Saturday, June 16, 2012

Trail’s End

Wednesday June 13 - Friday June 15, 2012

It was to be a partly cloudy day here in Southern California with high temps in the 70’s. It was one of the cooler days of the trip. We left Pasadena to bring this journey to a conclusion. The expressway was a block from the motel but true to form we stayed with 66 to the end, making our way down to Santa Monica beach where we were able to park near the pier. On the way down we passed some of the known 66 icons but traffic really didn’t allow for much in the way of picture taking. Lorna took a bunch of on the fly shots more as a city visitor than a Route 66 traveler as many paces welcomed us as. I learned later in the day that taking drive by photos in bright light is not as easy as it looks.

It was breezy driving through town but down by the beach and even up on the pier it was calm, sunny and warm. When we got up on the pier we went over to the “End of the Trail” kiosk and met Henry who was working the stand that afternoon. Route 66 as a highway had a few endpoints in the streets over the years but they are now just points on map and hardly celebratory. The Santa Monica Pier has become the popular endpoint for modern travelers of the Mother Road.  

As Henry explained, his boss, Dan Rice had traveled the road and at the end of it realized there was no real endpoint, nobody to greet him and the ending sort of fell flat. He had seen in an old movie an “End of the Trail” pictured up on the pier. This was never a real sign, just a movie prop but he worked to establish the sign as a permanent fixture on the pier. With hard work and petitions the sign was installed and he got exclusive rights to operate his kiosk and sell “End of the Trail” merchandise.  Henry was a real nice guy to talk with, he hadn’t done the trip but he knew a lot and had photos of many of the local celebrities we had met or learned about. He leant a certain credibility or validation to the journey we undertook. It had been real, not a dream. Dan has written a book about his 66 experience and I need to get a copy.

Yes, you guessed it, more T shirts. I got the “official End of the Trail” shirt and they had a neat shirt mimicking the Hampton Historic Sites signs that we had been watching for over the last 3 weeks.

Afterwards we walked down to the sign snapped some pictures and asked a fellow on a bench to oblige us and he took a few of Lorna and I by the sign.
With that began the transition back to reality and the world off of the old road. We had decided to do the classic double decker bus tour of Hollywood and the surrounding communities so we bought our tickets there on the pier. No time to wait around for a lunch so we celebrated with ice creams so we could catch the next bus. For me it was a banana split: fruit, nuts for protein and the waitress added a great source of calcium. The bus tour offered plenty of distractions as the GPS triggered recording narrated the tour. We could hop on and off as desired with buses ever 20-30 minutes along the route. The narration mostly in a British voice was kind of hokey and it was layered thick with what sure sounded like paid plugs for business that would be great places to get off the bus . Apart from the small annoyances it was a nice easy way to get a glimpse of the streets, landmarks and communities we have heard in a lifetime of TV and movies. We didn’t spot any celebrities aside from some costumed superhero characters up on Hollywood Boulevard. We did hop off to walk the Walk of Fame. Lorna had me take pictures of some favorites and I posed with the “America” star. We missed the boat on the Beach Boys, it was too late when I realized it meant back tracking from the drop off point. The time went by fast and we realized there wasn’t time to follow through with the downtown LA part of the trip. We hopped the return leg bus and began the trip back seeing more spots like Sunset Strip. As the sun got low in the sky the mist rolled in and it got downright chilly, especially for me in shorts and polo shirt. We survived and once back at the pier we went to the car for some warmer layers. We did a little more sightseeing. The line to get into Buba Gumps was absurd and at 8:00 other places were shutting down. We headed out looking for something to have on the way “home” We grabbed a quick bit to eat at an IHOP and told the GPS to find our way back home where we settled down for the night.

That got us to Thursday morning. We had set this day aside to unwind and set-up for the trip back, it was also a contingency day but I’m glad we didn’t need it. Between sorting and shipping souvenirs, balancing luggage loads and getting all of our squirreled away belongings out of the car the day was well spoken for. We did manage to chill out at the theater seeing men In Black 3 which was a fun flick.

Friday morning we headed out to LAX. The highlight was passing the Slauson Cut-Off made famous by a line in a Johnny Carson Art Fern sketch ….. Get out and cut off your Slauson! We did get to validate the new digital luggage scale with it matching the airline scale as close as one could imagine.  The flights home were entirely as planned and the nearly 5 hours cross country leg wasn’t as bad as I expected. The bags made it and by 1:00 or so we were home with enough jet lag to keep us puttering till about 3:00 AM.

Saturday morning came not much more than 4 hours later and it was a most surreal experience.  I would wake up look around and try to figure out where I was and what was outside in the neighborhood and then I’d fall back to sleep. I think this repeated 3 or 4 times until I realized I was home in our own bed.

That pretty much sums up the trip. In some ways I expect to be processing this experience for the rest of my life. In the near term I do want to write some sort of summary or closing comments that capture what I do understand of the last 25 days. If I think it comes out coherent I’ll add it to this blog as an epilogue.

The End of the Innocence

Tuesday June 12, 2013

We took our time getting started in Barstow. The end is in sight and we’re starting to cut ourselves some slack as we ease back towards reality. We’re not yet at the end of the road but you can see it from here as they say. It’s been an incredible journey but we’re starting our day in the 21st room in 22nights and we’re thinking that the route 66 mystique is thinning fast as we approach the coast. If nothing else the building traffic is taking us far from the meandering solitude that the old road has been gifting us with.

I forgot to mention yesterday that when we checked into the motel here in Barstow our room had towels folded to look like an Elephant, Rose and Seashell, pretty cool, you can find folk art anywhere.

So, with the mobile household under control we checked out and began to explore Barstow. One of the first stops was the McDonald’s, Barstow Station to be specific. From the street this is a sprawling McDonald's with Railroad cars integrated into the buildings, a big old wooden water tower complete with golden arches.  Once you get on the property you find that it’s a Greyhound bus depot with a slew of shops and eateries packed into a mall like setting. Apparently a lot of people pass through here on mass transit since the cars in the lot did not foretell the headcount inside. Anyhow. the inside was nothing special but the outside certainly was roadside oddity.

Barstow has good collection of historic murals painted on blank walls and integrated into storefronts. It is getting to the point where someone interested in history or a parents that are home schooling could build a curriculum from what’s on the walls found on a road trip.

The lodging business is doing well with most places operating and looking good. The Desert, Nites & Stardust Inns, and the Sands, Sage. 66 & Cactus Motels being noted for having that period look. The El Rancho - Barstow really stood out with a 3 faced aerial sign and a huge tiered motor court on a property that slopes up from the roadway. It was a tidy property that could have just come from yesteryear.  They have a route 66 themed sign near the pool with distance arrows to many US and international cities. Village Café, on the corner with lots of neon has seen surly seen generation of locals and lots of road weary diners. The Bun Boy is another 66 favorite.

Barstow has another Harvey House, Casa Del Desierto  this one competed in 1910 is more complete on the inside with some rooms restored and other underway. The building has largely been repurposed by the Chamber of Commerce and agencies. One downstairs dining room has been put into service as a grand ballroom and the other wings is in process. They also have a Route 66 museum with the California spin but it was also closed for the day. As one that has traveled the road there is some value to these museums but they seem far more valuable to the curious individual that has not been able to experience 66 directly.

Lorna trolled a few resale shops for glass ware and I captured a few more murals before it was time to say good bye to Barstow at about noon.

A few towns out of Barstow in Helendale it was once again desert like with sandy gravel stout blond plants and some green brush. Burdens Store and Post Office is boarded up and standing along the roadside. A giant Parrot sits on a towing company sign along with the Polly Brand Gasoline logo and the vintage price of 18-9/10 cents a gallon. The Sage Brush Saloon home of Sage Brush Annie is gone but the property owner keeps the legend alive with a mock facade of the original with silhouettes in the upstairs window. The Sage Brush filling station building now a private home sits next door with a pergola canopy supported by stone pillars like the Way-Way Store. If buildings like the Way-Way Store captivate you then this trip would be a treat.

Helendale’s real claim to fame is the Bottle Tree Ranch. Here in a large fenced in yard you wander through posts with lateral spikes, each supporting a bottle like limbs of a tree. With some “trees” having matching bottles and others assorted it’s a whimsical place. The real kicker is when you look up to see that each post has an eclectic topper like a sewing machine, skill, big jug, bird house, oil lamp. milk can, tractor seat, weather vane, bull horn, Gatling gun, wheels, pulleys, fan blades and assorted creations. There must be about 50 trees in this forest and interspersed at ground level are other eye catchers like a wagon wheel, rocket and wood stove. It’s all a foot steps from route 66 and free to visit, donations accepted in the box. From the looks of the material and welder out there it’s still a work in progress.

In Oro Grande stands the Mohawk filling station and Mini-Mart. I have yet to learn the age of this station but it goes back a good time. It’s now closed but 1970’s vintage pumps remain and it was open long enough to get on the convenience store bandwagon. Cold Beer, Wine, Ice, Soda Pop and Groceries are lettered on the facade.

Victorville is the home of Emma Jeans Holland Burger Cafe, home of the Brian Burger. It was after 1:30 when we drove by and the look of the place and crowd in the lot screamed. “ stop for lunch”. The few tables were full so we sat at stools at the bar and were served by none other than Brian. The menu read like burger heaven with all sorts of wonderful cheesy gooey toasted in butter wonderfulness. The daily special of pastrami on sourdough with melted cheese entrapping a handful of crinkle cut pickles looked really good but too hearty for my tastes that day. I went for the regular cheeseburger with the standard house trimming. mayo, lettuce, onion slice and tomato. Here tomato means about half a tomato, not a thin slice dispensed like it’s gold.  I had the equivalent of a side salad in the sandwich! Fries were good and it was fun to be at the counter with all of the action happening.

I didn’t see the usual posters but they had been featured on Diners Drive-ins and Dives. This makes at least 3 DD&D haunts that we ate at on this trip. Established in 1947 the founders have passed away. It’s now run by Brian the second generation and his wife Shawna. The place has a historic monument and plaque. It has been featured in numerous movies and TV shoes for its mid-century ambiance.

As you enter the village a big truss welcomes you to Old Town , Route 66 and sports the Victorville city seal. It’s really to cool to see the way some towns have gone out to declare and celebrate their part of the 66 legacy. 

The New Corral Motel has a nice sign with a big black stallion that is said to quite a neon sight when lit at night. As usual the local Route 66 museum was closed when we drove through so we didn’t get to see the 15 foot tall Hula Dancer that was rescued from a restaurant.

With that 66 had turn into I-15. The fast, busy, downhill freeway past Cajon Summit was quite a ride but it got us to our next stop really fast. The wide open roadway with a steep downgrade did nothing to relax Lorna but she recovered. She got some good on the fly pictures and we didn’t need to use the runaway truck lane!

In Cajon Junction we got off the highway and savored the last section of old pavement the old road was to share with us. Had I realized this we would have stayed even longer. As it was we drove it back and forth over getting back on the interstate. Here were remnants of 4 lane 66 and todays version is a blend of the old east and westbound lanes. Like elsewhere “Historic US 66” shields are painted on the pavement.

We found the vertical EAT sign behind a fence with the original eatery long gone.  At the eastern end of this spur is a dead end stub where we found a cluster of remnants with some new life. The neighborhood had a lot of cars but most seem to be commuters in a lot and along the road. Behind a security fence is an non-descript late 60’s service station with red trim that took a round sign on the mock chimney, Texaco?  The pumps are gone and it’s all clean and quiet.

Next door ins Tony’s Diner, Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner. It may have had a filling station at some time judging by the blown out signs above. It’s probably been a while with the gas price section only having 2 digits for ??-9/10. It seems to been renamed along the way, an older aqua neon sign say’s EAT at ??C”S. It did have traffic.

Last on the strip and maybe the most curious was the Screaming Chicken Saloon in a converted filling station painted bright yellow. You can’t miss the giant rooster up on the old pump canopy. It’s the home to Hot Women and Cold Beer complete with a big Route 66 shield in the window. We passed on checking it out further and scrammed before some asked about all the pictures being taken.

Driving each way on this stretch in a valley we were running into some honking big black flying bugs. Most bounced off of the windshield with an occasional splat!

The guide book flagged this side road for elicit activity and there were more than a few folks hanging out in what seemed odd ways. Was it just the power of suggestion? 

I’m catching up on the blog of these last few days before the trip home and after reaching the end of the trail on Santa Monica Pier. This last quirky stretch of the old road will always have a special place in my memories of our trip.

A run down a less exciting I-215 took us into San Bernardino which set the pace of suburban congestion that set the tone for the rest of the trip. This strip of 66 had its share of iconic places and a mix of active and abandoned conditions. One of the most impactful was the Lido Motel completely intact but dormant. Literally in the shadow of the I-15 overpass that towered alongside the small strip of rooms.

The Palms Motel is still open but the neon is gone, replaced with a modern plastic face. The El Cajon is shuttered. The Terrace and Oasis motels are working the long term rental market. The San Bernardino and Dream Inn Motels are still hosting guests. The Mitla Café family owned since 1937 is still serving.

In Rialto the Wig-Wam motel was a work of art. These are the concrete Tee Pees like we saw in Holbrook.  Lorna wanted to nest so we had booked the final 3 nights in Pasadena. This place was immaculate and groomed in a first class manner. We missed our cancellation window by this time; otherwise we would have spent a night here.  This is a “not to miss” icon if there is a next time. Next door the El Rey motel was looking classic.

In Fontana we found the Fontana and Sage Motels. The real icon was the 1936 Bono’s Historic Orange. This is one of several surviving roadside juice stands. The near spherical orange is about 10 feet in diameter. Some of these things are mere mentions in the books or on the GPS and it’s fun to see what they really are.

Glendora is home to the Golden Spur Restaurant. The day was getting late so we opted for a 66 themed restaurant next door. It was Ok with plenty of eye candy. I do wish we held out for The Hat located down the road. The Palms Motel and Flappy Jacks Pancake house were also along the road.

Azusa is home to the restored Foothill Drive-in theater sign and marquis. Since our guide book was written it has as planned been rescued, restored and relocated at crossroads in the town The big sign is being used for local messages. On this day a woman was being recognized for 37 years of service to an organization. The giant sign makes quite an impression.

 In Monrovia the Aztec Hotel is an in-town hotel with an ornate facade and a bright neon sign. We were driving by at dusk when it was lit and it really popped. Directions to a restored service station weren’t working for us so we had to move on.

With that we arrived in Pasadena our home for the final 3 nights of the trip. Tomorrow we will drive to the end of the trail on the Santa Monica pier and officially end the journey and spend the rest of the day sightseeing. Thursday we will be shipping off the last of the souvenirs, prepacking bags and cleaning the car out plus whatever local diversions we can find. Friday morning we will head to LAX  for the flight home.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mountains, Burros and the Mojave

Monday June 11, 2012

We did the mileage tally and we had only lost about 10 miles a day by loafing on Sunday. It felt good and the blog was back on track. We now need to travel 135 miles a day on average to get to the end of the road and have a day left to dub around and get ready to fly out Friday the 15th.  Early in the trip we started the day with no firm endpoint for the day. In the northern states even on rural 66 we were never far from an interstate exit that would have at least one motel to stay at. As we got into the desert states there were some significant gaps where there were no options for many miles. We also had a time or two where we snagged on of the last rooms in the area.  Considering those 2 situations we had taken to identifying end of day options if not actually booking a room before hitting the road. When we looked at where our departure from Kingman would take us we were sort of surprised that we would have either another short day of driving or a long haul. In the end, the only real choice as to drive on to Barstow California, 228 miles away.  As a day of driving this is nothing special but when touring and sightseeing it can be quite another story. Fortunately we didn’t have any cities to get snarled up in and no other big stops were in sight.

We were rolling out of Kingman by 8:30, about an hour earlier than usual. The road led us into McConnico where as we left the city of Kingman behind a desert valley opened up in front of us. This section of 66 is designated as a National Back Country Byway. There was a kiosk with information and suggestions for making the 42 mile trip through desert and the Black Mountains. There were scattered communities of people in travel trailers or beat up mobile homes. There did seem to be some mining activity. We got some nice pictures of mountains with pronounced peaks, wild flowers and a small wind farm.

In Cool Springs we stopped to visit Cool Springs Cabins. There aren’t really any cabins, just souvenirs and a few convenience items you may want before heading into the mountains. Lorna did get a few trinkets including a hunk of RT 66 pavement with a certificate of authenticity. This place was built in 1926 but the stone filling station / store had crumbled away to almost nothing. Hollywood recreated it as a prop for the movie Universal Soldier. Afterwards the present owners set to rebuilding the place once more, to its original state. Much of the work was done by a fellow from Maine that went down and decided to stay. It’s a nice place on the edge of the road in the valley. Outside there are the usual vintage gasoline signs and glass jar punps. The owner tells us that they have the model for Tow Mater the tow truck in Cars but the owner would not sign a contract with Pixar so they don’t have official credit. That leaves the door open for the claim 4 Women on the Route had back in Kansas.

Down the road we passed Ed’s Camp, home of the Kactus Café, all abandoned. From there we began to wind our, way up to Sitgeaves Pass. The road was narrow and paved with the traditional route 66 guardrails, usually none. In a few areas there were posts and cables but for the most you got it right or else. The climb was easy, never needing to leave Drive. The bigger challenge for me was watching around the blind corners. Trying to crane my neck around the “A” pillar while turning to the left meant taking my eyes of the road, so I just went slow. We stopped about 3 times at turnouts to get pictures and to let an occasional local on a mission fly ahead. Lorna didn’t think much of the experience as she more often than not was on the cliff edge side of the road. Of course if we went over we’d be together but I suppose that’s scant comfort. When we made it to the summit pass at 3550 feet we set up for some timed photos to commemorate the climb. There were still some stout pipe railings around the summit to protect people in the days when there was an ice cream stand up there. The trip down was pretty easy with the usual tight turns. Dropping to 1st or 2nd gear did most of the braking. We got more good pictures of the mountains and desert plants.

What came next sort of blew my mind. Some of the signs and Lorna had mentioned running into burros but the next scene was totally unexpected. As we drove down into the valley with the mountainsides closing in we rounded a bend and a village began to emerge. We knew we had arrived somewhere and as it turned out Lorna knew more about this than I did. The scene was out of an old western with both sides of the winding street lined with aging sun faded storefronts, raised wood sidewalks with cover for shade, a burros milling about. We got one of the last free parking spaces before the village and got out to explore.It was like walking into a movie set.

As it turns out this was an old gold mining town that 66 ended up running right through. This must have been on heck of a bottle neck.  The gold mining eventually ended in the 1940’s, a more expeditious route diverted the traffic in the 50’s and by the 60’s the place was virtually abandoned. In recent years with the international interest in 66 it has boomed into a tourist stop with plenty of gift shops, eateries and snack stops, all with that rustic, always been here feel, no neon, no glitz. It’s like walking into a real life “Six Gun City”. On some weekends they even have shootout reenactments.  Many other weekends are busy with car rallies, bikers and the 4th of July fry an egg on the sidewalk contest. They expected 105F the day we visited.

We did the usual wandering around collecting a few souvenirs and the inevitable Route 66/Oatman/Burro T shirt. Lorna got nipped in the leg  by a curios burro who left a patch of donkey snott behind.  It was a fun place to visit, something I never expected to find outside of a theme park. After an hour or so knew it was time to get going, we still had a big day of driving ahead of us.

The road wound gently through old trails where we found an local memorial to Korean war veterans up on a rocky ridge. There as a lot more loose rock here perhaps disturbed by the mining work of long ago.

In Golden Shores the diner had burned. Talking to a local it sounded like a gas explosion while the owner was staring the place up one day last year. The fatal event put an end to what he called one good greasy cheeseburger. However on this guy’s garage we did find the Route 66 mural inspired by and dedicated to Bob Waldmire.  Remember Bob? We toured his school bus turned home/studio/RT 66 information center back in Pontiac, Illinois. More and more things like this seem to be knitting together. If you’re driving through the mural is on the blind side of a beige and red former service station with a Phillips 66 sign. The place is fenced in but the owner was welcoming.

Topock was the last we would see of Arizona. Here and back in Golden Shores we began to signs of campgrounds and boating on the Colorado River. We were leaving the desert behind but the landscape was still largely barren, complete with tumble weed.

Arizona Spit us out on to the interstate for lack of surviving Route 66 and delivered us to Needles California. Here we found many signs of 66 including our lunch stop at the Burger Hut. The patty was probably the thinnest I have ever seen with paper thin crisp edges. It was good eats on a picnic table under the awning. The place was doing a steady business for our after 1:00 arrival. Needles has many murals around town so this folk art renaissance does extend in to California. It is also home to one of the last surviving Harvey House structures. This handsome structure is fenced in gutted and said to be under restoration.

There is plenty you can read about the Harvey Houses but in short they were grand hotel & restaurant operations built to serve the railway traffic. They became especially known for their Harvey Girls, well bred, educated, white, conservatively uniformed, ladies with a 10:00 curfew. They served to bring a sense of civility to the travelers’ existence. While many did end up finding husbands these were reputable operations. The structures including this one were often grand rambling stone or masonry building more in the style of a courthouse or grand hotel, an amazing legacy.

Beyond the murals and Harvey House were a potpourri of vintage motels like the 66, Sage, Ranch Road resort Motel LeBrun Relax Inn and Needles Inn plus a nice old theater building still in use. About ½ of the Motels were dormant.

Needles sent us out into the Sahara Desert where we stopped at the Sahara Oasis, a convenience store / filling station. We needed a pit stop and this place was cool with pools of water, fountains and pink flamingos. The road led us to Essex, a desert ghost town.

In Essex we found the remains of the Wayside Market with the circular sign frame just empty loop. The building is all white with no discernible lettering. The small stone Post Office is closed and replaced with about 3 dozen outdoor lock boxes like you see for trailer parks. The old stone well that travelers would use for fresh water is now dry but remains at the roadside. The Essex Café is standing by, Good Food, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner – Air Conditioned. Behind most of these desert buildings you can see elevated water tanks for apparently self sufficient water systems. The Café is now closed, the pump island devoid of pumps and only the framing of the canopy remains.

Across the road stands a white weathering clapboard building. The elements are slowly peeling the roof away. On the front at the far right STUDIO can still be read. Another one to research latter.

Essex is also the start of the folk wall. On the north side of the road running to Amboy, about 50 feet from the pavement runs a sand & gravel berm, perhaps the desert equivalent to a snow fence. People have taken to creating art or at least leaving their mark generally with local stones arranged on the slope but some have used bottles, painted stones or what looks like marble chips. This runs for many miles and is a desert version of the murals seen in the towns.

Danby has a broken down service station that is in descript save a mural painted on the front wall. Out in the open is a turnout for a former picnic area that included tables and shade canopies in the day when travelers used this road. A panorama of text panels tells of Route 66, the former picnic area, the desert and its inhabitants. You can still see the footings that anchored the tables and canopies. As I stood there the air was calm and I heard silence, complete total silence like I don’t remember hearing in a long time. The temperature was running around 108F and it was hot but comfortable, at least for small sight seeing excursions

In Chambles stands an old store, Soda Pop, Food, Ice, Snacks And Beef are lettered. A big CHAMBLES sign has been erected in front so you know where you are. A historic marker across the street tells the history.  Further down the road is the Road runner Restaurant and adjacent filling station. They offered fountain service and it says it’s in East Amboy It’s all boarded up now but the towering sign and giant roadrunner at the apex is a sight. The station is marked as “Official Garage”. Did that mean something in the day? We have seen a few real roadrunners on the trip, no Beep Beeps though.

In Amboy we passed the school. A significant building now abandoned, testament to what must have once been here. Just past the school is Roy’s Motel & Café as the sign says. A restaurateur has bought this place and is slowly reviving it. The filling station pumps are back in service and the store and fountain have been fixed up quite nicely. Walking into the place is like a time warp with a long fountain running most of the width of the place. There isn’t much happening for lack of traffic, a few snack and souvenir items are on sale but food’s not being served. Unfortunately a hired hand was tending shop and he was more interested in his daytime TV show. It would have been fun to meet the owner who must has a passion for this project.

We wandered next door to see what was happening with the motel section. It looked pretty nice from the road but it seems that the desert conditions are quite kind to buildings. Up close it was aging and somewhat weathered, not freshly painted as I may have guessed. The rooms were emptied but intact. One was left with the door open. A lot of work will be needed if they are ever again to be occupied but there is hope.

The mind blower was the office building up in front. The building had a full width glass lobby with a a residence out back. The roof line projected far beyond the front ending in a point providing plenty of sun shade. The inside is an amazing time capsule and should be memorialized. An Orange counter sits on a beige carpet. The counter has lamps I would expect from 1960, old copies of McCall’s and Time magazine are in a rack. Plastic apples are waiting in the coffee table basket that sits in front of a bug cushy tan couch. Against the back wall sits a 1950’s HI-FI with at least 5 feet of wooden cabinet with the turn table open. This probably was for back ground music when the adjacent grand piano wasn’t being played. Lest this sound austere a colorful carousel pony is front and center in the window. Through the door is a dining room with table service for 5 set in the blue floral wall papered room. All of this is sitting behind glass with light dust like they left it when they closed the doors years ago.  Restrooms are in a plumbed outbuilding though it looked like the motel rooms were also equipped. Camping may have been offered.

Out back is a smaller vacant building with a windsock that seemed to be frozen half filled, pointing south. Across the street is a white church with a weather toppled steeple.

Down the road was something we had seen coming for some time. These vast desert spaces play some weird tricks with your mind and sense of distance. Things seem close but you just don’t seem to get closer as you drive on and on. Eventually we came to the turn-off for the Amboy Crater. It is a volcanic cone that last erupted about 500 years ago. The 250 tall crater can be climbed but in the 108F heat we thought better though it was tempting. The access road is paved and rolls organically with the terrain as it tries to blend in with the ground and lava field. From the big parking lot the leads a trail to the mentioned crater climb and another to a viewing area under a canopy on a rise. We went up to the viewing area looked at the crater, took some pictures including Lorna posing with the crater, another first for her, and me too.  If you want to make a day of it there are restrooms and picnic canopies down by the parking lot. It was a nice, unattended, free stop courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The trip from Amboy to Ludlow brought us from isolation back to the side of the interstate. Being on an exit a few businesses have survived here. The Ludlow Café, a white block building is closed. Between the café and I-40 stands a big high in the sky sign and arrow shows where they tried to lure interstate drivers in for a bite to eat. The sign panel is blown away with the frame and arrow left to tell the story.

Next door a filling station with a long canopy jutting out and up is stripped down, fenced in and being used by someone as a storage lot. A fairly new truck stood near some fresh looking wooden crates.

Next was a repair garage building. The 2 bay structure has lost its roof but the lettering on the walls offers 24 hour towing, welding, Generators, Regulators, Water Pumps and Fuel Pumps. Just the list of specialties  makes me think of the family with the struggling jalopy trying to make it to the west coast.

 Across the street is a green building with a vacant round rimmed sign by the road. If someone told me it was a general store I’d probably believe it. Off to the side a white building says Post Office to me but who knows. One more vacant filling station with Ludlow Tire lettered in the window completes the scene on the east end of the exit.

Across the road the road is the Ludlow 66 Café, an odd sort of building with a lot of 1950’s touches. We were getting hungry but the few cars in and out of the lot just couldn’t convince us to trust the place.  In the first quarter of the 20th century Ludlow had something of a boom supplying borax. A rail line was extended to the town but the whole thing crashed by the 40’s and was torn up. A plaque and some model rail equipment in front of the Café commemorate this period. Another plaque commemorates project CARRYALL. This involved underground nuclear tests designed to clear mountain passes for I-40 and rail lines through the Bristol Mountains near Ludlow.

Still another dormant service station with 2, 1950’s trucks under the canopy lies between the Café and the Ludlow Motel which appears to still be tidy and operating. Across the street is a modern convenience store / filling station where we got a snack to tide us over. All things considered this little place had a lot to say.

Newberry springs had more surprises. An Old Whiting Brothers service station was fenced in. They were a big player in the fuel business on 66. The fading yellow shield is still visible on the sign atop the canopy. On the façade of the building large fading lettering suggests an eatery may have operated. It’s not all visible but the pictures do show. Tony’s, Italian And American, Dish. The way the canopy obscures some of the lettering makes me think this was prior to the filling station use of the building and paint chalking is revealing history. In any case 3 little old gas pimps still stand on the island. Sitting benches are in front of the air conditioned building. It’s all retired behind a security fence. I seem to be seeing much more fencing around these places in California. Perhaps they have tighter control over derelict properties. I’d like to think they are trying to preserve history but it’s probably public safety. I have observed in prior states that these places do become crash pads.

Just down the road is a retired 3 unit motel with an attached home. The name is gone from the sign but for $125,00. OBO it on 3-1/2 acres could be yours. I have no idea how old the sign is but I bet they’d take less if there is even a remaining owner of record.

A little farther in Newberry springs we came to the Bagdad Café made famous in the 1988 movie of that name. At the time it was the Sidewinder Café but in 1995 they changed the name to capitalize on the movie fame. They’re open from 7-7 and were just short of that so passed on going in at closing time. Through the windows I could see that chairs were already up on the tables. It earned a Hampton Landmark sign. We had spotted the old side of the original Bagdad Café back in the desert, now marked by a foundation remnant and a big lone tree.

This got us into Barstow, our home for the night. This is a railway town where the Santa Fe has a big presence. Around the 1920’s the main street was actually moved back to make more room for the rail yards. This may account for a long stretch of the street that has a very consistent appearance. We checked into the room and Lorna noticed a pair of wrapped earplugs on the night stand. Wondering if these were standard room equipment or left behind I just had to ask the desk clerk about them. It turns out they do provide them since some customers are concerned about the nearby trains, we slept soundly sans plugs. Driving through town I began to see why Johnny Carson used to pick on Barstow. Dinner options were slim pickings but a small Denny’s chicken salad hit the spot. More will follow on Barstow tomorrow when we get to look around.

It was a memorable day on the road, from crossing the Black Mountains, to Oatman’s burros to the desert ghost towns and natural wonders it all played out at a nice pace and puts us on schedule to complete this journey as planned.

Tomorrow morning we will decide where to stay for the rest of the trip. We should get to the end of the trail on the Santa Monica Pier on Wednesday. Thursday is set aside to do odds and ends and get ready to fly out Friday morning.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Swarming Tourists, the Prairie and Taking Pause

Sunday June 10, 2012

We woke up in Seligman at the Canyon Lodge as planned. I got an early start working on Saturday’s blog while Lorna got ready for the day. While I kept pecking away she went up front and got us a tray of breakfast that I had while writing. When she came back she said I wouldn’t believe what was happening in the town. The sleepy village we had rolled into after dark was awash with tour busses, tourists from all over the world and the village was an incredibly eclectic route 66 mecca. The window was closing on the 11:00 checkout time when I realized the lap top had flipped out of Arizona time where Daylight Savings Time is not observed. That gave me a bonus hour so I finished capturing Saturday’s essentials recollections (to edit later), showered and we toured the village.

She wasn’t kidding! The place was a real destination, with busses pulling up reminding passengers that they had 20 minutes to visit the village. It’s mostly gift shops with all sorts of Route 66 paraphernalia but every shop is also a folk art exhibit loaded with bookmarks of yesteryear. The visitors were a very international crowd as has been the observation right along. The assault on this town was like nothing we had seen before. When we started this journey almost 3 weeks ago in Illinois we were told that the tour bus traffic would pick up in a few weeks, I guess that’s what we are seeing.

We walked the main drag up and back collecting the usual trinkets, photos and still another Tee Shirt. Don’t ask how many this makes but I can tell you that Lorna has far more pins marking the stops.

As it turns out this is where the route 66 revival had its genesis. A local barber observed people coming in off the road on a daily basis to have their hair cut to establish a tangible bond to the road. He had the foresight to form a band of businesses as the Arizona Route 66 Association. Within a year the state followed with an agency and over time all 8 states fell into line and the federal government declared it a historic byway. The rest of the history continues to be written. This is all commemorated with some murals at the barbershop location. He has since passed.

Words defy the usual descriptions of this place. Old vehicles, visual gags, period dressed mannequins and cutouts are all there catch your attention. One building has a small airplane embedded in the facade with the tail section hanging out of the building.  The buildings are colorful, vibrant and engaging. I can’t wait to add some pictures to bring this home. People everywhere were taking pictures; if this were still the age of film Kodak would not be bankrupt! We had seen what we came to experience. It was time to check-out and head up the road.

The day’s driving was on 66 mostly well away from I-40 through a string of ghost towns. We had left Seligman with the road flanked by lush evergreens. The 2 lanes rolled along with a 65 MPH speed limit, the sky was bright and it was downright pretty. Just as we have seen times before change was foreshadowed, this time by golden shoulders. Gently we emerged from the evergreens as the golden prairie opened up ahead of us in every direction. Soon we were rolling along though a mountain rimmed prairie that was many miles across in every direction. Golden desert grasses were ground cover and stout hardy bushes dotted the landscape. Sprouting plants threaten to overtake the pavement making the roadway’s connection to the prairie seamless. Cattle were grazing on the fenced land and prairie dogs were teasing us from the side of the road, some darting for cover just in time. You could see the many boroughs out in the fields. Once again we were rolling through a scene we had never witnessed before. The flanking mountains were an ever-changing film strip as our point of view glided up the road. Traffic was light and as we often did we enjoyed the pleasure of driving below the speed limit to soak in the scene.

In Peach Springs stands the majestic 1923 John Osterman service station building. It’s abandoned now but recognized in the National Register of Historic Places. The white cement block building has a good number or ornamental touches and pumps remain on the island. There is a good chance that will be restored and put back into service. It’s owned by the Hualapais Indians and there isn’t a service station for many miles in either direction. Grant money is falling into place now that it’s registered.

Across the street is the historic Peach Springs Trading Post, circa 1932. Following the interstate bypass it closed but the Hualapais tribe has made regular use of it most recently for their Fish and game management.

In Truxton the café is long closed along with Barker Apartments, a former motel. The handsome white and blue Truxton Station looks ready to serve motorist tomorrow but seems dormant while another more modern station is looking more dated by the year. The Frontier Motel has an awesome neon sign, especially if it still functions. It would be quite a sight to spot it on this road late at night. A Café at the Frontier looks more likely to still be active. The weathered Orlando Motel is down for the count despite a nice naked lady water fountain up front. Gas-N-Grub is the sole going business. It’s a newer facility with basic groceries, beverages, and some convenience store type foods. We stopped for a snack (forget about finding lunch out here) and the business with locals was brisk.

In Valentine the garage is overgrown with trees and brush but the (Phillips) 76 ball still rises above the site. Chet’s Motel appears to be carrying on as a private residence.

In Hackberry the General Store is a major attraction. The yard is loaded with memorabilia and 66 themed props, inside is mock soda fountain with a mannequin sitting on a stool waiting for her date. There are even booths that are a great photo opportunity. The guestbook like most is loaded with overseas guests. There must have been a dozen motorcycles from a caravan and a few motor homes full of folks swarming the place when we arrived. The men’s room is plastered with pin-ups mostly of gals modeling next to vintage soda machines, all G rated in bikini or short shorts. Lorna said the ladies’ room was an eyeful too. The mannequin in the room creeped her out. The inventory is 90% souvenir and 10% road snacks and beverages. It was a fun stop and welcome break from the road.

That got us to Kingman, home to the Arizona route 66 museum.  We grabbed lunch at Mr. D’s Route 66 Diner which looks like a repurposed service station. It is a colorful, clean place that served a decent lunch. Just for perspective from the time we left Seligman and arrived at the diner 2 hours had elapsed, Writing about it took almost as long!

After lunch we went to the museum. They had a lot of stuff that was Arizona centric. Some other material was very broad. The exhibit based on the Grapes of Wrath told me I need to get my head into that one. It really stuck a chord about the reality of the 66 legacy. It wasn’t all about trading posts and folk art. The real story that makes it a historic byway is the people fleeing the dust bowl and seeking relief from poverty as they chased the California dream. After wards they had a 20 minute film that tied together a lot of what we experienced in the past 20 days recognizing the sites and stories  brought a lot home and we learned more that filled gaps in the how’s and why’s of the preservation movement.

There is an old alignment of 66 that runs along the railway tracks and weaves long the curvy valley base.  We drove that to the end. Even right off of a town street we were soon in the wilderness. The winding road probably speaks to some of what we can expect when we get into the mountains.

Originally we had planned to roll through to California but decided not to navigate the mountains while driving into the setting sun. We found a room here in Kingman and settled down early. Lorna wanted a dinner of fruit. My lunch had been a salad so I wanted more than rabbit food for dinner. We ended up at the Golden Coral here in town. They had been a favorite when we honeymooned in Florida so it was a fun thing to get back to. Today’s version seems to be over the top compared to my recollection with a larger buffet section and a desert bar that was ludicrous with a chocolate dipping fountain, cotton candy and hard and soft ice cream, not to mention assorted pies, cakes, cookies and puddings.

Monday morning we plan to get something of an early start and we think we have a pretty good idea of what these final days will have us. I had read that this can be the trip of a lifetime and that it can change a person forever, I am beginning to really understand those sentiments.