There. I said it. It really is becoming a problem.
Maybe it’s having to stay at the same Days Inn and Motel 6s for years on end, or maybe it’s just wanderlust, but it’s getting to a point where even if I’m late to something, if I see a vintage motel sign on the road, I gotta stop the truck and take a photo. And I’m a lousy enough driver without swerving out of traffic to take a quick picture before the front desk person tells me to get the hell outta there.
Part of it is knowing the authentic signs are going away. Part of it is just seeing the care people took in creating and building these things. You can feel the pride in their little businesses, and you know when you are seeing something that isn’t mass-produced. It’s beautiful and rare.
So here are some of the places I’ve toured that have the most amazing collections of old hotel signs, and I would LOVE for you to tell me what little towns or hideaways you’ve seen where I might get to someday and take some photos (hit me up on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram). My goal is to put all these in a book down the road. If you check out any of our social media sites (@goodingmusic), you will see many of them as we make our way back and forth across this big, beautiful country of ours.
Route 66—The Mother Road
Neon light while the sun is coming down is one of humankind’s greatest gifts to the world. You get off the highway around Tucumcari, and there is a feeder road off the main highway that is FILLED with old motels that look as if you time traveled to the ’50s. It’s Americana magic, and they are reasonable, and I’ve never seen them extremely busy. It is literally one after the other, and each sign is just brilliant.
The shot attached to this blog is from that strip of road.
Now this is the middle of nowhere, for sure. I was going through a horrible heartbreak at a motel out here in the early 2000s. The band just wandered the terrain and walked around to kill time on an endless off day. Maybe it was the tears (and copious amounts of Jack Daniel’s) making everything softer and warmer, but I walked the main road, and the signs there were just magic. I, of course, took not a single photo. Dummy.
Outside Bodie Ghost Town, California
Coming down out of the Sierras is one of the most magical drives ever. You take the 120 across Yosemite and down, then cut north on the 395. Near Highway 270 over to Bodie is a stack of old hotels.
I lived in Mi-Wuk village outside Sonora, California, for over a year, and these tiny towns up in the Sierras were filled with amazing little motels and lodges, but I was too obsessed with “making it” (whatever the hell that means) to really take it all in and enjoy it. Now I go back and kick myself for not just taking a few days off and letting it all soak in. Lennon’s whole “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”… no truer words have been spoken.
The Mighty 5 in Utah (Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce, Zion)
I am a national park junkie, and the towns out in the Wild West cannot be beat. Many of my fave movies were filmed out in Utah (2001, Better off Dead, Thelma and Louise, Indiana Jones, and a sleeper but an all-time favorite, The Electric Horseman). Many of these used St. George and other towns, but I imagine some of these old-time motels had some amazing wrap parties after long shoots. Many of the old signs are still there. Utah is just stunning.
Almost Every Small Town in Wyoming and Montana
My wifey is from Broadus, Montana, population 500—“the Wavingest town in the West.” That whole area has the coolest signs, some drawn in by hand.
Took a few good ones in Cheyenne, Wyoming, last time (thanks, Rita P!). With our charity Funding The Future, we get to hit some small towns across Wyoming, including Sheridan, Greybull, Powell, Gilette, Casper. All feel like they are still preserved in time, though like everywhere, they are fighting to keep the city centers alive against suburbia, strip malls, cheap goods at Wal-Mart, and technology bringing everything right to our door. I cannot stand on any pedestal and beg you to stay at the mom-and-pop hotels, as so many of our shows we have stayed at the highway motel ’cause it’s cheaper and we have to get out of town after four hours’ sleep anyway—but it would be a real shame to lose all these one-of-a-kind roadside stops. As the band makes more money (though has less time :-)), I hope we can hit more of these in our travels.
Now that I am based in Nashville, I’m looking forward to exploring more of the southlands. Looking forward to your comments and hitting the road again soon! Love y’all.
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