Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Don't fall into the Grand Canyon after getting your kicks on Route 66

All right, here's the long-promised post about our recent trip to Arizona. Laziness stepped in and made fun of my footwear while I found excuse after excuse to just not do it. It's taken me 3 days to complete, so be prepared for a very long post...
The school district in which Rece & Sam (Christine's daughter) attend school gives the kids an entire week off in observance of President's Day ... making it President's Week. Christine and I decided that this would be a great opportunity for us to take a trip to the Grand Canyon, so we both arranged for the time off and started planning for it. We were able to work in a good variety of places to go and see, while allotting plenty of time for us to stop and check out anything we found interesting along the way.

Day 1: Sunday
This was to be our driving day. The plan was to drive to the eastern-most destination on the first day and work our way back. I volunteered to do the driving and we hit the road around 7:00 am -- then immediately stopped for some breakfast burritos, and then got back on the road around 7:45 am.

We made excellent time all the way out until some place between Barstow and Needles, CA -- where I ended up getting pulled over and given a speeding ticket. The cop cut me a very generous break (reduced the clocked speed by more than 25 MPH) and we continued along our merry way, albeit at a more conservative rate of speed.

Can't really report much about day 1, since it was all pretty much driving. The kids were getting along fine and Christine was happy to snap pictures out the window as we made our way way down the open road. We did stop in Winslow, AZ to stand on a corner just before sunset. Yeah, we are a bunch of dorks. Our destination was Holbrook, AZ to stay in the Wigwam Motel (an old Route 66 location). We arrived shortly after sunset and I made sure to take some pictures of this very cool location.

Day 2: Monday
Christine was up at her usual early-bird hour but let us sleep in. I told her that on this trip we'd wake up earlier and to not let us sleep in again ... we had places to go and people to see! We started off by begging for change and then had a delicious breakfast at Joe & Aggie's Cafe and I wrestled with a dinosaur.

Our first destination of the day was the Petrified Forest. We marveled at the vast emptiness and beauty of the painted desert. It really is amazing what can happen over the course of millions of years.

We had decided that we'd travel along old Route 66 whenever we drove westbound, so we made our way doing just that. We did our best to look for the abandoned portions of the road that are no longer passable -- many of which you can see just off to one side or the other of I-40. It was almost a bit of an obsession for me to hypothesize the original road based on mounds of dirt, telephone poles and the terrain. Christine, to her credit, was very tolerant of this behavior. In between the Petrified Forest and the Meteor Crater, we stopped at a couple of little towns, a museum, and the Jack Rabbit Trading Post.

Our next planned stop was literally little more than a hole in the ground: the Arizona Meteor Crater. About 50,000 years ago, a chuck of metal 150 feet across fell from the heavens and struck the earth at around 28,600 miles per hour. Now that's impressive! While we were there we were treated to a snow flurry with some of the largest snowflakes I'd ever seen. Rece was excited, since he had never been in falling snow before. The museum exhibits were top-notch and it was all that I had expected it to be, and more.

So we turned off the I-40 and on to a road that I thought was old Route 66. It very well may have been, but I couldn't have been sure. It wasn't until we were driving into Flagstaff that I realized something that seemed rather ironic: we had forgotten Winona! By this time it was getting late, so we made straight for Williams, AZ where we had reservations at the Canyon Motel (another old Route 66 location). This was also the city where we'd be catching a train the following morning for our first peek at the Grand Canyon. Check out the link to the motel and read all about it. It really is an interesting place and we decided to make our home base for the next 3 nights.

Day 3: Tuesday
One of the highlights of our trip was that we'd be taking a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway. We were up bright and early, ready for breakfast. The owner of the motel had suggested we give Old Smoky's Restaurant (another old Route 66 original) a try: they had all-you-can-eat pancakes and biscuits and gravy. How could we pass that up? If you like pancakes, especially the kind that are bigger than your head (and probably your appetite), then this is the place to go. Rece was the only one to order the all-you-can-eat pancakes, and he only managed to eat little more than 1/2 of the first pancake he was served.

We wanted to be sure that we had our train tickets (we hadn't booked them prior) so we got to the train station as soon as they opened. Seeing the benefit of having a bar in our car, we opted to go for the club car, instead of coach, which wasn't all that much more expensive. After poking about the train station for a bit and snapping some photos, we boarded the train and were on our way up to the Grand Canyon.

The ride up was a great way to unwind and enjoy the Arizona back country that you wouldn't ordinarily be able to see. It was a 2-1/2 hour ride up to the Grand Canyon station, during which we were entertained by some period character actors and singers, and our cabin girl, Amy, who also served as our bartender. She suggested a walk along the canyon's south rim that would give us a good view and enough time for lunch and still have plenty of time to catch our train for the trip down.

We journeyed out to the canyon and stood there slack-jawed, caught by the beauty and sheer scale of it all. The trail along the rim was mostly level and proved to be an easy walk. We stopped and took pictures at every opportunity. After having lunch, we took one more look at the canyon before heading back for the train. Aside from having to tolerate one bratty little kid, the afternoon ride was just as pleasant as it was in the morning. One of the acts they did for entertainment was for our train to be boarded by bandits who robbed the passengers.

With a full day of adventure behind us, we decided to order pizza and eat it in our room while watching TV, then turned in for the night.

Day 4: Wednesday
The previous day's trip to the canyon was more like a reconnaissance mission for this day's journey; where we planned to drive back to the Grand Canyon and see it in greater detail. We went east, to Flagstaff, AZ and then north, geocaching along the way up to the eastern entrance of the Grand Canyon National Park. We caught as many parts of Route 66 we could along the way and enjoyed the change of scenery in this area.

The first stop once inside the park was at Desert View. This is where the Watchtower is located. The view from the tower is astounding, let alone the architecture of the tower itself. We drove the road along the entire south rim until we got to the Canyon View Information Plaza, where we had a late, but light, lunch. Continuing on we reached Hopi Point, where we awaited the sunset.

Watching the sunset while at the Grand Canyon is a visual experience. The changing light and shadows give added dimension to the crags and cliffs of the canyon. Details of the sedimentary layers show in greater contrast and you can almost fully understand why so many people come here from all around the world to marvel at the natural beauty. Water and time are the primary tools that nature used to paint the desert and cut into it to form this masterpiece.

Thinking ahead, Christine had the wisdom to rent us a 4WD Jeep Liberty for our trip. This allowed us to take a road less traveled out of the Grand Canyon. Just after sunset we set off down Rowe Well Road, a dirt road I had spotted during our train ride down the afternoon before. It was in excellent shape, and obviously well maintained, so I wasn't really worried about running into any problems, but it definitely added to the adventure of the trip and gave us a different perspective of things. We bounced and shook our way down this little road in the dark until eventually we popped out on the highway back to Williams.

After a quick bite at Cruisers Cafe in town for the only mediocre meal of the trip, we turned in for the night.

Day 5: Thursday
We allowed ourselves to sleep in a little later before taking off. We cheated for breakfast and made a quick stop at the McDonald's drive-thru and then went in search of a small section of Route 66 we had missed the day before. We resumed geocaching and eventually found ourselves at a dead-end down a very bumpy dirt road, next to a small reservoir with no place to turn around. I had to back up a bit before it was wide enough to make a 7-point turn and get us out of the area. I was really enjoying the freedom of 4WD!

Our goal was to continue driving along Route 66 wherever we could find it and geocaching along the way. I had pulled a list of caches dotting the highway and we ended up finding most of the ones we went after -- except the one above where we ended up down a dead-end dirt road in B.F.E., of course.

We stopped in Ash Fork for a geocache and happened upon a very well-done Route 66 museum. The lady there gave us some great information about the area and the old highway. In case you didn't already know, Ash Fork is the flag stone capital of the US!

One place I had heard of was the Sno Cap Drive In, located in Seligman, AZ. The guy who owns the place purportedly had a running gag about offering people "slightly used napkins". Unfortunately, the place was closed for the season and wouldn't open again for a couple more weeks ... no, really it wasn't one of his typical gags that he's apparently known for pulling. He had a sign posted to this effect, including a request to just slide our money under the door. I really wish I could have met Juan Delgadillo in person. He seems like quite a character -- wait, I just read while looking for a link that Juan passed away on June 2nd, 2004. His sons still run the business and continue the tradition of zany antics that their father was known for. I really feel that I missed something now.

From Seligman we made our way down the old highway through the most boring and remote part of our trip so far. Wow! There's nothing out here! It was like this until we got to the Grand Canyon Caverns. Anxious for something to do, we decided to check out the cavern tour and were glad that we did. The tour was top-notch and our guide did an excellent job in keeping it both entertaining and informative.

From this point and on for quite a ways, Route 66 can definitely be considered to be in the middle of nowhere. What few businesses and towns there were, are no more. Their either completely gone or closed up and left to decay. We stopped at one cool little place in Hackberry, AZ that was now almost completely abandoned, save for this one information stop and general store. John, the owner, chatted with us for a few minutes while the kids pet his dog. If you're ever out this way, by all means take the time to stop in and buy a drink and/or a snack and meet him for yourself. I'm sure he'd appreciate the business.

There was a geocache that required the finding 6 other caches in order to obtain the coordinates to find it. We found some of those along this part of the old highway along with some others as we made our way towards Kingman, AZ, where we had decided would make a good place to stop for the night.

Arriving in Kingman, we decided on a place to stay and got our room. Afterwards we went out to find a few more geocaches. This one was a 4x4 adventure, I have to tell you. I insisted on trying to find a road of some sorts to the top of one of the hills behind our motel to the cache that was on it. Finding one, I put the car into 4WD and made the rocky and slipper ascent. It wasn't too far up that we found ourselves at the end of the road with nothing but a telephone pole in the way. It was in a tight spot and I was afraid of attempting the drive backwards down the crazy road we had drove up. The alternative was to use the loop at the end of this road that appeared somewhat unstable and wedged under the support cables for the telephone pole. Taking a deep breath, I made the turn down and narrowly avoided getting stuck in a very difficult spot. The Jeep Liberty is quite a machine and managed do what I wanted it to do and got us out of there.

After the 4x4 excitement, I was ready for dinner. We drove up and down Route 66, looking for something that appealed to us. The Dambar Steakhouse sounded good and we splurged for a hearty steak dinner for the last night of our trip. The food was dam good at the Dambar! Though something in what Christine ate triggered an allergic reaction. She took something to counteract the symptoms and we settled in for the night.

Day 6: Friday
I was happy to discover that Christine's symptoms had not become worse during the night and that she wasn't in need of a visit to the ER, as she was feeling better and able to continue on our journey. Our motel included a hot buffet breakfast that wasn't all too bad, even though they ran out of juice and couldn't seem to get any more of it. It was good enough to satisfy our hunger and get us back to our trip.

We geocached along old Route 66, the portion that wound its way up the Black Mountains before they rerouted it around the mountains (and then restored this portion after the I-40 took its place. This was some barren and oddly pretty country. We decided to skip the gold mine tour and make our way to Oatman, AZ which is advertised as a historic, almost ghost-town like spot. It was anything but that. It's more of a tourist trap with little history education value at all. We still had fun wandering the shops and just accepting it for what it was: interesting.

It wasn't long after this that we were back to the I-40, right at the Colorado River (and California border). We again had some difficulties in finding drivable portions of the old highway, but it just made the trip that much more interesting. At one point we found ourselves in a wash, under I-40 looking for a cache. I became a little concerned when I noticed rain clouds in the distance, but we managed to find the cache and avoided the rain (and potential flash-flooding).

The further west we went, the less there was to see along old Route 66. State highway 95, where it departs from the I-40, headed north towards Nevada, is also old 66 for a ways until it breaks off headed west again, through a rather boring expanse of land near a town called Goff's. It was around this town (which is now little more than a bunch of closed buildings and scattered homes that appeared to still be in use) that we happened upon a traffic jam of sorts. For whatever reason, we passed a line of trains stopped on the tracks. They were still running and some were just pulling up behind the others. Maybe it was the boring part of the trip that caused us to find this so interesting, but I'd never thought I'd see a traffic jam made up of mile-long trains before.

Eventually the highway meandered its way back down to the I-40 again and crossed over, so it looped south. This stretch of road is where on many maps you'll see towns named Essex, Danby, Chambless, Amboy, Bagdad, Siberia, Klondike, and Rag Town. Most of these places are now either falling to pieces or completely gone. Essex, or what's left of it, is still there, Chambless too. All of the businesses are closed up and left to suffer the effects of time unhindered.

I was rather looking forward to being able to claim in my recounting of the trip how we went to the far reaches of the Earth to Siberia, and then to the deserts of Bagdad -- but we went right on through them, without seeing so much as a sign or structure that might indicate we had arrived. It was a little disheartening to think that, not all that long ago, this area had plenty of people passing through, providing business for these little towns. The I-40 changed all of this for good.

Amboy was the one place we stopped that seemed almost poised to make a comeback. We stopped there to find a geocache out in front of Roy's (you wouldn't believe how tickled I was to find an actual website for the place) and noticed that the motel and cafe seemed to be relatively well maintained. They were still closed, but had current newspaper clippings on the windows telling of how the owner of the Juan Pollo restaurant chain had recently bought the entire town and was in the process of having the place restored so it could return to business once again. The post office was still in business, which I'm assuming is a good sign that things are completely dead out this way. If they manage to resurrect the town of Amboy, I'll definitely want to pay them a visit.

The last place we tried to visit along Route 66 for the trip was the Bagdad Cafe (which is nowhere near the previously mentioned town, oddly enough). Formerly named the Sidewinder Cafe, the cafe was renamed after the movie based on the location was made. We were planning on having dinner there, but found it to be closed for the night. They apparently close at 6 pm during the winter. Seeing us outside, the owner was nice enough to let us in and check out the place and have a cup of coffee ... she even took our picture.

From this point we finished up the remaining miles of Route 66 until we arrived in Barstow, CA. From there we got back on the interstate and made our way home. This was definitely a vacation to remember for a lifetime.
I'm sure I forgot to include some of things that happened along the way, but I figured it was best to get it up. If I remember something interesting, I might write about it later.

I posted 177 pictures out of the more than 1600 photos we shot while on our trip on my Flickr account.

This entry didn't think it would take so long to get this damn entry written!


Anonymous said...

Wow! It's almost like I was there. :-) Thanks for detailing the memories of our fun and educational adventure. I look forward to the next one.

66 Productions said...

You should really explore and enjoy 66 in LA County (and western San Bernardino County) too. It really has a lot to offer. Check out my website and blogs for more information.

Caroline said...

what an awesome trip - great pictures...i'd luv 2 do this trip myself one day...i try to keep up with your blog often...glad to see you're doing well...keep writing & snapping pix!