Day 1 - Arrival in Amarillo, TX
Saturday, September 2, 2006
The trip from Washington Dulles to Amarillo via Denver couldn't have gone any smoother. We were a few minutes late getting into Denver, but we still made our flight to Amarillo with plenty of time to spare.
Things got a little weird at the National Rent-A-Car counter in Amarillo. They surprised us with a $10/day extra charge for an additional driver, even though we were married. We walked over to Avis, and it turns out they were way more expensive (approximately double the price of National). We went back to National and got them to nix the $10/day extra charge for adding a spouse as a different driver by using the corporate discount. In the end, it will be just a bit under $400 for the eight-day rental via National.
Geographically speaking, Amarillo isn't all that big of a city, and The Big Texan is particularly close to the Amarillo Airport as it is only a few miles away and extremely easy to get to. We checked in at The Big Texan at around 4:00 p.m. CDT, and we asked about the fact that there was a "No Vacancies" sign even though the parking lot was empty. They said there was a large tour group coming in so if we wanted dinner at The Big Texan Restaurant, it would probably be best if we went to dinner before the tour group came in.
Alas, we wound up getting put in the rear annex at the Big Texan Inn. It looked pretty run down from the outside; however, the rooms are nicer and newer than the original building (which we stayed in last year). The big downside to being back there, and in the second furthest room from the main building, is that we were apparently out of range of the Wi-Fi that the Big Texan provides. So, I had to dial in. On the bright side, we could hear the horses in the "Horse Hotel" whinnying. Also, we could see the bulls grazing right outside our window.
As big as Texas
The main dining room at The Big Texan
Since we were still on East Coast time, and both hungry, we went to dinner at about 4:45. The experience was a bit…odd. We had a really bad waitress, and I complained to the manager during the meal. If you know me, you know it has to be really bad for me to do that. The manager took over our table. Of course, that brought the original waitress over later to ask if we'd asked to have her replaced. It was a bit awkward.
For those of who think I must be a complete jerk to do that, here is the list of sins committed:
I had a sense something grander was amiss because earlier on, the manager had come by to check to see if we'd been waited on. So, I went over to talk to the manager about what was going on, and that's what caused everything to really unravel.
In the end, Andrea's assessment of the Big Texan Restaurant as compared to last time was "Better food, lousy service". And on this, my third visit, again no one was trying to get the 72 oz steak for free.
As we were eating, we saw a number of motorcyclists all come in together, followed by a support truck. It seems they were a group of Norwegians motorcycling Route 66, as that's what their support truck had painted on it. As we were leaving the restaurant, we saw a number of them, and it was kind of funny to note that they all had blonde hair. I guess some stereotypes are true. All of the motorcycles had California plates, and some of the bikes were exactly the same, so it seems they all rented bikes.
For some reason, we were both very "off" that evening. Even though we only gained one hour, we felt like it was bedtime at 7:00 p.m. Hopefully, a good night's sleep will resolve everything.
Day 2 -Amarillo, TX to Santa Fe, NM
Sunday, September 3, 2006
Well, just like the first few nights on Part 1 of this trip, we started out with a bad hotel experience. The bed in this room was way too soft, and we were woken up in the middle of the night to an ongoing cacophony of cats in heat. While it was my own fault, we also woke up sweltering in the middle of the night because I didn't have the AC unit going. I'd forgotten how hot a sealed-up hotel room gets with two people in it, even if it is cool outside. Once I turned the AC unit on, it solved the problem of the temperature and the wailing cats.
While the Big Texan is a good motel for the price ($40), there are some funny things that lead you to believe they are really cheap. Most notably that you have to give them a $10 deposit to get a hair dryer. However, the shower curtain that is a big Texas state flag is a nice touch.
Breakfast was good as usual, although Andrea was a bit disappointed in that they'd rotated out the blueberry muffins that she was craving.
I tried chatting up a couple of the Norwegians at breakfast. They were very nice, but weren't really good with English, surprisingly enough. They were headed west, about 180 miles today, which means they are probably going to Tucumcari or shortly beyond. One thing interesting I noticed when they came in is that they all rode together in a large group. Very different than the motorcycle trip I took on Route 66.
We got started. A few problems getting the laptop power going, as well as getting the GPS going, but we got them resolved pretty quickly. I'd forgotten how you must be at a full stop when you turn on the GPS to acquire the satellites. If you are moving when you turn it on, it will not acquire them, even if you stop for a while. However, once you acquire them, you can go 100 miles an hour without a problem.
There really wasn't anything historic to see on the way to Vega. Lots of cows and fields, but nothing to stop and see. Vega itself was a near ghost town. There were quite a few boarded up gas stations and garages. The most notable landmark, the Vega Motel, has definitely seen better days.
From Vega to Adrian, there are a few interesting sites on the right. There is an abandoned gas station and café that are worth a look. There is a very old unpaved alignment of the road off to the right that has been just about totally reclaimed by nature. Pretty much, you wouldn't even know it's there if it wasn't for a few bridges over culverts in the seeming middle of nowhere that are the only remaining evidence of it having existed.
Last remains of an original alignment
Adrian is a neat place because it's the midpoint of old Route 66, but other than the Midpoint Café, there's not much there that's notable. That being said, the Midpoint Café is a really nice joint. It's an old building, but very well-maintained. They serve food, have sodas on ice, and have a small gift shop. The girl working there when we went was very nice. Actually, one other thing that's cool about Adrian is that the town post office is right on the main drag, so it's a good place to send postcards, assuming they'll get the Adrian postmark.
Straddling both halves
The Midpoint Café
Heading out of Adrian, the desert and the scrub brush really begins. Some irony here is that it rained on us off and on all day, even though we were in the middle of the desert. It was strange…parts of the desert almost looked green, like a prairie. Also, you know you're really in the middle of nowhere because it's almost impossible to find a radio station. There's an ancient abandoned railroad line on the left.
The weather was kind of a bummer, but what can you do? Glenrio, as advertised, is a ghost town. At the end of the exit ramp for Glenrio (Exit 0), there are two very lonely, devastated gas stations. Definitely a photo op. It's almost a sick joke that there is a "Business I-40" going through Glenrio because the town really no longer exists. I've read that Glenrio is "Population 2". In the center of the town, there is only one occupied building. A number of skinny cows were grazing in the front of that house and one bull was wandering around loose. It's pretty depressing. The advertised "lonely dogs roaming the streets" were nowhere to be found. There looked to be a second, nicer, occupied house on the outskirts of town.
Leaving town, you can continue on Business I-40, which becomes the I-40 frontage road. It's a 14.5 mile stretch of dirt road that is very drivable in a car as long as the road is generally dry. If it was really wet and muddy, you may not want to fool with it. Even if it's dry, I'd stay away from it on a motorcycle unless you are very experienced riding your bike on dirt roads. We didn't see another car on the entire dirt stretch. However, there were plenty of cows and bulls wandering across the road, including one bull that challenged the car. It was definitely some unexpected drama. After the 14.5 miles, it turns back into a paved road.
Otherwise, from Glenrio to Tucumcari, there was just the usual Route 66 roadside fare. Some abandoned gas stations, a number of hawks perched on telephone poles. It was a nice ride, but nothing to stop for.
In Tucumcari, just like three years ago, I kind of scratched my head at the Blue Swallow Motel. While it is definitely a survivor, it still looks pretty run down to me. Across the street, we went to Tee Pee Curios, which is usually featured in Route 66 photography books. Decent stuff inside, a nice proprietor, but nothing out of the ordinary other than some interesting jewelry and a friendly dog.
From Tucumcari to Santa Rosa, we rode the original Route 66, aka the I-40 frontage road, pretty much the whole way. There are a number of places in the road that were covered in dirt from being washed out, and the road is different colors on either side on long stretches. Maybe it was one-lane only at one point, and the second lane was added with a different type of asphalt? Truly, what will be one of the overall highlights of the trip happened on this stretch. We were zooming along at a good 65 miles an hour, and I saw something walking across the road as I shot past it. I slammed on the brakes, jammed the car into reverse, and backed up to it at full speed (ala Jack Bauer). It was an enormous hairy tarantula crossing the road. As you might imagine, Andrea wanted nothing to do with it, but I was ready to take it home with me by smuggling it in my pants. Alas, I just settled for a picture and let it go about its business.
"I was eating my curds and whey…"
A long stretch of what is marked as old Route 66 on my map going into Santa Rosa had a dead end sign. We went a short ways, it was dirt, and it was really narrow. I recalled that I've never seen a Dead End sign on old Route 66 that was a lie, so we turned around and headed in to Santa Rosa on the Interstate. In Santa Rosa, we went to Joseph's, which took over for the Club Café. For you non-Route 66 geeks, you probably have no idea who "The Fat Man" from Club Café is. In short, it was a famous drawing of a smiling fat man in all their advertisements and painted on top of their building, and he became synonymous with Route 66. Most often, he was specifically advertising their biscuits and gravy. So, we had to stop there for lunch. It was a decent lunch stop, and they had an OK gift shop. Most notably, the original Fat Man painting that was on top of the Club Café was in the back room, restored. It actually looked in "too good" of a condition to be authentic, but I'm going to suspend my disbelief and believe it was the real thing. As for Santa Rosa overall, there were a lot of shut down businesses, but a number are still thriving.
Too many biscuits with gravy will do that to you.
Leaving Santa Rosa, there is really nothing to see for a long time. Going from Amarillo to Santa Fe in one day is a lot of miles (300+), but when you consider that there really isn't all that much to stop and do, it makes sense. Note that going to Santa Fe at all is part of a pre-1937 alignment of the old road. From 1937 onward, Route 66 bypassed Santa Fe entirely and went straight through Albuquerque. Anyway, you go up US 84 until it hits I-25 South. At that point, if you want to stick to the old road, you take the I-25 frontage road all the way in to Santa Fe. You will criss-cross I-25 a number of times. Otherwise, if you just want to knock the miles out quickly, you can take I-25 proper. We got on I-25 for a couple miles at first by mistake. However, once we realized the mistake, we took the frontage road the rest of the way in.
One thing you see a lot of along Old Route 66, and just about any other road for that matter, are the wooden memorial crosses along the roadside to commemorate where people died in car accidents. Maybe I just didn't notice them at the time, but I really don't remember seeing them as a kid. They are a relatively recent phenomenon. According to an article about them in the Washington Post, your local Department Of Transportation isn't too keen on them since they are on public land, a distraction while driving, and could be considered roadside blight. However, the state generally turns a blind eye to them. Anyway, I found an enormous one on this stretch. There was actually a gate in the roadside fence for it, solar lighting, and a terraced walkway up to it. It was, by far, the most elaborate one I've ever seen. There was all sorts of memorabilia around the big cross…a hat, NASCAR stuff, etc. However, the person's name was nowhere to be found, other than a big "BJ" on the crucifix. To add to the bizarreness of the entire scene, off to the right there seemed to be actual grave of a dog, with a commemorative food bowl. Weird.
Even though it was only 2:30, it had been a long day and, for that matter, it was 4:30 body time. So, we got to the Hotel St. Francis, and in keeping with the tradition of weird hotel experiences, this one turned out to be a doozy. Whether it was a positive or a negative in the end will depend upon your opinion.
A little background is in order. On the Route 66 motorcycle trip in 2003, we all stayed in the Hotel St. Francis for two nights. By some totally bizarre twist of fate, I lucked out and wound up getting the best room in the hotel. It was a two room suite with a corner balcony that overlooked the downtown area. As an added bonus, the bed was a Murphy bed, straight out of the Three Stooges.
Anyway, I thought it would be neat to stay in that room again. So, I specifically reserved that room for our two nights in Santa Fe eight months in advance. So, we get to the hotel, and I go to check in while Andrea's out waiting for a parking space. The guy at the front desk checks me in, and he tells me that I'm on the first floor. I'm non-plussed. I tell him that I thought I had the room on the second floor with the balcony. He tells me that I'm booked for a junior suite. I ask if that room on the second floor is available, and he says the room already has someone in it. I go back to the car (figuratively) scratching my head. I'm thinking maybe I was wrong about the reservation since I made it so long ago. Maybe I had thought about reserving that particular room, but that's not what I reserved. Ultimately, something didn't seem right because I remember how much street noise I had to deal with on the second floor last time I was here, so I wouldn't have reserved a room on the first floor.
So, as we're unloading the car, I dig out the reservation receipt the hotel sent me by mail a few weeks before arrival. There it is…it seems to specifically note that I'd reserved that room on the second floor. So, we go in and drop the bags in the room on the first floor. The room is nice, it's a two-room suite, but there's no balcony and you are, literally, right on the street. In fact, one set of windows opens onto the sidewalk café in front of the hotel.
So, I go back to the front desk and talk to someone different and show them the reservation receipt. She checks online and she's dumbfounded. She says she needs to see what's going on, and she goes into the back. After about five minutes, the manager comes out, and he's extremely apologetic. He "has no idea how this could have ever happened", but someone's in the room that I reserved. Stating the obvious, I say "So, you gave away the room that I reserved eight months ago and that I came all the way across the country to stay in." He said "Yes", and that he was going to follow up and find out how this could happen. I said, "OK, what are you going to do to make it right?". He said that he'd knock my room rate down to standard room rate. Without saying anything, I just raised a "That's it?" eyebrow of disbelief. Without missing a beat, he continued on with "…and I want you and your wife to be my guests for dinner tonight at the restaurant, free of charge." So, taking a lesson from new car salesmen, I did the "I will need to bring your offer to the manager…you sit here and sweat" bit. I told him I'd check with my wife and come right back. Andrea, the one with the sharper head for business of the two of us, said that was fair, so I went back and took it. Basically, we'd save around $40 for each of the two nights, and whatever dinner was going to cost. The manager kept apologizing, and it seemed that he genuinely felt bad about the entire thing. There was more going on in his head other than him just not wanting an angry customer.
After we got settled in, Andrea took a nap and I went out for a short jog. There is a lot of pedestrian traffic in that area. So, I walked a block and a half to Alameda Street. The crowds really thinned out there, and I got a decent short run in.
After a shower, we went to dinner around 5:30 local time. Even though the restaurant had opened at 5:00, we were the first customers. It was a one woman show. She said that they are always dead on Sunday nights, so she was maitre'd and the sole waitress at that time. She had been briefed that everything was covered for us. Dinner was actually very good at the hotel. Andrea's steak in particular was way better than she got at The Big Texan. We didn't go out of our way to run up the bill, but we didn't make it a point to dine on a budget either. When it was all said and done, the bill was a bit under $100, which was fully covered, except for another $4 for the beer I'd had, which I had to pay for. We tipped appropriately given what the meal was worth, and that worked out well. There were only two other dinner customers there when we left, but the bar business was booming.
We went out for a short walk after dinner. It being around 6:30 or so on a Sunday night, all of the galleries were closed. A few souvenir shops were open, so we checked them out, but there wasn't really all that much to do other than go to restaurants or go to a bar. So, we walked around for a bit and then came back. We watched a little TV and we were in bed by 9:00 p.m. Hopefully, we'll get a better night's sleep tonight than we did last night.
Day 3 - Rest Day in Santa Fe, NM
Monday, September 4, 2006
"Hopefully, we'll get a better night's sleep tonight than we did last night". Man, talk about jinxing yourself. So, we went to bed early and a few minutes before midnight, we were awakened by a cacophony of sirens. They sounded like they were right outside our window. In fact, they were right outside our window. It was easy to tell because of the flashing colored lights streaming through our gossamer curtains.
I peeked through the curtain to see an angry handcuffed, bare-chested skinhead being dragged to a police car. Sweet. After about fifteen minutes of that excitement, things calmed down and we could go back to bed. Note that the picture below was taken from our window. It was taken long after the true excitement had died down, and the number of police cars had gone from around six to maybe three.
My kind of town
When I went out for my morning run, I asked the doorman what the all the ruckus was last night. He said that there had been a domestic disturbance in Room 103 (yes, we are in 101), and the man was escorted out. That didn't sound right to me…you don’t have six cop cars with lights and sirens going for a domestic disturbance. So, I wandered over to the front desk to ask. The guy at the front desk was like "Oh, yeah, there was the domestic disturbance in Room 103, but that had nothing to do with the big ruckus. That was due to the fight outside and I heard someone got killed." Now, I know how rumors tend to spread, so I'm taking the "got killed" part with a grain of salt. However, Santa Fe totally kicks ass if you can stay in the best hotel in town and have a domestic disturbance down the hall from you and a major fight out front, all in your first night there. This city rocks! I can't wait to see what's in store for tonight.
Anyway, I got a short run in. Andrea went to breakfast in the hotel. $10, not including tip. They're going to squeeze the cash out of me one way or another before I leave here.
It should be noted that the wireless Internet here at the Hotel Saint Francis is fantastic. I've been using it without a problem, and I was even able to download a 314M file in 90 minutes on the first try. They also have CAT-5 connections available in the common sitting areas, as well as a computer on each floor available for free Internet usage. The hotel has a really nice bar, and afternoon tea service. They also have a very old, but still working, elevator. It's the type with a folding accordion door you have to work by hand. Other than the incident checking in, about the only thing negative I could say about the place is that they have those water saving shower heads on the shower such that you're practically showering with steam. However, that's not the hotel's fault, that's just the reality of having a hotel in an area with limited water.
Today was planned to be one of the highlights of the trip. On my 2003 trip, we had a rest day in Santa Fe. That day, I happened to sign up for a group tour of the city that I found via a tourist brochure. The tour guide, Allan Pacheco, was a Santa Fe native. In addition to being authentic, he was extremely knowledgeable and obviously loved his work. I had kept his business card, and I arranged for him to give Andrea and me a private tour on our visit to Santa Fe this time. We met him at 10:00 a.m. in the lobby of the Hilton.
I cannot say enough good things about the tour we got today. It's amazing how much there is to see in downtown Santa Fe. While we did a lot of walking, we probably never left an eight square block area. You name it, we saw it…the Loretto Staircase, the oldest continually operating church in North America, the haunted home of Julia Staab…everything. After a couple hours with Allan, you feel like a native. If you ever come into Santa Fe, he is highly recommended for a group tour, and you can find him on his website at http://www.santafeghostandhistorytours.com/
A final interesting side note about Allan is that he is the first person I've ever met who, like me, had to have his tonsils out twice. It's a long story how that fact was shared between us.
The first picture is a picture I took of the Loretto Staircase. The second is a picture of a photo of it in its supposed original condition, without the banister. I think it is much more dramatic without the banister. Interestingly, according to Allan, while it is documented when the banister was added, according to his grandmother, the staircase was originally built with a banister. At some point, the banister was removed and sent to the Vatican for analysis and never returned, and that fact was lost in history.
The staircase, as it is today.
The staircase before the banister was added.
After the tour, we grabbed a quick lunch in the city plaza. For Labor Day weekend, there were a number of artisans in booths selling wares, in addition to food vendors. I got a Frito pie. A Frito pie is more or less the traditional "nachos", but with Fritos instead of nacho chips. According to Allan, this dish was invented in Santa Fe in the 1940s. Andrea got her usual hamburger. We walked around a while more until it was nap time for you-know-who.
We got going again late afternoon and walked around Canyon Road and checked out a few galleries. I don't know about this art thing…seriously, if it's not Dogs Playing Poker, I don't want it hanging on my wall. However, it is an insight into a different world seeing iron sculptures that cost more than $100,000.
For dinner, we went to The Plaza Café, at 54 Lincoln Avenue, right on the city square. According to Allan, Billy The Kid himself washed dishes at the restaurant that was at that location when Billy The Kid was in his teens. Although the place looks like a generic diner, their menu is heavy on the Mexican food, and the combination plate I had was fantastic. Andrea, of course, had a hamburger, which she said was really good. Actually, this place was recommended to us by Allan, and I now recommend it myself. They serve beer and wine, but no mixed drinks.
That's about it for today. Hopefully, we'll get a better night's sleep tonight than we did last night.
Day 4 - Santa Fe, NM to Holbrook, AZ
Tuesday, September 5, 2006
(Sorry for the delay in posting this blog. It will be explained later.)
What a difference a day makes. Slept like a rock last night. Go figure…a downtown area is quieter on a work night than it is on the night before a holiday. Who would have ever guessed?
I asked a different person at the front desk this morning about the hullabaloo the previous night. As I suspected, the rumor mill had gotten out of control. She said she was there, and watched the entire thing out of the window. She said it was just a huge fight. Likely a gang fight because there were so many people on either side. No one got killed and the cops released just about everyone when it was all said and done. At most, one person might have been arrested. As for the disturbance in the hotel, a drunk and belligerent man had to be removed. She said it was kind of funny having the cops here twice like ten minutes apart. I said "Wow…this is a cool city. This kind of stuff in the best hotel in town. What would it be like if I stayed in a crappy hotel?" She gave me a comical grimace and said, "Yeah…that would be pretty bad."
Andrea and I went for a long walk, and used the walk to visit one of the spook sites that Allan had recommended that was geographically out of the range of yesterday's tour. The place is a large compound where the School of American Research is currently located. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, it was owned by a wealthy socialite who was seriously into devil worship. Supposedly, all kinds of crazy stuff went on there, and there are possibly human sacrifices buried on the property. For sure, the original owners, sisters Amelia Elizabeth White and Martha Root White are buried there. They named the estate El Delirio (The Madness). There is an enormous pet cemetery with marked graves and it is rumored that more than pets are buried there. So as not to be rude or, for that matter, to avoid getting arrested, we went to the visitors center and said we were ghost hunting and we asked for permission to look around. The lady there said it was fine, and she even gave us a map and brochure of the property. Two funny things here. I mentioned the gravesite of the former owner, and she said it's not a gravesite, it's just a memorial. That turned out to be untrue, since the grave is very clearly marked and also referenced in the brochure. Not sure where the receptionist's head was at on that one. The second funny thing is that the brochure had a little bio on the former owner. It referred to her as "eccentric", but mentioned nothing about the devil worship. Anyway, her gravesite and the pet cemetery were pretty creepy, and I'm glad we heeded Allan's advice to stay away from there at night.
A pet cemetery…or maybe something more
Memorial and gravesite of the sisters
We picked up a bagel and coffee on the way back to the room. It's worth noting that Andrea looks like a raccoon this morning. Her face was sunburned yesterday from the tour, except where her sunglasses covered.
We showered up, checked out, and got moving. The bill was correct…they charged us the lower rate. Although it's worth noting that the overall tax rate on the room is around 15% and you do have to pay $5 a day for parking. So, be prepared for that on checkout.
Old Route 66 heading west out of Santa Fe is one big long commercial strip with a lot of traffic lights. From there, it's onto I-25 South for 19 miles. I guess the Old Route was paved over on this stretch.
The routing I found online took us through the Santo Domingo Indian Reservation and Pueblo. That was depressing. A very disadvantaged area, a very rough dirt road, and lots of dogs wandering the streets. In fact, we had another incident with multiple cows challenging us in the road. Hard to believe that this route was ever part of Route 66, but I guess it's possible considering it was the pre-1937 route.
"Umm…excuse me! Can we get by here?"
"Is that cow smiling at me? That's kind of creepy."
Eventually, the road became paved again. However, still there was nothing to see and due to the speed limits it was really slow going. I was convinced that we were off track and we should just jump on the Interstate for a while. Just as I was about to give up after we got through Algodones, there was a Historic Route 66 sign. So, we kept on. Actually, the road we were on was El Camino Real, which was the original trade route from Santa Fe to Mexico. A strange observation I had about reservations is that several times while we were going the speed limit, we got tailgated. I'm not sure what that was about, but we were taking the speed limits seriously, and a lot of other people weren't. Anyway, with the ongoing slow going, there were a few times when we were about to give up and cut over to the Interstate, and then there would be a Historic Route 66 sign mocking us, making us stay the course. Really, though, there's not anything to see or do along this stretch, so taking the Interstate on the stretch between Santa Fe and Albuquerque might not be a bad idea, unless you get off on driving through Indian reservations.
After all that, and then getting through the commercial strip heading into Albuquerque, I made an executive decision to cut out the lower part of the pre-1937 loop. I headed straight west from Albuquerque instead of heading south and looping clockwise through Pajarito, Los Lunas, and South Garcia. That saved us a net 23 miles and turned the remaining 33 miles from local highway into Interstate. As far as I could tell, there was nothing notable we cut out on that loop, anyway.
As we headed west, we saw Owl Rock and rode Deadman's Curve coming into Laguna. As you come close to Cubero, you have a choice of cutting off the corner and missing Cubero on the post-1937 alignment, or taking the longer pre-1937 route through Cubero. Cubero is interesting because there are a lot of old pueblo remains. There is also an old Mexican cemetery. I think it's worth the extra few miles. Continuing on to Grants, there are a lot of abandoned business along the road, and you will see a large area with a lot of volcanic rock.
Old Mexican cemetery
Grants is laid out a bit weird. If you are riding the old route through the center of town, it's like there are two business districts with a sparse area in the center. So, as you are riding through, you think you are leaving town and then the business district gets dense again. Don't get fooled because both of the restaurants we were looking for were in the western part of the town, and we almost gave up on them. Our destination in Grants was The Uranium Café. That and the Monte Carlo Restaurant were both recommended. The decision was made easy by the fact that the Monte Carlo was for sale and seemed to be closed. So, the Uranium Café it was.
When we went in, it was almost 2:00 p.m. local time, so the joint was nearly empty. It was a small, very old, place, but it was very well-maintained and very clean. The older gentleman who greeted us got our drinks. This turned out to be the highlight of the day because after he gave me my iced tea, he accidentally dumped Andrea's ice water all over her. What a mess. Apparently, Andrea didn't find it nearly as funny as I did but, as she would say, I was "laughing enough for two". After that fiasco, finally a breathless man came up to take our order. Apparently, the waitress hadn't shown up for work, so the cook was also acting as sole waiter, sole busboy, and cashier. He was having a tough day. Thankfully, the lunch rush was over by the time we got there. I had a Mexican combination platter and Andrea had a breakfast burrito. Both were very pretty good, and we would recommend the place. It wasn't to die for, but it was very good road food. As an interesting side fact, there are five brothers that own the place. The older gentleman who greeted us was their father, and the guy doing three jobs was one of the brothers.
Heading out of Grants, the most notable thing were all the junked cars in Bluewater. There was an abandoned reptile farm on the left that looked interesting and there were a number of beautiful rock formations on the right as we went along. Much of the route today was either frontage road for the Interstate, or the Interstate was at least in sight. On the stretch after Bluewater, there was some interesting irony. There was an accident in the westbound lanes of I-40 that had I-40 westbound completely closed. The traffic was backed up for miles at a dead stop. It was to the point where people had turned off their cars and were wandering around, walking on the pavement. As we saw this backup of several miles, we're tooling along on a parallel frontage road at 65 MPH. Sucked for them.
Zooming by everyone stopped on the Interstate.
The Continental Divide is…the Continental Divide. There's nothing to see except a photo op with the sign, and a few souvenir shops. As we headed toward Gallup, we saw one of the more interesting sites of the trip. Near and just past Church Rock Village, in the area between the old road and the railroad tracks on the right, it was positively teeming with prairie dogs. I don't know what it is about that area that is so amenable to them, but they were the first prairie dogs we saw on the trip, and in maybe a mile or two we saw close to fifteen of them without even looking hard, spread out along that strip. Then, after that, we never saw any again. Very strange. I'm really curious why the population is so dense in that area.
This picture looks familiar
Prairie dog is on the right under the bush. Actually looks like a turtle in this picture.
Gallup definitely has an Old 66 feel to it. There are lots of old neon signs and moving light bulb signs. A fair number of businesses that fell victim to the Interstate, but overall it's a thriving town.
Heading out of Gallup, we stayed away from the Old Querino Trading Post. I'd seen it mentioned other places, but it looks like a dirty book store because it doesn't have any windows. Gave me the willies.
Continuing onward toward Holbrook, there were a couple of places where the frontage road dead-ended on us unexpectedly, so for the most part we were forced onto the Interstate for that last stretch.
The Wig Wam Motel was easy to find, as it is right on Route 66 in the center of town, and you can't miss the wigwams. It's advertised as a motel and curio shop, but other than a few postcards, there was nothing for sale in the lobby. $47, payment up front, got us wigwam number 3. I had suspicions that Holbrook was not a particularly "wired" town, and I was right. There was no wireless Internet (which is not surprising given the $47 rate), and there was no phone in the room. Out of curiosity, I checked if I could even detect any wireless LANs in range. Even though I was in the middle of the commercial district, there were absolutely none detected. And, as a side note, Holbrook is the only town I may have ever stayed in that does not have a single local access number listed for dialing in on Earthlink. Hence the delay in getting this posted.
The wigwams are like bomb shelters inside. The thing is solid cement, with low ceilings and walls that angle in on you. If you were prone to claustrophobia, you might have a bit of trouble here. However, it was totally unique and a cool place to stay. Was it as nice as the Marriott? No, and you shouldn't expect that for $47. However, it was definitely a step up from the Wagon Wheel, and we had no problem staying here. As an odd side note, there was no Gideon Bible in the room, but there was a Book Of Mormon. Are the Gideons and Mormons in a battle for motels and hotels now? As is usually the case in Route 66 towns, the motel was very close to the railroad tracks where very long freight trains went by at varying speeds.
We got multiple recommendations Joe & Aggie's Restaurant in Holbrook, so we gave it a try. A fascinating coincidence I realized when we pulled into the parking lot was that I had taken a picture of my motorcycle in front of that very building three years earlier. It was still early as our bodies and stomachs were still adjusting from east coast time, so we were the first customers of the evening. The food was very good, and everyone there was extremely friendly. We had a good time talking with everyone there, including one of the owners who was there. He is a third-generation owner. Aggie is his grandmother. He told us the entire history of the business and the building which is a fascinating Route 66-type story. His grandmother, aged 92, still waits tables a couple of days a week. Awesome. They have a small gift shop as well. On all counts, Joe & Aggie's is highly recommended to Route 66 travelers. Truly, our visit there, the great food and the great conversation is what a Route 66 trip is all about. They open at 6:00 a.m. for breakfast, which the owner said generally caters to a local crowd. I mentioned that Holbrook has to be the most unwired city in the US, and the theme continued. The restaurant has no website, and the owner doesn't even have an e-mail address. Weird the things you take for granted as being everywhere.
My motorcycle in front of the mural at Joe & Aggie's in 2003
When we got back, we noticed our neighbors in Wig Wam 2 outside. We went over to chat with them. They were touring the country in a 1966 Rambler. It was a sweet set of wheels.
This is a sweet set of wheels
At night, I walked around the parking lot a bit, and the motel had a great Route 66 feel to it. It was perfect summer night weather. There was the glow of the neon at the front office. Each wigwam has a flood light up top, and they were all illuminated. The trains were rumbling by. It was like something out of a Route 66 documentary.
The wig wams at night. Lousy quality photo, but it tells the story.
My favorite picture from the trip.
One thing that the Wig Wam did have in common with the Wagon Wheel was a lock on the door that probably hadn't been changed in 50 years. So, quite probably for the first time in my life, I slept with a chair propped up against the door.
Day 5 - Holbrook, AZ to South Rim Grand Canyon, AZ
Wednesday, September 6, 2006
The Wig Wam Motel provided us a good night's sleep. Even though we were only a block away from the train tracks, the thick walls of the wigwam blocked most of the noise.
I went for a short run in Holbrook. Not much going on in that town at 7:00 a.m. The high point of the run was when I was running on the street that abuts the tracks and runs parallel to them. A train was coming in the other direction and I waved to the engineer and he gave me a double toot.
I skipped breakfast but Andrea went back to Joe & Aggie's for breakfast. She saw the Norwegian bikers there. She said the food was fine, but the service experience was like the Uranium Café. There was one waitress, and she was totally overwhelmed. That fits in with what the owner had told us. Generally, it's a local crowd for breakfast, so they are probably not staffed for a flood of people from out of town. I later saw the Norwegian bikers leaving town en masse as I was packing up the car.
If you got claustrophobic in the room, then you'd really have a problem in the shower. The ceiling totally closes in on you, and the shower head was only about five feet high. The water had a pretty potent sulfur smell, and we felt like we smelled like sulfur for several hours after showering.
Truly, the Wig Wam Motel is an old-style motel. The office is actually closed in the morning, and it doesn't open until check-in time at 3:00 p.m. So, Andrea was temporarily out of luck when she went to borrow a hair dryer. Luckily, the people in the wigwam next door with the '66 Rambler lent her one. As we were instructed at check-in, we left the key behind in the room when we left, and we were off.
Our first stop after leaving Holbrook was the Jack Rabbit Trading Post. Although it is listed as being in Joseph City, it is well west of Joseph City. We drove through Joseph City on the old road, and there's not much going on. As for the Jack Rabbit, that is the place where I bought my jackelope back in 2003. After a while, all the souvenir stores start to look the same, but I found Jack Rabbit to have a lot of unique stuff. So, we did a lot of our shopping there and had them ship the stuff directly to us at home so we didn't have to carry it. And, just like last time, they were willing to ship other stuff we'd bought and other stuff we had brought with us that we didn't need anymore. (Remember this…it comes into play later in the day.) The Jack Rabbit also has a small museum room of old Route 66 antiques that are not for sale. So, in summary, I think Jack Rabbit is a must-stop.
You can dress her up…
An interesting note about Arizona is that, like Nevada, they are one of the few states when any store with an ABC license can sell hard liquor. So, you can stock up on your libations at the Jack Rabbit Trading Post. I was all about buying the small bottles of pre-mixed margaritas.
As a side note, Arizona seems to do a better job of marking the old road than New Mexico. In Arizona, you have no choice but to spend a good percentage of time on the Interstate when you are following the old road. However, Arizona does have signs leading you off the Interstate when other alignments can be found, and the signs lead you back on to the Interstate when necessary.
As another side note, Andrea counted a personal record 134-car train on the tracks paralleling us on the Interstate.
Next stop, Winslow. There are two notable landmarks in Winslow, the La Posada Hotel and "The Corner". The La Posada Hotel is a former Harvey House, and it is undergoing continuing renovation. Many famous people over the years have stayed there, and it is a beautiful place. One of the owners is an artist, and a lot of her artwork is hanging in the hotel. As noted earlier, I am not an art expert by any stretch of the imagination, so I don't know if her art is "good". However, it is really cool. Most specifically, she has done a series of very haunting themed paintings of each of the First Ladies. La Posada welcomes visitors who want to just look around, so it's worth the stop.
Portrait of Mrs. Grover Cleveland. She was 21 when she married the President of the United States.
A couple blocks away is "The Corner". It's actually pretty comical when you think about it, but Winslow has built a tourist business around one stanza in the Eagles song "Take It Easy". Specifically, it is, "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 ". I'm not sure how the local tourism board determined exactly what corner that was, but it is at the intersection of North Kinsley Avenue and West Second Street. Second Street is old Route 66 through town, so that may have something to do with it.
Standin' on a corner…
Much like the Continental Divide, there's not much to do at "The Corner" other than take a picture. Two of the four corners have souvenir shops, one of which was blasting Eagles music out their door. As much as I like the Eagles, I've got to imagine that must drive people nuts hearing that all day long.
Heading out of Winslow means more time on the Interstate. We bypassed Meteor Crater. I went there in 2003, and you pay a bunch of money to see a big hole in the ground. I can look at a quarry that's just as big for free.
We stopped off at the Two Guns ruins, and I walked around and took a bunch of pictures. I don't know how I completely missed this in 2003, but I did. It's pretty dramatic, and definitely worth a stop.
One of the few recognizable ruins at Two Guns
Remains of the mountain lion cages. This is the back side of the previous picture.
Various ruins. At lower right is the bridge over the gorge.
Old gas pumps at Two Guns
We pulled off at the Twin Arrows exit so I could show Andrea that. Aside from seeing Twin Arrows itself, we saw a road runner run across the road in front of us. We were hoping to see a coyote wearing a napkin and holding a knife and fork chasing it, but no such luck.
We left I-40 in Winona. Winona was advertised as a place with "lots of shut down things", but I didn't see anything like that. Maybe we were in the wrong place in Winona, but it looked like a nice residential community. I didn't see anything resembling a business district. As such, we were having trouble finding someplace to go for lunch. A nice lady at a gas station on US 89 told us to head south on US 89 towards Flagstaff, and we'd find something down there. Just south of where US 89 intersects Townsend Winona Road, there is a cluster of gas stations. The area looked very familiar, and I remembered that there was a diner there that I had lunch at on my last trip, specifically Mary's Café. The food was good at Mary's but like the Uranium Café and Joe & Aggie's this morning, there was a single person waiting on all the tables, and she was totally overwhelmed. So, it took us forever to get our food and get out of there, which was putting us even more behind schedule. The really slow service at Mary's is the first of many small things that would go wrong this day, adding up to a lot of aggravation. Just the same, the service problems were likely an aberration there, and the breakfast food we had was very good. So, it's a good food stop on the way up to the Grand Canyon. Most notably, they are famous for their enormous cinnamon rolls.
The next thing to go wrong was my fault for putting too much faith in mapping software. Going north on US 89, I thought that at some point you need to cut over west about 20 miles to get on US 180 going north if you want go to the Grand Canyon. I didn't remember that you could keep going up US 89 to SR 64 and take that into the park and bypass US 180 altogether. So, via the mapping software, I decided on an unnamed "Connector Road" between US 89 and US 180 through the Coconino National Forest. My first clue that this was a bad plan should have been that the first connector road we tried to go on didn't exist. There we were, in the right spot according to the GPS, but the left turn wasn't there. Undaunted (or stubborn, depending on your opinion), we went up a few miles to the next connector road, and took a left. The next 20 miles was like a bit out of I Love Lucy or, better yet, the movie The Long, Long Trailer. The roads were more or less fire roads. The were totally gutted and in some places going over an area at even five miles an hour would have done damage to your car. While, via the GPS, we always knew exactly where we were and what direction we were headed, we would consistently find that a turn we wanted to take wasn't there, or we'd have to take a turn when the road which supposedly kept going ended. We were extremely lucky it hadn't rained in the area recently, or we would have been stuck in the mud. It was slow, tense driving that really upped our stress level. And, to make matters worse, the situation was totally self-imposed.
Finally, we hit US 180 and headed north. As we headed up US 180 towards the park, it started pouring. We looked on the bright side, and were thankful that it didn't happen to us our previous stretch on the fire roads. Nonetheless, it still sucked.
We got to the park, and I was holding a dim candle that having overnight reservations in the park meant that we wouldn't have to pay the $25 park entrance fee. No such luck.
Once we got into the park, it was like your worst nightmares about the Grand Canyon realized. One of the first notable things we saw was a cluster of people milling about, cars stopped in the middle of the road, and someone throwing their car into reverse in the middle of the road. I thought to myself, "Oh, great…a bunch of people getting out of their cars to look at a bear, with no regard to theirs or anybody else's safety." I was close. It was an enormous elk just laying down in the woods. The morons were practically walking right up to it to take its picture. Likely, within a minute or two, someone was going to try to pet it. I just kept going. A final note on this is that when we got to our room and read the welcome packet, it specifically noted to stay away from the wild elk, especially in the rutting season. They said you should never get out of your car to photograph an elk or bear. Hear, hear.
The rain was still coming down when we got to the Bright Angel Lodge, where you check in to stay in the cabins we were staying in. The scene at the lodge can best be described as the news clips I have seen of the Tokyo Subway at rush hour. The only difference is that in the Tokyo Subway, everyone has a sense of purpose and is at least moderately paying attention to their immediate surroundings. Here, it was a madhouse. You couldn't move, people were constantly in the way, it was chaos. Another fun little surprise was that not only was our room not ready yet, but the room rate had gone up since I made the reservation. Again, both situations I should have expected per the reservation form. Nonetheless, it was still annoying. Plus, we got shaken down for a donation to support Grand Canyon maintenance.
We went to the bar so I could get a drink and decompress. That was not to be because a German couple asked if they could sit at our table with us, and they sat down and proceeded to speak German to each other. Andrea told me later, "That's really common and accepted in Europe." I responded, "News flash…we're not in Europe."
When our room was ready, we went to get the stuff out of the car. The good news was that the cabin was about as close as possible to the check-in point, so we didn't have to move the car in the middle of the sea of people. The bad news was that it was still pouring rain. This leads to the most notable moment of the afternoon. Remember earlier when we were at the Jack Rabbit Trading Post and got a bunch of stuff out of our bags to send home. Well, someone who shall remain nameless didn't zip her bag back up. So, when I lifted the bag out of the trunk, all of her clothes and puzzle books went spilling onto the flooded pavement. What a fiasco.
We got into the room, and the cabin was nice. The good news is that it's in a good location. The bad news is that being in a good location means you've got people right outside your window all day. That turned out not to be a big deal because it stayed quiet at night, but during the day it's like you are living on a busy street corner. The cabins are decent, with a mini-fridge, satellite TV, and a telephone. Rustic, but not too rustic. We had the best shower facilities we've had thus far on the trip. While the rooms have heat, they do not have any sort of AC. It wasn't a problem for us at this point in the year. However, it might be rough if you are hanging out in your room during the day in the summer.
We tried getting reservations in the nicer restaurant here at El Tovar, the only one that takes reservations, but they were effectively booked up. So, we went to a more casual one. The restaurant was near empty, but they said it would be ten minutes, so we were given a pager. Andrea theorized that they do that to everybody so you'll walk next door to the gift shop and spend money. She's a smart girl.
Dinner was fine. I had fish and chips, and Andrea had beef stew for the soup and lasagna. Andrea's beef stew was really good. Way better than the lasagna. Andrea said that the lasagna sucked, but she said that was more due to bad ordering on her part than anything. As a continuation from an earlier theme, I ordered a Miller Lite from an obviously drunk drinks waiter. The beer never came. He came by later to apologize and then talk beers with me. It was more funny than anything.
After dinner, we went to a couple overlooks, and that was more or less it for the day.
Day 6 - Rest Day at South Rim Grand Canyon, AZ
Thursday, September 7, 2006
We slept well last night, although we were each one pillow short.
I started the day with a 40-minute run. The road to Hermit's Rest is a great running road as long as you are comfortable with hills. It's closed to all traffic except construction and shuttle buses. At worst, maybe one vehicle comes by every five minutes in the early morning. Breakfast was decent.
Our major event for the day was a long walk at the rim. We took a bus to Hermit's Rest at the end of an eight-mile road, and walked back five of the eight miles. We did it that way because it would force us to walk a little over five miles before there was a convenient bus pick up. The walk was good. The rim trail on Hermit's Rest Road is interesting. For the most part, there's a pretty wide dirt road that is a bit off the rim that you can follow. At some points you have to walk on the road, but mostly you are off the road. At numerous points, there are short trails that go right on the edge of the rim. Whether or not you take them is dependent on how daring you are. It was a good walk…I would be stretching it to call it a hike. The only notable wildlife we saw where three rabbits that ran across our path at various points.
Pictures just don't do the Canyon justice
As we were getting close to the end point of our walk, the sky was darkening. We could hear thunder and by my math, the lightning was two miles away and getting closer. It was starting to drizzle and it felt like it was going to really start coming down. The buses are fifteen minutes apart and we thought we had it timed right to catch one. However, we were a ways back when it pulled in at the stop, and we had to run for it. We made it, just barely. Between the time we got in the bus and the time it started moving, it really started coming down in buckets. We were really lucky. Even when we got back, it was still pouring, and as we walked to lunch from our cabin, we got drenched further.
Lunch was a decent affair. I had a turkey sandwich and Andrea had a bread bowl full of that beef stew she loved so much. It was a good lunch. By the time we got out of lunch, it was sunny again. We went back to the room and we spent the rest of the afternoon doing puzzles and sleeping. When we take a rest day, we really take a rest day.
For dinner, we tried the nicest restaurant they have here, the restaurant at the El Tovar Lounge, the only one that takes reservations. Andrea had the tomato garlic soup and I had a beer, and we both had strip steak. The food was quite good overall, and it's a good restaurant for a nice night out at the Grand Canyon. Total before tip was $75.
Now, it's time to get psyched for two long driving days in a row. For those of you who play the license plate game, we only have ten states to go, in addition to Washington, DC. North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Massachusetts. Tomorrow doesn't look particularly promising for picking any of them up since we are not really on the Interstate. Hopefully, our day in California will knock a few more out.
Day 7 - South Rim Grand Canyon, AZ to Needles, CA
Friday, September 8, 2006
As I was laying in bed this morning at 6:00 a.m. with people having full-volume conversations six feet away, right outside our window, I gave some thought to our visit to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. For those of you who've been here, you'll likely say "Well, duh!" to my conclusion. The Grand Canyon itself is truly awe-inspiring. Its size and its beauty are unmatched. However, the crowds here are unbelievable. I thought that by coming when school was in session, it wouldn't be too bad. My strategy partially worked, as there is almost no one here between the ages of 4 and 20. However, the crowds are obscene during the day. At night, it's not as bad since there's only so many people who can stay overnight, and all the day-trippers are gone because there's nothing to see at night. However, during the day, it is awful with the buses full of people, all totally oblivious to anyone around them. It is like a cruise ship, only worse. Point being that if you want any sort of peace and quiet here, you need to go out of your way to get off the beaten path. The easy-to-get-to places will be teeming with people. You've got to take a long hike or something like that.
We wanted to get an early start today since we had a lot of driving to do, so we decided to only do the remaining three miles of the Hermit's Rest hike. While we thought we'd get out early, between the bus ride, the hike and the showering, we didn't get out until 10:00 a.m.
Old mining equipment on the South Rim
"Just take a couple more steps back and the picture will be perfect!"
Sign on an unguarded edge telling you to stay away from the unguarded edge
We made really good time on the stretch going to Seligman, partially because you are forced to be on the Interstate for a decent percentage of it. The first town we went through on the way there was Williams. Williams is a neat little town, and it has something that is pretty unique. Route 66 through town is a pair of one-way streets that are next to each other, one going west and one going east. The block in between the two streets is really only half a block wide, so the businesses on that stretch are accessible from both one way streets. Ingenious, really. The main Route 66 arteries are one-way, allowing you to get through town quickly. However, all the travel-related businesses are immediately accessible from both directions. Williams had a lot of bars…remnants of the Wild West.
Ash Fork was the next major point of interest. Ash Fork is the "Sandstone Capital Of The World", and on the western side of town there are acres and acres of sandstone stacked up and ready to be shipped. We had a pretty humorous experience getting out of town. The town goes out of its way to post signs so you can follow the old route as it cuts back and forth through the town. Near the western edge, a Historic Route 66 sign points you down a street with a sign that says "Not A Through Street". To me, that was kind of conflicting, so I kept on. I could tell it was an old alignment because even though the pavement was not being maintained, you can see the stretch was painted with double yellow lines at some time in the past. The stretch got more and more rutted, and just when we were about to turn back, we could see Business I-40 up ahead. So, we kept going through some serious ruts and came out on the far end. If you go through Ash Fork, I challenge you to follow that section. It's not long, but it's dicey.
After Ash Fork, you have to get back on the Interstate for about five miles, and then you get off on Exit 139, State Road 66, to begin one of the best stretches of the old road. The Interstate quickly gets out of sight, and you have long straightaways with beautiful vistas starting a 150+ mile stretch of the old route that never touches the Interstate. You're not back on the Interstate until right before you go into California.
The first stop on this stretch is Seligman, a major Route 66 tourist destination. Most notably, there is the Snow Cap, an ice cream stand famous for too many reasons to mention here, and Seligman is also home to Angel Delgadillo. Angel is credited for being the person to really spearhead the revival of Route 66. While there are many people getting more headlines (and money) pimping Route 66 right now than Angel, Angel started the very first "Route 66 Association", specifically, the Route 66 Association Of Arizona. He has been continually active in the revival of the old road, and is affectionately known as Route 66's Guardian Angel.
Anyway, upon arrival in Seligman, it was lunchtime. The most well-known lunch spot there, aside from the Snow Cap, is the Copper Cart. Alas, like the Monte Carlo Restaurant in Grants, NM, it was for sale, and it was closed. So we continued through town, and on the western edge of town we found Westside Lilo's Café on the left, and the Roadkill Café ("You Kill It, We Cook It") on the right. Hmmm…how to decide? It was left up to me and, you guessed it, it was The Roadkill Café.
The Roadkill Café was pretty good. Andrea had the chicken fingers and I had a breakfast platter. The service was really bad, but the food made up for it. The restaurant was a combination restaurant and full whiskey-drinking bar. That seems to be a pretty common thing in Arizona.
After The Roadkill Café, we headed back into town to Angel's barbershop. Visiting with Angel is kind of a crapshoot. You never know when he's going to be there and even if you call ahead, there's no guarantees (as I learned this trip). When we got there, he was home resting up (he's 79) for a television interview that afternoon. Kind of a bummer, but that's the way it goes. I got to meet him in 2003 and got a signed postcard, so I wasn't too disappointed. (As a side note, his brother Juan, who ran the Snow Cap, sadly passed away in 2004. I got an autographed postcard from him as well in 2003, and I'm glad I got to meet him while he was still around.) We bought a few t-shirts and headed over the Snow Cap for dessert.
The Snow Cap is…an experience. Better to let you experience it for yourself rather than my ruining it for you. The ice cream is good, we both enjoyed it. Andrea had a strawberry shake and I had a female sundae (no nuts).
As we kicked back and enjoyed the ice cream and watched the world go by on Route 66 in Seligman, Andrea and I made an interesting observation about the town. There were a lot of businesses that cater to the Route 66 tourist. The center of town is pretty much overrun with souvenir shops, and not much else. There's not anything to draw you to Seligman other than the Snow Cap and Angel's barbershop. Really, Seligman is capitalism at its finest, or its worst, depending on how you look at it. All of these businesses sprung up because of people coming into town for the two original attractions. Looking at it one way, Juan and Angel revitalized the town. Looking at it another way, a bunch of johnny-come-latelies are siphoning off the tourism business that Juan and Angel created.
After our ice cream, we gassed up and continued west. From Seligman to Hackberry, it's a beautiful desert ride. More or less, mostly all you see on that stretch on the roadside is closed up businesses. It really is a brutal reminder of how this stretch's way of life was destroyed by the Interstate. Truxton, especially, is really a ghost town.
At the Hackberry General Store, we just pulled in the parking lot, looked around, and kept going. We were starting to run late, and we were already souveniered out between the Jack Rabbit Trading Post and Angel's Barbershop.
Kingman takes a while to get through on Route 66 because of all the traffic lights. While it's kind of a cool-looking town in the old town section, if you don't have any specific destinations in Kingman, you may want to think about bypassing it on I-40. Yeah, I know that's kind of blasphemy, but it's my opinion.
The next stop, and last stop before getting to Needles, was Oatman. Andrea got to do the driving for this. Sitgreaves Pass, heading into Oatman, is one of the toughest driving challenges on a state highway in the US. It's up and down, very winding, no guardrails, and the drop off the side is guaranteed serious injury, if not death. I gave her an out and offered to take the wheel, but she said she wanted to do it. A lot of it was in first gear, and it was slow going, but she did great. Along Sitgreaves Pass, there are plenty of sealed up old mine shafts visible from the road. The gold mine that you can tour did not seem to be open, so that wasn't an option. We got to Oatman, which is famous for its burros and llamas wandering the streets, its souvenir shops, a Wild West history, and not much else. Part of the experience there is feeding the burros. You can buy carrots at most of the shops. An important thing to know which, thankfully, someone told me is that you should not feed carrots to the baby burros. They can easily choke and they've lost two that way this year already. Good thing I was told because I was just about to feed one, my natural inclination being to feed the smallest and cutest one. Other than feeding the burros and buy more souvenirs in Oatman, there's not much else. In Oatman, there is one road in, and one road out. So, we continued in the direction we were going, and it was easy to stay on old Route 66.
Andrea makes a fast, albeit temporary, friend
So, it was off to California, and there's not much to see other than desert between Oatman and the California border. When crossing the state border, aka the Colorado River, you see the arch bridge that was crossed by the Joads in the movie Grapes Of Wrath and also crossed by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider. Since then, the deck of the bridge has been removed and all it carries now is pipelines. Immediately upon crossing the border, gas went from an average of $2.65 a gallon to $3.65 a gallon. Welcome to California! This is, apparently, not a new phenomenon because I remember in 2003, there was a 25%+ jump in the price of gas immediately upon crossing the border. The other "Welcome To California" moment was being stopped at the border for an agricultural product check. I felt like the Joads being stopped at the California border.
We got into Needles. Needles looked to be kind of a…rough town. It was sort of like Kingman on a really bad day. The demise of Route 66 has not been kind to Needles. We had a reservation at Fender's River Road Resort, which had been recommended to me on the Route 66 Yahoo group as the place to stay in Needles. Fender's was on the western edge of town and, when we got there, I was a little confused. There was an RV park, but the "resort" advertised on their website seemed to be a very rundown motel. Very different than what the pictures and wording on the website lead you to believe. Add to that that there were no other cars in the parking lot. I thought "Something's not right here." I went into the office and, apparently, I was in the right place. I figured, "OK, I'm here…I'll give it a try." So, we were given the key to Room 7, and off Andrea and I went.
We went in the room and it was…well…gross. It failed Andrea's immediate test of checking whether there was hair in the bed. (Ewwww!) Also, there was still a used bar of soap in the shower. The room was obviously a smoking room at some point in the past, and had never been renovated since then. The bedspreads were filthy, and everything was coated in cigarette tar. So, Andrea went back to the front desk and said we had a problem, specifically with the hair in the bed. The lady there, presumably the owner, was very apologetic and said that she hadn't checked the room after it had been cleaned. (Of course, that means she has housecleaning staff that makes the beds with dirty sheets if she doesn't keep an eye on them, but we won't belabor that point at the moment.) She wanted to give us another room, and she personally checked it out before giving it to us. Room 3. So, against our better judgment, we took the key and began moving our stuff in.
My first clue something was wrong was when I went to throw something away in the garbage can outside the room, and the can had an incredibly putrid smell when I opened it. We got in the room and, while there was no hair on the sheets, it had all the problems of the other room. It was totally smoked out, everything was even more stained (including the bedspread), it was dingy, it was dank, the floor was dirty…you get the idea. I was beginning to feel like a sucker but Andrea was, as usual, being a good sport and was willing to give it a go. The clincher came when we were in the room about five minutes, I used the bathroom, and the toilet tank overflowed all over the bathroom floor. At some level, I was impressed, because that was a plumbing problem that was a new one for me. Just the same, that was the final straw. I told Andrea to pack up the car, and I was going to go to the front desk and see about getting our money back. We both left the room at the same time, and the lady happened to be out in the parking lot, along with who I'm guessing was her husband and the co-owner. Andrea and I told them that we'd had enough. The husband said he would take a look at the toilet and, if he couldn't fix it, he'd give us another room. Andrea and I looked at each other and using "spouse telepathy", said to each other "Keeping loading up the car". As Andrea was putting the last of our stuff in, I went into the office to see about getting my money back. To my surprise, the lady at the front desk had already posted the refund to my credit card and she gave me the receipt. She apologized for all the trouble we'd had. As I got into the car, I saw the husband coming out of the room. Seeing as there were no odds in our being there when he found out we'd been given a refund and we were leaving, I floored it and we left there fishtailing in a cloud of dust. It's a nightmare that was not unlike the Wagon Wheel, although this one had a different ending. In some ways, we were lucky we had the explicit problems, because they gave us the leverage to get out of a gross place and still get our money back.
The only picture I got at Fender's before we hauled ass
Arguably, I've got no one to blame but myself. In theory, you always have the right to see a room before committing in any motel or hotel. But it's never a right I felt I needed to exercise. Apparently, I didn't learn my lesson at the Wagon Wheel. Unfortunately, I fell prey to a misguided recommendation and a misleading website. Andrea is of the opinion that the place was a total rip-off joint from the get-go, what with the extremely misleading website and the fact that they charged $85+tax in a town where the going rate is a lot less. I differ on that, since we got a refund without explicitly asking for it. I think that if their business model was ripping people off, the lady would have played hardball on the refund. Possibly, if the husband were there at the time, he would have. Anyway, in the end, it didn't cost us any money, and it gives us a story we won't forget.
So, we headed back into the commercial district of Needles and, just like after our experience at the Wagon Wheel on the first half of this adventure, we played it safe. The nicest hotels in the town seemed to be two Best Westerns. There was the Royal Inn and the Colorado River Inn, and they were only a mile or two apart. The Colorado River Inn looked slightly nicer from the outside, so we tried that out. Andrea gave our story to the lady behind the desk, and asked if we could see the room before committing since we were still shellshocked. The lady behind the desk was fine with it, and she more or less said that this particular hotel does a good percentage of their business from people running screaming from other motels in town. The room was fine, no hair in the bed and the toilet didn't overflow, so we checked in. In keeping with the Route 66 theme, the place bordered on the railroad tracks. As a funny irony, the room total including tax was less than $70, which saved us a good $25 as compared to what we would have paid at Fender's. And, to top it all off, they had both free wireless and CAT-5 Internet in the room. It was a great connection, getting some 250K/sec for downloading.
This brings up what is probably a good philosophical discussion point for Route 66 Roadies. How far do you stick your neck out to try to support mom & pop motels? Andrea and I talked a lot about this after Fender's, and I should admit she has a much better head for business than I do. Independent motels/hotels and independent restaurants are two things that Route 66-type travelers go out of their way to patronize, as compared to going to "safer" chain motels/hotels and chain restaurants. In a given town, unless the town has gone totally belly-up, you are going to find at least one decent restaurant or two because the restaurant business model is somewhat different than motels/hotels. While a lot of a given restaurant's business may be "just passing through" traffic, there's got to be at least one decent mom & pop restaurant that the people in the town go to. A motel/hotel can survive on non-repeat business and, like Fender's, be gross and theoretically make a go of it. Plus, with motels, an incredible percentage of the older ones have become welfare motels and, in those cases, the owners are not incented to keep the place up to the standards that the average traveler expects.
Anyway, my statistical sample is small, but we found that the good food is out there and as long as you trust your instincts, you'll be OK (my 2003 visit to the Mayberry Restaurant in Tulsa being my best example of trusting your instincts). However, we had two really bad motel experiences in two weeks of Route 66 traveling. In both cases, they are places that theoretically should have been OK and came recommended. So, my question is, while independent restaurants are still fighting the good fight, has the mom & pop motel gone the way of the buggy whip? Are the only ones that can barely survive the gimmick motels like the Wig Wam?
Anyway, per a recommendation I got on a Route 66 message board, and confirmed by the woman at the front desk at the Best Western, we went to the Hungry Bear Restaurant for dinner. If the place hadn't been recommended, we probably wouldn't have gone since it seemed pretty obvious that it shared a parking lot with a welfare motel. (This was more or less confirmed when I saw a prostitute getting dropped off in the parking lot after a business transaction while I was eating. "Waitress, on second thought, maybe I won't have the tuna fish after all.") The Hungry Bear was actually pretty good. They are a "Breakfast All Day" restaurant, and we both had breakfast food for dinner. The waitress was a bit slow, but she was really competent and very friendly. The overall bill for a lot of food was just under $15. A good place for healthy eating? Maybe not. But very good road food.
After dinner, we retired to our quarters for the evening. The commercial strip in Needles doesn't seem like a place that out-of-towners should be wandering around at night.
Day 8, Needles, CA to Santa Monica, CA (to Long Beach)
Saturday, September 9, 2006
We slept well at the Best Western. I forgot to note that the bed was way too soft at the Grand Canyon. The bed at the Best Western wasn't perfect, but it was better.
We had a long day of driving ahead of us, and Needles wasn't really conducive to going out for a run, so we bagged working out for the day. We had breakfast at Hungry Bear. We gassed up the car and topped off the air in the tires. We checked out of the hotel, and we were off.
The cost of gas varies widely as you go from place to place in California. In some places, it was in the high $3 range (with one notable exception that I will talk about later), and in some places it was in the high $2 range, with a low of $2.59 that we saw. Even odder was that in the same town, we would see variations of 20% or more in the price in gas stations a block apart.
Another quirky thing I saw in California is that bicyclists were allowed on the shoulder of some very busy Interstates. Permitting bicycles on Interstates may not be specific to California. I think I may have seen that on a desert Interstate in Arizona several years ago as well. However, the places where it was allowed in California were particularly busy. The only bicyclists we saw on the shoulder of Interstate were two guys, who by the look of their Route 66 emblazoned outfits, were doing all or at least part of the old route. More power to them. After my unfortunate experience bicycling on a shoulder a mile-and-a-half from my house last year, you can understand that I'm a bit skittish when it comes to bicycling on a busy road.
Eighteen-Wheeler: 1 Bill: 0
Coming out of Needles, there are a necessary few miles on the freeway, and then you are back to a lonely desert highway again. And this is hardcore desert…there ain't nothin' but scrub brush as far as the eye can see. A quirky thing about this stretch of Route 66 is that the series of railroad towns are in reverse alpha order as you go. The railroad named them that way on purpose. And some of the towns are totally gone, so you can't find every letter. The first settlement of note that you come to is Goffs. There is apparently the historic Goffs schoolhouse there, and seemingly a drive-thru circle for you to check it out. However, when we pulled in to see it, a grumpy-looking man with a rake was eyeing us, so we took off.
Fenner is an odd place. The only thing in Fenner is the "Hi Sahara Oasis". The place is bizarre. You're in the middle of the desert, and the place is made up to look like an actual oasis with palm trees and all that. And, you're in the middle of this baking desert, and there's fountains going. That, of course, comes with a price. No kidding, the price of regular unleaded was $4.70 a gallon. The prices inside the place were the same order of magnitude. A one-ounce packet of beef jerky was $3.99. (For those of you not good with math, that's $64 a pound for beef jerky.) I guess that's the mark-up needed when you are operating in the middle of a desert and, presumably, need your water trucked in. An interesting side note is a sign they had posted everywhere that I should have gotten a picture of. It said something on the order of "It has cost us a fortune to outfit this place, and it costs us a fortune to keep it running. You can choose to be a customer, or you can choose not to be a customer. If you choose not to be a customer, go somewhere else." I'm guessing the signs were posted in response to people blowing a gasket at the employees over the prices.
Fill 'er up!
The next town was Essex, which is more-or-less a wasteland. Essex's claim to fame is that it was the last town in the US to get any TV reception. As I understand it, it was sometime in the 1960s and The Tonight Show made a big deal about it. I guess their first network received was NBC? The only active business in Essex seemed to be a run down gas station with a guy there selling brand new tires. I wonder how much those cost.
The next major stop is Amboy. I know that my experience at Roy's in 2003 was less than positive, and I've read numerous instances on the message boards where whoever was there was downright unfriendly to visitors. They were closed anyway, so it wasn't really much of a stop. The only thing active in that town was the Post Office. I'm assuming that Post Office serviced a wide area, because there didn't seem to be much for them to do in Amboy. We also got buzzed by a couple of fighter jets training over the desert on this stretch.
Abandoned and gutted buildings in the middle of nowhere
We saw the Bagdad café. It was mid-morning and it looked like they didn't have any customers. Two employees looked to be hanging out outside. We took a picture and waved to them and we took off because it wasn’t quite mealtime yet.
The Bagdad Café
Daggett is an interesting place. There is a huge industrial complex on the right as you come in to town. It has acres and acres of solar collectors in addition to whatever else is going on there. As you get closer to the town proper, there is the Daggett Pioneer Cemetery on the left. It's definitely worth a look because it seems to be a bona-fide "Old West" cemetery. Although there are a few 20th century marble gravestones with names and dates, most of the graves are marked with small, plain white wooden crosses with no identifying information.
Daggett Pioneer Cemetery
Daggett is also home to a huge Marine Corps Logistics Center, but you can't really see any of it from the old route.
We pulled into Barstow to top off the tank before hitting the rest of the desert. We planned on lunch in Barstow and we stopped at the IHOP right when you get in to town. We went in there, and the place just didn't feel right…or smell right, for that matter. Trusting our instincts, we bagged the IHOP and since nothing else appealed to us as we drove through town, we decided to try in the next major town we were going to go through, Victorville. That experience was kind of ironic, because you expect the chain restaurants to be "safe", but you've got to trust your instincts.
About halfway between Barstow and Victorville, there is "The Bottle House" on the right. Trust me, you'll know it when you see it. Coming in to Victorville, there is Emma Jean's restaurant on the right. I went there on my 2003 trip. It was a decent greasy spoon, but we were looking for a step up from a greasy spoon.
Victorville was a much bigger city than I anticipated. There were a lot of Mexican food places along the old route in town and, for some reason, there were a lot of doughnut shops on the strip. Just as we hit the western edge of town, we saw Richie's Real American Diner and a Denny's on the right. Trying to patronize the independents, we chose Richie's. It turned out to be a really good choice. From the outside, it looked like a standard sterile restaurant in a new shopping center. However, inside it was a worn, yet clean, diner. Andrea had a burger and I had a banana split. The total bill was ten dollars and change. Definitely a good diner for Route 66 travelers.
Some ten years ago, I read that to do the old route through Los Angeles area, it was a total of 380 traffic lights and stop signs you had to deal with. Since the likelihood of that number going down since then is near nil, I planned to get on Angeles Crest Highway, and go through the Angeles National Forest and use that to bypass much of Los Angeles. Angeles Crest Highway is a beautiful curved mountain highway that is used for filming a lot of car commercials.
The Angeles Crest Highway was supposed to have been my route for the 2003 trip as well. However, in 2003, about five miles in, it was closed. As a result, I was stranded and had to somehow find my way to Los Angeles, which I eventually did. That detour was frustrating, but one couldn't have expected our trip leaders to anticipate that problem, because the road had only been closed for seven months. (Note, that was sarcasm.)
Alas, yet again, the Angeles Crest Highway was not to be. We got off the old route at Cajon Junction and headed up State Road 138. About a mile before we hit SR 2, Angeles Crest Highway, we came upon a one lane only traffic zone. The traffic on our side was stopped cold far enough back that we couldn't even see the construction. We were sitting there for so long that people were shutting their cars off and getting out and walking around. The situation looked bleak. Add to it that according to the signs, where SR 138 and SR 2 forked, SR 138 was closed. This meant that all the traffic waiting in the line was going on SR 2. So I said "To heck with this" or some other colorful phrase, and headed back to Cajon Junction.
We followed the old route, known as Cajon Boulevard on this stretch, another ten miles south. It's a neat stretch because it's more or less a frontage road for I-15 and, thus, has no traffic. Something unexpected on this stretch that's really cool is that there is an old alignment to your left. In fact, on a piece of it, it looked like hot rodders were doing some racing. Another added bonus was that a road runner ran across our path again.
From there, it was I-15 South to the Foothill Freeway to the San Gabriel River Freeway to the San Bernardino Freeway to the Santa Ana Freeway to the Hollywood Freeway to, finally, Santa Monica Boulevard. The freeways were brutal, and it was a Saturday afternoon. It wasn't even rush hour. I don't know how people stand it during rush hour. How Jack Bauer always gets places in the nick of time in Los Angeles is beyond me. About the only thing qualifying as scenic on this route is a brief glimpse of the big "HOLLYWOOD" letters on the hill.
Santa Monica Boulevard is about 15 miles in total, of which we were doing close to 13 of it when getting on at the Hollywood Freeway. Santa Monica Boulevard is its own special kind of hell. After bumper-to-bumper traffic on the freeways, it was now a red light every 100 feet, with construction delays as an added bonus. Like the freeways we'd traveled this far, there isn't really anything to see. While you go right through the center of West Hollywood, you don't see any Hollywood sights. You also skirt the outer edge of Beverly Hills. The houses you can see in Beverly Hills along this stretch are extremely nice, but not all that much different than really nice houses anywhere else. I guess that what makes them unique as compared to the McMansions being built today is that houses that big were really rare 50 years ago. My guess is that the really unbelievable places are not right on Santa Monica Boulevard.
The homeless problem is incredibly apparent along this stretch, and would also be very apparent when we got to Long Beach. What surprised me is how the problem didn't seem any less apparent in the nicer neighborhoods as it was in the not-so-nice neighborhoods.
Anyway, more than once, while we were on the freeways and on Santa Monica Boulevard I was totally ready give up and just head to our hotel in Long Beach. However, Andrea, ever the good sport, wanted to get to the end. So, we stayed the course. We parked at a meter on 7th Street, and walked the last few blocks to the ocean. Mission accomplished!
The end of the road
From there, we headed to Long Beach. The first couple miles were slow but, as compared to the rest of the drive in the Los Angeles area, the drive was pretty easy.
The Courtyard By Marriott in Long Beach is really nice, but a bit odd. They have full banquet facilities and all the trappings of a full-bore Marriott. My guess is that the facility was not originally built to be a Courtyard. Nonetheless, it is recommended. They have CAT-5 Internet in the rooms and wireless in the lobby. The throughput here was, ironically, only one-third what it was for the Internet at the Best Western in Needles. Nonetheless, it was reliable and it got the job done.
For dinner, we walked a few blocks to Pine Avenue, which is where there are some 30 restaurants in a four block stretch. The boss was in the mood for Italian, so we went to La Opera, right on the corner of 1st and Pine. We looked to be a bit underdressed, but we were sat at the table right at the front window where everyone walks by, so we were the living advertisement for the restaurant while we were there. The food was excellent, and we had a great waiter. La Opera is definitely recommended if you are in Long Beach and looking for a high-end Italian experience with reasonable prices.
We walked back to the hotel. It turned out to be a nice evening after a very long, rough day of driving.
Day 9, Departure from Long Beach, CA
Sunday, September 10, 2006
It's a standoff at the Long Beach Courtyard By Marriott. There is both a Gideon Bible and the Book Of Mormon in the nightstand drawer by the bed. Interesting…the Marriott family is well-known for being Mormon. So, I'm not surprised at their having the Book Of Mormon, but I'm a bit surprised they have both.
We got a quick workout in at the mini-gym before heading off to Long Beach Airport. On the way to the airport, there were active oil derricks working in Long Beach. Didn't expect that.
Signage on the way to Long Beach Airport is non-existent. Luckily we had directions given to us by the hotel because we literally didn't see a single airport sign until we were on the airport grounds. I don't know if the overall signage is "bad" or just "different" in California, but we had a hard time deciphering it. For example, on one of the freeways (that's California-speak for a limited-access highway), the exit numbers were not shown until the very last sign before you got on the exit ramp. Weird.
Long Beach airport is a really cool airport. It's old, very art deco, and funky. There are no jetways, so you embark and debark on the big staircases on wheels. I felt like one of the Brady Bunch going to Hawaii. A must-see at the Long Beach Airport is upstairs in the terminal where the restaurant and bar are. There's a really cool exhibit on the history of the airport.
The flight was full, but that is the only downside about our return trip. The flight left on time, it was smooth, and we got into Dulles a half hour early. Truly, it was a great flying experience. We grabbed dinner at Anita's in Chantilly on the way home, and our vacation was over.
And for those of you keeping score, the only states we didn't get in the license plate game on our trip were Alaska, Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota, Rhode Island and Delaware.
In the end, the Route 66 trip was worth it, and Andrea had fun. However, I'm suspecting that the gap between this trip and my next Route 66 trip will be longer than the three years between my first and second trip.
Additional lessons learned from this Route 66 Part 2 driving trip
(NOTE: Check out Part 1 to see lessons from the first half of this trip.)