"...Get Your Kicks
Day 1: Pasadena to Flagstaff, Arizona
On Route 66..."
It's a little after six in the
morning on a sunny Tuesday and I'm tooling eastwards on the 15, heading
for Barstow. The general idea of this trip is to try and trace as much
of old Route 66 between home and Albuquerque as still exists -- but I've
done the home to Barstow bit already (and already know where the gaps are)
so except for the "Traditional"
four mile stretch through the Cajon Pass, I'm taking the interstate as
far as Barstow to save time for new
This is an unusual trip for
me. All my previous long drives have been to actually get
(usually a con), and, thus, rarely do I stop, or go by the "scenic
route," or in general do anything apart from drive as fast as possible
to my destination. This
trip, however, my "destination"
is Route 66, so while I'm certainly not driving slowly (not possible, really
-- and I like to drive fast), and I do
have a tentative final destination
(Albuquerque), the whole point of the trip is the drive itself. Amongst
other things, this means I'll actually be doing my driving in the daylight,
rather than leaving at two in the morning or some such. So,
suitcase full of green shirts, I was up and off with the dawn.
past Barstow, I pull off the interstate (now it's the 40) and onto Route
66, which pretty much parallels it for the next fifty odd miles. I thought
that I'd have trouble picking it up -- not the least because my map doesn't
have enough detail to show it half the time -- but arrows pointing to"Historic
Route 66" abounded all along my trip.
It's a bit worn in spots, but
still driveable as I tool through small (very small -- like ten people)
towns like Daggett, Newberry Springs, and Ludlow.
Most of these towns were basically built around the gas stations &
diners that served Route 66 and, thus, most of them are now dying and/or
dead -- at least in California. In Arizona, I'll discover, Route 66 is
enough of a tourist draw that many of the towns on it are still doing quite
towns on the route weren't created to serve Route 66 were created to serve
the railroad. At least as far as Albuquerque, Route 66 was built to follow
the Santa Fe tracks, and rarely gets more than a hundred feet from them,
so places like Barstow and Kingman were created by the Santa Fe to service
their trains -- then later Route 66 came through.
Past Ludlow, Route 66 (called
at this point the "Old National Trail Highway") curves about
fifteen, twenty miles south of the 40 and passes through the town of Amboy,
whose primary claim to fame is being next to "Amboy Crater"
a 6,000 year old volcanic eruption (see, the concept behind the movie Volcano
ridiculous) that looks nothing so much like an
giant field of rippled, broken asphalt, mangled into an enormous frozen
splash. I stop and get a few pictures, change my CD, and I'm off again.
About fifty miles later, Route
66 curves back up to the 40 and starts playing a game of "now you
see me, now you don't" with the interstate. There are several gaps
as the 40 literally runs on top of it in spots. Soon I reach Needles,
and the Arizona border. The bridge Route 66 used to go over is gone now,
so I cross over the Colorado on the 40, then get back off a mile or so
later in Topock and rejoin Route 66.
For the next seventy-five odd
miles, Route 66 and the 40 diverge again, crossing only in Kingman. I start
climbing up through the "Black Mountains" on Route 66 and soon
hit the old mining town of Oatman.
These days, it's mostly a tourist site, with the historic buildings, multitudes
of gift shops, an annual bed race, and burros running all over town for
the tourists to feed. Rather than feed the burros, I decide to feed myself
and make a sandwich out of my supplies. After eating, I fire up the Civic,
and away I go.
In spite of having come through
the Mojave desert, and now being in Arizona, so far, the day has been in
the nicely comfortable 60's, with clear blue skies, and just a light breeze.
The views from Route 66 through the mountains are beautiful, and I'm stopping
every couple of miles to take some more pictures. Finally, I hit Sitgreaves
Pass (elevation 3,523 feet) and drop down out of the winding mountains
and head off towards Kingman -- one of the "named" towns on Route
is kinda seedy, but for the first time since Barstow, I'm passing Route
66 motels and diners that are still operational. Route 66 goes right past
Kingman's train station, curves through town, then passes under the 40
and heads off into emptier territory once more.
I'm now on one of the largest
continuous sections of the old road, passing through tiny -- but still
living -- towns as Route 66 runs nearly thirty miles north of the 40. Many
of these towns are on Indian Reservations and all of them haven't changed
much (if at all) from the days when Route 66 was an actual intact highway
from Chicago to L.A. I'm also gradually climbing. For the rest of the trip
from here to Albuquerque, I'll be above four-thousand, and often above
five or six-thousand feet.
Crossing over into Grand Canyon
National Park (though many miles from the canyon itself), I hit the "Grand
Canyon Caverns" -- a famous tourist trap...er...draw on Route 66 since
before there was
a Route 66. I pull off the highway and take their
little road to the Caverns. Eight-fifty later, I'm standing in an elevator
with a bunch of other tourists, descending from the gift-shop into the
They are not as spectacular
as they want to be. It's a dry cave -- which means no running water, no
stalagmites or 'tites or such. And it isn't all that large -- though the
tour guide certainly tries to make it sound so (all of his measurements
of how large a room was, or how high up a chimney went, or such were exaggerated
by at least a factor of four, from what I could see). It's kinda interesting,
but the three primary draws are 1) The recreation of the giant sloth that
they had found in the cave (falling from above about 50k years ago), 2)
The natural mummy of a bobcat from about 1850, and 3) The Civil Defense
supplies left in the cave since the 1950's (it's listed as a shelter for
Above ground and on the road
again, in half-an-hour I'm in Seligman, and Route 66 rejoins the 40. From
here to Albuquerque, 66 and the 40 are intertwined in a death-grip that
66 is losing badly. While there are a few sections as long as twenty miles,
most of it is now broken up into short bits that often dead-end.
Now above five-thousand feet,
I pass through Ash Fork and, about ten miles later, hit bushes (those cypress-y
things usually used as shrubbery's) then ponderosa pines. A few miles later,
I hit Williams.
Williams main claim to fame
is being one end of the historical Grand Canyon Railway, now back in operation
after a gap of thirty years or so. It's actually quite a nice little town
(about two-thousand people), very peaceful, even if it is a major tourist
site. Like all the towns I've gone through on this trip, Route 66 is it's
main street (it wasn't called "America's Main Street" for nothing...)
and it was the last section of Route 66 to be supplanted by the interstate.
Most of the older hotels and restaurants acknowledge this, because the
number "66" gets into their names somewhere
. When I get
there about five-thirty in the afternoon, I of course immediately head
for the train station to check out the Grand Canyon Railway. I wander around
and kill some time in the gift shop while waiting for the train to pull
in (it's late). When it does, I take lots of pictures.
It's now about six-thirty, and
the sun's beginning to go down. I realize I'm only thirty miles from Flagstaff
-- and the Lowell Observatory
-- and conditions will be great for viewing
Comet Hale-Bopp. "And what better place than from historic Lowell?" Thinks I, so I
gun it for Flagstaff and arrive in the deepening twilight.
Half-way from Williams to Flagstaff,
and I start passing patches of snow along the sides of the road, nestled
in the trees. Oh, not much, but it is a reminder that I'm at nearly seven-thousand
feet now -- the fact that temps are dropping into the low fifty's helps
too. Soon, I hit Flagstaff, a lovely small city resting in the pines between
the peaks of the San Francisco Mountains, heavily dominated by the Santa
Fe railyards that run it's length and filled with older -- but well maintained
-- buildings. Route 66 runs right next to the tracks for the length of
the town, with dozens of small 66-era motels and diners along its route.
Meanwhile, I start trying to figure out where the observatory is from a
"map" about the size of an airmail stamp.
Surprisingly, it doesn't prove
too difficult. A couple of lefts and a right off of Route 66, and I start
up what proves to be a short road above Flagstaff proper. Less than a mile
later and the road ends at the entrance to Lowell Observatory and the parking
lot. To say the Observatory is "close" to downtown Flagstaff
is to be overly cautious -- it isn't even a long walk
Leaping out of the car, I flag
down one of the people who work there, who happened to be passing, and ask
"where would be a good place to see Hale-Bopp from?" Unfortunately,
it turns out to be someplace other
than at the Observatory. Most
of the grounds are closed to visitors (it's not open weeknights -- and
a Tuesday), and from where I can
go, trees &
such will block my view. He suggests I head for Buffalo Park, on the north
side of town.
It's back in the car, darkness
now descending pretty fast, and down the hill. Unfortunately, my stamp-map
only vaguely indicates where the park is, and after about fifteen minutes
of searching, I give up (fifteen minutes is a lot
for a city as small as
Flagstaff). I end up on a residential street, perched on a bluff overlooking
the 180 -- which proves to give me a more than adequate view of the comet,
the best I'll have the entire trip. While it is just barely discernible
as a comet against the lights of L.A., in Flagstaff it's tail stretched
(that night) about three or four moon-diameters across the sky.
After watching the comet for
about half-an-hour, I spend the next half-hour searching around for a motel
with a non-smoking vacancy. Tricky at this hour of the night. But I finally
find one and after dinner at a diner across the street (Route 66, of course),
go to sleep for the night.