Posted by: Brad Nixon | July 29, 2010

Lighting Out for the Territory

“But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.”

So said Huck, near the end of his book. And so say all of us. “Travelers eastward, travelers west,” to quote Mr. Twain’s younger contemporary, A.E. Housman. Americans boast of being restless, of being seekers, and I believe that we are. We may not have a monopoly on moving around, but we own a share of the franchise.

If so much is true, then going on the road means accepting that one is part of that shifting community of travelers and tourists. Sam Clemens, himself, was one of us, along with Steinbeck and Hemingway and Kerouac, to name just a handful of the writers who roamed the roads, along with millions of other vagabonds. To truly be part of the traveling band, seeing interesting terrain and ancient dwellings, vast deserts and high mountains is not the only purpose for going out there. There are people, some of them the locals you can meet, and others are one’s fellows of the highway. Until I started writing this bit today, I hadn’t thought about this, but I learned early on that the people you meet on the road provide an essential part of what you can discover, by watching Dad talk to people he met in campgrounds or places we visited. Naturally gregarious, he took great pleasure in meeting people, finding out where they were from, and where they were going.

Tierra Amarilla, NM

Outskirts, Tierra Amarilla, NM

We met the archetypes of our fellow American travelers last Saturday morning, as we had breakfast at Margarita’s, in Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico.

Tierra Amarilla, Courthouse

Courthouse, Tierra Amarilla, NM

It’s a tiny town, but it is the major center for many miles around. You have to go 13 miles in one direction to Chama, or 40 miles in the other to Bode’s roadside store at Abiquiu to find anything comparable. It’s ranch country, rough and ready, so don’t plan on shopping for much more than immediate necessities in Tierra Amarilla.

Margarita's, Tierra Amarillo

Margarita’s, Tierra Amarillo

Margarita’s is a convenience store (comedor), gas station, and a little cafe.¬†The food is good, by the way, if you’re passing through. I recommend the huevos rancheros. A man, woman and a boy about 12 years old were the only other customers. We heard them ask the waitress a question about Mesa Verde, where they were heading. The waitress gave a good answer, but we added some other information based on our visit there. That gave us an opening to talk with them for a while. They were headed for the Four Corners, which is more or less a straight trip WNW from Tierra Amarilla. They were traveling on motorcycles, and from Four Corners were going to swing up to Mesa Verde. That’s a typical pattern, and a detour we made ourselves a few years ago. Everyone wants to stand at that intersection of the four states.

As the man explained to us, they had come this far following U.S. route 64 all the way from their home in Arkansas. “I lived on Route 64 all my life, but I probably never been more than a hundred miles on it in either direction, even though it goes all the way to the ocean one way, and all the way out west. So we’re just seeing where it goes.”

“Just seeing where it goes.” Yep, lighting out for the Territory, all right. You have to love that.

Now, I had never paid any attention to Route 64, and I’ve probably only been on it in New Mexico, the portion they had just covered, coming down from Eagle Nest through the Sangre de Christo range to Taos and through some beautiful mountains east of Tierra Amarilla. Before that, 64 staggers across Oklahoma from Ft. Smith, through Muskogee and Enid and Tulsa, eventually through Clayton and Raton and Cimarron. Quite a trip.

We told them some of the other things we had seen in the country they were heading to, and although they told us a little more about their trip, I wasn’t a very good journalist. I should have found out more about them and what they do, how long they were traveling, where else they had been. In the next photo, we see them getting back on the bikes, heading for the Territory. He’s on the bike with all the gear strapped to the rack, and she and their son are getting ready to ride double on the other bike.

Ready to Roll

Ready to Roll

We’ll see you out there, brothers and sisters. Keep an eye out for Huck, too. He’s somewhere ahead of us.

Some photographs courtesy of and copyright 2010, Marcy Vincent.



  1. Those roads that go coast to coast are mysterious and happen to be something a few of us were discussing, like we’d ever actually make the trip, just last week. Like ride west on route 20 (Boston to Newport OR) across the north, then go south and pick up 50 (Sacramento to Ocean City MD) and ride all the way east, then north to pick up 20 again on the east coast and ride it west back to where we started. Or pick a couple other routes which do about the same thing. Travel them the other way around – whatever. Big country and lots of great roads and sights to be seen.


    • I had always thought about following good ol’ Route 50 more. Pretty familiar with the Ohio portion: Owensville (not far from BATAVIA), Hillsboro, Bainbridge, Chillicothe, Athens, and the immortal Coolville. And then I’ve been on it a few hundred times in Falls Church and into D.C. From there, as you say, to Ocean City. Perhaps Dad knows if we took 50 to D.C. in 1956. I’m betting that we did.


  2. Yes, good ol 50 was the best route by horse and buggy.


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