Eastbound Day 13 – 379 miles – Carlbad Caverns to Amarillo

Thursday, 7 April 1994

First it’s underground to walk the blue trail in the Carlsbad Caverns. It’s easy to suffer limestone cave overkill, one stalagmite looks much like another, they all get dubbed with funny names and after a dozen or so the average non-enthusiast has probably had enough caves to last a lifetime. But these really are special, they’re big, they’re surprisingly pristine and they’re set up for large numbers of tourists in a pleasantly sensitive fashion. Worth the stop.

The town of Carlsbad, 27 miles from the caverns, on the other hand, is not. We’ve driven through some amazingly unattractive towns on this trip and Carlsbad is one of the worst. First there’s mile after mile of gas stations, fast food outlets and motels indicating that a town lies ahead. Then there’s the miserable little town centre, half of it frozen in time from 20 to 30 years ago, the rest, like baby teeth mixed in amongst the decay, more motels, gas stations and fast food outlets.

We eat at the De-Luxe Cafe, mainly because on the drive in we’ve been intrigued by the billboard portraits of ‘Chef Pete’. The De-Luxe Cafe is definitely frozen in time. Way back in its infancy a mighty pylon was erected proclaiming ‘Breakfasts 95c’, with the obvious belief that breakfasts would remain at 95c until eternity. At some point between the De-Luxe Cafe’s birth and its present old age the reluctant decision was made that the 95c breakfast was no longer possible and a ‘1’ was squeezed between ‘Breakfasts’ and ‘95c’. What will happen when $1.95 is no longer viable? There’s certainly no room for a 2 up there.

Happily saying goodbye to Carlsbad the Cadillac sails east and north-east, leaving desert behind to enter cotton country. Our first Texas question was why do so many cars in El Paso have their license plates mounted inside the back window rather than, as is the usual custom, on the back bumper? Question 2 is what drives round the huge circular irrigation sprinklers we pass for mile after mile?

Buddy Holley's (Holly's) graveAt Lubbock we pause to inspect the Buddy Holly memorial, he was only one of the famous musicians (Roy Orbison was another) from Lubbock. We then spend far too long tracking down the Lubbock cemetery to pay our respects at his grave, where his name is spelt ‘Holley’. Pressing on past sunset we eventually get to Amarillo, where we discover it’s an hour later than expected, we’d not realised there was a time change. The day starts and ends with coffee. After yesterday’s comment about the difficulty of getting milk with coffee our breakfast cafeteria has milk by the coffee dispenser. Buoyed up by this improvement we chance our first cappuccino since California in an Italian restaurant but Amarillo is no coffee town.