice and an intimate place to just relax and reflect on the day’s activities.

The hotel is a little “upscale” and I had the feeling that the staff felt that they were, too. They were polite but not exactly friendly. I came away with a mildly negative impression of the place but I think it was mainly due to the staff because the accommodations were fine and the location was perfect for exploring downtown Santa Fe.

As I said, if you are wanting more of a traditional Santa Fe (Spanish Revival or Pueblo) style there are other places. The La Fonda is a block or so away and worth a visit. The La Fonda also dates to the 1920s and was owned by the Santa Fe Railroad and operated by Fred Harvey. We had lunch there and it was very nice.  I will add that to my list of historic hotels at some point.

Recent Comments
This is a great series. As much as I always loved the highway and seeing the interior of this country I never got to see enough of... Read More
Sunday, 20 September 2015 20:36
Ken Hartke
Charlie -- over the course of these many years I've stayed in some pretty bad places...thanks to our tiny lodging allowance -- but... Read More
Monday, 21 September 2015 03:38
Ahh, trains! I have to thank the U.S. Air Force for sending me to some of the places I've seen -- and on trains. My first Pullman ... Read More
Monday, 21 September 2015 08:39
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Attention to Detail

I recently saw the movie Mr. Holmes, which I enjoyed very much. Imagine a 93 year old Sherlock Holmes who lives with a housekeeper and her son out in the country where he keeps busy with his bees.  He has outlived his companions and is reflecting over his past successes and that one particular case that sent him into retirement. His age has caught up with him. He still has his abilities but only in fleeting glimpses.

We have a bunch of Sherlock Holmes movies and television shows to choose from these days. He is always the master of observation and detail. Almost nothing escapes his attention. It is frustrating for his companions -- like Watson and Lestrade -- who have seemingly normal powers of observation and deduction. Sherlock not only observes everything but he remembers and recalls it all as well.

There are other similar TV characters in shows like Lie To Me or The Mentalist who have well honed or specialized skills at observation. We seem to enjoy this theme....and yet, most of us do not have similar skills. We fail to observe details. Our attention flits from one thing to the other without really absorbing anything. What dress was she wearing? What kind of purse? Did he wear glasses or a ring?

This past weekend I happened to be a witness to a crime. On reflection I think "witness" is way too strong a word. The event, sadly, ended with the death of the perpetrator and I didn't see that part...I was only present at the beginning. I saw the aftermath and the results of the original incident -- property damage and minor injury. That part could have been much worse than it was. By the time I realized what was going on and reacted it was too late to observe what actually happened or even see the offender. It was sort of a novelty at first...just a commotion over by the door...I wasn't ready or primed to be paying attention. I spoke with some others on the scene and realized that most people were like me...they saw something but only a piece of the whole. From that piece they were willing to make broader assumptions.  "He was on drugs." "It was a domestic violence altercation."  "He must be crazy." The person in question intentionally rammed another car but not everyone was sure who was driving. was a he...sprinted away from the scene and was almost hit by a car. The driver of that car was the only person who actually seemed to see him enough to give a description. It was a chaotic scene and almost half the people around me were calling 911 to report the incident to the police.  The other fateful events of this incident took place some distance away.....with a whole other set of witnesses who may or may not have seen anything. I'm sure that there was probably a bunch of other 911 calls. The police were racing to the scene from all directions with only the scraps of information that was reported on those 911 calls.

I usually pride myself as being observant. If I'm on a walk or in a natural setting I can pick out sounds and the presence of birds and various plants or small animals. But in a random social setting -- like at this fast food restaurant -- I don't pay much attention.  I was once present at another crime many years ago but with the same general result. This was a gas station robbery and I was in full view of what was happening but not paying attention. Something was going on but it didn't involve me so it didn't register.

For most of the last forty years I lived in a small town where not much happened. I never was present or observed any crime or similar incident during those years. We lived within ear-shot of a sporting gun club and heard shots fired every day for hours. Later, my daughter lived two doors from the site of a double homicide and she never heard the gunshots --- or they just didn't register because she grew up hearing gunshots.  We had car accidents in our town but not much else. Maybe people who live in a larger city or who live in places where there is more crime might be more observant.  Apparently there are ways to improve your observation and recall skills and there are training programs for police officers to help them be more observant.

Here is a little YouTube test I found....



Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Every time, observation is bound to be partial. It's primed by temperament, past experiences, juxtaposition of events and our phys... Read More
Monday, 14 September 2015 19:36
Ken Hartke
Thanks for the comment. Our perception is subjective and governed by our own experience. If something spontaneous happens outside... Read More
Monday, 14 September 2015 20:13
Rosy Cole
Good points, Ken. BTW, I took the test and only got 10. Suspect I should have ignored the gorilla...!
Tuesday, 15 September 2015 11:16
1434 Hits

In Praise of Old Hotels -- Part 5: The Occidental




In an earlier post I probably mentioned a backpacking trip to the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Big Horns -- one of my favorite spots. The Big Horns are in north central Wyoming and just south of the mountain range is a region called The Hole in the Wall where numerous outlaws  and desperadoes could hide out from the law back in the late 1800s.  The law, such as it was out west at the time, was in Buffalo, Wyoming, as was...and still is...The Occidental Hotel.


If you are traveling west toward Yellowstone National Park or maybe riding your Harley east toward Sturgis, SD or maybe going to meet the Mother Ship at Devil's Tower, be sure to take the time to spend a night at the Occidental Hotel. Of all the hotels I will cover in this series of blog posts, The Occidental is possibly my favorite. The hotel originated in 1880 as a log building on the bank of a creek  near the Bozeman Trail. This was Johnson County, might have heard of the Johnson County War between the small ranchers and farmers and the larger land  and cattle barons in 1887. The war was finally settled by the arrival of the US Cavalry. The little town of Buffalo became the county seat and the Occidental prospered. Eventually the log hotel was replaced by a fine brick building and then it was enlarged over time.



This was THE place to stay and lots of famous people spent time at the Occidental. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid would drift into town and stay in the room overlooking the sheriff's office so they could watch the activity there. Teddy Roosevelt stayed here. General Phil Sheridan stayed here. Buffalo Bill, Calamity Jane and Tom Horn stayed here as did President Herbert Hoover. Owen Wister visited the Occidental and wrote a major part of The Virginian while staying in the balcony room overlooking Main street. The locals say the town featured in the book is Buffalo -- not Medicine Bow. I've been to both places and I lean toward Buffalo.  Again, probably some of my relatives stayed here because they had a ranch about forty miles away and Buffalo was the closest "big" town.*


The Occidental went into decline with the depression and then sank even deeper as highway motels sprang up. It finally became a local landmark as a bordello for several years and it endured it all. The hotel had only one manager for 58 years who carefully preserved everything. The building survived and, miraculously, most of the hotel's grand furnishings were just carted down into the basement where they sat until 1997 when the hotel was reborn. The place was on it's last legs and renovation took many years. It was only halfway renovated when we stayed here but it has progressed since then and today is a sight to behold.*


We stayed in the Teddy Roosevelt suite and my daughter stayed in the General Sheridan room, next door. There is the Owen Wister room and the Herbert Hoover suite, the Hole in the Wall room and the Madam's Retreat plus some cowboy rooms. When we visited, some of the old, run down sections were awaiting renovation and you could see how much work was involved in bringing the place back to life. There were even some scribbled notes on the walls from the old bordello days.*


Besides the hotel and the restored rooms, there is also a saloon. This hotel was a full service operation --- hotel, saloon, restaurant and barber shop. The saloon is well worth visiting even if you don't stay at the hotel. There are bullet holes in the walls...real bullet holes. The current saloon and it's furnishings date to 1908. It was a stand-up saloon so the bar stools and tables are a more recent addition. The bar is twenty-five feet long and could accommodate all sorts of outlaws and lawmen. Butch and Sundance died in 1908 in Bolivia (maybe?) but who knows, maybe they had a farewell drink at the Occidental Saloon. Ernest Hemingway was a hotel guest and I figure he surely had a drink or two at the saloon and maybe a Cuban cigar.*


 Today there is also a restaurant (The Virginian) and a café (The Busy Bee) but I don't think they were back in operation when we were here.

It's not cheap. Hotel rooms and suites run from about $110 to $250 in the summer depending on the room. Winter rates are significantly lower....this is Wyoming and very cold and snowy in Winter.

Check out the web page for details:



Update...Travel Channel's "The Dead Files" did a TV episode exploring the paranormal experiences of hotel staff and guests at The Occidental.   Nothing like that happened while we were guests at the Occidental and there were no discussions or hints of spooks or spirits from staff or the owner who gave us a full tour of the hotel including parts that were not renovated.  Such is the state of television these days.


***  ***  ****

 The Big Horns




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