Saturday, June 9, 2012

Kicks: Day Sixteen (Twists, turns, and donkeys)

Before I get to any of that, first are some pictures for Cousin Shane. He wrote to me to be sure to check out the Santa Fe Railroad engine, car, and caboose on display in Kingman and to think of his Dad, because his Dad loved that train and always wanted to stop and see it. I had already done so—I remember how much his Dad loved trains, so I’ve thought about him a lot on this trip—but  this morning, before we left Kingman, we made sure to stop and get pictures. For Shane and John.

Then we were on our way out of Kingman, with our main activity today the drive and visit to Oatman. After a straight shot out of Kingman through some drier and more desert-like terrain, we began the climb into the Black Mountains. I’ve heard from numerous people that this stretch of Road is pretty wild, and they weren’t kidding! My guidebook says that no trucks over 40 feet are allowed on this stretch (and it’s posted), and recommends that large RVs not attempt it. I second that emotion, STRONGLY. I can’t imagine trying to take a large vehicle up this stretch of Road.

I’ve been on some twisty roads in my life, most notably through part of the Great Smoky Mountains and back roads in Georgia, as well as the Pacific Coast Highway. I’ve never seen anything like this stretch of Route 66! Frequent hairpin turns, with steep inclines both going up and coming down. Loops that double back, but with a really tight turning gradual, graceful turns here, just unbelievably tight turns with a speed limit of 10 mph posted on those sections. No or minimal guard rails (thank goodness for that 6-inch high rock wall...I’m sure that would keep a car from going over!), and precipitous drops to the canyon floor. It was awesome! I told Ken that I’m glad I’m not afraid of roads like that, because they make for some really amazing drives. This was one of the funnest and coolest—I might even say THE coolest—stretches that we’ve encountered.

I hadn’t seen a whole lot in the way of cactus so far, other than prickly pear (and we even have that in Indiana), but today I saw two little barrel cacti up on a hillside. They looked kind of lonely, but they were blooming, so I guess they were doing okay! There were some interesting rock formations along the way, including one that we both thought looked like a face. Signs caution to watch for both burros and big horn sheep, which are occasionally seen on the road. We didn’t run across (or run into) any, but we saw frequent deposits that indicated they had been in the area!

On the way up, we went through a place called Goldroad, where there were gold mines. It looks like they were still mining for something there, and although a few people suggested a tour of the mine, I didn’t see where they were still offering tours to visitors. They may have stopped that. Sadly, there were no good places to pull off on this particularly twisty section, because there were remains of the original mining town from the 1800s. I saw several remnants of stone walls...can you imagine what life must have been like for a miner living in that tiny town in the 1800s?

One of the things we found going up (mentioned in my guidebook, but Ken spotted them before I did) was steps cut into the rock. These went up to what is called Shaffer’s Fish Bowl Springs, a basin someone made to collect the water that seeps from the rock there. It was pretty dry when we got up there, except for a couple of spots of moisture on the rock wall, but looking back at the way we had come offered some amazing views. It was an easy climb, and the view was well worth it!
We finally got closer to Oatman, and there were several trailers and small structures (I think they still do mining there, too) on the outskirts of this small town. It was more than a little surprising to cruise into the town itself and see all kind of cars and motorcycles parked, lots of people milling around in an almost carnival atmosphere, and numerous gift shops and snack shacks! Here was this tiny little mining town in the Black Mountains, not easily accessible, and it was just teeming with tourists.

If you’ve never heard anything about Oatman, Arizona, it is famous for mainly one thing: the burros. They are not native to the area, and were brought in to work as pack animals for the mines. When most of the mining stopped and they were no longer needed, they were set loose into the mountains. They managed to survive, but they kind of returned to the town and took it over as their own! They wander around the streets freely, and are protected animals. Every little tourist shop sells food for them, and you can hand-feed them. We saw people feeding them carrots, and that’s what I had always heard you gave them, but when we asked at a place, they said that carrots aren’t good for them (they can’t digest them well, and it makes them aggressive), and alfalfa is what is best for them. She said there was a baby (with a tag on his ear...we had seen him), and you can’t feed him anything at all. It’s sad that there are still people selling carrots in the town. I’m not sure why they don’t enforce that better. It wasn’t just this vendor telling us this. We also heard it from the bartender at the place where we stopped to eat.
Speaking of that, after walking Oatman’s one street, it was lunchtime, so we stopped at the Oatman Hotel and Cafe. It was built in 1902, and it is the place where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their honeymoon. Apparently they liked the anonymity of the place, and would often come for a visit. Clark would play cards with the miners. (Cool!) They’re still doing great business, and we enjoyed our cool amber beverages and our pulled pork barbecue sandwiches. They serve “burro ears” with the sandwiches: potato slices cut lengthwise and fried like chips. Tasty! When things quieted down a bit, we chatted a little more with the bartender, Michelle, and she was a real sweetheart. We asked about whether a couple of the burros were pregnant or just fat. (I had noted that a couple of them HAD to be pregnant, but because they get so much food fed to them, they might just be really fat.) Michelle cracked us both up when she said, “They’re ALL pregnant!” She asked if we’d seen the baby, who was about three weeks old. We said yes, and she said that his mother is the only one who isn’t pregnant. Haha!

She told us that it’s a herd of maybe 15, and there is only one male, but he really gets busy. He’s got a broken ear and is all scarred up, because he has to defend his territory. It was really fun to talk with her and she gave us a lot of good information about the donkeys. She offered to take our picture, and wished us a safe trip. Oh, and for whatever reason, people who come there often write their names on a dollar bill and staple it to the wall. And the ceiling. And the window frame. They’re everywhere, and you can probably see that some of them are very yellowed and old. Michelle said that the oldest one they found is from 1923, and that particular bill is protected in plastic right behind the bar on the wall.

Today was the shortest travel distance of any of our Route 66 days, but it was probably one of the funnest and most interesting. The spectacular views of the starkly beautiful Arizona terrain were just breathtaking, especially for someone like me who has spent very little time in the Southwest. Tomorrow will be one of our longest travel days, about 175 miles to Victorville. Probably no burros, though!

Kicks: Day Fifteen (Dead ends and an ice cream cone)

IMG_4268smA little west of Flagstaff is Bellemont, and although the town doesn’t have much to offer to the Route 66 traveler (I don’t mean that in a mean way...there just isn’t much Road or road artifacts left to explore), it did have a short spur of old 66 that was pretty cool in a couple of ways.

The spur heading west from the exit for Bellemont was said to have the Pine Breeze Inn, which was one of the locations for the movie “Easy Rider.” We cruised down the dead end road, which got a little bumpy after a while, and despite the one abandoned gas station, we didn’t see anything that was looking like Pine Breeze Inn. We came to the dead end, and I even got out and walked a little ways past the barrier to see if I could see anything further down the road. I wondered if it hadn’t been torn down, but Ken said, “Unless it was that old gas station we passed.” Sure enough, when we came back to it, I spotted the faded letters on the side of the building saying that this was Pine Breeze Inn. I was even able to get a couple of decent pictures of the interior, and the little cabins behind the station. The property is for sale, with the sign proclaiming that the realtor is Sotheby’s International Realty. I don’t know if that is part of the actual Sotheby’s, but it sure sounded important. I’m definitely going to have to watch the movie again (it’s been years since I saw it) so that I can spot the Pine Breeze!

On the spur that headed east, there were no ruins...other than the Road. It got pretty rough in spots, and Ken took it easy. It was sad to me to see the pavement starting to completely break away. It was a deep red pavement that I’ve seen in a couple of other spots, and I think that was paved over the original concrete. There were large holes in several spots, and it’s amazing to me how a road can deteriorate so quickly if it’s not maintained. Of course, Ken pointed out that this old spur was closing in on 100 years old, and that’s true. I tend to think of it as “a few decades,” but we’re already at about eight of those, which is definitely more than a few! That was a neat drive.

Another neat drive was the pre-1941 route out of Bellemont (on the other side of I-40) to Parks. This took us through part of Kaibab National Forest, and it was a truly beautiful drive through stands of large pines and green grass. We passed over Fortynine Hill (the highest point of Route 66) and encountered a short hiking trail that was a 1931 alignment of Route 66. It is a dirt trail now (we found horseshoe prints, so at least someone uses it as a horse trail), except for a small concrete bridge that survives. Although we could hear the traffic on I-40 in the distance, this was a lovely place with lots of pines and shade, and the pine smell was wonderful.

We soon encountered another dirt portion of old 66, called Deer Park Road. This dirt road was in good shape and easily drivable, and as we came up over a rise, with the mountains in the distance, we saw a small herd of cattle coming our way down the road. A few cowboys were moving them along, and it was such an unexpected and fun moment that we’re both still grinning about it. The cowboys got them around our car and off the road onto the sides, and I waved at the cowboys (they waved back). It’s one of those things that you rarely never see in Indiana, and it was a neat moment!

Then it was onwards to Williams, and we both really liked this little town. They have really embraced their Route 66 bona fides, and they had a really cute downtown area. There was some sort of biker rally going on, so there were lots of people and motorcycles, the restaurants and pubs were doing great business, and music was playing downtown. It was probably the happenin’-est little town we’ve encountered on Route 66, and we both loved it. Great job, Williams! After we cruised around checking it out and I got pictures of motel signs, we stopped for a light lunch at Rod’s Steakhouse. It wasn’t quite as busy as some of the other places, and it was a neat little place right on Route 66.

Ash Fork was a pretty sad little town after the vibrancy of Williams. I told Ken it was a good lesson as to town management, because it’s obvious that Williams did something right and Ash Fork took a wrong turn. Williams had a downtown filled with cars and bikers and people visiting their restaurants and staying at motels; Ash Fork was dreary and deserted. I honestly don’t understand any town on Route 66 that doesn’t invest in developing that aspect of tourism. People come from all over the world to do this trip, and if you build it, they will come!

After Ash Fork, we were able to get off of the Interstate for most of the rest of the day’s journey. There is a large stretch of 66 in Arizona that although not original concrete, is very nice road following the path of Route 66. The next stop was Seligman, which is another little town that has embraced Route 66. The Delgadillo brothers were and are great ambassadors for Route 66. Juan passed away in 2004, but his Snow Cap Drive-In lives on. It’s a fun and funky little place, and one of the stops that you can’t miss. It was doing great business, and we enjoyed our ice cream cones as we sat out in the chairs facing Route 66 to catch the breeze and the shade. We also got a kick out of this motel, especially the “pets welcome” part. I told Ken, “Yes, pets long as you keep them on the roof of your motel room!”
Peach Springs was a quick trip through town, as was Truxton, Crozier, and Valentine. Hackberry was a different story, because that is where Hackberry General Store sits. Famed artist and Route 66 icon Bob Waldmire created the station, and it is a wonderful collection of old gas pumps, various car paraphernalia, Route 66 signs and memorabilia, and even a gorgeous ‘56 Corvette. Mr. Waldmire passed away not too long ago, but there are plenty of people who still enjoy his art and his efforts, so he has left a wonderful legacy. Along the way out of Hackberry, along the Antares Curve, we encountered this fellow, and I had to get a couple of pictures for Shane! As the guidebook said, it’s “delightfully” out of place in the desert, and wonders why such a thing would be out there. The answer...Why not? We soon arrived at our destination for the evening, Kingman. I got my requisite googie sign fix, and then we got a nice room at SpringHill Suites. Our room is modern but with a retro twist, and this is the second couch I’ve loved in one of our hotel rooms! (I know it’s lame that I take pictures of motel room furniture, but this really is a cool couch!


Tomorrow we have a short day distance-wise, but it’s a very twisty drive up into Oatman. I’m hearing from lots of people that this is one of the best parts of doing Route 66. Details tomorrow, but for now, one word: DONKEYS!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Kicks: Day Fourteen (Standin’ on a Corner)

I waved a sad goodbye to our teepee this morning as we headed out of Holbrook. It was one of those adventure kind of things, because although it wasn’t the most comfortable room, it was still a neat place to stay along the Road, and very typical of ‘50s road culture. Cottage motels, where you got your own little place away from everyone else, were very popular, and the more unusual the better. The teepee motels were probably the best example of that, and it was really fun to stay in one! 

Our first stop out of Holbrook was Joseph City, which was a sleepy little town with not much going on. There was a dead end spur of 66 which I’m glad we took, though, because there were some ruins of a trading post that were kind of sad. Ella’s Frontier was nothing but a collapsing shell, and as I walked inside, I could see shoes and other things scattered about, like someone had been living there. This little bisected bear was one of the most forlorn things I’ve seen.

Next up was a Route 66 icon, the Jack Rabbit Trading Post. Their billboards used to line 66 for miles, but no longer. However, it’s still there, the sign saying “HERE IT IS!” is still there, and the jackrabbit is still there. Of course, I had to get a Jack Rabbit shirt!

Our next stop was even happier and even more fun. Winslow, Arizona was a happenin’ town in its own right during Route 66’s heyday, but was made a pop culture icon by the Eagles song “Take It Easy” (written by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey). It’s one of those songs that pretty much everyone knows the words to, at least the lines: “I was standin’ 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.” Well, Winslow has embraced its place in pop culture history, and they erected a statue of the musician “standing on a corner,” as well as a sign, a mural, Standing on a Corner Park, and a super cool huge Arizona Route 66 sign at that intersection (2nd--which was originally Route 66--and Kinsley). There is even a flatbed Ford parked nearby, and look, there’s a girl in there! After a few pictures, we headed to a sports bar just a few yards down the street for a brew and some lunch, and I could see people stopping to take pictures by the statue. It was a cool thing.

I actually got a little verklempt, because although I rarely listen to the Eagles anymore, their first greatest hits album was my very first album! I loved all the songs, knew them by heart, and could probably still sing along with most of them when hearing a song on the radio. As we were there, the gift shop across the street was playing “In the City,” which is my all-time favorite Eagles song. The lyrics from “Take It Easy” is just one of those things that so many people know, at least people of a certain age. Seeing all those people paying tribute to one of the great rock songs just kind of choked me up!

Next was Two Guns, which was all ruins. Some of them, the Shell station and the KOA, are on private property, and were all fenced off. Others were not fenced off or posted, so we pulled up to see the remnants of a couple of old stone service stations, a concrete bridge, and two roadside zoos. (Thus the “mountain lions” sign.) It was about as sad as the Joseph City ruins, because I imagined all the families that stopped by the roadside zoo to see the animals. It’s all gone now.

Twin Arrows was next, and I even got some video there. It was closed off by construction barriers because a Navajo casino is being built on the other side of the Interstate. I got a few pictures, and then we decided that it was no big deal to hop the barriers and walk over there, so I did. I walked around a little bit, and after I took the video, I tried the door to the diner and it was open!! So I snooped in there for a moment (there was black and white tile on the floor), and out back. Ken walked up behind me, which freaked me out just a tad! Another famous place on the Road that is nothing more than a dusty ruin. So sad.

Not much in Winona, but there was a pre-1947 loop of old 66 that we were able to take. These are always great drives and usually take you away from the highway and through some beautiful terrain. There is also an old truss bridge there, designated as a National Historic place. The little strip of Route 66 is closed off, but we got to walk across it! Note the mountains in the distance. Those are the San Francisco Peaks. Flagstaff sits at the base of them.

We didn’t spend any time in Flagstaff for the moment, because we wanted to get about an hour south in order to visit the Montezuma Castle National Monument, which is a cliff dwelling. We were both unsure if it was worth a two-hour round trip, because we couldn’t go up into the dwelling. Still, I thought it was pretty cool, and I enjoyed seeing the “highrise” up on the cliff!

We headed back to Flagstaff and drove 66 and old town in order to get some signage pictures. The old downtown was really neat, with lots of little shops and pubs. Very cool small city! We were ready to settle in for the night, so we tried Embassy Suites on 66. No vacancy. We headed farther down 66 and tried Radisson Suites. There was only one room left...the presidential suite. Rather than dealing with the pesky traffic (and it really was kind of bad), Ken decided to take it, and it really is the biggest and most amazing suite I’ve ever stayed in. As I said to others earlier, it makes up for two nights in a row of old motels and tiny bathrooms! We actually have 1½ baths in this suite. Sweet!
We ate at the Japanese steakhouse in the hotel, and had a lot of fun talking with our cook, Reuben, and our server (I think his name was Josh). Turns out Josh is a Michigander, and he and his wife are moving back to the upper peninsula. He talked to us quite a while about our travels, and he and his wife (as well as Reuben and his fiance) enjoy traveling as much as we do.


It was an interesting and fun day, followed by a relaxing evening. Now I’m going to get this entry posted so I can go enjoy that sleep number bed we’ve got in the next room!