American Road Trip part 6 – Route 66 through New Mexico into Arizona

By Mandy.

We were just over a day away from starting our Route 66 road trip, east to west ending in Barstow California and that night we were to visit the Route 66 Casino and Hotel for dinner on a recommendation. It was going to be first time for either of us in any kind of Casino and without instruction my brain had opened up a memory file from 1971 TV, visions of glamour, sophistication, seduction and signing your life over to Michelle Du Mont. We were clueless!

“Ian do you think there is a dress code?”

“Wouldn’t have thought so”

“I don’t suppose it matters because by the end of the evening we will probably have failed, be completely naked and wandering around the car park looking for a car that will be by then hanging from a helicopter over the Pacific Ocean”

For the short journey along Route 66 that evening there wasn’t much to see, night-time had given us the ultimate in dark in that there were no street lights or buildings. The 1-40 hung close and parallel all of the way and I remember thinking how a lot of the original alignments of Route 66 no longer exist and have been replaced by the highway and I wondered if this interstate shadowing was going to continue for the rest of our Route 66 journey.

I can only compare the outside of the Casino to one of our smaller UK airports with neons!

Inside is where we got knocked sideways, defragged and rebooted! This was the Wild West an American version of either end of a well established British Pier! 85% of the Gambling being gaming machines. I had never seen so many desperate love affairs with people over a certain age strewn in one way or another over flashing neon waiting for their lucky fall. Some showing signs that indicated they could have been there for days, others were sleeping, arms and legs splayed in a way to clearly announce possession. I don’t know the rules, or maybe it’s just etiquette, an understanding not to in any way or form attempt to place anything in any slot of any machine within 6” of somebody’s ear whether asleep or awake. With that kind of commitment I wished the very best of luck to those who were awake and could multitask.

The choice of food outlets was extensive. For your aid and entertainment you are guided in a kind of “Wizard of Oz” way through the venue on a mini route 66 walk way. Thunder Road Bar and Steakhouse is where we choose to eat, a restaurant and live music venue. A great vibe, fantastic energy and the best steak I have eaten in my life ! The place was buzzing with people, and whilst we were waiting we were given a Pager to notify when a table would become available. This allowed us to wander and this is where I lost Ian, not the physical kind of losing but the kind of loosing where you are all of a sudden completely alone with whatever has caught your eye and stolen your heart. He had found his first Route 66 souvenir shop. There was no doubt a fantastic collection of memorabilia but I think at the time if he had known that similar shops with similar temptations would be seducing him along the whole of Route 66 he wouldn’t have cried so hard when our Pager called us for dinner!

I have waited on tables through my life and know how easy it is to get stuck into a routine of standard questions, and…… don’t judge me, not really listen to the answer. If you’re in a tourist area you know that the majority of people are on the same mission so the questions are easy. On Route 66 the questions are pretty much standard, “You headed east or west?” and that’s exactly what we got, followed by “So what’s your planned itinerary?” It took me a while… “Erm well we don’t really have plans or an itinerary” A voice from table 86 “You don’t have a planned itinerary! They don’t have a planned itinerary!” Considering the situation I wouldn’t have been surprised if Dick Van Dyke himself hadn’t appeared out of the middle of our table and the whole restaurant hadn’t become one huge musical performance……

♪♫  They don’t have a planned itinerary, haha,

♪♫  What will they do when the sky’s not blue and there’s no gas in their car?

♪♫  They don’t have a planned itinerary haha,

♪♫  They’ve sold their souls for 6 weeks on the road, and they don’t know where they are,

♪♫  They don’t have a planned itinerary haha,

♪♫  It’s plain to see, what will be and they won’t get very far.

♪♫  For all your costs, you will be lost”… Dick van Dyke disappears back under the table and people carry on eating and planning.

“Ian, we don’t do plans”

It seemed even with our EZ guide to 66, recommended by the honey monster, that if we wanted a full and interesting experience we should have done some kind of research. We were on holiday and starting to feel that if we didn’t do our homework we would suffer the consequences of our lethargy. The following night, we revisited the Casino, still extremely full from the night before, I ordered French onion soup and helped myself to salad from the bar. Greg served us, he was really polite, questioned us as to which way we were headed and that was that. My soup however didn’t come in liquid form, it was a strange thick unidentifiable crust that seemed to have soaked up where soup could have possibly been. On Greg’s return, and completely out of character for me, I decided to announce very politely my dissatisfaction when he enquired about our eating experience.

“Well it isn’t like any kind of French Onion Soup I’ve had before, in fact there was no soup in the bowl”

Greg’s reply

“Oh great, wonderful, I’ll have to try some, you’ve talked me into it”!!

Wow! His standard reply, Greg hadn’t been listening and it made me smile, years before in the mundane and endless trips back and forth waiting and clearing I had been guilty of exactly that.

I wondered if Greg had an itinerary?

The next morning ,still not being able to bring our heads completely out of the cloud blown our way by the hoards of planners and researchers, we set off EZ 66 guide in hand heading west on Route 66 . The book was suggesting we keep a look out for a large rock in the shape of an owl. So as the landscape started to change we prepared ourselves. We thought we saw the owl more than a couple of times over a matter of minutes,

“Wow, they’re all almost identical” I said

Truth was they were very identical, we had driven in a complete loop through a small Hispanic looking village, I’m not sure how many times. It had been like a bygone age where children played happily in the street. We commented how you just don’t see that anymore in the UK, we waved like the happy tourists we were and they pointed and laughed.

After only being on the road for a short time, we came to realise that we needed to change our relationship with the book, there now seemed to be three of us on this road trip and the new guy was somewhat controlling, his constant demand for attention together with seducing us with choices would consume time we just didn’t have, and with my head almost always down I was already missing out the very reason why we were there in the first place.

I had already learnt that many sections of Route 66 have undergone major realignments and the introduction of the highway system meant at various points the old road lays underneath the development, often to the side of it, or in some cases it disappears all together, and apparently things are changing all the time. We decided to ditch the book and use it mainly for information on exits to and from the Interstate, for us that worked brilliantly. Between New Mexico and California we managed to cruise some of the best uninterrupted sections of Route 66 that there are, and to be completely honest at the end we actually felt like we’d had a weirdly spiritual experience and as if we should have taken a minute to say a prayer, to thank the ambassadors and the campaigners and those who provide a service so we, as travellers, can continue to get our kicks on Route 66.

With a full tank of fuel and the freedom of our own decisions we headed west and in Ian’s eyes we became Burt Reynolds and Sally Field, Susan George and Peter Fonda, John Schneider and Catherine Bach, Lightning McQueen and Sally Carrera . I was just happy in the understanding that we will most possibly pass by some major Route 66 landmarks, hotels, museums, but it was ok. What was meant to be would be.

The landscape had changed from that of northern, central New Mexico. We were seeing the return of the bright orange sandstone Mesas, towering roadside sandstone walls all together messing with the light, turning our world into a 1970’s photograph.

It was around midday when we spotted a guy jogging along a deserted stretch of road, as we got closer we could see he was pushing a child’s buggy, full of his belongings I’m guessing, more to the point he was naked apart from a pair of lycra hot pants and a long full beard.

“Bucket list” I asked Ian

“Maybe doing it for a good cause?”

“But there is nobody else around, he could catch a bus, or hitch a ride”

“Would you pick him up?”

“I would, I’d like to stroke his beard”

“I will make a conscious decision never to sponsor you with anything”

“Sponsored beard stroking?”

We were stopped in our tracks by some amazing roadside art, not those fabulous advertising signs from a bygone age but auto salvage! Cars, pickup’s and buses from the 40’s through to the nineties, arranged in a way usually seen in Cartoons. They know what us Europeans want and those babies were up front pushed against a wire fence, seducing us with their eye sockets and sexy patina. 50’s Chevy pickups, 60’s Cadillacs, 50’s Buicks, Chevy Impalas,  a 63 Chevy C10. Unfortunately the place was closed, locked, secured and guarded by the cliché junkyard dog, big collar with studs, doing the menacing sideways strut. The place was deadly quiet, we hadn’t seen another vehicle for quite a while, and with heads fixed behind camera lenses we hadn’t noticed the reappearance of naked beard man. Stopping to park up his buggy he ventured over to the fence to stare at the dog, said something that sounded like “Kershnitzen” wiped his nose and carried on. I wondered what his itinerary was?..

We got in the car, thinking we had seen the icing on the cake, it would’ve been enough, but on that day between Albuquerque and Grants our minds were blown over and over with more junk yard delights, old farm machinery dating back quite a few decades, abandoned gas stations and diners.  A small town named Budsville named after Bud Rice who in 1928 together with his wife Flossie built and ran the gas station, grocery store, post office and garage for many years. Their story is however a very sad one, stand by the now abandoned one story concrete building and you can somehow feel its history. It’s apparently one of the most photographed buildings on route 66 in New Mexico.    

As we were getting closer to the Arizona border the weather was improving almost by the hour. Our time in Albuquerque had been wet, sometimes very heavy showers. Our waitress on the first night at the Casino had told us that that was it as far as fine weather for them, winter was on its way and she wasn’t expecting any more warm sunny days. It was a strange thing to hear when you still have a few weeks of your holiday to go. Today, however, further west, we were feeling fantastically warm, soaking up and loving that route 66 vibe.

“Ian, I could just drink an ice-cold beer” immediately feeling guilty for all the benefits of not being the designated driver. Would’ve loved to take the wheel for a while and give Ian a break, a chance to chill and just watch the scenery roll on by but because of my health the DVLA have decided that I am no longer safe to be behind the wheel of a car. Devastated is the word to describe how that feels, your independence etc. There are others worse off and I couldn’t wish for a better designated driver in Ian.

Right then more magic happened, as if the day couldn’t get any better we pulled into the town of Grants. Population of around 9200 people some quirky old motels, and a wonderful selection of advertising signs from a bygone time. However, this wasn’t what was grabbing our attention on this day, we had, without planning, arrived on the right day and at the right time to be part of their annual Fall Fiesta. All Wheel Show and Shine Car Show, Beer Garden, Green Chile Stew eating competition, Live Bands, and Food Vendors.

 

The Beer was awesome, a selection of specialty brews all served ice cold. Ian went into the open sided beer tent to get the drinks whilst I wandered the cars. During the time I was drinking from the bar the rules were I had to be actually under its roof. I was still able to find a seat where the sun threw me a spotlight of my very own. We ate hot dogs from the BBQ and spoke to so many great local people, who, with the drink inside them were offering interesting tips on where to go and what to see. Not available in any of the Rt 66 travel guides I’m sure!!

“Ian look?”

“What, where?”

“Over there in the beer tent, next to the fence”

“What?”

“Naked beard man!”

“No, there is no way he could have walked here in that time, and he’s got clothes on”

“Like I said, he’s probably hitching rides and if you’re not allowed to take your beer out of the beer tent I’m sure they would turn away a man in lycra shorts”

“Maybe he comes here every year?, Oh No !”

“What?”

“Naked Beard Man, the free spirit that is, has got a bloody itinerary!”

“It’s not him!”

“It is, look there’s his buggy on the other side of the fence, he has his hand on the handle”

“You’re right”

“I know”

Sad or not, we both became a bit obsessed with Naked Beard man.

“What’s he talking to those people about?”

“Move over that way”

“They are talking about their dogs”

“Oh my god, he’s the bloody Route 66 dog whisperer”!

“Does he actually exist?”

“Yeah he’s sat over there naked from the waist down”

“He’s not going to be naked”

We waited a good 15 minutes for him to finish his specialty sausage stand up and leave the table, he was suitably dressed. With the buggy evidence though we were now both agreed it definitely was the same man we had seen some miles up the road earlier on in the day. We then, believe it or not, waited for him to leave, I was desperate for him to go into a telephone call box and come out Super Naked Bearded Lycra, Dog Whispering Man! He checked into a hotel and we carried on with our journey.

 

The red sandstone rocks that had lined the road just west of Albuquerque had given way to vast open spaces and long straight stretches of road. I had thought the changes in temperature were mainly due to us heading west, but the inclines on these stretches are so gradual they are hardly noticeable. The small towns and villages to this point had had a definite Hispanic feel, but heading towards the Arizona state line we were seeing more Native Indian trading posts, some beautiful craftwork, and a collision of culture and tackiness that just seemed to work.

Santana was still number one on our most listened to CD chart, and as we approached the Continental Divide it was Black Magic Woman that was casting her spell.

Before leaving for the US we had been given information, hints and tips for our trip from friends on places to see and things to do, many had travelled Route 66, but no one had mentioned The Continental Divide! Mainly mountainous and running through all of North America it separates the water that runs toward the Pacific Ocean from the water running toward the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans and the Gulf of Mexico! It is also the highest point on route 66 at 7263 ft.

“Didn’t expect this today”

“No”

We parked beside a marker, explaining where we were and silence fell for a good minute.

“I wasn’t ready for this, within reason you know what to expect, wow!”

“No”

“Ian you’re not saying very much”

At that point I realised the artistic side of his brain had engaged and the look in his eyes revealed non artist was probably functioning at about 10%.

I got out of the car, it was freezing, got back in again. Looking around I spotted a Trading post selling souvenirs, and a scattering of other buildings. Apparently the area around Continental divide has been inhabited for 11,000 years. Navajo Indians settling in the mountains to the north and south.

I checked Ian out, he was on about 15%, and his eyes had fixed on the Trading post.

‘Noooooooo !!! not another gift shop!’ I said to myself. Don’t get me wrong I can really appreciate the beautiful hand-made crafts, jewellery and leather work, all at a reasonable price but I was recognizing a recurrent theme of on the road, stop, eat, gift shops. I secretly cast a spell on the barely conscious Ian …… Stay away from the gift shop …… Stay away from the gift shop. Spoken like the janitor zombie in Scooby Doo.

“What colour do you see the sky in the distance?” Ian asked, he was now on about 30%, this allowed speech.

He had caught me out like this before, when we first met. It had been a miserable day and he had asked the same question. I had answered that in my eyes the sky was grey. He had told me there were peaches, purples and blues etc. It took quite a few years of practice but eventually I was able to look deeper into things, open up my mind and see colour where previously there was no colour at all. Put a paintbrush in my hand though and there is absolutely no way I can transfer this onto canvas.

“I can see pale pink on the horizon”? I replied

“Lovely isn’t it”

“Yeah”

After a quick photo, evidence that we had actually been there, we got back in the car and headed towards Gallup about 25 miles then another 25 to the Arizona border.

Looking back on our trip I have wondered if we would have done things differently had we arrived in certain places at different times of the day. As we headed for Gallup we had already started to talk about somewhere to stay the night. We knew from friends about the history of the El Rancho hotel in Gallup how it had been established since the 1930’s. How, because it was popular as a filming location, the hotel can boast playing host to some of the most prolific movie stars of our time. Worth a stop? Maybe?

Gallup city is well established and caters mainly to the traveller, driving through we were spoilt for choice for places to stay, it was early evening and each motel was competing for our attention, luring us in with its brightly coloured Neon’s. Route 66 as I had seen it in so many photos, we drove in one end and out the other.

“That was nice”
“Yeah”

“Ian shall we wild camp, sleep in the car, maybe drive into Arizona and pull over when you start to get tired, no check in, no messing with luggage ?”

Ian gave a look of approval, pulled over and we both reclined our seats …

“Naaah”

We spent the next ten minutes rearranging luggage, trying to find a place for the fridge and slot ourselves into any available space.

“I don’t think these Mustangs were designed with the intention of helping you have a good night’s sleep”

For most of our route 66 journey so far, the old road had mostly been paralleled by the I 40 and the Santa Fe railroad. 800 miles of track running through California, Arizona and Mexico, both have suffered decline but now thrive, the railroad becoming one of the nation’s busiest with up to 100 trains per day, paralleling the old highway through mountains, deserts and dusty towns. On quiet stretches of road it really was a sight to see these huge freight trains cutting through the desert, a friend to keep you company. I counted over 100 carriages at one time and then I gave up and just enjoyed it for what it was, like a gentle rumble of thunder in the distance whilst you waft in and out of sleep. On one beautifully straight and deserted stretch of asphalt the train ran close through wide open terrain, Ian parked up the car to take a photo and the driver sounded his horn.

 As we reached the Arizona border red sandstone towers made a reappearance and just before the state line we came across the wackiest line up of ramshackle wooden buildings we had seen so far. Set back from the road at the foot of a sandstone mesa was Chief Yellow Horse’s Trading Post. It just stood out as different. Large brightly coloured plastic animals perched high on the ledges of the cliff way above the roof of the trading post. This one had us both intrigued.

We were met at the door by an old Navajo Indian guy in a wheelchair, he looked us directly in the eye, deep and meaningful and took a breath inwards. I was expecting “Old Indian proverb”

“When your bladder rules your life you have no life at all” he wheeled himself past us not looking up.

The place was owned and run by Navajos, the Yellow Horse family. Chief Juan Yellow Horse had owned and operated the Trading post from 1960 until his death in 1999. A wide choice of what seemed to be handmade crafts and jewellery and at the best prices we had seen so far. We left with two rugs and some cow dung.

The welcome centres on all state lines are a must, they have an information pack thoughtfully put together to inform and entertain you. They also have books of vouchers that you can use at motels and in restaurants along the way. Each time I opened a new one I was like a kid with a lucky bag, on this occasion however things weren’t looking too favourable, as we approached the empty car park we could see and all the lights were out in the nearby building. The young girl locking up had spotted us and headed our way handing us our welcome pack together with a small box of sweets and a hand fan.

“Where you heading?”

“West, probably staying overnight in Holbrook”

“The Teepee Village?”

I had forgotten all about the Teepee village.

“Yes probably”
“Drive safe and enjoy your stay in Arizona”

“Thanks”

Arizona – Heading into the Great South West

Route 66 on the east side of Arizona can only be driven in short segments, further west however you get to drive some of the longest uninterrupted sections of road that route 66 has to offer, and travel through some of the most diverse and spectacular landscapes in America.

We were finding that a lot of the old towns along route 66 were sign posted off the highway, usually taking us to a frontage road. For the majority of our drive into Holbrook we remained on the highway or parallel to it.

“What’s in the bag?”

“Some maps, more sweets, loads of info on places to visit, vouchers, and an eye mask.

“Have you noticed the dinosaurs?”

“Where?”

“Everywhere”

We were around 60 miles from the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. The dinosaurs seemed to be an indication we were getting close, I guess in the same way the old road signs along route 66 would tease you with something spectacular every 20 minutes for the next 150 miles!

The Petrified Forest is apparently a place where dinosaurs roamed 225million years ago amongst 200 foot tall conifers. Volcanic mountains erupted, toppled the trees which were swept away by water, covered in ash and sediment entombing them over millions of years, then through gradual erosion exposing themselves, colours and shapes of the organic material fossilizing and turning to stone. Signs in and around the visitor centre warn you that you will be prosecuted if you attempt to remove any of the petrified wood from its place, and I’m sure the guy with the hat, the horse and the gun was ready to do just that. Strange thing was polished petrified wood in all shapes and forms was being advertised for sale all along the Interstate and around the park itself. We pulled over because I was intrigued at a huge sign inviting me to “Come and feed the ostrich’s”, more tacky dinosaurs and “Get your petrified wood here”

Automatically I went off to find an Ostrich, Ian made his way into the gift shop. As I glanced around I imagined the whole place would have made a great backdrop for the film “The Hills Have Eyes”

I made my way back to the car, Ian arrived 5 minutes later.

“Couldn’t find any Ostriches”

“She gave me some wood”

“What for nothing?”

“Yeah she said she liked the look of me”

“Weird”

“It’s pretty though look”

It was very pretty but I am still to this day confused with the very mixed messages behind these 250 million year old treasures.

I had learnt about the Wigwam Village in Holbrook through friends, it grabbed my interest enough to find out it was built in 1960 from concrete, there are 15 Wigwams each with room enough for a large bed, small kitchen and bathroom. At $55 for a night’s stay it was definitely worth a look.

In the same way my mind had automatically opened a file from seventies TV with the Casino, it had done the same with the Teepee Village. It gave me Holbrook a small dusty town with a saloon bar, right there on Route 66, old cowboy types sat outside on wooden rockers chewing tobacco and drinking moonshine, and of course tumbleweed. I hadn’t at all challenged the reality of this.

Entering Holbrook that evening was a slap in the face, car dealerships to the left, fast food outlets to the right, motels and hotels some decent looking some abandoned, others in various stages of repair all leading down to a main cross roads and as seems to be the theme through most of these towns, this is where the main tourist traps are. In Holbrook’s case this is where the dinosaurs were.

Holbrook is the county seat of Navajo county, during the 1890’s cowboys and railroad workers kept the saloons. The heavy drinking, gun-toting men gave the town a violent reputation, a town too tough for women and churches, it seemed our visit was around 130 years too late. Over the next few days I couldn’t help but wonder if this reputation has been carried through to the present day. I was intrigued.

 I can’t remember why we took a right at the main crossroads but some way down on the left of the busy two lane highway we found the Wigwam village, a mirage almost in that it was completely out of place. This seemed to be the business side of town. To the left of the Wigwams a collection of Skips, opposite was a large welding unit. From the road if you looked directly at the 15 concrete Wigwams placed in a horse shoe shape around a central reception area you could really appreciate and start to feel a sense of nostalgia. Each Wigwam had its own Classic car, possibly a permanent fixture from day one way back in 1960. Together with the bright neon signs the whole place offered an illuminated oasis amongst it surroundings. Ian grabbed the chance for photo opportunities and I pondered if right then this was the kind of place where I wanted to spend the night. If we had arrived early afternoon, full of energy, enjoying the heat and the cloudless sky it might have been a different story but we were both tired, cranky and needed feeding. 

“What do you think?” We were both back in the car and hadn’t noticed that the railroad passed by the back of the building and for the next 10 minutes or so we listened as 200 plus freight carriages rattled over steel. Full of empty bottles I presumed, and of course sounding its horn to announce arrival. We have since learnt that a train passes through every 20 to 30 minutes. Earlier in the day we would’ve probably laughed it off it and it wouldn’t have affected our decision, but Ian simply turned the car around without saying a word and we headed back the way we came.

Driving back up towards the crossroads I started to wonder if we were both becoming a little bit delirious.

“Stop!”

“What?”

“Safeway’s, like Safeway’s in the UK. It’s now Morrisons! Ahhh beautiful, look.” “Wow, it might have things we recognise”

We stood in the entrance of Safeway’s in a way that could have resembled that part of the film Close Encounters when all missing people are returned to earth in the Mother Ship.

“Look at all those beautiful shiny brightly coloured vegetables”. An ocean of them as far as the eye could see, so clean, so perfectly stacked.

That night we checked into a motel in town using vouchers from our Welcome pack.

“I wonder if they are going to work, or whether there is some kind of catch?” Something we are used to in the UK.

I imagined a possible scenario

“Hi do you have a room available for the night?”

“Of course, would you like King, Super King or four Queens?”

“I think just King, can we use these here?” Presentation of vouchers onto desk.

“Yes, how many are there of you?”

“Two”

“Heavy or light sleepers? What is your mothers maiden name and does she sleep well? Are you wearing socks? How many fingers am I holding up? Now with your eyes closed? Can you sing your national anthem with this gag over your mouth?”

In reality we checked in quickly using the vouchers, at $23 per night with a free breakfast in the Diner at the opposite end of the car park, what could go wrong?

The room was a very basic ground floor room with a shower and toilet off it, the front door opening up onto the car park. A TV, Fridge and Microwave seemed to be standard, and that night I managed to put together a full English roast, eaten in bed off cardboard plates with plastic knives and forks, all washed down with a beautifully rich and full bodied Chilean Merlot.

It was getting late and things had started to become loud out in the car park, a huge long wheel base Ford Superduty F550 crew cab pick up had pulled in next to the Mustang, transforming it from Muscle car to something the truck had its eye on for a light breakfast. Two urban cowboy types were chatting and smoking close to our door. Tall and scrawny, dressed all in black, cowboy style. Wasn’t long before we realised other people seemed to be lurking in the shadows. From the conversation they all seemed to be waiting for Shelly. Shelly arrived by foot around half an hour later, Shelley was a man. I watched as 16 people, 14 men 2 women and a dog emptied into the room next door, this was around 11.30pm. I can’t remember seeing anyone carrying bongos into the room, but it certainly seemed to be the background noise to all of the singing. Silence fell on that room at about 7.30am and when we managed to make our way across the car park to the Diner later that morning there was no one to be seen, although the truck was still parked up.

 

Ok so $23 a night gets you entertainment throughout the night and no conversation from the waitress at breakfast, she seemed to know what we wanted and slid it sideways across the table to where we were sitting, no sunny side up or over easy choices for us today. We seemed to be the only tourists in the Diner that morning, the conversation at the bar was local and the word seemed to be that Shelly was in town. I had an overwhelming need to stalk these people all day and get an insight into who they were and what they were up to, I was feeling that I needed to step off the tourist treadmill for a while and get in there with the locals. I grew up in an area of outstanding natural beauty where 80% of local businesses cater towards the tourist. Throughout the summer months it can be crazy busy, but with just one road in and out there is no passing trade and most of the businesses close for the winter. Working long shifts in hospitality through the busy times can eventually transform you into a creature of repetition with absolutely no thought for the customer other than to be polite and do your job. With the very best will in the world you stop caring. All this has had a long-term effect on me in that whenever I am on holiday and find myself in a popular destination amongst hundreds of people doing the same thing, eating at the same restaurant, standing looking the same view from the same viewpoint, waiting in a long queue to pay over the odds for something I have been told is “Worth a visit” I get the need to step off the conveyor belt and experience a little bit of real. Today I really wanted to meet the local characters in and around Holbrook and Ian was up for anything.

However, on this day more than any other we were feeling torn . Prior to our trip friends had told us that we had to visit the Painted Desert if were in the area,. Apparently it’s a place where “Art comes to life”. It stretches from the Grand Canyon National Park to the Petrified Forest, home to the nation’s most memorable formations and features. Over time volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods and sunlight have combined to create deposits of clay and sandstone stacked in elegant layers, an altering display of lavenders, greys, reds, oranges and pinks depending on the time of day.

The weather seemed to be changing as we approached the park, we did manage to see and appreciate the vastness of the landscape and wonderful kaleidoscope of colours for about 10 minutes, then the wind started to pick up and I spotted a small Tornado over the flat plain to my right. It changed course a couple of times but within minutes it had seemed to increase in size and pick up speed. It was headed straight for us. Both myself and Ian have always been particularly obsessed with the idea of storm chasing and here we were about to experience it for ourselves, although very much smaller in scale than any of the movies we had seen. Where’s Dorothy when you need her ? Ian in all his excitement had managed to change CD’s and very quickly Deep Purples ‘Child in Time’ was blasting from the speakers. A very memorable moment from the movie ‘Twister’.

“How old are we?” I questioned

“Just don’t tell anyone”

“I think we’re going in!!”

“We got cows!!”

Cut to music, dum da da da dum da da da dum da da da dum, electric guitar slices the air whaa, whaa whaa ……….

We came out the other side unscathed of course, the cows were actually food wrappers in this case. It had been an experience. I don’t really understand how the weather works in these areas but from that point we were driving through a continuing sandstorm, visibility was at a minimum, and considering the Painted Desert is a wonderfully visual experience the whole reason for being there was becoming pointless. Ian pulled up and we checked out the map, for some reason he then decided to open the door. Anything small that wasn’t attached to the car on the inside tried to leave. I dived in to save the snacks, the book of vouchers however was never seen again. Further on we stopped at the Painted Desert Inn, I held onto the contents of the car whilst Ian got out and then had the idea of placing any possible escapee under the fridge and making a run for it. The beautiful adobe building was packed full, the world and his wife were sheltering within its walls and it was difficult to appreciate what it had to offer. There was an artist in residence so it was of particular interest to Ian but there wasn’t any way we were going to get a look in without being rude, and if things kicked off there was absolutely nowhere to run.

Back in Holbrook we took advantage of the daylight hours with a tour around the town but my mind was elsewhere.

     

That evening I would be on a mission to find Shelley and hear his story, returning to the Motel however the truck had gone and room 32 sat in silence.

We definitely know how to dine,  whilst Ian was transfixed to the TV watching Lindsey Wagner as the Bionic woman listen to villains saying bad stuff downtown we ate takeaway pizza from the box. My distraction was the “Goodie Bag” we picked up as we entered Arizona to which I had become particularly attached.

“Did you know Holbrook has a Bucket of Blood Street, named after the Bucket of Blood Saloon?”

“Bucket of Blood Saloon?” Not taking his eye’s off Lindsey in her tight fitting jumpsuit.

“Yeah, in the 1880’s a group of cowboys known for rustling cattle, stealing and shooting moved into the area. They called themselves the Hashknife Cowboys. In 1886, 250 people lived in Holbrook and there were 26 shooting deaths all connected to the Hashknife outfit. In 1886 a brutal gunfight broke out in the Saloon between members of the Hashknife and a group of cowboys who accused them of stealing”

Ian glanced away from the TV

“Oh you’re reading, I was wondering what was happening to you”

“In the 1920’s the Saloon had the appearance of a respectable establishment captivating travellers who stopped by to see the bullet holes in the walls and the Blood Stains on the floor. The residents of Holbrook now claim to have a past wilder than Tombstone. The Saloon was on Central Avenue, later renamed, Bucket of Blood Street”

“Shall we go?” I had grabbed his interest.

“It’s not open any more, still standing after 120 years but all boarded up”

We decided to go and take a look anyway our map leading us away from the Triassic side of town, the bars and restaurants to a quieter, darker side. Sadly we didn’t find what we were looking for and I’m not sure if some of the locals really know the location of the Saloon because when we enquired of its whereabouts we were being sent in all directions. We headed back towards the lights and decided to stop off at the first bar we saw, walking straight off the street and into a full blown conversation about Miranda Lambert, Monkey bars and the best way to polish chrome. It was clearly a biker friendly establishment and it weirdly felt like home. Turns out the people of Holbrook are some of the most straight talking, hospitable people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. We became part of a group of guys buying rounds of drinks, although by the amount of drinks on the table it seemed we might have been getting more than our fair share. I did question the build up of drinks on our table only to be told that it was some good shit. I looked towards the barmaid with questioning eyes.

“It’s fine” she mouthed

Later at the bar after I had collected all the empty glasses from the tables, (It’s now etched into my DNA) She just mentioned that they were a good group of guys and placed another full glass of red mix in front of me “Means of payment” she said and smiled “More good shit”.

That night nobody questioned which direction we were headed, our accents or where we were staying. In fact at one point I thought we were being mistaken for someone else. Challenged to quite a few games of pool we somehow came out winners. Not sure how because it seems like a completely different game and everything is huge.

“I love it here, can I stay?” I moaned at Ian

“What right here in this bar?”

“Yeah it’s specific”

“Specific to what?”

“The right thing, and it has all the numbers lined up in the right order, except the ones on the end by the bar”

“What wrong with them?”

“They’re bouncy”

“Did you drink that last shot?”

“No I shot it”

“What?”

“The last drink, I am humble now”

“Ok”

“We should go back and find Shelley”

Ian reminded me that Shelley and the cowboys were no longer there.

“Noooooo, you didn’t say”

“Shelley’s gone”

“We need to go and find him”

I don’t remember much about walking back to our motel that night just it was warm and everyone was just amazing, I loved them all. Then to top off a great night the giant truck had returned and room 32 was buzzing and I was ready to party.

“Come on let’s go introduce ourselves!”

Followed by

“Eew barking dogs, they have barking dogs”

“It’s only one, they had it last night” Ian reminded me

“Barking dogs, no no no, no barking”

“Let’s creep into our room very quietly” It made sense to me at the time.

“Why?”

“Then the dog will stop barking”

“Ok”

We climbed into bed and waited. The walk home and fresh air had definitely taken the edge off the level of drunk I was.

“It’s not going to stop is it?”

“Nope”

“Are they all oblivious?”

“Yep, that could be what you call it”

It seemed to go on for hours until I remembered the ear plugs. An offering from our Virgin flight and now in my hand luggage in the bathroom.

“Can you hear me?” I asked Ian.

“I can see your mouth moving, no seriously I can hear you a bit, and the dog but it’s definitely helped”

We turned off the light and eventually fell asleep with the muffled sound of barking dog and the odd scream from the next room. It was the banging of doors shaking the building that yanked us back out of our slumber, although I definitely slept through it better than Ian.

“Where are you going?” I asked as Ian made his sitting down to standing noise. “To the loo”

I immediately fell back to sleep but was woken again by a massive crash. This was serious.

Turning to switch on the bedside lamp I could feel that Ian wasn’t beside me, he mustn’t have returned from the bathroom. In those few seconds between pitch black and reaching over to turn on the light my imagination was on overload. The seriousness of the situation was revealed.

Ian was sat on the floor looking at me with huge sorrowful eyes, he was stark naked and with the ear plugs he looked like a deflated Shrek.

“What happened?”

“What?”

“Why are you on the floor?”

Then I just couldn’t stop laughing, he was clearly OK but still didn’t think to take the ear plugs out, and stayed put on the floor a bit shell shocked I think. I took out my ear plugs as a gesture for him to follow.

“What happened?”

“I missed the bed”

“You looked like Shrek”

“Shrek?”

“Naked with ear plugs, it’s a good look”

“It throws my senses out”

“Are you saying you missed the bed because you had earplugs in?”

“Maybe”

“Hey the dog’s stopped barking”

“It’s gone really quiet too”

“Do you think they’re dead?”

“Probably”

“Thank God, Goodnight”

“Goodnight”

to be continued …

 

If you missed the beginning here’s Part 1, ‘California Dreaming’ :

Part 1 – California Dreaming

 

 

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