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Blue Whale Christmas November 26, 2010

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Events, Preservation.
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On Friday evening, spectators witnessed a sight that had never before been seen in the nearly 40-year history of the Blue Whale of Catoosa, Okla. — the Route 66 landmark was decorated for Christmas.

Volunteers with Catoosa Arts and Tourism spent the past few weeks stringing LED lights along the Blue Whale, its souvenir stand, and the neighboring and long-closed Noah’s Ark. With darkness fast approaching Friday, Mayor Rita Lamkin began a countdown, and the lights were turned on, to much applause.

I counted at least 40 cars in the parking lot 20 minutes before the ceremony, with more vehicles arriving. A small bonfire in the corner of the grounds helped keep away the early-winter chill. A portable P.A. system played Christmas music, and Rogers State University’s choir director helped guide spectators into singing a few carols.

Scores of children were seen walking on the Blue Whale, peering out of the structure’s portholes, and climbing the ladder into the second level of its head. Scores of parents swapped stories of when Hugh Davis’ creation (as an anniversary gift to his wife, Zelta) became a popular public swimming hole.

The Blue Whale about 45 minutes before the lighting ceremony.

Catoosa put on the event to raise awareness about the Blue Whale and boost fundraising to preserve the landmark. It’s hard to believe now, but just over a decade ago, menacing “No Trespassing” signs lined the property’s perimeter as the Blue Whale’s paint peeled and grew drab.

But bit by bit, the Blue Whale was restored to its former glory. Although swimming still isn’t permitted, the property has been reopened to tourists, the souvenir stand operates during the summer, and fishing is allowed again.

LED Christmas lights are becoming popular because they save energy. But volunteers and spectators commented about how the LEDs’ bluish tinge meshed remarkably well with the Blue Whale’s hue. And the reflection of the lights on the water also proved to be a visual delight.

Here’s a video I shot of scenes before and during the ceremony:

The Blue Whale’s lights will be on from sundown to midnight nightly during the Christmas season.

During the next two weekends, Santa Claus will make an appearance from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The souvenir stand will also be open at that time.

The nearby Noah's Ark was decked out, too.

“Trippin’ 66″ November 26, 2010

Posted by Ron Warnick in Music, Photographs.
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Wes Pope, videographer and photographer, posted this well-edited video of still photos, animation and music clips.

You can see some of the pinhole photographs he shot on Route 66 here.

Jobless man trying to set cross-country walking record November 25, 2010

Posted by Ron Warnick in People, Road trips.
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Matt Livermanne is looking for a job and needs a way to stand out for employers.

So he figured if he broke the record for walking from New York City to Los Angeles, it will “make me stand out in the end,” he told the Cuba Free Press of Cuba, Mo.

Livermanne left the Big Apple on Sept. 20. To break the record, he’ll have to be at Los Angeles City Hall before Christmas. The record reportedly is 86 days. The Free Press reports that Livermanne has to walk 16 hours a day, and up to 20 hours a day in the final two weeks.

He started walking on the Route 66 corridor in St. Louis. According to his GPS-tracked website as of Thursday night, he was in Hazelgreen, Mo.

He’s not just doing the walk for himself; he’s raising money for Habitat for Humanity and Adopt a Ghost, which helps soldiers overseas.

Livermanne’s website is BigFitnessWalk.com. He also has a Facebook page (with nice photos from his journey) and a Twitter account.

A documentary film about his walk also is being planned.

UPDATE: Apparently Livermanne stopped his walk about the time this article was written. He says he’ll try again in May.

(Hat tip: Jane Reed)

Illinois Route 66 booster Bunny Sies dies November 24, 2010

Posted by Ron Warnick in People.
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Bunny Sies, a booster of Route 66 who lived in Litchfield, Ill., died earlier this month at a hospital in Springfield. She was 46.

Rich Henry of Henry’s Rabbit Ranch in nearby Staunton, Ill., passed along word of Sies’ death to the Route 66 yahoogroup on Tuesday. Sies was a member of the online group for years.

Also, during the 2008 national Route 66 festival in Litchfield, Henry said Sies was responsible for designing a commemorative postmark for the event.

Sies was born in Carlinville and spent most of her life in Litchfield, both Route 66 towns.

In her obituary in the The Journal News, one of the most fascinating tidbits about Sies was she invented and patented the Car Seat Cozy, a specially made wrap that helped keep small children warm in car safety seats. You can see a Car Seat Cozy here.

She also was a longtime volunteer for the Girl Scouts and veterans’ groups.

According to Plummer Funeral Home, memorials be made to Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Litchfield, Litchfield Veterans’ Memorial Garden Fund, or Coats For Kids. Plummer Funeral Home also has an online guestbook for Sies that visitors can sign or write messages of condolence. She was buried in Mount Olive City Cemetery.

Surviving are three children and her husband of 26 years, Kelley.

“Man vs. Food” hits Amarillo November 24, 2010

Posted by Ron Warnick in Food, Restaurants, Sports, Television.
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Adam Richman, host of the “Man vs. Food” program on the Travel Channel, talks about his experiences at the Coyote Bluff Cafe on old Route 66 in Amarillo, Texas, in this video blog.

Richman tried the green chile stew (common in neighboring New Mexico) and sampled the Burger From Hell, which contains jalapeno, habanero and cayenne peppers.

He seemed especially enthused about the city’s Route 66 Roller Derby team.

He also liked Amarillo’s Sixth Street area and the region’s sunsets.

According to the “Man vs. Food” site, this episode airs at 9 p.m. Eastern tomorrow. In addition to Coyote Bluff, he also checked on the Golden Light Cafe, Youngblood’s Stockyard Cafe, Moose’s Sixth Street Bar & Grill, Biti Pies, and the world-famous Big Texan Steak Ranch.

Fire damages Grants theater November 24, 2010

Posted by Ron Warnick in Theaters.
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A malfunctioning popcorn machine is believed to be the cause of a fire that damaged the historic West Theatre in on Route 66 downtown Grants, N.M., on Friday, reported the Albuquerque Journal.

Owner Roy McDowell, who also owns the city’s closed Lux Theater, said no one was in the building at the time. Most of the fire damage, he said, was in the front of the building, near the concessions area.

McDowell says he expects to reopen the West Theatre by the end of the year.

A few photos from the fire scene can be found in this story by the Cibola County Beacon.

The West Theatre and its neon marquee are a beauty, as this photo shows. Here’s another shot of the theater at night.

Cycling group will map out Mother Road route November 22, 2010

Posted by Ron Warnick in Bicycling, Maps.
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The Adventure Cycling Association said it would begin tracing a Chicago-to-Los Angeles route for cyclists to follow as much of historic Route 66 as possible, according to a news release today.

From the release:

“Route 66 was the overwhelming favorite among our members for a new long-distance route,” said Carla Majernik, Adventure Cycling’s routes and mapping director. “It’s a legendary corridor and, for our route network, a critical link through areas where we have no routes, such as Oklahoma.” […]

Small towns will be an important feature of Bicycle Route 66, and are favorite attractions for touring cyclists who look to get off the beaten path and make connections with locals during their journeys. […]

Lon Haldeman, an experienced Route 66 bike tour leader said, “This route can be done as a camping tour in roadside campgrounds, however there are many unique motels along the route which make this a good credit card tour type route. Eating in the old cafes and diners is part of the charm.”

Bicycle Route 66 will take in the historic highway’s iconic urban hubs, such as Chicago and St. Louis, marking the first time that Adventure Cycling’s routes, which generally keep cyclists on the outskirts of large urban areas, will mesh with the goals of the official U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS), which aims to connect rural and urban areas, from countryside to suburbs to city center. This will also be the first time that an Adventure Cycling route and an official U.S. Bicycle Route (USBR 66) will be developed in tandem.

“The vision for Bicycle Route 66 is the same as the original vision for Route 66, which was to connect the main streets of rural and urban communities,” said Ginny Sullivan, special projects director for Adventure Cycling. “Bicycle Route 66 will be a perfect choice for traveling cyclists looking to explore the American heartland’s natural beauty, history, and funky out-of-the-way places.”

The association says it will begin scouting the path for Bicycle Route 66 this winter. It anticipates it will require several years of field research; Route 66 cycling maps will be available by 2014 or 2015.

The main challenge is to find alternate routes for stretches of unavoidable interstate. But 85 percent of Route 66 remains navigable without setting foot on the interstate. Because the association also has stated its willingness to trace the path through urban areas, I anticipate nearly 2,000 miles of Route 66 will be available for cyclists. And with vast swaths of Route 66 going through rural areas, little reason exists for planners to detour away from the Mother Road.

This development is a big deal. I’ve noted an uptick of people requesting information about cycling the Mother Road. Alas, because of the unavoidable interstate problem, I’ve been of little help. But a group is investigating how to clear this very hurdle.

Within a few years, businesses along the Mother Road will likely see a new, vibrant source of pedal-powered tourist revenue.

(Hat tip: Richard C. Moeur)

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