We stay on Route 66 and parallel I-40 until Exit 197 where the roads rejoin – too bad for us because it’s still very windy and the truckers are only as friendly today as they’ve always been. Old 66 has been in good repair, for the most part, and I’m sorry to leave it. We pass Moriarty, which offers a number of new businesses catering to locals, and the tourist and truck trade. It’s an agricultural area, and some ranches have irrigation making “fairy circles” in their fields.
Cline’s Corners has been around since 1934, and we see over a dozen huge billboards advertising their touristy kitsch. From the numbers and size of the advertising, I expect to see a huge facility, but it’s really only a smallish truck-stop- like place.
At Exit 237, the Mother Road leaves I-40 and dips south, briefly, heading through Santa Rosa. On the west end of town, my first impressions include hot, run down and a ghost town. Nobody wanders the streets, and we don’t pass a car. It’s beginning to feel spooky.
“This feels like we’re in a movie where we come into a town and aliens have already snatched all the people!” I laugh. Is the economy really this bad here, I wonder?
I’d read the owners had closed the Pecos Theater in 2010, once the oldest operating theater (1919) on Route 66. Read Ron Warnick’s article on Route 66 News here:
The movie house was already outdated and battling a declining economy, but when it sprang a leak, that was the last straw. It seems they’d unknowingly built over a natural spring which finally managed to break free and spurt up right inside the theater. The newspaper says that there’s interest in updating and restoring the business, but costs range from $750,000 to a million dollars. And that’s not easy coin to conjure in a small town.
Vestiges of the past hunker everywhere. For decades truckers and tourists alike stopped at the once super famous, now defunct Club Café, so we pull into the parking lot to shoot a few photos of what’s left. As it turns out, we are some of the last Route 66 lovers to “see the victim alive,” so to speak. [add link to story]
We’ve also been seeing and reading about the famous “Blue Hole,” so we find a sign with an arrow and head that direction. On the way, we discover what has enticed the residents to leave town – they’re playing at the beach! Not at all what I expected to find in the middle of the high desert. We pass a man-made lake, and it’s packed with people cooling off. Santa Rosa and the whole county sit atop a huge large aquifer, and we learn there are a number of other small lakes in the area.
By circumference, the Blue Hole qualifies as a mere Michigan farm pond, but it’s deceptively deep and bone chilling, teeth chattering cold. No one stays in any longer than it takes to dive in, swim frantically to the edge and claw their way out. When they finally manage that, they spend several miserable minutes hopping, hugging and slapping themselves like crazy. I decide the “Blue…” refers to the people silly enough to swim in it.
A kitten runs over to my shoes, bats at my bare toes and runs away. I strike up a conversation with the teenage owner chasing her. She’s eager to tell me all about her favorite swimming hole.
“You can take scuba lessons here,” she points to the building behind us, “and they take you as far down as the caves at the bottom. They used to let the students go in the caves, but then they blocked them off. I heard some diver got down in there, got turned around, couldn’t get back out and ran out of air.” She shivers and rolls her eyes. “I guess the water in these caves is connected with the other lakes around here, and they say his body finally popped up in one of them maybe three days later. Wouldn’t that be awful?” I heartily agree.
“Don’t you mind the cold?” I ask her.
“Oh no!” she laughs, “It’s great. It’s the same temperature year-round, so in winter, even when there’s snow on the ground, it feels warm! You should try it!” Her contagious enthusiasm tempts me…
If I didn’t know I could climb back into an air conditioned coach in a few minutes, and if I had a swim suit, maybe… On the other hand, I remember how much I detest anything colder than a Phoenix swimming pool in July, so definitely not.
Regarding the city…I hasten to add that, in spite of our first impressions coming into town, not all Santa Rosa looks derelict, only some of the west end. The rest is quite small-town charming, and wouldn’t be a bad place at all to come and spend some time here.