Many Tri-Cities residents have never experienced the beauty of the American West. A trip on Interstate 40 is full of sights that will enrich your perspective. If you follow the familiar Interstate 81 to Dandridge, Tennessee, and hit Interstate 40 west, you will begin a wonderful adventure in a whole new world. What is stopping you?
As you travel this iconic highway across the country, you will go through Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Part of the journey also corresponds to the historic Route 66 of television fame, and you will see markers indicating this fact along the way at various motels, diners and gift shops. Although you are officially traveling an interstate highway, I-40 has maintained the feel of Route 66 in most places. The shoulders are narrow, and, for the most part, the traffic is sparse. The exits are generally not overtly commercial, and it is sometimes hard to find a gas station!
As you leave the urban environment of Memphis, Tennessee, you soon find yourself in the backwoods state of Arkansas. Sleeping passengers will know this immediately when they are awakened by the bumpy roads reminiscent of a third-world country. Arkansas can be very interesting to those who have read about and followed former Arkansas governor and former president Bill Clinton and his equally-famous wife, Hillary Clinton. Trying to find places and landmarks from books about their lives is quite fun, but for the rest of the party, it will not be the highlight of the trip. The Clinton Library in Little Rock is an interesting stop; it looks like a shiny singlewide mobile home.
As the old, dusty highway goes into Oklahoma, the windmills become the main attraction. Seeing the miles of sleek, white windmills for the first time is awe-inspiring. That old song was certainly right: “Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping o’er the plains….” It is unusually windy in Oklahoma. These windmills are turning the wind into electricity. If you have been to Oklahoma in years past, you will immediately notice the absence of oil wells.
Oklahoma City is a very interesting place with many photo-taking opportunities. The busy city just seems to suddenly rise out of the flat ground. The new skyscraper, The Devon Energy Center building, glistens on the skyline as you come into OKC. This is the tallest building in the state. There is another unusual sight, the Skydance Bridge which you can see in the above slideshow. Lit at night, the sculpture represents the state bird, the scissor-tailed fly catcher. You can’t miss this; it’s clearly visible from the Interstate.
If you want to veer off the Interstate, there is the Oklahoma City Memorial. As you leave the city and continue through Oklahoma, you will notice the Native American influences. Even the rest stops have picnic shelters that are stylized tee-pees. You will drive through many Indian Reservations as you travel Interstate 40, and these are always recognizable by the large casinos. If you are lucky, you may find a stop or two where they are selling their wares at the edge of the reservation. (This is to avoid taxes.)
Moving on through Texas, you will notice even more windmills. You don’t notice the true size of these windmills unless you pass a semi-truck hauling their components. One blade takes up the entire flatbed trailer. The base post is comprised of two pieces that are equally long.
Texas also boasts the Cadillac Ranch, a famous, but silly landmark on I-40’s short trek through Texas. Several old Cadillacs are “planted” into the ground nose-first. People routinely stop to add their graffiti to the cars and pose for photos.
A real smelly must-see on the Texas leg of the journey is Wildorado, Texas. You will know it when you get there. Just be sure that you are not so busy covering your face from the stench that you miss the most impressive sight on the entire Interstate 40 trip. The cows play king of the hill! They truly do, and you won’t believe your eyes. If you look at each large cluster of cattle, you will see one or two crowd surfing on top of the others, standing on the backs of the other cows until they are knocked off and replaced.
You will not travel far through Texas on I-40 unless you take a detour. As you reach the boarder with New Mexico, you should hang around for the sunset. It is almost a religious experience and the reason many folks come west at all. It is a rich pink, purple, blue and white.
New Mexico is where you really begin to experience the rocky, arid feel that we expect of the West. Mesas are everywhere, and the scenery takes on the rich mahogany colors that you have seen in Indian paintings. You will see even more Indian reservations, but no windmills are present.
As you enter Arizona, the scenery is a bit different, but equally beautiful. If your journey ends at Flagstaff, (the road ends in Barstow) you will be rewarded with some of the most awe-inspiring mountain peaks you will ever see. If you plan to spend time in Flagstaff, be sure and bring some warm clothing. The Flagstaff Medical Center is a highly-regarded trauma center that serves the region and those who fall victim to various types of misfortune while visiting there.
A jaunt on Interstate 40 offers Tri-Cities residents a chance to get a glimpse of a totally different part of the country without a lot of complicated planning and fuss. Just head down I-81 and turn right. Follow I-40, stopping along the way, to experience many different scenes, culture and climate than what you have always known in Tennessee.