66 Dirt Roads

Day 12. I’m in the Hampton Inn in Flagstaff which is jam-packed full of people going to the Northern Arizona University graduation today.  I made it through college twice, many years ago, and will skip this graduation and instead head on down Route 66 toward Kingman, Arizona.

Before I leave Flagstaff I want to see the Lumberjack Giant.  He’s a relative of the Gemini Giant and several of the other giants I’ve seen along the way.  And it turns out that he’s on the University campus.  I think he may even be their school mascot since his picture is all over their shuttle busses which are called the axe express.  The nice policeman tells me I can’t see him right now because he is located at the center of the graduation activities, and the ceremony is starting in about 15 minutes.  Come back in a couple of hours he tells me.  Oh well, on to the next thing…

Little town called Parks has an old 76 gas station that serves as a general store.  It’s also known as Parks in the Pines or the Deli Café. Further along the road I glimpse what must have been the old Wagon Wheel Lodge.  It’s a two story log house, the oldest building in the area.  It started out as the McHat Inn, but is now an unmarked private residence.  Had to have been that…

I’m supposed to get on the interstate for a few miles here and as I approach the entrance there is a sign that says Los Angeles 456 miles.  That’s driving on the freeway. The way I’m going it’s probably more like a  thousand miles.

The ramp to the freeway is closed.  Construction. The guy directing traffic there, meaning my car, tells me that if I go down the road and make a few turns and follow some dirt roads I’ll get to where I’m trying to be.  Okay!  Now this is travelling!

I think I’m in the middle of the Kaibab National Forest here. Taking the scenic route on a gravel road. It’s certainly in the boonies.  I can see the freeway in the distance. Off to the right there’s an old camper with a motorcycle parked under the overhang. I’m sure somebody lives there because it’s cheaper than building a house.

Turning at the crossroads, the road deteriorates.   This must be what the guide book referred to as the old gravel option. I guess you can’t really say you’ve driven Route 66 unless you drive someplace on a dirt road.

I passed a sign that said “cattle – open range” and sure enough there were no fences.  Don’t see any cattle though.  They must be ranging.   There’s a stop sign. I can’t believe it.  A stop sign in the middle of this nowhere, on a dirt road that is the red color of the canyons and rocks. This is what the original Road must’ve been like for the people coming through here in the 1920s.  Good thing their cars didn’t go more than 30 miles an hour. Off to the left I think there’s a bison ranch. There’s some kind a trolley tour bus driving around down there and now all of a sudden there’s all this traffic on this road. Weird.  I must be somewhere!

This is called The Arizona Wildlife Park. The road is paved again.  I came in through the back entrance, the front is civilized.

And just like that I’m back on a paved road and entering the town of Williams which was founded in 1881. There’s a big sign spanning the road that says Gateway to the Grand Canyon.  There’s a train that runs from here up to the Canyon.  It’s an old timey train with a steam locomotive, and no air conditioning.

Williams is so small there’s a one-way street going one way and another one-way street going the other way and that’s it.  In the middle of town is Rod’s Steakhouse with a cool neon sign with a big old cow at the top. The Native American trading post here has snowmobiles!  And look at this, the official Route 66 zip line. Short but sweet, and you have to climb a 50 foot tall ladder to get to the start.  Too much for me…

The Red Garter Inn here has a nice young lady hanging out the window.  And across the street Smokey the Bear waits to have his picture taken with you. They have a ski area here called Elk Ridge, but it’s closed this time of year. There is the Arizona Motor Hotel and the Westerner Motel, both vintage Route 66.

Williams is two blocks long but it’s loaded with gift shops and Native American jewelry.  I can’t control myself.  Everywhere I go I just drool.  And here’s this place called Native American.  The columns holding up the roof are all carvings of cowboys and Indians.  And here’s Pete’s Gas Station Museum. And back there was the teepee turquoise jewelry place.  It’s starting to get crowded here now.  There are a lot of people walking around and the sidewalks are bustling.  This is a great town.  It’s small but it has a lot of good stuff.

Ash Fork is the flagstone capital of the United States. I see a lot of cut stone, but have no idea where the quarry might be.  The historical society museum might tell me, but they are closed.  I can look in their windows though and see some vignettes of various activities in town.  I see the saloon girl and the gambler… And don’t miss Zettler’s Route 66 Store. They call themselves the best store on the mother road.  I can’t attest to that because they were closed when I went through.  But it looked like fun!

The DeSoto Salon is another example of crazy brilliant advertising.  The owner of the now closed salon put a real DeSoto automobile on the roof to attract attention.  The building still attracts attention, but the salon is long closed.  Before it was a beauty salon, the building served as a gas station during the 1950s.  Somehow gas station and beauty salon don’t seem to mix, and perhaps this has something to do with the salons demise?

On toward Seligman I run into a reproduction of the classic old Burma Shave advertising signs.  They would place five or six signs fifty yards or so apart along the side of the road.  Each sign had a portion of a rhyme on it, with the final sign saying Burma Shave. These were the shaving cream company’s classic advertising signs.  The one I see today says the one who drives/when he’s been drinking/depends on you/to do his thinking! Burma Shave

Seligman is in the desert and I’m afraid to get out of the car here because it’s so windy I might blow away. But it looks like a funky, funky, funky, town. Lots of fun.

Had lunch at the Snow Cap which was Juan Delgadillos’ little eatery and barber shop.  Very interesting décor. The whole inside of the building is covered in business cards and money from foreign lands.  The outside is totally a Route 66 and 1950s theme.   They were known for their practical joking and on the door to go inside there’s a door knob on the right side of the door and a door knob on the left side of the door.   The one on the right side is the correct one to use, and it says push when you actually have to pull.  If you look closely at the hinges you can tell right away which is the real doorknob.

I’m standing there at the counter to order my hotdog and the guy points of mustard bottle at me.   And he squeezes it and this yellow stream of stuff comes out.  Of course I thought it was mustard but it was a yellow string.  I was too stunned to yell at the guy, and when I realized what was happening I was glad for it! There was a busload of Japanese tourists who pulled up to eat, and I sat at a table with some German travellers.

The rest of the town has some little shops and its all Route 66 oriented. One of the stores was a little motorcycle museum.  There was a cool Vespa scooter, and a weird looking Honda about the size of the Vespa. The descriptive label on the Honda said it had a 300 ml engine, and that in 1964 this was Honda’s cruiser bike.  Not quite like today’s Goldwing!

On the way to Truxton there is an open stretch of road.  In the middle of nowhere I see a guy riding his recumbent bike down the middle of Route 66. I know I’m at least ten miles from Seligman, and probably ten or more miles from the next civilization of any sort. What is he doing way out here? That’s a long ride for exercise!

Peach Springs is the next little spot in the road. From the hillside outside of town you can look to the right and see a part of the Grand Canyon.  I’m not sure how far I am from where I was yesterday on the south rim, but the canyon stretches out for about 200 miles along the river. There’s an old gas station here that looks kind of like the Alamo and there are a couple of little shops and a fitness center and a nice sidewalk that curves around the trees. All of this is within about a block. And that’s it.

Down to Truxton.  The guide book says that the Frontier Motel is being lovingly restored. The Frontier Motel looks like the love ran out, or the money, or both because it’s closed and it’s not very much restored. But right next-door there’s a really cool blue Packard or something from the 20s maybe early 30s.   The convertible top over the driver’s part of the car is missing, but the passenger’s compartment is enclosed. It’s the powder blue color that really catches my eye.

Across the street there is a Truxton Station gas station and it looks like it’s from maybe the 60s or so. The Orlando Motel has a pink sign with holes in it and says vacancy.  Looks very sixtyish.

The small town of Valentine is very philanthropic. There’s a school there but there also be used to be an Indian school there that’s closed now.  And although there used to be a lot of inhumane kind of zoos along the road here, they now have a preserve where they’ve rescued abused, neglected and abandoned captive wild animals.

The Redball 76 station looks like it’s been overgrown for a couple weeks, or years. There is a fence around it and some nice trees that could probably be pruned back a little. But it would be nice.   Needs a new roof.   Right next to that there’s a big mine of some sort.   Looks like it blew up because it’s very disturbed.   In the guide book it says something about an unfortunate accident but I think what that means is that having the mine there at all was very unfortunate.

On my way to Hackberry. It’s a little off the main road on the old dirt alignment .  There is a really cool general store here that’s really a combination of general store, gift shop and museum.  It’s loaded with memorabilia from the glory days of Route 66.

Just past the general store in Hackberry there’s an ostrich farm.  The only reason I saw it was because there was a gap in the fence they had built around the place.  Through the gap I could see the birds.  The fence was constructed of 500 gallon water boxes.  I’ve seen people stopping to fill up similar boxes on the road at water tanks. I think they use the boxes to feed livestock in the pastures.  Not sure.

Kingman has a lot of new hotels on the approach but then there’s the Hilltop Hotel with their cool neon sign.  I think there were a couple of other old motels that have been converted into other things like a Thai restaurant or Chinese takeout. The Hilltop looks like it’s still a hotel. The sign says the Hilltop has the best view in Kingman and I can see the hills and the valley and the mountains.   It’s pretty neat but the hotel is closed for renovations.

The El Trovatore Motel is pink and it’s sort of built into mountainside.   There are several murals painted on the walls of the buildings here.  Elvis, Marilyn and Mr. Magoo too! And they claim to have the world’s longest Route 66 map as well.  All along the front of the several buildings that make up the motel they have painted a map of the road, from Chicago to Los Angeles.  The hotel isn’t the fanciest in town by any means, but the accouterments are cool.

The Arcadia Lounge has a neat sign and still has the swimming pool in the parking lot .  There’s no water in the pool and the whole place looks like a squatters paradise.

There are a couple of antique stores in town and a number of interesting looking buildings.  I went in three or four antique stores and bought a really weird looking Kachina that was made out of a gourd.  It’s called the Spirit from Outer Space.  It has two feathers and is mainly painted turquoise. It does look a little other worldly. The man who owns that shop plays the guitar two nights a week at the Hackberry General Store.

The Hotel Beale has a giant sign on its roof.  It says that the hotel is air-cooled.  But not air-conditioned.  The Packard Lounge has green neon sign. The post office has a Route 66 shield sign and Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner has a neon sign. Desert Drugs, a Walgreen agency, has a green and red neon sign.  Seems like everybody’s into this neon sign thing here!

There’s a thick haze when you look out across this valley toward the mountains and I think its just dust blowing.  There’s a sign on the highway saying Alert High winds and it’s windy out here.  I can feel it pushing the car around.

I was told to try a place called The Calico Restaurant for dinner.  It’s a place where the locals eat and was several miles from the antiques shops where I was.  Going over the mountain on the freeway in the evening I was surprised to see the lights of something that’s a big city. Turns out it’s Kingman, or modern Kingman.   The part where I was is just the old little downtown.  Big, sprawling, suburban to urban area.

The restaurant was on a main road.  Nothing fancy, but not a chain either.  In this Mexican place, I had chicken fettuccine and a salad and tea.  Hey, it’s on the menu…

From the hotel I could hear the trains blowing their horns.  I hear a train a comin’, rollin’ down the track…  There are a lot of trains out here in the desert.  Very long trains loaded with cargo headed in every direction. And even if they are a mile long, in the desert they look small…

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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