"The New Mexican Eating Trip"
Day Seven, Sunday – The Long Journey Home...with Some Kicks:
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Sunday dawned, still cold, with some high clouds streamering overhead. We had all day and, basically, nothing planned but heading home to fill it. Well, I had one idea
of where we might stop for lunch, but that was about it.
So, since we had no real plans, we decided to take it slow on the way home. You know, enjoy the drive. And there's nothing better for slow, enjoyable drives than Route 66.
We headed west on the 40 about fifty, sixty miles until just past Ash Fork, we hit Route 66. Between Flagstaff and there, what remains of Route 66 is a handful of tiny road sections and Williams' main street. Well, there's also some intact road in Ash Fork, which we checked out, but it just dead-ends in at the edge of town. The 40 actually sits on top of a lot of old 66 through this stretch.
Ash Fork, Route 66 is completely intact clear till the Colorado River - over one-hundred and ten miles, the longest intact section of the old road, in fact. And, driving it, you see things - mostly - haven't changed on the old road in fifty years.
That's your first impression as you leave the interstate and get on the two-lanes of aging blacktop that is the 66. Empty and quiet. After a few minutes of driving, there was nothing visible but us, the road and the surrounding grassland.
While mostly straight along through here, the road does
serpentine up and down, like a really mild rollercoaster. Where the interstate cuts through hills and mountains, 66 just rolls right up one side and down the other, making cuts for only the higher ridges. And, if you look at some of the sections of even older
Route 66 road that still run to one side of the current highway, it didn't even make those
occasional cuts originally.
So we're driving along - not another car in sight - and we see something in the road ahead. It turns out to be a pair of eagles, quietly munching on a rabbit that they killed or found road-killed for them. We try to quietly drive up close enough for a photo op - but when things are already
the dead quiet that there is out there, even coasting with the engine off is too loud. They took to the air and circled us, waiting for us to leave. Which we did...eventually.
Soon after, we reached the town of Seligman, one of the better preserved Route 66-era towns. It's that way because of Angel Delgadillo. In 1978, when the 40 bypassed this section of the 66 - and Seligman - Angel realized that a town dependant on the tourist trade would dry up and blow away if that trade ended. Well, without 66 being the main highway through Northern Arizona, the only way to get any sort of tourist trade through Seligman was to make Route 66 itself
a tourist destination.
And that's pretty much what he did. He was one of the founding members of the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona,
managed to get Arizona to designate the road that remained as Historic
Route 66 and generally operated as the road's "guardian angel..."
Which is a bit of a change from barber, which was his original profession.
So now his old barber shop is the Route 66 Gift Shop
with Angel and his wife Vilma running the place. Interestingly, Angel, having being one of the prime movers to save historic 66, now himself
has become something of a tourist attraction on it. People just have
to photograph him, standing by his old barbers chair.
So I did too.
Just a door or two down the road from his barber/gift shop is the real reason I'd stopped in Seligman, though, the Snow Cap Drive-In
, built in 1953 by Angel's brother, Juan. Somehow, in spite of always wanting
to stop and eat there, we never managed to remember. This time, though I remembered and this was
an eating trip. So, the only destination I had in mind for the whole day - apart from home - was the Snow Cap
Now, the Snow Cap
is as classic a 50's drive in as you can find. It's as kitschy
a Route 66 attraction as you can find too. It's the home of the world-famous "Humdinger"...
...it's also, apparently, closed on Easter Sunday...which this was. Argggh.
We hung out in Seligman for a while anyway, mostly at the Route 66 Giftshop
. Then continued our motor west.
A couple of tens of miles past Seligman, we once again pulled over to the side of the empty road, our attention attracted. This time, it was by a small (six) herd of antelope grazing in the field by the road. We watched them for a while, got a couple of pictures and continued on.
Oh! Got a picture of a bald eagle too.
Next stop: Grand Canyon Caverns
. Another 66-era survivor, the attraction here is, of course, the caverns. Atop them set a gift shop, restaurant, hotel, and gas station. Oh, and you reach the caverns themselves by elevator, from the gift shop.
We've stopped there before
- and I've even taken the cavern tour before
. This time, we stopped just long enough to pick up some honey from the gift shop - and take the traditional picture in front of the "year" sign outside.
Continuing towards Kingman, we pass though tiny towns, most of which lacked an Angel Delgadillo and did not avoid the "dry up and blow away" fate of a bypassed Route 66 community. We also pass abandoned (good!) BIA Indian schools, miles of train track (and some old train right-of-way) and some very pretty scenery.
As we approach Kingman, things get a lot greener. Farms (as opposed to ranches) appear - as do a lot of bugs on our windshield. We go through Kingman on the 66 and out the other side, now heading towards our climb up Sitgreaves Pass and hence to Oatman.
We've been in Oatman before
, of course. And we've been over the winding, twisting, narrow road that crosses Sitgreaves Pass before too...
...but it wasn't anywhere close
to being this green.
Grassy fields ran up to the foot of the mountains as we drove towards the pass. Those mountains themselves had green flocking between and around their stony sides. Flowers of every sort were popping up all over the place. And, unlike our last run through here, it was neither too windy nor too cold.
Like that last time, though, we stopped at the top of the pass for a bit of a vista before heading down the other side. Soon we were entering Oatman
, in all its wild westy, "hey, there's a burro in the street" glory.
We spent an hour or so wandering through the town, feeding the rather pushy "wild" burros
("wild" only in the sense that no one owns them and they're free to come and go where they want. That makes our cats "wild...") and - once again - checking out gift shops. This got Dee Dee a really nice alpaca sweater on sale for a really
nice price. Okay, the little teepees around bottom don't really match - culturally speaking - the Kokopellis on the front. Sue us, it was twenty-five bucks.
Leaving Oatman we're now heading to Topock - which marks the western end of 66 in Arizona. The mountains and fields along side this stretch of the road are, if anything, even greener than on the other side. And the flowers! More flowers than you can shake a very flowery stick at carpet both sides of the road.
We eventually start running alongside the Colorado - invisible through the trees and wetlands that border it - and soon return to the 40 and the bridge over the Colorado River.
Once across into California, though, we get back on the 66. Hey, it's been working for us so far, why change now?
After about ten miles or so, 66 wound its way into Needles and pass the old "covered wagon" welcome sign
. There, quite hungry (Snow Cap
was closed, remember?), we stopped at a little place called The Original Burger Hut
for some okay, but otherwise pretty ordinary fast-food food. Then it's back on the 66 again (well, the 40 for a bit) and we're heading west out of town.
Soon we get off the 40 once again to head north to the old Route 66 some more, this time heading for the tiny town of Goffs
. The town itself is most famous for its restored school house (all eight-hundred square feet of it - now apparently they're working on restoring the train depot). It's so out of touch even the 66 here is from the pre-1931 alignment. Apparently, people in Needles - when it got too hot - used to travel to Goffs for the cooler temperatures there. Okay, so it was only about five
degrees cooler when it was one-twenty in Needles - you take what you can get in a pre-AC era.
As we drive along, with the sun heading towards the horizon, we're following the railroad tracks right next to the road. Miles and miles of road along the railroad tracks. The 66 basically followed the route of the Santa Fe Railroad through the Southwest and it's no where more evident than here, where trains pace you about ten feet from your car.
The loop of 66 north of the 40 eventually dives back to loop south
of the 40 and now heads through another handful of vanished - or at least, vanishing
- 66-era towns like Essex and Cadiz (actually, most of these towns date from the Santa Fe's early days - you needed to stop every fifty miles or so to fill up your steam engine with water. So every fifty miles or so, a town!). We're now heading towards Amboy (up for sale recently on Ebay
) and the sun is now heading towards setting.
The sun sets as we're still about forty miles east of Amboy
. It's full dark by the time we reach what's left of the town (Amboy would be a wide spot in the highway, if the highway actually got any wider at that point...) and get ready to continue west on 66. We bounce over the railroad tracks, pass the junction with Amboy Road - where most of what traffic there is heads south to Twenty-Nine Palms - and start heading west on the "National Trails Highway," as the 66 is called over this stretch.
It's at this point that we - literally - bump into a problem.
In 1997, on the very first Road Trip, I drove east over this piece of the 66 from Ludlow to Amboy. At the time, the road was...well, "bumpy" is a charitable description. I ended up shutting off my CD player for the duration because there was simply no way it could track long enough to play a song.
Eight years later...and the road hasn't improved a bit. Indeed, it seems to be worse (or, at least, my shocks are). Add in the fact that the car's a lot more heavily loaded - and it's dark
- and you can see you're going to have something of a problem. We drove about a quarter-mile at twenty-five mph through the pitch-black night, being shaken (not stirred) by the various ruts and bumps and finally went "no way."
Then promptly turned around and headed back.
In retrospect (and with enough light to read maps), it probably would have been better at this point to have gone south
on the Amboy Road - like everyone else was - to Twenty-Nine Palms (and hence, somewhat erratically, to the 10) and then gone the rest of the way home from there. But we've never driven that stretch of road before and didn't feel like "exploring" in the dark, so we ended up backtracking on the 66 to Kelbaker Road instead and heading up it back to the 40.
The other way would have been retrospectively better, though, because after returning to the 40 and booming through Barstow and across the Mojave, we hit Victorville - and a major traffic jam.
I still have no idea why
traffic was jammed up from Victorville clear through the Cajon Pass, no idea at all. But it was and this added at least an hour to our trip home. Things eventually thinned out as we dropped down the other side of the Pass - and got quite speedy as we then switched to the 210 for the rest of the way back to Pasadena. Still, we didn't get there until about ten-thirty, eleven-o-clock.
We were finally home: Tired - but it was a trip well ate.
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