Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Desert, Dust and Dusk

Saturday June 9, 2012

All things considered we did good, getting on road before 10:00 AM. Lorna brought my breakfast to the room so I could wrap up the blog while eating. Between touring sleeping and blogging the day is gone fast!  As planned we began by back tracking Winslow  to Holbrook, 30 miles to the east on the interstate. The day was bright hot and breezy and expected to become downright windy.

The exit we took dropped us into the middle of where route 66 makes a turn as it runs through town and there was plenty to check out so we stopped there first. At that turn is a park space with a big town sign featuring route 66  and a rock slab with a jumbo version of the shield. The town has a ton of route 66 spirit, vintage establishments a few major league quirks that made it a fun visit.

First let’s talk about petrified wood. When we toured the Petrified Forest National Park on Friday they made it sound like what we were seeing was the last on earth. Now I realize that it’s a finite resource but let me tell you that once you get into town it’s as common as cordwood in skidder country. The town has chunks of it as benches, the bank has hunks by the walkway set like gargoyles, the stuff is everywhere and they celebrate it. The sellers all seem to be Indian and it’s probably mined, harvested or whatever the term is from their lands, under their laws.
The first stop was the Indian Rock Shop and it introduces the second quirk. There once was the “International Petrified Forest-Dinosaur Park-Museum of the Americas” which was drive though tour of Dinosaur Statues and fake Indian ruins. Well, the Dinosaurs have found new homes scattered about town and the Indian Rock Shop has a mother lode of them.
Behind the fence must be a dozen dinosaurs, the largest approaching 20 feet in height. One mother has 3 youngsters at her feet. Petrified wood is everywhere from logs to fragments piled like they just fell from the dump truck. The run of the mill stuff seems to sell for about $2.50 a pound in small quantities. They have piles of geodes starting at 80 cents each. A geode is sort of a volcanic spit ball that might have some nice crystal in a hollow center. You crack it open like an egg to see if you got lucky. Like most places the building is covered with fading murals in dinosaur and Indian themes. This embellishment of the vintage buildings is being carried forth in the many murals found on building walls. A big part of the route 66 experience is going on the Easter Egg hunt for all of the folk art. Inside you find a potpourri of polished petrified wood, Indian jewelry, souvenirs and other mineral curiosities. They polish the end grain to a high luster and it looks pretty cool. Lorna bought a few odd pieces and we were on our way.

Up the road the other place that looked interesting if not am amazing to us was Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Company. With lots of big signs , a huge outside fenced area and a nice big building it was like going to a petrified wood home center! Oh and here you find another dozen or so dinosaur refugees. Most of Jim’s dinosaurs are in a space of their own on a nice field of crushed stone, they look king of natural there especially against the big blue sky. Outside in the fenced yard were mounds of geodes , petrified wood and other colored stones, all in organized mounds. Larger pieces were free standing and marked with prices, large ones were in the $500. range.  Other big pieces were around the building and in the grass strip between the parking lot and highway.  Inside was a massive gift shop featuring the petrified and stone items along with common gift shop kitsch. Here large pieces with polished petrified wood could approach $1000. How about $3400 for a 2 foot square slab top end table?  Long glass shelves featured more modest polished pieces all arranged like items in the finest gift shop. I have to say the place was really done up in a professional manner. Even the large clean restrooms were loaded with shadow boxes in spider, butterfly and other critter themes. And if that’s not enough they had an indoor pond with fish and turtles.

At the same corner is a Welcome to Holbrook display that includes a man balancing atop what looks like a tree trunk of petrified wood while another man points a gun at him. A stone slab with Holbrook inscribed props the trunk up. I don’t know if it’s silly fun or symbolizes the relationships of the local cultures and petrified wood. It’s something else to research. Yea I know this needs pictures badly! They will come the photo count has passed 4500, thank God for digital.

The rest of the town seemed to be doing quite well. There were very few derelict properties and a number that seemed to be doing quite well. Many non-vintage properties were happy to jump on the bandwagon with 66 shields on lots of signs. How about a RT 66 Bail Bond shop? The bail bond shop got to be a common sight back in Oklahoma and has continued.  The service station we stopped at had an A&W counter, something I haven’t seen in ages. They still brew a good root beer. The Dairy Queen had a very unusual sign, ancient sign or non-conformist? I don’t know. They did have the classic red lips high in the sky on a sign post.

The most notable Motel is the Wigwam. They have a series of concrete wigwams that serve as individual “cabins” encircling the property. The owner has classic old cars parked in the place to instill that vintage motor court feel.  Recently revived and remodeled it would have been an interesting choice. There once were many of these places along the road and the crown jewel lies ahead in California.

Away from in town Holbrook is the Geronimo Trading post situated right on the exit ramp of I-40. The prominent gift shop has more petrified wood including the alleged largest piece. Tee Pees, a wind mill, wagons and other props line the perimeter of the yard.

We’re exit hopping and a few miles ahead is Joseph City. Founded as a Mormon fort it is the Jack Rabbit Trading post that drew us. Highway signs entice motorists to come ride the jack rabbit. Lorna posed with the 8 foot critter but he was way too slick and hot to mount. They did have a neat Tee Shirt design and one is coming home with me. Other than that it’s struggling to get by on the side spur and even sells some grocery items for locals.

Remember that increasing wind I mentioned earlier? It had really kicked and blowing desert dust put a haze in the air. We spotted many dust devils where the dust would get spun up into a column and resemble a small tornado. The desert is not what I expected, there were no sand dunes like at the Desert of Maine. The ground was partly covered with lightly colored grasses and stout bushes. The ground was partly bare accounting for the dust but it’s far from barren, it’s rich with plants that have adapted. The big classic cactus is nowhere to be found, they are a Mexican plant. There are plenty of smaller cactus plants to be spotted and the colorful wildflowers are gone for now.
That took us to Winslow where we found a whole different spin on becoming an attraction. They have taken the Eagles song Take it Easy which includes the line “standin on a corner in Winslow Arizona” and made it the theme of the in-town loop of 2 one way boulevards which comprise route 66.  There is the Standin on the Corner gift shop across from a small park on the corner with a bronze statue of a guy with a guitar, the sign near him refrains the lyric then it hits you like a Moe Howard poke in the eye.  At that same intersection is the mother of all RT66 shields, filling the brick intersection diagonally. The backdrop of the park is a 2 story brick wall that is a huge mural including the “girl my Lord in the flat bed Ford”. I missed posing there since I only learned of her latter. The park even garners a Hampton Roadside Landmark sign. We have seen these signs since the start of the trip and I’ll need to explain them latter.
Overall it was a nice in-town with lots of murals. The little tin Highway Diner (closed), Winslow Theater (for sale), Brown Mug Café, Desert Sun Café and Earl’s Motor Court were notable sightings. At Earl’s a sign says, “Sleeping in the corner in Winslow Arizona”.

We were running late and decided to garb something quick at Church’s Fried Chicken. The tenders were light and crispy but the breading does nothing to get in the way of the flavors of the dipping sauces.

Next stop was Meteor City, home of the Meteor City Trading post. This one is stranded on a dead end spur of 66 and is reached from an I-40 exit. Lots of mural walls are here including what they claim to be the largest RT66 map. There are tee pees with Indian artwork, a giant dream catcher and the gift shop inside a geodesic dome. I didn’t go in but Lorna felt the place was getting long in the tooth. Odds are the only customers are people like us wanting to see these relics before they turn to dust. Nobody has any good reason to drive by the place anymore.

From there it was time for the big stop of the day, Meteor Crater. This is the most well-known, best preserved meteorite crater on Earth! It was too windy for the guided tour along the rim. We got to watch a movie and then the tour guide did a talk in the auditorium followed by Q&A. Afterwards we went outdoors to the observation areas. Steps lead to a high viewing point and the wind (said to be gusting to 60 MPH and building) made me want to keep at least 1 hand on a railing.  If I wasn’t afraid of being blown away I was certainly worried about being blown over! We had a tailwind going up making for an easy hike. The view was great but the wind was very distracting, after a few shots we headed down. We found a hardly used lower platform that was actually down below the rim a bit that made for great photos with the crater as a background. After the  visit to the gift shop (another T shirt) we were on our way. They had an AM station plugging the crater and Winslow, I stopped and made a recording of the 2 minute blurb.

Two Guns is a ghost town on another exit to almost nowhere. Fenced off as private property you can still see ruins of an old stone village, KOA Kampgound and a Shell gasoline station. 2 big upright tanks have giant murals of outlaws blazing guns.

A few miles up the interstate lies Twin Arrows, a similar orphaned property now a State Land Trust.  The 2 giant arrows are still standing as the strike the earth as is the Twin Arrows Trading Post and Café which is some sort of prefab metal building. Above ground fuel tanks, 2 gutted pumps and small attendant booth remain. I’m sure there are people that still remember stopping here when it was thriving on 66.

Well, Winona was not what I expected . Other than one retired through truss bridge there was nothing of a town.  I guess it just rhymed well in the Get Your Kicks on RT 66 song. The old trading post has been remodeled into a cookie cutter Shell station but it did hold the answer to a riddle. After going in to use restrooms and buy ice I noticed they had a 6 letter Shell sign like the one in Grants NM. I went back in with the obvious trivia question. They had to think for a minute but then showed me the post card (they sell) with the station pre-renovation as a TEXACO station, a 6 letter brand! I bought the card.

It was along this stretch of road the rapid transformation from desert to National Forest took place. It was amazing how fast it all morphed.  Flagstaff is a booming resort like place with a busy downtown and route 66 strip. I think we’re beginning to get to the tourist money that flows towards the Grand Canyon and out of California. The vibe was distinctly different and more upscale. Places were doing well. We spotted an old Howard Johnson’ still operating as a restaurant and the Museum Club, a bar of historic significance, more to research  later. The in-town Hotel Monte Vista with a big roof top sign was striking. There was a Paul Bunyan statue and an enormous cow mural that looked 3D.  The Western Hills Motel restaurant was probably the most striking RT 66 survivor. RT 66 signage has been improving as we move westward in the state.

We next got on the Branigan park Scenic Byway in the national forest. This is stretch of 66, some of which remained a gravel road. It was a nice peaceful drive with some old establishments to spot and interpretive signs along the way. If you ever wanted to create an idyllic paved road, just wide enough for two cars with gentle grassy shoulders weaving through the forest this would be it. Over the hour we may have encountered half a dozen other vehicles and 1 bicyclist. We got a dashboard video of one stretch in tree lined road opening up to a meadow.  First you could see the golden shoulders down the road and as we approach it opened up until we were alone traversing the space. One thing that has been stunning on this trip is to suddenly have the scenery change with a turn in the road or as we crest a hill.  One poorly marked turn sent us into the back country so after a while of that we doubled back and were on our way.

The last real visit of the day was the town of Williams. It didn’t read like much in the guidebook but it was loaded with classic places and it seems to be ground zero for the Grand Canyon visiting crowd. There was a motorcycle gathering going on this weekend and the place was hopping with lots of live music, eclectic places, neon and history. A future trip back to do the Canyon and such is likely and this place wants to be part of that trip. With the dim dusk light most pictures are shabby but they capture the energy we witnessed.

After a stint on I-40 we had a 17 mile run on a rolling wooded stretch of 66. Driving west we had the silhouettes of the western mountains in shade of pink, azure, leading to nighttime blue higher in the sky and as the stars began to emerge. As is often that case other vehicles were few and far between and the rural road was sparsely populated. The radio had a Saturday night oldies love song program with the DJ waxing poetic between the songs. Somehow it set the mood for a peaceful drive into the setting western sun as we longed to get some rest after a busy day.

Then came the near calamity. As the lights of  Seligman came into view we set to find the motel where Lorna booked the room. I went to the GPS for the place and the name was nowhere to be found, I loked in the GPS under RT 66 lodging and still no match. She checked the AAA guidebook that she got the listing from and though she missed a town heading putting our room 100 miles down the road. After a moment of hysterical panic she saw that she was in fact in the right town, we sight relief. We then went with the basics. Knowing that it was a Route 66 institution we just followed the mother road until it led us to the Canyon Lodge. The town was quiet and dark with the exception of the numerous motel signs.

The guy got us registered and we set off to room 3. They have theme rooms and Lorna had tried to get the John Wayne room, it was booked. When we opened to door we were surprised that we had the motorcycle room. The walls were covered with lots of motorcycle artwork including many framed puzzles. The bed had a mountain of motorcycle themed throw pillows and a can of Harley Davison motor oil waited on the shelf, just in case. The room was very clean and fresh with all of the essentials. The predictability of the brand name hotels is nice but getting into these places helps keep us in touch with the real experience.

We had done good, dropping our daily mileage target to a comfortable 110 miles a day without really sacrificing much. It really came down to more legs on I-40 where 66 was absent. By the time I had downloaded pictures, backed them up and sorted them by town I was beat and decided to get up early Saturday to work on this blog before going forward. I got the essential down and I’m finishing it up to publish Sunday night. We started this trip following our bliss with a very rough timeline to set the pace. On the way we took stock of the pace and with minor adjustments seem to be on target to have adequate time in the right places clear to the end.

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