Friday, April 23, 2010


The March trip to Italy was great! A couple of days with a friend at Ostia Lido (on the coast south of Rome -- Rome's original port, and a place I hadn't been before), then several days playing tour guide in Rome (Vatican Museums, St. Peter's, Castel San Angelo, Piazza Dei Venezia, the Colosseum & Forum, Piazza Navone, Trevi, Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, and a Papal Audience) and Tuscany (climb up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Florence's Uffizi, and several medieval hilltop fortress villages -- another "new" thing for me, which I loved), staying at a lovely Agriturismo in the Tuscan hills near San Miniato. Too soon, it was time to return to real life -- but it was a great break in the meantime!


Minneapolis, Minnesota. 6pm, and I'm tearing my hair out after hours of waiting at the airport already. Having decided to head back to Michigan for niece Sage's first communion tomorrow, I had trouble getting out of Colorado Springs, due to winter weather that moved in overnight: we all wakened to snow and ice this morning, a stark contrast to the 60's and sunny we've been enjoying all week!

With any luck I'll catch a flight to Grand Rapids in a little more than an hour from now, and will be able to share in the weekend festivities there. We're all relieved that Sage's other grandmother's breast cancer surgery last week seems to have gone well; it'll be good to see her in person tomorrow.

Over and out at MSP.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Day 14: Barstow to Santa Monica, California

24 September. Calabasas, California. 11 pm. We finished our journey, toasted our success, and snapped some pictures before parting company in Santa Monica temporarily for logistical reasons.

Executive Summary: Barstow – Oro Grande – Cajon Summit – San Bernardino – Rialto – Fontana – Santa Monica (and on to Calabasas and other points in the greater Los Angeles area). 7am start, 2pm finish, 151 miles.

I wakened at 4am and couldn’t get back to sleep, still puzzling over why exactly spending those 3 extra minutes in Oatman would have been so horrible. I still haven’t been able to figure it out and would love to understand. Dad, also an eternally-early riser, got up a little after 5:00, and the two of us pulled on shoes and left the room, walking out into the still-dark, pre-dawn air of early morning beside the desert, awaiting the first rays of the sun.

Walking over to a nearby coffee and donut shop, Dad offered the option of returning to Oatman on Saturday from Lake Havasu, where we’ll be staying with June and Brian over the weekend, so that we can see the other show. It was sweet of him to offer, but as I explained with a resigned shrug, it isn’t about seeing that show. That whole place isn’t my kind of thing; I wasn’t particularly enthralled to be there in the first place... but, once there, I wanted to at least experience it fully, if for no other reason than to feel as if I had the entire experience. As it turned out, we devoted 7 hours getting there and back – but without having the full experience, by a margin of exactly 3 minutes. That is what frustrates me. It’s like the Great Barrier Reef all over again and, having gone to the trouble of getting all the way there expressly to go SCUBA diving, being ordered by Paul not to go SCUBA diving so that I wouldn’t be away from him and Maura for 60 minutes, leaving me unable to dive the Great Barrier Reef, as I had wanted my whole life to do (the whole reason I got certified in the first place all those years ago)... but not necessarily wanting to make the trip all the way out there again just for that. The chance is lost – precisely the reason for my frustration in forsaking it, for the sake of 3 minutes.

This morning’s driving was easy, a slower-paced meander along gently-curving country roads that became steadily more lush as we distanced ourselves from the parching desert. We began by crossing sandy, sagebrush-dotted hills along the Santa Fe Railroad and the tree-lined, mostly-dry course of the Mojave River, starting our day along the National Old Trails Road.

We passed through little Hodge in a blink, finding an old sign for Newton’s Towing in Helendale, where its ponderous parrot (mascot for the old "Polly" gasoline brand) perched atop a sign proclaiming the once-current gas prices (18.9 regular; 21.9 ethyl – a far cry from the over-$3-per-gallon that is not uncommon these days) and the roadside remains of a stone residence adapted from the old Sage Brush Inn, where Sagebrush Annie formerly operated a rumor-inciting roadhouse. Next was a Bottle Tree Ranch, an artistic creation composed of countless colorful bottles arrayed on "trees" intermixed with 66 signs and other artifacts in the tradition of Miles Mahan. Oro Grande was both depressing and fascinating: a line of old strefronts on one side of the old road, now relegated to some kind of aging antique mall alongside Route 66 near a dust-producing cement factory, near the abandoned Mohawk Mini Mart and the false-fronted Route 66 Antique Station complete with a big, old, bright red caboose.

A majestic 1930 modified Baltimore truss bridge carried us over the Mojave River, featuring ornate guardrails along a curved approach near Victorville, where we bypassed the California Route 66 Museum, observing a series of vintage motels and signs.

Hopping unavoidably onto the interstate, we cruised up I-15 to the Oakhill Road exit at the top of Cajon Pass, a regular stop back when topping the pass was still a big deal, and made our way to the Summit Inn, which has welcomed weary travelers on Mariposa Road since 1952 with its cinnamon rolls, coffee, and ostrich eggs – which Dad ordered for breakfast (they tasted like regular eggs). All of our portions were enormous; a single meal could have fed all 5 of us.
Where I-15's east- and westbound lanes separate, the old 1920s Route 66 once fell between them. Intact sections of pavement remain, but they are inaccessible today. We were, however, able to enjoy a short section with a wonderful feeling of time suspended, just beyond Cajon Junction. Taking the Cleghorn Road exit, we found this great stretch of Roue 66, where the former 4-lane winds its way along Cajon Creek, through rugged topography created by the infamous San Andreas Fault, some classic old bridges crossing normally dry gulches along the way. There, Swarthout Canyon Road was the site of an old migrant workers’ camp during the Great Depression. Further along, the Blue Cut is named for blue-gray colored rock through which Cajon Creek cuts, its immediate area including a wide, tree-shaded spot on the creek bank with an historical marker that must once have been a great place to picnic or watch trains.

A brief interstate interlude was necessary, but we soon exited again in Devore, watching for vintage motels and other businesses on our way to San Bernardino, home to more long-ago-bypassed vintage motels now catering to long-term guests. We watched for, but weren’t heartbroken to miss, the location of the world’s first McDonalds, begun in 1948, when the McDonald Brothers branched out and evolved their "speedee service system" and golden arches long before Ray Kroc bought out the fledgling chain. We did find the tee pees of the Wig Wam Motel between San Bernardino and Rialto, the other remaining wigwam motel on Route 66 and the last of the chain built. Although there were more of them at this location, we decided that the ones in Holbrook had more character – and all the vintage cars to boot!

We followed the old road through Rialto, Fontana (finding Bono’s Historic Orange, the last of the giant orange stands that once lined California roads), on through Rancho Cucamonga (finally finding the historic Sycamore Inn that originally was a stagecoach stop, a place with metal dinosaur sculptures), and into Upland (where two former wineries, Virginia Dare Winery and the Thomas Vineyards at Vineyard Avenue have been adapted as shops).

The Skyliner was protesting the climbing temperatures and frequent stops due to traffic and stoplights, so at this point we decided to head for the highway and make our way to the coast at Santa Monica. Although it was interesting to see the original route, years of corporate development and modern landscaping have forever altered the original surroundings, so I don’t think any of us felt that we were missing out on Route 66 ambience here. So we hopped on the 210 heading west, making our way south onto the Pasadena Freeway and eventually the Santa Monica Freeway, which dropped us off almost right at the terminus of Route 66.

The actual, "official" end of Route 66 at Olympic and Ocean has been all but obliterated by I10, fairly well trashing the original intersection and its 1950s coffee shop. But a few blocks northwest, we found the plaque memorializing Route 66 as the Will Rogers Highway, ending our journey along the path in Palisades Park, above the Pacific. The afternoon sun and heavy mist over the ocean, however, made this less-than-desirable for photos, so we also snapped several at a nearby tourist marker created in the shape of the Route 66 highway shield, proclaiming the End of Route 66. (If only Chicago had erected such a sign at the start!). Murphy’s Law precluded us from getting a penultimate shot of the 5 of us standing in front of the Skyliner at that sign, when a tour bus pulled up to take over after the space had sat empty for the preceding 30 minutes – but I did manage to snap a picture of at least the car before the impatient bus driver blasted his horn and forced Tom to take off.

Thus ended the Stiches’ Route 66 roadtrip, slightly anticlimactic without any fanfare or welcome committee, on a hazy afternoon along the Pacific Coast Highway near the Santa Monica Pier. But, as with any road-weary travelers at the end of an epic voyage, we were able to bask in the relief and the pride in knowing that we had done it; we had made it. To paraphrase Timothy, we have fought the good fight; we have finished our course; we have come to the end of our journey; we have kept the faith.

Mom, Dad, and I headed northwest to Calabasas, where we were to stay with cousins June & Brian, while Tom and Don headed for Don & Dianne’s home in nearby La Palma. There, they dropped off Tom’s car, picked up Dianne, and headed up to hang out with us for the rest of the afternoon and evening. This was June and Brian’s 9th anniversary, and we reflected that all of us had been together in southern California 9 years ago today – a fitting way to celebrate their anniversary and the end of our roadtrip. The La Palma contingent departed around 9:30, with a feigned misty moment when we realized that this would be our first night apart since our start 2 weeks ago back in Bloomington.

When we spoke on the phone later, I learned that poor Bernie got chewed out at orchestra rehearsal for making plans to be out of town to meet up with us this coming weekend; poor thing! I’m in bed in Madison’s pink princess room, having taken over June & Brian’s daughter’s place for a couple of nights. An enormous couch downstairs would have served just fine, too – in fact, I caught a catnap there in the afternoon after we first arrived – but it will be a nice treat to sleep in a real bed, in a real house, and to relax for a couple of days (until we have to start heading back east) without having to pore over tour books and maps or scour the landscape for this or that historic marker or landmark not to be missed.

I have more thoughts, but will have to add them later (along with stats like total mileage, expenses, etc.), since I need to try to get some rest for now, knowing I’ll likely awaken earlier than necessary, even with the luxurious option of sleeping in pretty much as late as I would like.

The End of the Road

23 September 2009. Barstow, California. 5:30 am. It’s early, but I’ve already been awake for an hour ready to roll, and I need to find something to do while everyone else sleeps, so I thought I would let everyone know that we’ll make Santa Monica this afternoon. We’re all looking forward to reaching the end of Route 66. It’s been quite an experience!

23 September. Ocean Boulevard, Santa Monica. We made it! 1:30 pm found us on Ocean Boulevard, toasting our successful journey with pink champagne near the Will Rogers Memorial Highway marker in Santa Monica. Details to follow.

Day 13: Kingman, Arizona to Barstow, California

22 September. Barstow, California. 10:15 pm.

Executive summary: 7am start, 7pm finish. 360 miles. Kingman - Lake Havasu - Topock - Kingman - Oatman - Topock - Needles - Goofs - Essex - Cadiz Summit - Amboy - Ludlow - Newberry Springs - Barstow.

I almost hesitate to post this day because a lot of it will sound negative, and I haven’t yet figured out how to gloss over the disappointments while remaining honest about what went on – but based on the feedback received so far, people have appreciated our "keeping it real" by including the lows as well as the highs. And as every good traveler knows, any adventure includes plenty of both – so here goes. Besides, everyone knows that on the TV reality shows, the parts where they all get mad at each other are the most entertaining for everyone else, so maybe this will be more amusing for readers than it was for us living through it in person. If so, you can break out the popcorn, sit back, and enjoy!

Wanting to see Oatman, take in a couple of shows there (which we believed were at 12, 1:30, and possibly 3pm – meaning that we could see the 12 and 1:30, with time between to explore the town and sit down for a leisurely lunch), but still to try to make Barstow for the night, we had decided to rise early, drive on ahead to drop off Tom’s car (he didn’t want to drive it on the road to Oatman) at Topock and the camper at Lake Havasu City (it would be dangerous on that road, and which we wouldn’t need again until Friday). The plan was for Mom and Tom to drive his car directly to Topock, where they could park it and have a leisurely breakfast at the marina while Dad, Don, and I took the camper to June and Brian’s place down in Lake Havasu City. Then we would swing over to Topock to pick up Mom and Tom and, all in the truck, return to Kingman, traverse the infamous Oatman Highway, hopefully in time to experience Oatman’s burros, wild-west-style main street, see its shows, explore the town in between, and be on our way west by 2pm.

I reflected that by leaving the camper behind, with the consequent decisions needing to be made about what to leave and what to take with us, we were granted a small glimpse into a very real aspect of early pioneers’ passages westward across the continent. We all have read books and seen movies in which the characters become so beaten-down and so overcome by unforeseen circumstances that they are forced to make difficult decisions, choosing which priceless possessions to leave behind along the dusty wagon trail and which few things to take along, whether in a covered wagon, by horseback, or on their own backs. Of course, our choices were not so weighty, knowing that we’ll be back in a couple of days – but the very fact of making them helped to illustrate in some small way what it must have been like for those early pioneers, who knew that they never would return and were leaving their things behind forever. In the end, things are only things – but out there in the desert, making choices to leave them behind likely became tragic and nearly unbearable at times.

Our logistical planning paid off: our estimated times were almost right-on, and we reached Oatman actually ahead of schedule (the Oatman Highway itself proved far less treacherous than I had believed, and the Goldroad gold mining town was inhospitable, with no hint of the Gold Road Mine Tours about which I had read). Reaching Oatman with time to spare before the first of the 2 shows we were trying to catch, I heaved a private sigh of relief, immensely glad to be completely done meeting schedules and deadlines for the rest of this trip, and with only 90 minutes of time to kill between the two little shows we had come to see, allowing more than enough time to see the little town. The best information I had been able to obtain beforehand turned out to be dead-on, as confirmed by the first person I asked upon alighting in town. We made the first show (a gunfight on main street), and we managed to find something to do for 87 of the 90 minutes we needed to pass until the second before we would have been out of there and happily on our way... but suddenly Tom announced, "We’ve gotta go!" The rest of the group agreed, and off we went. Yes, having spent no less than 6 hours and 27 minutes successfully executing our Oatman plan, we abandoned it 180 seconds short of completion.

Oatman was the kind of place that is like hell on earth for someone like me, composed entirely of shop after kitschy shop crammed to the hilt with kitschy tourist souvenirs: keychains, shot glasses, mugs, hats, scarves, rugs, blankets, wind chimes, aprons, cookbooks, you-name-it... and, of course, T-shirts by the hundreds. Each side of the little main street contained about a dozen of these shops, interspersed only by a couple of ice cream shops and a hotel and restaurant (where we killed most of the time we needed to expend between the 2 little shows). I was a good sport about it, obligingly peeking into all the little shops, and even making a couple of purchases, all with a good attitude. But when it came to seeing the one thing that I (and, I had thought, the rest of the group) actually wanted to see – animals – that favor was not returned.

One might ask why anyone would make the effort to traverse the treacherous road to get there for the sake of a bunch of souvenir shops that sell the same things you could buy anywhere. Well, it’s to see the donkeys! Wild burros descended from a herd brought by long-ago prospectors roam the area and its streets, infamous for eating out of tourists’ hands (we had come prepared with carrots).

Sadly, we didn’t get to see any burros, hurrying out of town literally 3 minutes before the canned performance utilizing them was to begin. This begs the question of why we had expended so much time and effort to get there in the first place – as well as when exactly the plan evaporated, and why 3 minutes one way or the other was so earth-shatteringly important that we had to miss what we had come to see (and what at least one of us desperately wanted to see, having made so much effort and already invested so much time...). I would have been perfectly fine with skipping Oatman entirely, had I known we weren’t going to see any donkeys or would wind up wasting 7 hours getting there and back, for the sake of about 2 minutes of entertainment that we did get to see. Or, I would have been fine with simply making it a 15-minute photo op stop; no problem. But to not only make the effort to get there, but then to deliberately kill time for almost an hour and a half, only to leave immediately before the performance we had been waiting all that time to see... that made no sense to me.

I’m still scratching my head as to why exactly 3 minutes (or 5, or even – gasp! – 15, if the second show, as we believed, was more involved than the first) suddenly were so important, but apparently they were, so we all left without seeing any donkeys – or any wildlife at all – the only animal we saw (besides some roadrunners) was a lonely black and white cat on the porch outside one of the souvenir shops.

So I wound up frustrated and downright angry. It’s not easy being the group tour guide, narrator, navigator, travel agent, and waiter... but all those jobs become even harder when you have to fight with people at every turn! It’s not about having my own way, or wanting to follow some agenda, or anything except wanting to be rational. I had no set schedule in mind when we began – in fact, I was excited about not having to live by a fixed itinerary, with a smaller group that would allow flexibility. As the trip has progressed, we have thrown out a number of ideas and adapted as we went. Last week in Tulsa they were wanting us to be only as far as Lake Havasu – still westbound – next Sunday! (Leaving me all the more perplexed as to why time suddenly was so critical that we couldn’t linger 3 minutes in Oatman as planned.) One of my early suggestions, upon realizing that time in Oatman was something the group wanted to do, was to devote a full day between Kingman and Needles, which would have facilitated an easy day, so that people wouldn’t feel rushed, and would have permitted us to begin the desert crossing bright and early the next morning, before the sun got going full-bore. Another suggestion had been spending a night in Flagstaff in order to reach Kingman earlier in the day, permitting an afternoon visit to Oatman and an overnight in Needles, with the same unhurried result. We adopted the schedule we did because it was what the group wanted... So if Tom (or anyone else) wanted to reach Barstow by a certain time, or not to be driving across the desert in the afternoon, there had been plenty of opportunities to raise those concerns. Even on arriving in Oatman, we could have agreed to make it a quick photo op stop, rather than to wait around for 2 hours (or even an hour), if anyone was in a big hurry to get someplace else on a deadline. But to go to all that trouble, and to deliberately kill time for almost an hour and a half, only to decide literally at the last minute that we weren’t going to wait the last 3 minutes... that was inconceivable.

Even more than wasting time (sitting around for an hour and a half killing time is not my cup of tea), I can’t stand rushing away from something interesting – which is exactly what we did, after killing time doing something uninteresting by lingering in a dark hotel listening to some guy sing Karaoke Elvis songs while we killed time having lunch. I was mildly surprised when the uncles decided to move from the shady hotel/restaurant adjacent to the location of the next show in favor of sitting in the truck, but figured they wanted its stronger AC. I preferred to remain where we were for the remaining few minutes, curious to see the honeymoon hideaway of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard.

We were a silent group heading west out of town, turning south toward Topock across a sobering desert section of old Route 66 that has not changed much (other than being paved) since the Dust Bowl days. We could understand why the Joads walked out into the Colorado River shallows and just stood there after driving this stretch. It is said that "the road from Oatman to Topock can be as tough as any road ever gets." It was bad enough for us today – mostly miserable because of the 3 minutes we didn’t stay to see the animals – and I’m sure that doesn’t begin to compare with what it must have felt like in a covered wagon or even some of the old automobiles!

Emerging from the Oatman Highway at Topock, Don – ever the peacemaker – showed me around the Topock Gorge Marina, a lovely place with shaded tables overlooking the water where we could happily have lunched if we hadn’t been waiting in Oatman for the 2nd show (or if anyone had shared the urgent need to leave prior to sitting around there for an extra few hours). Although all of them had joined in the decision to rush away just before the show with the animals began (the human characters were already lining up on Oatman’s main street as we drove through on our way out), I was mostly irritated with Tom, who had seemed to be the one most hell-bent on hurrying off into the desert 3 minutes ahead of schedule, so I dared not ride with him, knowing it was likely that I would say something expressing my feelings about what I felt was an irrational decision. So I rode with Mom and Dad in the truck from there on, leaving poor Uncle Don to suffer in the air-condition-less Skyliner. I felt bad about that, but felt like I might have killed Tom if I rode with him. (It was similar to the way I had felt a few days earlier, after Mom insisted on our bypassing lunch at the U-Drop Inn in Shamrock – which Tom, of all people, could understand, since he had shared similar thoughts that day, when I rode with him and we voiced our mutual frustration in been rushed away from the kind of Route 66 experience we were there to have, for no logical reason – but now he was the one spearheading efforts to do exactly that.) In any event, I needed some time to simmer down before I could be cordial again with him, so Mom and Dad had to listen to me vent. Mom just kept reminding me, "We’re old," and "We don’t think as fast as you do," but that was cold comfort in the face of my repeated reminders that they could – and should, especially if unable to make responsible decisions themselves – just trust me when I try to offer guidance. Otherwise, don’t ask for my help in the first place – or be up-front about being unwilling to participate in the stated group goal, which here I thought had been to experience Route 66 as much as possible.

Don – who, like me, I sensed still was keen to see the Route 66 sights for which we had embarked on this trip in the first place – still wanted to see what we could along the way, but after Tom’s little tantrum in insisting on rushing off from Oatman, I honestly felt like we dared not dally anywhere. After all, if we couldn’t spare 3 minutes in Oatman – after already devoting 7 hours to doing so – then how could we justify any stop, anywhere? I couldn’t understand (and I still can’t) what the big rush was, so I was exasperated trying to guess at what, if any, delays, would be acceptable after that little stunt. I was fed up with having to fight tooth-and-nail to see anything, and about ready to get out a book to read and let them all figure it out the rest of the way on their own (since apparently my suggestions to this point were so miserable that nobody could stand to endure an extra 3 whole minutes of it), but Don’s gentle requests for me to continue prevailed, so I sulkily resumed trying to guide us along as best I could.

Following the National Trails road east from Park Moabi Road, we curved along the foot of a bluff marking the edge of the Colorado River, doubling back under the railroad and I-40 to an ancient stone billboard welcoming us to Historic 66, near the first and last automobile bridges over the Colorado River, including the graceful Old Trails Arch Bridge, built in 1916 for auto traffic but now supporting a gas pipeline, seen in the movie The Grapes of Wrath.

Approaching Needles, we were greeted by its official Welcome Wagon, a reconstructed freight wagon bearing the town name. West of Needles, I40 charges boldly up and over the south pass of the Sacramento Mountains. I did suggest that if Tom was in a hurry, he could just take the interstate directly to Barstow where we could catch up with him later, thinking that might be the best solution for everyone: that way he could get to Barstow without having to see or do anything along the old road, while the rest of us could enjoy a more leisurely drive along it without having to feel rushed. But he wound up deciding to follow us after all, and even stopped later for ice cream (leaving me all the more exasperated, since that obviously took far more than the 3 minutes we couldn’t spare back at Oatman... I was furious – obviously – I’m still fuming), all confirming why I generally prefer to travel alone.

Then again, perhaps there was something amazing and remarkable to see at the Ludlow, California Dairy Queen. I wouldn’t know, since I didn’t go there – as discussed in some detail beginning back in Lebanon, Missouri, as a general rule I do my level best not to eat at fast-food chains, but to patronize unique local businesses, and I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way to go to a Dairy Queen – particularly when there’s a Route 66 business that’s been there for more than half a century that’s right on the way. But that’s just me.

Departing I-40, we opted for the early road, which followed the railroad over an easy-driving, little-trafficked, no-grade curve above the mountains. Unlike the winding, steep road to Oatman, which seemed deliberately to follow the most difficult route possible, this one made perfect sense as the path of least resistence to early travelers.

In Goffs we stopped to see a restored 1914-era schoolhouse that also served as a community center, surrounded by displays of mining machinery, old vehicles, and windmills. A crusty desert town, Goffs is a survivor in its own right – one of those places that apparently wouldn’t know how to give up. Once, because it is usually at least 15 degrees cooler than nearby Needles, Goffs was a regular little summer resort. Now, despite double bypass surgery and air conditioning everywhere on the desert, the little town still carries on somehow.

Then ensued a long, hot afternoon crossing the desert – although we realized how easy we have it today (even in the un-air-conditioned Skyliner), when we stopped at a roadside pullout to read a placard providing some insight into what early travelers endured. The pullout was in a spot from which we could see for miles in every direction, nothing but sun-scorched earth. The site marked the previous location of a roadside rest area consisting of four picnic tables, with the concrete anchors still visible. The explanation noted that early travelers took days to cross this section of the desert. Our casual crossing of just a few hours paled by comparison.

This was the area where 50 years ago, the desert meant not death but a chance at life. During WWII, Hitler’s Desert Fox, Erwin Rommel, was loose with his Panzer Corps racing almost unopposed across North Africa toward an unlimited supply of oil needed by the Nazi war machine. If America couldn’t support the beleaguered British there soon, the war would most certainly have been lost. However, General George S. Patton, reared in this part of California, knew that the Mojave was not only similar to North Africa, but could be worse. So he pressed every tank, truck, motorcycle, and reconnaissance aircraft he could find into service as part of his Desert Training Center. Over 2 million men were trained to survive in the 10,000 square miles of desert surrounding us. In the end, the Great Mojave did its job, and Patton and his Second Corps did theirs, sweeping through North Africa as if they knew their way around, with no surprises that their own desert hadn’t already shown them.

Passing Essex, we paused to see a public well that once provided "Free water!" to a thirsty US 66, now dry but still picturesque even – or particularly – in its abandoned state. A few miles west of there began a public art corridor of sorts, where hundreds of passing travelers had written their names with rocks, bottles, and other miscellany, on a dirt berm bordering the highway. We observed these but opted not to stop to add our own highway epitaph. Abandoned buildings, old garages, stations, cabins, cafés, and other shops whose only remnants are low walls, foundations, and cinder-block ruins and graffiti marked the former sites of Danby, Cadiz Summit, and on down the hill, Chambless and East Amboy, with its well-preserved ruins of the Roadrunner’s Retreat Café and Station, sporting an immense neon sign depicting a roadrunner. Apparently Dodge filmed a commercial there in 1988. Further along we came to the Route 66 place said to hold the record for appearances in commercials, videos, and movies, Roy’s Café and Motel in Amboy, begun by Buster Burris in 1938 and billed as "the crustiest, dustiest gas stop on all of Route 66." Tom topped off his tank there, and I treated us all to Route 66 Root Beers before continuing. A large coyote casually sauntered across the highway in front of us before we crossed the railroad tracks.

A little further along, Mom, Dad, and I pulled over to check out Amboy Crater, a National Landmark whose lava flow crossed Route 66 a bit west. We drove in to the site, where Dad and I were disappointed after walking a 100-meter concrete walkway to find... nothing at the end. The place looked newly-developed, so perhaps they’re still in the process of erecting signage. There was a marker near the drive that explained that the crater is the result of 6 distinct periods of eruptions, starting 6000 years ago, with the last as recently as 500 years ago. We would have loved to have hiked across the lava field over to the crater rim, but not in that heat.

We watched for the ruins of Bagdad (inspiration for the film Bagdad Café) between Amboy and Siberia, but never saw the crumbling foundations supposed to be there somewhere. I haven’t yet seen the film, but apparently it presents a tale of human relationships and what kind of endurance and personal responsibility it takes to transform misgivings and self-pity into trust and love, with Old Route 66 offering a way in and a way out, leaving everyone free to choose either direction, with the desert burning away everything else. Sounds interesting; I’ll have to watch it sometime with this day, and this stretch of highway, in mind.

Instead, we proceeded northwest toward Ludlow for a scheduled ice cream treat stop at the Ludlow Café and Coffee Shop, with its genuine display of old mining carts out front and interesting architecture – we could check out a view from inside through angled stained glass windows while enjoying our dishes of ice cream, banana cream pie, and coffee for Dad. Tom and Don opted for a Dairy Queen across the street.

From there we played some vehicle leapfrog (we spotted the Skyliner crossing an overpass above us after the Dairy Queen stop, as we hurried to catch up from the Ludlow Café) as we continued to Newberry Springs, which retains a relic of the former Whiting Brothers Gas Station chain and the current Bagdad Café, a nondescript wooden A-frame structure preserved complete with pumps behind a fence. Next up was Dagget, described as "an aging bridesmaid among railroad towns." It was once a major transshipment point for the borax trade from Calico to the north, apparently featured in reruns of Ronald Reagan hosting Death Valley Days. Local developers at one point learned that the Santa Fe Railway planned a major switching complex there, and they drove the price of land up – but they did so to such an extent that the complex wound up being built at another location instead, at a site given the middle name of the railroad’s president, William Barstow Strong. Now Daggett holds littlel more than a homey general store and the Stone Hotel.

For our own accommodations, we had opted for Barstow’s Route 66 Motel, feeling that appropriate on this, our last night together on the Mother Road. Like so many of the mom-and-pop motels along Route 66, it sported a great neon sign, along with a courtyard display of old cars. Our room in a 1920s-era stucco cabin, was simple and Spartan (not even a phone), but relatively clean and quiet (ironic – despite Barstow owing its very existence to the railroads, with the very location of downtown having been dictated by the Santa Fe in 1925, when the whole place had to be moved to enable the railroad yards to be expanded – this was one place where we did not have trains roaring right past us all night long).

As I mentioned, it had been a difficult, trying day for all of us. Still frustrated with wasting several hours of time for no apparent reason and being rushed around for the express purpose of not seeing what we had come to see, I toyed with the thought of just hopping on a plane back from Barstow. (Earlier in the trip, I might have done so, unwilling to throw time down the drain if only to be wasted going out of our way not to see things – I would rather take my time – yes, even 3 extra minutes here and there – and see what I can, when I have the opportunity; the whole carpe diem concept.) Though teasingly dubbed the "travel Nazi," I was not the one pushing us hard to meet some deadline (much less a secret one, as-yet undisclosed), and I don’t find that an enjoyable way to travel – particularly when doing so forced us to miss out on something we had made such a tremendous effort to see and in which we already had invested so much time. But at this point we had only one day left. We would make Santa Monica tomorrow, and then everyone would be free to rush home to their everyday lives and never have to linger in the desert for a single extra moment to see burros or drink in the experience of someplace new and different.

So... I guess that "3 more minutes" might become a meaningful mantra, similar to the "We were on a break!" recited so often and with such uncomprehending irritation by Ross on the TV show Friends.

When I related the tale later, Bernie’s first question was, "Well, why couldn’t you have just found someplace in the shade for them to sit and wait?" Of course, this made me wail all the more, since that was exactly what I had done, enduring an hour of listening to that aging, Elvis-impersonating karaoke-singing guy inside the restaurant at the Oatman Hotel while eating overpriced mediocre food biding our time... but they then insisted on returning to the blazing sun during the final 15 minutes of our wait. The next comment was that I should have just refused to get in the truck to leave. Tom (and the rest of them) might have been antsy for 3 minutes – but we would have been able to see what we had come for.

Later, when cooler, more rational heads prevailed, Dad also mused that he wished I had just refused to leave Oatman. But that’s the problem – that’s not the way I roll – I would never behave that way, insisting on having my own way regardless of what others might want (and even when my position is, as it was here, supported by reasoned, rational thinking). In hindsight, it would have been better to have behaved that way at least on this occasion (and probably back in Shamrock, Texas – and over in Skagen, Denmark in 2006, and way back on the Great Barrier Reef in 2004)... but I just can’t ever bring myself to run roughshod over others’ feelings. I always wind up putting others first – even when they’re being irrational, and even when it forces me (and sometimes others who are cutting off their nose to spite their face) to make sacrifices – so I’m the one who winds up having to be the bigger person, bite the bullet, and just roll with it. For such people it doesn’t seem to matter that those "once-in-a-lifetime" chances don’t come again, and for those of us to whom it does matter, we are left with the choice of leaving those people behind, or giving up on opportunities because of them, if we choose to keep them in our lives. I’ve always chosen the people over the experiences, but days like today test my patience! Fortunately I’m resilient, and try simply to find the lining in any cloud.

Finding that silver lining in this context, I guess this day helped prove the point that, as they do in real life, the road and the desert tend to strip away all but the bare essentials. Hot, tired, and weary from the road, people begin to show their true grit, with nothing left but character. Some remain determined to accomplish what they have set out to do, while others feel so overwhelmed that they want only to give up and "end it all," as noted in the quoted passage. Our experiences of this day seemed to underscore that point, and our various personalities bore it out to a person: some people wind up being ready to cut and run, succumbing to panic in a moment of heated, hopeless exasperation to such an extent that reason is lost; some are exasperated by that willingness to just give up and go, resilient and still focused on the goal, whatever it might be (that was me – I suppose that in the days of the wild west, I might have been the sheriff who simply shot dead the townsperson who had gone mad with the desert heat and was causing a panic among everyone else and so endangering the town); many fall into the herd mentality, willing to just go along with the path of least resistance offering momentary relief from the desert heat without really thinking through the long-term consequences; and some remain reflective, quiet, persistent, declining to engage in any heated discussions but listening carefully and serving as ambassadors to all in trying to smooth things over and find common ground to continue (like a one-man judge and jury whose advice everyone hears and obeys – that was Don). So in their own way, the road and the desert laid bare our own truest tendencies during our own difficult crossing, teaching us many lessons along the way.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Barstow: Beyond the Desert

Barstow, California. 10:15 pm.

This was a long, hot, hard day for everyone. It’s only 10:00 now in Barstow and I’m feeling refreshed (just out of the shower), but my eyes are so dry from salt, sweat, and heat that they’re burning and crying to close, so I’m going to cut this short, summarizing the day by quoting from one of the travel guides about the mountainous desert region we traversed today (repeatedly, given that we had decided to speed forward to drop off Tom’s car and the camper at Topock and Lake Havasu respectively, then return to Kingman in order to drive the Oatman Highway up and over Sitgreaves Pass to tiny Oatman to see the donkeys and a couple of skits).

"If a major part of your driving time until now has been up on the superslab, you’ll be surprised how quickly civilization fades once you are away from town. There are real beginnings and endings here on old Route 66, and a truer sense of being alone, dependent on your vehicle and the road itself to take you safely through. Along this stretch especially, there’s often the very first glimmer of how it must have been for travelers forty or fifty years ago. As you roll deeper into the desert, a more primitive part of the brain begins to stir. You may find yourself listening more carefully to the engine, checking the gauges, feeling with your hands what’s happening on the road just below. By the time you reach Cool Springs Camp (which is none of those, but only a trashed ruin now) you may even have heard some mechanical notes never audible to you before. Funny how perfectly good engines can sound rough way out here."

... And west of Topock (finally in California), "where the road curves down and away to the right, you’ll get a first look at what lay in wait for the pioneer or the Dust Bowl family. Imagine the feeling: just when you have struggled past the terrible grade west of Needles and believe the worst to be over, you see what must yet be endured.

Out beyond the shimmering, glass-hard desert floor in front of you is another range of mountains, a thousand feet higher than those you just crossed. And beyond them yet another great barrier range, higher still, Peaks to 10,000 feet, some still carrying the snows of winter. Perhaps you tremble a little at the thought of what it will be like to go on. Most did tremble. And some, taking in the seeming endlessness of these trials, just stopped their creaking wagons or steaming old cars and without a word to anyone, walked away into the desert and disappeared. It was not a good end. But it was a way to have it over with, and that’s all some could find for themselves in this merciless place. Just an end to it all."

Yes, "an end to it all" – I’m sure that each one of us was wishing for that at some point or another during this hot, endless day – exhausting even with cars; I guess one faces all sorts of adversity in the desert. But now everyone else is asleep, snoring away, in a stucco cabin at the 1920s Route 66 Motel in Barstow. Tomorrow we’ll reach Santa Monica and the end of the Mother Road. California or bust indeed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

California or Bust!

22 September. Kingman, Arizona, 6am.

The camper has been rocking for the past hour or so as one by one we have begun to stir. For those keeping abreast of our progress, I thought I would share an excerpt from one of the travel guides about what’s in store for us today. (After the logistical maneuvering of dropping off vehicles and campers at points south and west and returning to Kingman to begin our westward progress in earnest). I love this description:

"If you fancy yourself something of a canyon buster, the run over Sitgreaves Pass into Oatman may be just what you’ve been waiting for. Especially if you’ve dreamed of the twisties on the famous Stelvio Road in the Alps, but cannot yet make the fare to Europe.

All right, then, just imagine an alpine road dropped down into the middle of the American desert. Instead of black ice and maniacal Italian bus drivers, here you’ll be dealing with scattered patches of shoulder gravel, rock-hounds in 4x4s, and the occasional band of wide-angle choppers. Still, it’s often said that the highway surface, curves, and gradients are a miniature version of the Stlevio run.

In the old days, when cars and trucks had little power, even in first gear, the only way up the 3,500-foot grade from Oatman east was in reverse – a craft mastered so well by locals that they could do it at top speed, by rearview mirror only, while dangling one arm loosely out the window. So, as you drive these marvelous old switchbacks, imagine how city-bred easterners must have felt when they veered into a blind, cliff-hanging curve, only to encounter some mad local coming full steam up the mountain backward. Commercial laundries at the bottom of the hill must have done a hell of a business."

So... off we go! Talk to you again from California!

Love-n-Laughter, Lori :)

Day 12: Holbrook to Kingman, Arizona

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!

Day 11: Gallup, New Mexico to Holbrook, Arizona

20 September. Holbrook, Arizona. 10pm. [No internet here, so we won’t be able to post this until who-knows-when – but at least I can get up-to-date.]

Executive Summary: Gallup, Painted Desert, Petrified Forest, Holbrook. An easy day distance-wise, though this was our first day encountering heat that approached uncomfortable in the Skyliner sans air conditioning.

Dad and I slept in until after 6:30 this morning, moving to the hotel lobby to relax and visit with the Harley riders as they prepared for their 8am load, briefing, and 8:30 departure. We listened in on their briefing, amused to hear that they would be hitting many of the same sights as we on their way west – although we already knew that our paths won’t likely cross again on this trip. They plan to make Williams tomorrow, where they’ll stay a couple of days to visit the Grand Canyon before heading north into Utah before continuing to Los Angeles via Route 66, reaching Santa Monica Thursday, likely a day behind us. But hopefully we’ll stay in touch with a few of them. They were a fun, friendly group who added greatly to our Route 66 experience!

Mom, Dad, and I left around 8:45 to attend mass at nearby St. Francis church in west Gallup. The church reminded me both of St. Paul’s in Big Rapids (in size and style) and Dolores Church in Austin (in its bilingual congregation and humble atmosphere), and I enjoyed the music: a small group with a keyboard, guitar, and a few voices led by the talented guitarist/singer. They did mostly familiar songs like Sing a New Song and On Eagle’s Wings, and the offertory was the same Servant Song that I first heard and loved earlier this summer in Moose Lake; the singer sang the very harmony that I’ve been hearing in my head when I play it at home!

That song is one that struck an immediate chord with me the first time I heard it; it's one of those pieces that seems to present the perfect marriage of lyrics and music, and I love its haunting simplicity, particularly on the guitar:

Servant Song (Donna Marie McGargill, OSM)
What do you want of me, Lord? Where do you want me to serve you?
Where can I sing your praises? I am your song.
Jesus, you are the Lord. Jesus, you are the way.

I hear you call my name, Lord, and I am moved within me.
Your Spirit stirs my deepest self. Sing your songs in me.
Jesus, you are my Lord. Jesus, you are the way.

Above, below, and around me. Before, behind, and all through me,
Your Spirit burns deep within me. Fire my life with your love.
Jesus, be the warmth of my heart. Jesus, you are the way.

You are the light in my darkness. You are my strength when I’m weary.
You give me sight when I’m blinded. Come see for me.
Jesus, you are my light. Jesus, you are the way.

Returning to the El Rancho, we loaded up the camper and checked out around 10:30, retracing the main street back to an interesting-looking diner that Tom and I had noticed on our way in last night, the Railroad Café. There, we all stuffed ourselves with an enormous breakfast. Tom ordered the "Not for Sissies" combination, about which we all teased him, while my mouth was set aflame by the huevos rancheros, so hot that my lips were burning for an hour afterward. Tom at least finished his breakfast, apparently confirming that he is not a sissy.

Following Route 66 west from Gallup (not entirely intentionally: we had intended to hop on the interstate – something you wouldn’t think should be difficult, but wound up being tricky), we enjoyed a scenic stretch near Manuelito, where the road climbed and clung to the sheer side of Devil’s Cliff, beneath precariously-balanced boulders (held back by a protective mesh fence), after which we drank in a grand view of Route 66 and the Rio Puerco as they squeezed between rugged mesas into Arizona.

We entered harsh but beautiful countryside with clear, unspoiled vistas featuring mountains rising spectacularly from a flattened landscape, visible long before the road finally curved toward them. This felt like true cowboys-and-Indians scenery straight out of a western movie.

The visitors’ center at the state line was anything but welcoming. An unsmiling attendant wordlessly flicked a flyer at me when I cheerfully asked if they had an Route-66-specific information, explaining that we’re taking a Route 66 trip. When I asked for extras for the others in my group, she told me that we could only have three. When Dad went up to ask for one for him and Mom, she asked suspiciously, "Are you part of that group of 5?", demanding that he sign in before she grudgingly flicked another flyer at him. Wow – what a terrible ambassador for the state! I’m sure that Mikey’s mom (now governor of Arizona) would not approve, if she knew!
So – without any real additional information about Arizona other than a rude impression of unfriendliness – we continued on the interstate a ways, passing Lupton, Allantown, Sanders, Houch, Chambers, and Goodwater, deciding to make straight for the nearby National Park (you can never go wrong with those, no matter what state they’re in!). There we spent the next few hours happily exploring the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest. The park rangers were friendly, the literature was helpful, and the scenery was spectacular. After our first awed glimpse from Tiponi Point, we walked the short Desert Rim trail from Tawa Point to Kachina Point, from which I sauntered back to drive up in Tom’s car, followed by Mom (who had stayed behind to rest in the truck, out of the hot sun) to pick up the Stich brothers. Continuing on around the northern loop of the park road, we stopped to take in the views at Pintado Point, Nizhoni Point, Whipple Point, and Lacey Point, as well as at a Route 66 marker. There, we were overtaken by a tourbus full of older folks more eager to photograph Tom’s car than anything else. A shout went up when he humored them by putting the top down, and the cameras were still clicking as we rolled away, waving merrily and feeling like movie stars. Our next stop in the park was Puerco Puebla, a partially-stabilized 100-room pueblo built about 1250 that may have housed nearly 1200 people, with a short trail offering wayside exhibits and petroglyph views. Next, we used spotting scopes to see hundreds of petroglyphs etched into stone at Newspaper Rock, paused to photograph the Tepees (layered blues, purples, and grays created by iron, carbon, manganese, and other minerals in cone-shaped formations), and drove the Blue Mesa loop overlooking views of b adlands, log falls, and pedestal logs. One highlight was the Agate Bridge, the result of water eroding rock under a 110-foot-long petrified log. In 1911 a concrete support was added to support the "bridge," and a concrete beam was placed under it, supporting it effortlessly for nearly 90 years. A sign nearby explained that if the log were to be discovered today, it would be left in its natural state rather than supported, which I found interesting. Another lookout provided views down over Jasper Forest, where the erosion of a high rocky bluff has left hundreds of petrified logs, once encased in the bluff, strewn across the valley below.

Farther along, the Crystal Forest and Trail took us on an easy paved trail through a moonscape-like landscape of exquisitely colorful petrified logs that once held glassy amethyst and quartz crystals. The petrification process occurs when silica-laden sediment filters through fallen timber, encasing organic matter with minerals over time. I was disheartened to read accounts by early pioneers about how they blithely packed out as much of the petrified forest as they could carry; some actually used dynamite to blast apart giant logs into smaller, more manageable pieces. And I was disgusted by thoughtless fellow tourists who even today (literally – while we were there!) continue to endanger the place by deviating from the clearly-marked trails and handling the petrified wood. Before leaving, we made one more stop at the southern visitors’ center and walked part of the Giant Logs Trail to see the park’s largest log, known as "Old Faithful," behind the museum.

It had been a hot afternoon in the Skyliner, which has no AC, and Tom was especially eager for "Miller Time," noting, "It’s 5:00 somewhere." (We had been discussing our having changed time zones upon crossing into Arizona, which doesn’t recognize daylight savings time and as a result is on Pacific Standard Time during the summer.)

It wasn’t far from the National Park to Holbrook; an easy 15-minute drive along state Highway 180 to the northwest. There we would be splurging tonight to stay at the wonderful Wigwam Motel #6, one of seven Tepee-styled motels, the brain child of Frank Redford. The 1950 wigwams have a steel frame covered with wood, felt, and canvas under a cement stucco exterior. Each wigwam is 14 feet in diameter at the base and 32 feet tall. They proved to be bigger – far bigger! – on the inside than they look. I lamented that we all could comfortably have stayed in a single teepee rather than spending twice the money on two – but it was a fun splurge, and a nice treat for everyone to have their own bed for the first time on this trip.

An older woman named Elleanor whose native American dress seemed to blend perfectly into the atmosphere of the Wigwam Motel greeted me when we arrived to check in. The Wigwam Motel apparently has been owned by the original family since the teepees were built in 1950, and many of the family’s old cars are parked by the Wigwams to add a 50's feel. Dad observed that that added as much to the place as did the teepees themselves, perhaps even more.

The Wigwam Village was everything I had hoped it would be, and more. The 5 of us pulled around benches and a table and happily passed a couple of hours relaxing in front of one of our teepees, enjoying the cooling afternoon, the views of the teepees, and each other. We toasted another great day – and laughed heartily (if ruefully) when we realized that there were train tracks about 100 meters behind the Wigwam Village; we counted 7 trains passing during just the first hour and a half we sat there, wondering how often they would rumble past during the night. We noted that the ground shook when they did so.

As the beer flowed, I enjoyed listening to Dad and his brothers reminiscing about old cars, old friends, and old times, from Dad’s memories of living in a Moorhead dorm on a floor with a bunch of Korean vets matriculating pursuant to the GI bill who mixed screwdrivers using an inverted light fixture as a bowl, which they passed around with plenty of vodka and very little orange juice; to Tom’s experience somewhere in the southeast where he swam everyday in a lake infested at night by water moccasins that spent the day up in trees overhanging the water – which he learned only after having spent many an afternoon swimming beneath them, blissfully unaware. All three of them have a plethora of hilarious stories to share, which they tend to freely do when the day on the road ends and they have a chance to relax together.

I luxuriated under a scalding-hot shower with great water pressure in a bathroom and shower that felt enormous after the one last night, and I’m now sitting here typing in bed with the wigwam door wide open to let in the cool evening air. Everyone else is long asleep, as I soon will be as well – and it’s only 11pm! I’m excited at the prospect of getting some extra sleep, feeling exhausted from too many late nights and early mornings in a row: I tend to be awake a couple of hours after everyone else, and to waken when the first of our group stirs each morning.

Tonight everyone has their own queen beds: Tom and Don in teepee #5, Mom and me in teepee #4, and Dad in the camper. He voluntarily went over there to sleep so that Mom could sleep, since she complained about having been unable to do so because of his snoring last night. So I’m amused now as I listen to in the bed across from mine, snoring right now. But it won’t bother me – and she needs a good night’s sleep: she’s been battling a cold for most of the trip, which cannot be fun at all on the road. She’s starting to sound better, though, with a less scratchy voice, and an improving mood; hopefully she’s on the mend and a good night’s sleep will put her over the hump.

A short while ago I spoke with Bernie, who is going to try to meet up with us next weekend and at this very moment is trying to coordinate tickets to Vegas and a rental car to traverse the 115 miles from there to Lake Havasu, where we’ll be heading with Don, Dianne, and their kids and grandkids after we reach Los Angeles. It should make for a great weekend all around to cap off an already-great adventure. I can’t wait!

I feel some distress at the poor quality of the writing of most of these entries – I don’t imagine they’re a picnic to read. We’re going so long each day (and my laptop battery is dead, meaning that I can only use it when actually plugged in) that there’s no opportunity to put anything down en route, so I find myself at the end of these days, already exhausted and reeling with sensory shock, mostly just trying to catalogue a list of what we’ve seen and done – if only to help us sort out the hundreds of pictures we’re going to have between us by the end later, when the long line of Mom-and-Pop motels, cottage gas stations, peeling signposts, neon lights, pavement markings, and panoramic vistas will inevitably tend to blur together. Already we have several times found ourselves trying to recall whether a particular incident occurred in Illinois – or was it Missouri? – that seems so long ago... Even sitting in church this morning, it took me a moment to remember where we were for mass last week (Marshfield, Illinois, the hometown of Dr. Edwin Hubble). We’ve come quite a way since then!

This trip is shaping up fine logistically, which is a huge relief to me. As our numbers shrank before our departure, I wound up backing off from my initial inclination to carefully plan the details of each day’s itinerary: with changing numbers, it was impossible to make reliable reservations, etc., and with the group becoming smaller instead of larger and this being the off-season, my instinct was that it should be okay to sort of go on the fly (something I much prefer when traveling alone, but often impossible with any size of a group). So we’ve been winging it, most of the time not firming up a day’s plans until the night before. Everyone in the group is easy-going enough that that works, especially since we don’t have a lot of preconceived notions of things we definitely must do – or when we do, they tend to jive. I found myself particularly relieved that today shaped up so nicely with us all enjoying the National Park so much, making our 90-mile target travel distance too short to feel like a full day. But it wound up feeling just right, and it was a nice treat to finish early with plenty of time to enjoy simply hanging around the Wigwam Village – which, after all, is one of the highlights of the entire trip; perhaps the one thing that everyone had in mind as a thing-to-do before we even began.

We passed 2000 miles today since the Route 66 starting point in downtown Chicago; Dad announced the milestone as we were driving the Blue Mesa loop in the Petrified Forest National Park. Obviously our Route 66 trip will be longer mileage-wise than a straight shot without deviations, given our many detours and backtracks (intentional or not). Hard to believe we’ve come that far already! Longer-than-original or not, I can’t imagine the early travelers coming so far by horseback, wagon, or on foot...

Day 10: Albuquerque, New Mexico to Gallup, New Mexico

19 September. Gallup, New Mexico. Midnight.

Executive Summary: Albuquerque, Isleta Pueblo, Grants, Gallup. 1:30 start; 6:30 finish; 184 miles. Another great day: time with friends and views from Sandia Peak, fascinating uranium mining museum in Grants, gorgeous red rocks scenery en route to Gallup, and an evening catching up with roadtrip friends at the historic El Rancho Hotel. We’re all crammed into the Jackie Cooper room (#117 – they’re all named after movie stars who’ve stayed here in the past while on site for various movies). Everyone else is long asleep already, and I’m about to join them on a droopy little cot next to the bathroom.

I slept like a rock at Doc and Kathy’s, wakening around 6am and relaxing in bed another hour before rising to visit with them and the uncles while awaiting everyone’s readiness for our morning activities. Doc and Kathy wanted to take me for a run/hike up Sandia Peak, atop which we would meet everyone else (they would take the tram up) for lunch at 11:00. We left around 8:45, driving to a parking area for the La Luz Trail. We spent the next 2 hours ascending Sandia Peak, enjoying amazing views out over Albuquerque, then looking down over the clouds, and finally prancing through a fairly-like mist closer to the peak. Doc and Kathy, both having found each other later in life, are blissfully matched, and both sincerely enjoy working out and staying fit; it was fun to visit with both of them as we made our way up the trail, catching up and discussing topics ranging from all of our divorce experiences to fitness regimes to weightlifting.

I spent much of the climb kicking myself for not having brought along my camera. The views were incredible, and I would have loved to have preserved a few of them in pictures, as well as to get some shots of the 3 of us on the trail. We did run into some friendly hikers from the area who patiently agreed to take a few pictures of us on their camera, promising to send them via email later. None of us had along a pen or pencil to write down email addresses, but one of them thought to use her cell phone to save the info, and I feel sure that she’ll follow through.

Dad was waiting when we emerged from the trail to snap our pictures; then we joined the rest of the group at the restaurant, called High Finance. The fog by then had rolled in so thickly that it enveloped the entire peak, obscuring any view, but we enjoyed a big lunch before catching a tram down, glad to note that the clouds were thinning enough to get some view before doing so.

All 7 of us crammed into the Skyliner together to retrieve Doc and Kathy’s car from the trailhead before returning to their place to pick up Mom and Dad’s rig and the rest of our stuff. We said our goodbyes and were on our way, dropping south on Tramway to connect to Central Avenue and resume our westward progress along Route 66. There, local revitalization projects have done wonders in preserving and maintaining charming shops and businesses in the downtown area. There was almost too much to absorb in the hustle and bustle as we zoomed along Central past numerous still-operating diners and cafes, although motel properties have fared less well – but places like the De Anza, El Vado, and La Posada are well kept, and we had fun spotting the 1931 Aztec Motel, the giant lumberjack-style axe-man giant south of Louisiana, and various vintage business facades in the Nob Hill Historic district, marked at each end by gateway arches. Slowing in heavy traffic near the fairgrounds, we realized that the state fair was underway.

Heading south on I-25, we made our way next to Isleta Pueblo, an enchanting mission church and plaza on reservation land. The whitewashed adobe of the mission towered cool and majestic over its surroundings, where the locals were wise enough to stay inside out of the heat, their faces peering curiously at us through windows in the single-story adobe buildings surrounding the mission church.

I had thought that the mining museum at Grants sounded interesting, and everyone else seemed interested as well, so I called ahead during our drive south to Isleta – dismayed to learn that the museum would close at 4pm. It was now 2:30, and we were a good 80 miles away, and with tentative plans to follow a southwesterly loop from Albuquerque before turning northwest back up to I-40 and continuing west to Grants. A quick conference over the walkie-talkies, and we decided to revise that plan, doing an about-face after Isleta Pueblo to turn due north, retracing our path back up to Albuquerque and shooting west on I-40, making tracks for Grants. We would miss out on Los Lunas and Correo, but according to the guide books and the maps we had obtained from the state chamber of commerce, there wasn’t a lot to see that direction anyway, so we decided to make the trade-off.

The next hour was nail-biting as I constantly monitored our progress and watched the clock, calculating how long it would take us to reach Grants. I called back to the warm-sounding woman who answered the phone at the mining museum, keeping her updated of our progress and eventually pleading with her to keep the doors open a little longer for us. She cheerfully agreed to do so, and when we arrived, she greeted us warmly – and didn’t even charge us admission, since we would have to hurry through the exhibits (although they wound up making more from us than they would have through admission fees, since everyone dropped more in the donation box than they would have collected in fees).

Even as we drove in hurried suspense, we couldn’t help but observe the changing landscape around us. New Mexico’s people are drawn to earth-toned adobe homes and buildings incorporating Pueblo Revival, Southwest Vernacular, and Streamlined Moderne architectural styles. Heading west from the Albuquerque area, we noticed an endless sea of brown stucco/adobe houses that all looked alike, so much that Tom observed ironically that it might be tough to find your house if you came home after having a few too many drinks!

This day illustrated for us New Mexico’s cultural, topographical, and vegetative diversity: it is a place wide-shouldered enough to encompass the distant mesas of the high desert and the towering peaks of the southern Rockies; a land where Ponderosa and pinon pine and juniper trees bask beneath flawlessly blue skies in brilliant sunshine, mild winters, and low humidity, and it accommodates a burgeoning multi-cultural population.

The New Mexico Mining Museum proved to be well worth the effort to get there (at which I was immensely relieved, having felt like I sort of pushed the rest of the group into it based on my own mere inclination to want to get there). We began with a 12-minute video presentation providing an overview of the uranium mining process and explaining its efficiency in processing 4 pounds per ton of uranium into 86% of usable fuel in the finished product. Cold war era uranium mining was big in this region, and the facility provided us a glimpse at a typical mine (one story underground) in addition to fossil and Route 66 exhibits. We learned that the Ambrosia Lake mining area extended from Grants all the way east to Laguna, which we had passed during our westward zoom along I-40 (noticing its picturesque San Jose Mission on a village hilltop there). Going underground into the mine, we were treated to great audio-visual exhibits that walked us through the entire mining process from drilling to extraction in an extremely well-organized and well-implemented presentation.

Back upstairs we visited at some length with the docent, who introduced herself as Sarah Webb and proved extremely knowledgeable and as interesting and informative as the museum itself. She encouraged us to read about the 1979 Church Rock disaster, discussing the ongoing controversy regarding continued mining in the area and the competing concerns raised by tribal elders of the Navajo nation, understandably concerned about health and safety issues raised by reported elevated levels of certain cancers and other illnesses in addition to direct exposures and mining accidents, vs. the 50% unemployment rate on the reservation and the many tribal members who would love to be able to work at the jobs that mining could provide. I admired the way she spoke openly, yet fairly and objectively, about a topic that must be sensitive to everyone in the area and easy to take sides – and she inspired all of us to want to learn more about the local situation. What a wonderful ambassador not only for the museum, but for this area, the mining industry, and the entire state of New Mexico!

From Grants we were able to proceed at a more leisurely pace for the rest of the afternoon, rolling past Prewitt (spotting a small building covered in hubcaps, home to "Swap Meet 66"), Thoreau (pronounced "threw" by locals), in which all that remains is the faded facade of the Thunderbird Bar, bearing the remnants of a faded mural of a flying hawk and pink cliffs and proclaiming its elevation (7263 feet) and location, and on to the Continental Divide, where we stopped to take a group photo in front of the signpost marking 7275 feet elevation.
The final run into Gallup provided a breathtaking panorama of colorful rock cliffs and spires including the easily-identifiable Church Rock and numerous red rock formations all along the way.

I was excited to see Gallup, a town that might seem uninteresting if not in the context of a Route 66 journey. One of the guidebooks enticed, "More than most cities on the highway, Gallup maintains a sense of the Route 66 era. Little has been lost . . . Gallup has something few other places on Route 66 can claim – a longtime Hollywood connection. From Redskin, filmed in 1929, to the more recent adventures of Superman, the Gallup area has provided unequaled movie scenery. And El Rancho Hotel, now beautifully and responsibly restored, was the on-location home to stars like Tracy and Hepburn, Bogart, Hayworth, Flynn, and Peck. A production designer’s dream, the hotel at first looks like an architectural collision between Mount Vernon and a backlot set for Viva Villa. There’s even an Uncle Remus Wishing Well out front. Still, the overall effect is both inviting and absolutely right. How could it be otherwise?"

Entering Gallup, we saw the sharp, slanted ridge of the Hogback slashing across the east end of the town. That barrier, breached naturally at this point, apparently made the city a cold war nuke target during the heat of the Cold War, when it was realized that a single bomb could take out US 66, the railroad, pipelines, and communications. Despite the cold war’s passing, there remains much evidence there of old 66, including many old motels with nice neon like the Blue Spruce, the Lariat, and the famous 1937 El Rancho Hotel – at which we had a reservation for one of the rooms, all of which are named after movie star guests. It was easy to understand why so many westerns were filmed here, from the curving twin staircases to the second-floor balcony overlooking its impressive lobby, massive stone fireplace, enormous longhorns, and heavy carved wooden trim everywhere. I loved it immediately, and was thrilled that we were staying.

Our friends since Amarillo’s Big Texan, the group of 44 Harley riders, were there as well: we saw their bikes clustered under a portico near where we parked out front, and several of them wandered over to say hello while we enjoyed a picnic dinner at a table in a pleasant courtyard just outside the hotel, next to the wooden wishing well. Tom, Don, and I headed across the street to stock up on beer and fine wine (Boone’s Farm) while Mom & Dad set out cheese, crackers, and other assorted munchies, and all of us lingered until after dark, enjoying our snack, the pleasant evening air, our British friends, and each other’s company (most of the time). :) We did have one of those it’s-funny-later-but-not-at-the-time moments when Dad started arguing with me for no reason; I pointed out that I didn’t appreciate it; with an ensuing fairly heated argument over whether there was anything to argue about in the first place.

All of us also engaged in a discussion that has been ongoing most of this trip, debating "to crush or not to crush," referring to the aluminum cans we’ve been emptying of their pop and beer contents. Michigan has a 10¢ deposit on each one – but that’s available only when the can is intact. Since they’ll be driving back to Michigan at the end of this trip anyway (and with plenty of space!), most of us see no reason not to save the cans for the refund. Dad – ever the moral stickler – doesn’t feel like he should collect a deposit that he didn’t pay on cans purchased in other states. Tom and Don are accustomed to simply tossing their cans: in California, the trash is sorted to remove the recyclables, while Tom gave up on sorting at all at his home in Minnesota after watching the trash and recycles being picked up by the same company... and dumped into the same bin. Regardless, we all immensely enjoyed giving Dad a hard time about throwing away 10¢ repeatedly.

We toasted another great day and those yet to come. From here we should have another easy day on to Holbrook, then a few tougher ones as we press westward toward Kingman, Oatman, Barstow, and eventually, Los Angeles. No more homestays with friends along the way; it’ll be just the 4 of us from here – although Don mentioned that his son Brian is interested in meeting us upon our arrival at Santa Monica, which would be fun! I bought pink champagne so that we’ll be prepared to properly celebrate the occasion. :)

We all agree that as interesting as the sights and places we’ve seen and been have been the people along the way, from Paul Adams greeting us in Atlanta, Illinois to Robin Webb at the New Mexico Mining Museum and everyone else along the way. It has been especially heartwarming to be taken into the homes of several friends along the way, reminding me of one of my favorite Bible verses, from Hebrews 13:2: "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." I certainly am not (by any means!) saying that we are angels – but these people along the way (Brad & Monica in Chicago, Mark & Leslie in Oklahoma City, Steve & Cindy in Elk City, Larry & Jeré in Amarillo, and Doc & Kathy in Albuquerque) who have unhesitatingly opened their hearts and homes to a group of five traveling strangers are demonstrating precisely the kind of golden-rule kindness and Good Samaritan generosity for which I believe we all should strive. If everyone treated one another so well, our world would be a better, brighter place for sure... and I feel fortunate to have encountered so many people who are so open of heart and mind as to befriend me as a stranger – and proud to introduce such people to my family, and vice-versa.

Greetings from Gallup

20 September. Gallup, New Mexico. 8am (Just a quick note)

Sunday morning: we’re about to see off our new friends, a group of 44 Harley-Davidson riders from England, with whom we’ve been crossing paths since the Big Texan in Amarillo. Then we plan to go to mass here in Gallup and have breakfast – maybe at a cool-looking railroad restaurant we saw just up the street.

We’ll have an easy drive today: only about 90 miles, to Holbrook, Arizona, where we’ll be staying at the Wigwam Village (the motel set up to look like teepees – can’t wait!) Hopefully there we’ll have time to get you updated on our progress since Tucumcari. For now, suffice to say that it’s continuing to be a great trip: despite pouring rain in Santa Fe, we had a great visit with friends in Albuquerque and a scenic drive west among the red rock mountains across the border into Arizona, where we’re staying at another classic hotel, the famous El Rancho.

Sure wish I could download some pictures to post. Tom’s care already is the star of tons of other people’s scrapbooks; the ‘59 Skyliner is a huge hit wherever we go!

Talk to y’all from Holbrook!

Day 9: Tucumcari to Albuquerque, New Mexico

18 September. Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Executive Summary: Tucumcari, Santa Rosa, Bernal, Pecos, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. 7:30 start; 6pm finish; 269 miles. Midnight, and I’m so exhausted that I can hardly keep my eyes open, so I’m calling it a night. I’ll update tomorrow and try to get some sleep in the meantime.

We all had agreed last night to try to get an early start this morning for what might be a long day mileage-wise, at least compared to our last several days (we predicted upward of 220 miles, plus detours). Dad and I were both awake and ready to go not long after 6am, but we waited patiently another hour to let everyone else sleep awhile. Since we had an internet connection, I wanted to review with the group the draft blog posts for the past 2 days, but since that would prove too time-consuming (let’s face it; these are long-winded), we unanimously decided to just throw the post on the web and get going, which we did shortly before 7:30 am. However, before we left, we provided some great entertainment for the handsome motel owner (who wanted me to write that – hi, Bill! :) ), who strolled over to see what we were up to. It must be fun for him and his wife, Terry, to meet a new group of assorted guests every day. Tom and I had observed that he spent a good deal of the afternoon coordinating parking for the motel’s guests, which he did in a limited space with great diligence and skill.

First up today was breakfast in Santa Rosa, but of course we took some detours on the way. Opting to follow the scenic / authentic road at least from Palomas to Montoya, That proved unwise. Rolling past farmers readying for their workday and cows lying or grazing next to the road – but of which gazed right back at us with curiosity – we marveled at how close the old Route 66 hugged the edge of the interstate right-of-way, seeming almost to hang right over it in places. A short bit along, the road turned suddenly muddy, a soft, red mud that looked treacherous. Encountering the first such spot, we stopped to take a closer look before attempting to drive it. Tom was okay taking the Skyliner through, so we proceeded; both he and Dad were marvelously skillful at maneuvering their large vehicles through that muddy spot and the nearby interstate underpass, which seemed a particularly tight squeeze for the camping rig. We continued through a couple of low-water crossings (one dry; one somewhat wet), but the third one stopped us dead. Wide and seemingly impassable, it was clear that the locals took a little off-road detour up and across the muddy shoulder, but none of us felt too comfortable with that notion, all envisioning ourselves spending the day trying to get un-stuck from that mud. So we (carefully!) turned around and headed back up the same road down which we had just come, likely to the great amusement of those (both farmers and cows) who had watched us merrily head out that way in the first place. As we buzzed on past a few minutes later on the interstate, we noticed that the department of transportation was already on the scene, unloading a Caterpillar likely to be moving around some dirt to fill in some of those low-water crossings.

We stayed put on the interestate, thus forced to skip Montoya, Newkirk, and Cuervo (three "dear but near-death towns, strung out like amulets on an antique Spanish chain") entirely, all the way west to Santa Rosa, another Route 66 icon that, unlike Tucumcari, needed little advertising, benefitting from the weather: "Presumably more people have been snowbound in Santa Rosa than in an other place on old Route 66 west of St. Louis. The old road, with its tail-twisting route, was far more difficult than the newer highway to keep clear. And with snow-removal equipment at a premium in this desert state, folks caught in blizzard conditions around here tended to stay put. . . That’s usually when they discovered that Santa Rosa wasn’t such a bad spot in which to be stranded." We stopped for breakfast, selecting (as much by chance as by choice) Joseph’s Bar & Grill, where their "Fat Man’s" friendly face has grinned for 53 years since 1956, serving up good food and live music – same family, same care for the traveler. When we asked our waitress whether she was part of the family that owned the place, she scoffed and told us candidly that she wouldn’t be working if she was.

Known as the "city of natural lakes," Santa Rosa features an 86-foot-deep sinkhole called the Blue Hole, its most famous artesian lake and a SCUBA diving haven. I was keen to see it (and would have liked to have gone diving in it, or at least for a quick dip – but we hadn’t the time for the former, and I thought it too cold for the latter; I would have been chilly the rest of the day), and it didn’t disappoint; a gorgeous little oasis of inviting blue water with pleasant surroundings and divers going down even as we arrived. Sadly, we had to be on our way, but we did see a cool stone water fountain sculpture on the town square on our way out.

There are two options for crossing New Mexico: the later, more direct alignment that is almost entirely interstate, heading due west from Santa Rosa through Milagro, Clines Corners, and Moriarty before reaching Albuquerque, or an older, more round-a-bout northern route. We chose this "Santa Fe Loop," which meant that we turned off the interstate at I40 exit 218 to head north by slightly northwest toward Las Vegas. We turned again sharply southwest just short of Romeroville (8 miles south of Vegas), following Route 66 on what is now mostly I-25 frontage. On the way north we were treated to pleasant mesa views, and some scenic ruins where the old Route 66 joins highway 285 in Dilia. North to Romeroville, we rose and fell with the now-mountainous terrain, pausing to photograph a charming concrete post bridge in a quiet canyon between there and Tecolote. We exited at Bernal to follow a short paved dead-end road to a 1916-era church with Starvation Peak, a tragic Santa Fe landmark, haunting the background. There, we found the church itself locked, but encountered something perhaps more interesting in the cemetery outside, where a worker was fashioning a headstone that will be shaped like a railroad locomotive. He clearly had put in a great deal of thought and workmanship on it already for the deceased – a railroad man who had been his friend – and we felt privileged to be able to view this work in progress. When he told us that it should be finished next week, we decided we should detour through here in order to see it, on our way back from California. Lucky us: unlike the early Route 66 travelers (or many of us, at most points in our lives!), we have the luxury of knowing that we shall pass this way again!

Continuing north and west, we stopped next at Pecos National Historic Park, an interesting park that is home to the ruins of a pueblo and mission church, where the Pecos Pueblo stood five stories high around 1100 A.D. We walked a short mission ruins trail that took us to see the remains of a pueblo mission church and parts of the pueblo itself: desolate, windswept adobe ruins in an amazingly beautiful site, flanked by the tree-covered Glorieta Mesa to one side and other mesas to the other, with pleasantly-rolling fields between. The Pueblo Indians apparently weren’t thrilled about the attempt to convert them to Christinity; no wonder that they eventually massacred the interlopers in around 1700 A.D.!

We spent some time walking the Pecos ruins and reading the loaner guide about the mission’s rise and fall, and we learned from the park ranger that it had been raining in the area for a week – which explained the washed-out, muddy roads we had encountered earlier.

This area saw some heavy civil war action at Glorieta Pass, and we searched in vein for the Glorieta Battlefield, site of a pivotal civil war battle in which Union troops ambushed a railroad train and seized vital supplies in March 1862. I had been fascinated to learn this, not having realized that the civil war was fought this far west – and I certainly didn’t recognize the name of the battle here! So I was disappointed not to be able to find the site – although we did discover an attractive Baptist convention center on the site of where most of the tourist literature indicated that the battle would have been fought.

Next up was the Glorieta Pass, at over 7500 feet, the highest point on pre-1937 Route 66. From there we plunged down toward Canoncito and Santa Fe, stopping to see a Santa Fe Trail Marker (Route 66 follows several highways through New Mexico: the El Camino Real, the Old Santa Fe Trail, the Ozark Trail, and the National Old Trails) and a Nuestra Senora de la Luz church at Canoncito – a Spanish-style adobe structure with a wistful-looking hillside cemetery of wooden crosses – before continuing toward Santa Fe through some amazing views.

A detour forced us to reroute south and west before returning to the Old Pecos Trail and then the Santa Fe Trail into downtown. With some difficulty (which surprised us; we would have thought that they would want to encourage people to drop off vehicles and walk around to spend money!) we found parking for both vehicles near the visitors’ center, stopping there to pick up maps and advice before setting out on foot for a downtown walking tour. I inquired about the oldest church, house, and bell in the United States, the Loretto chapel, the End of the Trail monument, the 1867 soldiers’ monument, La Bajada, and a local place where we might find ice cream. The gentleman stuck answering my questions provided us with a map but little else: he didn’t recognize La Bajada (an interesting part of old Route 66, where a pre-1966 road carved a long gash across a slope to a treacherous series of switchbacks that can still be hiked today, west of town) and the oldest bell, but was able to point out most of the other places on a map – although (flashbacks to Lebanon, Missouri, another town lacking local ice cream treats) he said there were no local places where we would be able to get ice cream, suggesting a Baskin Robbins near the Plaza. Wow, I never realized that ice cream was such a rarity at local establishments!

I have to confess to being disappointed with Santa Fe, which struck me as way too over-commercialized; not at all the down-to-earth, semi-granola community I had imagined. I had never been there before, and had envisioned an artsy, laid-back town of friendly, creative, down-to-earth people, some old west atmosphere, and heavy Mexican influence. I was unimpressed. We drove into town via a lengthy street lined with one kitchy souvenir shop or purported artistic gallery after another, all eagerly touting wares for sale rather than celebrating New Mexico’s beauty or art in general. And the man at the visitors’ center seemed most eager to direct me to an 8-block stretch of road apparently packed with more shops! Then everywhere we went, we were underwhelmed by the sights we had come to see, but overwhelmed with the hard-sell. We skipped the Mission Church altogether, after I realized that (in addition to charging admission!) they required visitors to actually pass through the gift shop in order to enter the church. We all coughed up the $3 to enter the Loretto Chapel and see the miraculous staircase, built with 37 steps and two complete 360-degree circles but without any support or nails. A canned 9-minute audio told us its history and that of the chapel surrounding it, now privately owned and part of a spa complex – and adjoining a mini mall of souvenir shops. Santa Fe’s downtown Plaza was so tightly packed with souvenir stores that it was difficult even to see through to the plaza itself, on which we decided to pass, not having the stomach to run the gauntlet of vendors. I was disappointed not to see the End of the Trail marker there – but the weather pretty much spelled out the end of the trail for us, with a cloudburst hitting while we were in the Loretto Chapel. I volunteered to run back and return with the pickup to pick up the rest of the group so that one instead of five would become soaked. After fetching everyone else, we decided to get out of downtown and make straight for Albuquerque, and skip La Bajada, which sounded interesting to me but was unfamiliar both to Doc (who lives less than an hour away) and to the man at the visitors’ center right there in town – perhaps it isn’t as interesting as I had been lead to believe by all the guidebooks... Although I wondered about this, noting that the vistas as we descended from Santa Fe toward Albuquerque were spectacular.

Instead, we hopped on the interstate, following I-25 south. Making amazing time on the freeway from Santa Fe, we reached Doc & Kathy’s place in the northern Albuquerque suburbs by 6pm. I know them through Bernie, who worked with Doc before they left Colorado Springs, relocating here, several years ago. I hadn’t seen them in many months, and this seemed a perfect opportunity not only for me to catch up with them, but to be able to introduce them to my family. And I knew that the Stich brothers would be fascinated by Doc’s rocketry work – with which he indeed fascinated Dad, Tom, and Don after dinner by showing them his current project, complete with video footage of a recent launch.

We had intended to treat them to dinner someplace in Albuquerque, but when I asked Doc for a recommendation, he told me that we were going to eat "at a really nice restaurant... in there," pointing to their house. They must have been hard at work all afternoon, because we entered to find appetizers awaiting: we sipped and nibbled on wine, beer, cheese & crackers, fresh fruit, and chips and salsa, seated around a table on their back terrace with a gorgeous view up Sandia Peak on the slopes of which their neighborhood is nestled. Moving inside to the dining room, we feasted on a delicious banquet of corn on the cob, ribs (Dad’s all-time favorite!), rolls, and assorted vegetables, topped off by some kind of German chocolate cake that was delicious but so rich that I thought I would burst.

They didn’t think it would work to leave the camper in the street overnight, so Mom and Dad drove it to a nearby casino and slept in it in a parking lot there. Meanwhile, Tom & Don (who would stay in the guest room) and I (an air mattress in the office) decided to watch Jay Leno with Doc & Kathy... but we all were falling asleep, and decided to call it a night before midnight.

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