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.

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