McLean (pop. 775) was founded around the turn of the 20th century by an English rancher, Alfred Rowe, who later lost his life on the Titanic in 1912. Considering its minimal size, McLean is now perhaps the most evocative town along the Texas stretch of Route 66. Bypassed only in the early 1980s, the old main drag is eerily silent, with a few businesses—such as a boot shop—and a fine Texas-shaped neon sign still standing despite the near-total drop in passing trade.
McLean is headquarters of the state’s Old Route 66 Association, and efforts are being made to preserve the town in prime condition, which explains the lovingly restored Phillips 66 station at 1st and Gray Streets (on the westbound stretch of old Route 66—the pumps price gas at 19 cents a gallon!) and the many other odds and ends on display around town. The center of activity here is the wonderful Devil’s Rope Museum (100 S. Kingsley St., 806/779-2225, Mon.-Sat. Mar.-Nov., free), at the east end of downtown, which has a huge room full of barbed wire—the “devil’s rope”—and some of the most entertaining and educational collections of Route 66 memorabilia you’ll find anywhere. No hype, just lots of good stuff and friendly people telling you all about it.
Besides the barbed wire museum, a pair of places next to each other at the west end of McLean offer good food and reliably clean and pleasant rooms: Try the thick steaks, juicy catfish, and weekend barbecue at the Red River Steak House (101 W. Route 66, 806/779-8940), then sleep at the Cactus Inn (101 Pine St., 806/779-2346).
The town of Groom (pop. 565), which is 45 miles east of Amarillo on the north side of I-40 at exit 113, holds two of the more eye-catching sights along old Route 66. One of these is a water tower on the north side of I-40 that leans like the Tower of Pisa, causing drivers to stop and rub their eyes, then stop and pull out the camera to take some snapshots to show the folks back home. The other landmark is even harder to miss, a gigantic stainless steel cross—just shy of 200 feet tall and weighing 1.25 tons. This was the largest cross in the western hemisphere until a competitive copycat erected a slightly taller one along I-70 in Effingham, Illinois. Erected by a religious group in 1995, the Groom cross stands above a series of sculptures depicting biblical scenes and the evils of abortion.