One of the things I love most about living in New York is that I never have to drive a car—but one of the things I love most about road trips is that I do get to drive, which means I have complete control over where and how many times we stop along the way. On our recent trip out west, I had wrested the wheel away from JMP (she caught on to me immediately but graciously allowed me to assume the reigns for most of the trip) and pulled off the highway to photograph some decaying billboards. As I was about to pull back onto the main road, I noticed a sign for the Pancake House Restaurant, and decided that it at least looked worthy of a quick photo.
When we pulled into the parking lot, it was immediately clear that the restaurant was not open and hadn't been for some time. The Pancake House was once part of the Fort Courage trading post, which was built to resemble a frontier fort and inspired by the 1960s show F-Troop. The trading post also included a gas station and a souvenir shop.
The entire trading post is for sale, but something tells me there hasn't been much interest. The trading post closed for good in 2014, but from the presence of Christmas decorations and a calendar on the wall, it appears that the Pancake House Restaurant closed sometime around November of 2005. There is also a Taco Bell Express sign on the outside of the building, but the inside looks as if it was operating as "Ortega's Tacos" before it closed.
The vinyl booths and kitschy light fixtures are still intact, and the inside is in surprisingly good condition for a building that has sat abandoned for thirteen years. There wasn't much left in the kitchen, but we did find some dishes, coffee pots, cups, fake plants and flower arrangements. The circular building with triangular details is beautiful on its own, and it's sad to see it just crumble.
There was very little graffiti or overt vandalism, and much of the damage seems to have just happened passively. We did find piles and piles of poop and then I nearly stepped on what I assume to be the origin of these piles—the flattened skeleton of what I thought was a coyote but was probably just a regular dog.
I didn't think there was anything better than diner breakfast at a classic diner, but we both agreed that exploring a surprise abandoned diner in the desert off of Route 66 was the highlight of our trip. I can research and make plans and Google maps, but sometimes you just need to pull off the road and have faith that the road trip gods will deliver you something unexpectedly perfect.