21 September. Kingman, Arizona. 10:30 pm, and we’re all tucked into the camper; the others are happily snoring already. Because we plan to make an early start in the morning, I’m going to go ahead and post this without any proofreading or approval, so take it with a grain of salt, knowing I’m rushing through it.
Executive Summary: Joseph City, Winslow, Meteor Crater, Twin Arrows, Winona, Flagstaff, Williams, Seligman, Grand Canyon Caverns, Peach Springs, Kingman. 6:30 am start; 6pm finish. 264 miles. A varied day meteor craters, underground caverns, and exploring the locals that have inspired musical lyrics and pop subculture. Desert crossing under a blazing sun, and a relaxing evening of making plans over the picnic table, beer, and cheap – I mean, fine – wine.
The day began with some bad news: Dad accidentally broke one of the bottles of pink champagne I had bought in preparation for our Santa Monica celebration, as well as the handle off of the Midway Café mug I had saved from my spiced tea savored at the Route 66 halfway point. Ah, well; I have plenty of coffee mugs. The worse problem (in Mom’s mind) was the thought of spilled strawberry liquid in their bed in the camper.
I had fully intended to sleep in until nearly 7 this morning, and had sternly lectured Dad about not disturbing us before then... but I wound up awake and up for the count by 5:30. Deciding to try to let Mom get some extra rest, I moved outside to the turquoise metal bench just outside our wigwam to enjoy the sunrise; Dad (who had been sitting up reading in the pickup truck) soon joined me. Not long after that he took coffee over to Tom & Don’s teepee to waken them around 6. We all were pretty much ready to roll by about 6:30, even with a picture-taking session, so we loaded up and headed out ahead of schedule. We had hoped to be on the road by 7:30, and wound up already having filled the Skyliner’s tank with gas by then.
Heading west from Holbrook, our first intended stop was west of Joseph City, where we easily found the Jackrabbit Trading Post with its giant jackrabbit, on which we took turns sitting for photos. Billboards had announced our approach, counting down the miles to it just as similar yellow and black signs once taunted hundreds of miles of Route 66 with the mileage countdown. We did see one billboard with a black jackrabbit, topped by little rabbit silhouettes, standing proudly across the road, loudly exclaiming, "HERE IT IS!"
Next was Winslow, made famous by the Eagles’ song Take it Easy containing a line about "Standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona." We found the town’s Standin’ on a Corner park, complete with a statue of a dude toting a guitar, standing on a corner. A mural painted on the building behind him depicted a "girl in a flat bed Ford" as if reflected in a shop window, watching him; upstairs windows in the mural depicted a couple making out and a bird on a ledge. Apparently the site is prone to fires: one in 1992 destroyed the building on which the statue stands, and the building on which the mural was painted was gutted by another fire in 2004; now all that remains is the 2-dimensional brick facade bearing the mural.
Take it Easy (The Eagles)
Well, I’m running down the road trying’ to loosen my load. I’ve got seven women on my mind.
Four that wanna own me, 2 that wanna stone me, one says she’s a friend of mine.
Take it easy, take it easy. Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.
Lighten up while you still can; don’t even try to understand.
Just find a place to make your stand and take it easy.
Well, I’m a standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and such a fine sight to see:
It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford slowin’ down to take a look at me.
Come on, baby, don’t say maybe. I gotta know if your sweet love is gonna save me.
We may lose and we may win, though we will never be here again,
So open up, I’m climbin’ in, so take it easy.
Well, I’m running down the road trying to loosen my load, got a world of trouble on my mind.
Lookin’ for a lover who won’t blow my cover, she’s so hard to find.
Take it easy, take it easy. Don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy.
Come on baby, don’t say maybe. I gotta know if your sweet love is gonna save me.
Oh, we got it easy. We oughta take it easy.
We drove by the restored 1928 La Posada Hotel and an old red and white Valentine diner in original-looking red and white livery looking for breakfast; we eventually happened upon the Falcon Restaurant on the east end of town, whose owners have been serving good food and caring for Route 66 travelers for almost fifty years. There, we feasted on another big breakfast, pausing before we left to visit briefly with a gun-toting guy seated in one of the outdoor booths, the restaurant’s smoking section, adjacent to the parking lot – where he had been admiring Tom’s car while we all stared at the big gun hanging in a holster at his waist, joking to each other about how someone should go tell him to get away from Tom’s car.
After breakfast we made straight for Meteor Crater, the site of a meteor hit 50,000 years ago: a 150-foot-long chunk of rock that created a crater two miles across and several miles wide. It was pricey ($15 per person) but fascinating, with good exhibits inside on not only this particular meteor, but meteorology in general, studies regarding other meteors that will pass close to the Earth in the next few hundred years, displays of other meteorites, and all sorts of information about minerals and what happens when a meteor enters Earth’s atmosphere. We walked through a series of exhibits, explored the outdoor walkways overlooking the crater, and watched a film about it before continuing on our way.
Next up was a short detour to see Twin Arrows, once an attractive establishment with a red and white Valentine diner and two namesake gigantic arrows thrust into the soil. Now boarded up, the remains were picturesque but unreachable because of concrete barriers. Strange graffiti invited readers to join 9/11 there; it was an odd place, not least because of its isolation out there in the scrubby, dust-blown desert.
Another famous song lyric cautions, "Don’t forget Winona," and we didn’t – although there wasn’t much to see there. We stopped to fill gas at a Texaco-cum-Shell station, which served as a motel way back when, when its rooms provided simply an iron frame and guests had to bring their own mattresses, Grapes-of-Wrath style. Nice! Disappointingly, corporate-dictated renovations have removed all hint of history, so that only the sign gave away its identity as anything out of the ordinary: the place still uses the block letters from when it was a Texaco, just leaving one blank on each side. Just west of there we found an old iron bridge that provided a genuine photo op with mountain peaks as a majestic backdrop.
Flagstaff didn’t really thrill any of us. Although we managed to spot Miz Zips, the towering Hotel Monte Vista sign, and the Paul Bunyan "giant" near Granny’s Closet, a restaurant on the site of the former Lumberjack Café, which was home to the first of the giant so-called "Muffler Men," ancestor to the three Illinois giants we had seen earlier in the trip. This giant wasn’t so giant by comparison – nor by comparison to the Paul Bunyan that we’ve all seen in Bemidji, Minnesota.
We opted to skip all the gravel and dead-end option detours to and through Bellemont, Parks, Monte Carlo, and even Ash Fork, meaning that today’s drive entailed a lot of interstate travel – which turned out fine, since we had more ground to cover. We did exit for the four-mile swing through Williams, the town with the distinction of having been the very last US 66 town to be bypassed, on October 13, 1984. There we found Twisters 50's Soda Fountain ("The Route 66 Place"), where all of us took a load off and sat down for treats: I savored a dish of peppermint stick ice cream, Tom had ice cream, Dad and Don had coffee, and Mom ordered a hot dog. The place screamed vintage diner / soda shoppe, with a pink ‘55 Ford parked out front. I encouraged Tom to park the Skyliner right behind it; then we were entertained watching people take pictures next to his car rather than the one that was part of the place. Leaving Williams, we watched for the historic 1908 log depot and the old Frey Marcos Hotel, near the Grand Canyon Railway.
We stayed on I-40 past Crookton Road, exiting instead at #123 for Seligman, once a time-zone division point, stopping there to check out the birthplace of the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona and of the annual Fun Run, where each spring hundreds of cars cruise downtown before heading out to Topock or vice versa. Founder Angel Delgadillo wasn’t there manning the former barbershop, but his workers were helpful and friendly, earning their keep by inspiring me to buy a tanktop I don’t need (I need clothes like I need a hole in the head!) – but I decided I’d like to have something kitschy to wear when we hit the beach at Santa Monica in a couple of days, and maybe as a souvenir later.
An easy drive beyond Seligman, we reached the Grand Canyon Caverns, where we spent a couple of hours first enjoying refreshments in the restaurant while awaiting the next tour; then taking a 45-minute tour of the underground caverns here. These differed from Meramac in that they’re dry. I didn’t find them as captivating, but they made a nice comparison/contrast. Our tour guide, Jerry, took us on a 3/4 mile walk along paved walkways 21 stories (210 feet) underground, telling a ton of bad jokes and sharing interesting information, like the only link between this place and the Grand Canyon being that there is a passageway somewhere in the rock connecting the air between them; or about the bobcat and the giant sloth who unfortunately met their demise decades ago by falling in and being unable to escape the empty caves, which became their tombs. Poor critters; they must have been terrified! Our guide emphasized the caves’ dryness, repeatedly pointing out things that have been perfectly preserved over unbelievable lengths of time because of the less-than-6% humidity down there. The tour script was full of groaner jokes and conducted in a steady singsong, but still interesting and informative, if only as a nice comparison/contrast to the Meramac Caverns we saw back in Missouri.
Approaching Peach Springs (inspiration for Radiator Springs in the movie Cars), I was on the edge of my seat awaiting the view of the distant Grand Canyon from the steep hill down into town. Sadly, the view was too distant to make for good pictures, but was breathtaking nonetheless. Next we passed through Valentine, whose post office (famous for Valentine’s Day postmarks) is long gone but where the Valentine Indian School remains standing near a one-room "Non-Indian" school "across the tracks." We continued through Crozier Canyon and tiny Truxton and at Antares Junction passed a 14-foot-tall tiki (an Easter Island idol head) looking completely out of place in the desert. Then it was a straight shot on to Kingman, where we found the KOA campground despite nearby detours, checked in, and set up for the night.
We all were hot and tired from today’s drive across arid desert terrain, so we walked over to the campground pool for a quick, refreshing dip in its chilly water before showering, eating, or even toasting another great day (so you know we were hot)!
Don briefed us on plans once we reach L.A. His son Brian hopes to meet us when we triumphantly arrive at Santa Monica Wednesday afternoon; then Tom will go stay at Don & Dianne’s while Mom, Dad, and I go to stay with June & Brian G. Based on that, and brainstorming later over our plans the next few days, we managed to think outside the box enough to come up with a clever plan that should save time and help things logistically in the long run – although it will make for a somewhat frantic morning. Wanting to see Oatman but knowing that Tom’s car shouldn’t traverse the treacherous road to it, we decided to take his car and the camper and drop them off in Topock, then return to Kingman, cross Sitgreave Pass altogether in just the truck, experience Oatman, and then drop south to pick up Tom’s car – we wound up deciding to take the camper all the way (another 20 miles or so) to June and Brian Gutshalls’ place in Lake Havasu, where we can retrieve it when we return Friday to spend the weekend with them there, but without having to pull it all the way to California or to maneuver it through L.A.’s traffic and turns. A great revision to our previous plans!
I’m somewhat petrified already of tomorrow’s drive to Oatman. While promising excitement and gorgeous views, the road is also truly treacherous, and I’ve had enough nightmares about crashing down formidable cliffs with Dad driving to know already that I’ll be on pins and needles for most of it (not because of any lack of faith in Dad's driving ability, but because of my inherent fear of, and aversion to, driving over the edge of steep cliffs!).
This afternoon’s drive seemed to illustrate the concept of Fernweh, a German word for which there is no English equivalent, though it represents a long for, and a need to return to, a place you’ve never been. We passed and crossed creviced arroyos, long sloping rifts, and grassy hardpan, with unending vistas of scrubby desert, rocky crags, and sand to every horizon. This region held a high-desert sweetness heavy with solitude. It’s in the nature of a desert to be harsh – but here on this old section of Route 66, there was a sense of poignance as well; a section where we could almost hear the past singing sweetly on the wind.
One of the guidebooks noted that "with the passage of only fifty years or so, the frontier is still very much a part of everything you’ll find here. Stories of shoot-outs, lost gold mines, and desert massacres are still told by the people who lived through those days. It’s a time warp worth stepping into. There is also a compelling intimacy about the way old Route 66 and the land go on together. At night, especially, there is a personal feeling of timelessness here. Once you are away from the lights, take time to stand for a while in the night. Pull the darkness around you like a cloak and feel what it is to be on the frontier of your own being, the land spilling away beyond your sight and hearing. Haul the stars down – so many here you may not even recognize old friends among them. Bring them close. Feel your own breathing and the life, unseen but sensed, everywhere around. There are not many places left in which to take a moment like this. Arizona, along old Route 66, is one of the last." True, that: stepping outside the camper moments ago, I observed a limitless sky arching above, velvety-black and punctured by a thousand bright stars hanging low over the desert. Already I’m starting to feel nostalgic for the end of this great voyage; an adventure right here in Americana that, like all adventures, will be over far too soon.
We’ll have a long day tomorrow any way you slice it: Oatman and the infamous road to get to it; then a long drive to Barstow, California. But that should set us up for an easier day on Wednesday, when we’ll cover the final stretch from Barstow to Santa Monica. Hard to believe we’re that close!