Three USA Deserts travel blog

Texas Tourist Information Center in Amarillo has Palo Duro Canyon as its...

Real picnic tables with good wind breaks. Not real cattle

Map of services and activities near Grants, NM (select 'original' below photo...

In addition to the usual good campground amenities, the Grants KOA has...

Wow Diner near Grants, NM had a good menu selection

A popular diner with locals as well as travellers

An almost full moon reflecting off snow-capped mountains was even more beautiful...

Tuesday, March 3 → El Reno, OK to Grants/Cibola Sands, NM

Route: I-40W across Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle and into New Mexico

Weather: 40F and breezy in the morning, warming to 60F and clear by sunset.

Trip Average Gas Mileage: Started with 26.7mpg, dropping to 25.8mpg by end of day


- hearing and briefly sighting a bird of prey (hawk or owl??) from the Kabin in the morning

- A picnic lunch stop at the Texas Tourist Information Center in Amarillo

- driving through Albuquerque by 15:30, in light traffic before rush hour

- dinner at the WOW Diner west of Grants

At 40F this morning, breakfast was much easier to prepare but it was again 8:30 before we were on the road. The drive today was stress-free with very little traffic on I-40W. For much of the way we paralleled or were following Historic Route 66. The road surface was good for most of the drive except for a few bad stretches in New Mexico, where we also drove into a performance-killing headwind. We only had to dodge one tumbleweed though. As we drove from the bland grasslands of Oklahoma to the rocks, dirt and washes of windy New Mexico we felt a sense of deja vu – this was something we were familiar with now, even if it didn't yet feel like we were coming home.

We gained an hour going from Central to Mountain Time at the New Mexico State Line and gained considerable elevation, climbing from 1358 ft in El Reno, OK to 6460 ft in Grants, NM. It was our good fortune to be looking for a lunch stop as we approached Amarillo, Texas and to have seen a sign for the Texas Tourist Information Center. Since it was not associated with a highway Rest Area or Welcome Center we were sceptical as we exited I-40 and then extremely surprised to find picnic tables with wind blocks, a beautiful big building, modern bathrooms, free Wi-Fi and every possible brochure about Texas. The building was designed to evoke the Palo Duro Canyon experience – the largest canyon in Texas and second-largest in the USA after the Grand Canyon. This is a must-see facility for travellers passing through Amarillo! All 12 Travel Information Centers at key locations around Texas are well stocked with travel ideas for every interest and the consultants at each site are happy to share their travel knowledge.

We arrived in Grants, NM by 16:30, before the KOA office closed. Our reward was two freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies and a recommendation for dinner at a diner 3 miles west. First we drove 3 miles east to the Smith's Supermarket in Grants to look for our usual deli dinner but they had nothing decent so we drove west to the WOW Diner. It was a good recommendation. The retro-looking diner was busy with locals as well as travellers. Their menu had a good variety. I chose a bean burrito, which was way too big to finish. Hubby liked his choice – a spinach salad with grilled shrimp. We both tried the broccoli cheese soup.

It was getting dark by the time we got back to the KOA Kabin. We hurried to take showers before it was any colder. The almost-full moon lit the long walk to the bathrooms – an opportunity to look up at the stars in a clear sky. As the temperature dropped and we snuggled into our flannel sheets and sleeping bags we were glad to be wearing our thermal underwear tonight. Given tomorrow's frosty morning forecast we will gladly take advantage of the free continental breakfast offered by our KOA hosts at 7:30.

About the Grants/Cibola Sands KOA Kampground: Even for a KOA this property was very well groomed, with pea-gravel tent areas somewhat protected from wind and dust. The parking and walking areas were well-defined with edging. It sat slightly back from I-40 so traffic noise was minimal, although the large family-style tent sites at the front of the property might hear more traffic and train noise. There was an outside dishwashing sink near the family tent area, beside the laundry room. Internet access was password-protected.

Be sure to read the KOA Rules in the Guest Services Guide -- they are original and too humorous to be ignored. The pile of asphalt referenced there marks where a collapsed volcanic bubble sits on the property.

The bathrooms were very clean, although with only two shower and three toilet stalls and two sinks could not accommodate crowds. The shower stalls were not much bigger than a telephone booth. Even a petite person like myself had very little room to manuever. Our standard Kabin, (K02 again!), was slightly different than most – the bunk beds were replaced by a two-person dining table and chairs, and there were carpets on the floor. The small heater had trouble keeping the room warm tonight though, as the temperature dropped to 21F.

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