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Sunday March 3rd 2024

Two Lane Blacktop | 1971

Two Lane Blacktop filming location: Deal's Gap, Robbinsville, North Carolina
Two Lane Blacktop filming location: the Girl finally slopes of with a biker: Deal's Gap, Robbinsville, North Carolina | Photograph: wikimedia / William Klos

Arguably the best of the late Sixties-early Seventies road movies, with the enigmatic Driver and Mechanic (musos James Taylor and Dennis Wilson, in their only acting roles) challenged to a cross-US race by a garrulous fantasist (Warren Oates) in a yellow GTO.

And where else could the story begin but on the famed old Route 66. Unlike many road movies, the film plays fair with the geography throughout nearly 2,000 driving miles west to east from California to Tennessee.

The pair set out along a similar route to the opening of Easy Rider, passing through the town of Needles, California, where they drive through the graffitied underpass beneath the Burlington, Northern and Santa Fe railroad line. They pull up to change the racing tyres at the rest area on Front Street, at North K Street.

The stripped-down 1955 Chevy hotrod follows I-40 east to Kingman, Arizona, where the towering cliffs can be found just south of town. It’s here the pair first get eyeballed by the slightly flaky GTO.

Continuing east, it’s surprising to find that the café, where the Girl (Laurie Bird) slips out of the flower-power decorated van and into the back of the Chevy, is not only still there but still recognisable. It’s Mary’s Café, 7136 North US Highway 89, just northeast of Flagstaff itself.

It’s typical of the characters’ unquestioning blankness that there’s not a word spoken as the pair set off with their new passenger.

Two Lane Blacktop filming location: Santa Fe Plaza, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Two Lane Blacktop filming location: panhandling for bus fare: Santa Fe Plaza, Santa Fe, New Mexico | Photograph: wikimedia / blmurch

The town square, where the girl panhandles for bus fare “to San Francisco” is West Palace Avenue at Santa Fe Plaza National Historic Landmark, New Mexico. The scene was improvised, with the camera hidden in a department store window.

Also in Santa Fe is the hangout where they make a few more dollars racing, which is Bert's Burger Bowl, 235 North Guadalupe Street. The other car driver is a cameo from the film’s screenwriter, Rudy Wurlitzer.

One of the lost locations is the old service station at Tucumcari, New Mexico, where the challenge for the pink slips is wagered, in a race to Washington DC. It’s not only been torn down, but the road itself has been remodelled.

Still there is the old Worley Mills Elevator, south of West Campbell Avenue (Q Road 4), at Land Fill Road. This is where there’s a brief truce in the race, for the consumption of hard boiled eggs washed down with booze. Incidentally, Worley Mills was founded by Clarence Worley – which just happens to be the name of Christian Slater’s character in Tony Scott’s Quentin Tarantino-scripted True Romance.

When GTO’s car needs a little attention, they pull into an unattended service station, and help themselves to a local license plate. The garage is long gone, but you’ll still recognise the red brick building that stood opposite on Hunter Road at 7th Street, in Boswell, Oklahoma.

The north side of Hunter Road, the town’s main street, where Driver walks past the bank and the old cinema, has been completely redeveloped, but on the south side, the Dixie Café, 610 Hunter Avenue, into which he peers, can still be seen.

They cross the border into Arkansas at the triple-arched Self Creek Bridge on Route 70 just west of the town of Daisy.

The roadhouse, where they’re tipped off about the racetrack, was at Pearcy, but is another long-lost location. As, disappointingly, is the Lakeland Racetrack, which stood in Memphis, Tennessee. You can still see traces of the old tack on Monroe Road.

Two Lane Blacktop filming location: Cheoah Dam, North Carolina
Two Lane Blacktop filming location: driving past the dam: Cheoah Dam, North Carolina | Photograph: wikimedia / Dantripphoto

After picking up another $300 from the race, they drive past a spectacular dam which you might recognise from another screen appearance. Yes, it’s the dam from which Harrison Ford took a dive in The FugitiveCheoah Dam, on Tapoco Road, Route 29, North Carolina.

The bar where the Girl finally slopes of with a biker is Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort, 17548 Tapoco Road, Robbinsville, on the North Carolina-Tennessee border. The 11-mile stretch of US129 here is known as the Tail of the Dragon, one of the world's foremost motorcycling and sports car roads. There are no intersecting roads, no houses with driveways and no businesses. There are, though, 318 curves. Take care.

The celebrated final scene was filmed not on a public road at all, but on a runway at McMinn County Airport, south of Athens, Tennessee.