Our last morning in Holbrook and we decided to hold back on the free breakfast thrown our way by the mute waitress. We were back on the road heading for Winslow Arizona, the morning sun had already warmed the inside of the car and awoken the now wonderfully familiar aroma of polystyrene and shoes.
Ian’s fascination with Route 66 goes right back to when he was a kid. The old roadside stops would become part of a self-made fantasy, a place where he would escape in his mind from what was far from a happy childhood. He was, I believe, born with a gift, that gift was to create, and his life panned out in such a way that he could incorporate this gift into his sadness and it became a kind of therapy for him, a means to an escape. He could later lift all the stored images from his mind and recreate onto paper or canvas, all the while disappearing into the fantasy. Images of his regular “Haunts” along Route 66 were stored, fantastically detailed in the archives and chasms of Ian’s wonderfully complicated brain. Buried deep, where suppressed emotions lurk. He neither wanted nor needed to know exactly where on Route 66 these places were.
“Too much information and it can steal the fantasy” he would say. Possibly undoing a whole mountain of self-help sessions and disturbing feelings he thought he had put to rest years before, I would think.
We were about to find out. Continuing west on this part of the journey we had to resort to the I- 40 for some of the way. Between Holbrook and Winslow there is one accessible segment of Route 66 between exits 277 and 269 Certain exits however allowed you to stop off and see The Geronimo, Jack Rabbit and Twin Arrows Trading Posts at 7,18 and 68 miles respectively. I was so happy to be back on the road, not that I hadn’t enjoyed Holbrook, quite the opposite, but over the last few weeks it had become more and more obvious that, for us, it was more about the journey and not the destination.
Geronimo Trading Post lies just outside Holbrook and has its own exit. To lure you in from the freeway Teepees and Billboards advertise it as having the “World’s Largest Petrified Log” . Established in 1967 surviving into the modern era, I knew it was one of Ian’s ‘Special Places’, and I was interested to see if he would pull off the Interstate at junction 288 to just soak up some of its story. He drove on by.
“I wonder how big the log is?”
“I wonder how long it’s been there?”
Another 12 miles further down the road was the Jack Rabbit Trading Post. Established in 1949 the simplistic roadside promotion of yellow signs still exists. “Here it is” in large red letters to the right of a black silhouette of a long-eared rabbit. Here what is ? Of course those in the know, including Ian, knew that the sign referred to a large fibreglass rabbit which can be mounted for photos. With the addition of a little artistic license the Jack Rabbit trading post had been the backdrop for so many of Ian’s paintings.
“Is that it?” Ian exclaimed as we pulled up to the side of the large rabbit.
“What did you expect?”
“Something much bigger”
“You can sit on it for photos, how would you get up there if it was huge” I enquired
“A ladder? Purpose built platform, trampoline, kangaroo?”
“Kangaroos aren’t easy to mount”
“Ahh it depends”
“Whether you are a qualified and confident Kangaroo whisperer”
Parking up, Ian took photos regardless of his disappointment.
“Do you want to look around ?” I asked
“No not really, what about you?”
“No I don’t think so”
Without really discussing it it became clear that we were both itching to get onto that long continuous stretch of Route 66 after Seligman Arizona, apparently 158 miles ending in Topock . From Seligman Route 66 moves well away from the interstate, with the exception of Kingman where it offers a kiss and a diss to the highway before teasing its way up the mountain road to Oatman. Checking out our map though it was still around 150 broken miles to Seligman.
Winslow Arizona was our next distraction and we were able to re join Route 66 a few miles east of the town. Up until the 1960’s Winslow had been the largest town in northern Arizona enjoying a prominent location on Route 66. The I-40 bypassed the community in the late seventies eventually forcing tourist based businesses to close their doors, and the main streets fell silent for almost 20 years
Some years later in a strange twist of fate Winslow embraced a rebirth, just one line from the Eagles song ‘Take it Easy’ written by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey provided an opening to transform disaster into opportunity and resurrect the once thriving town and put it back on the map for tourists
♫ ♪ “Standin’ on the corner in Winslow Arizona,
Such a fine sight to see,
It’s a girl, my lord in a flat bed Ford
Slowin’ down to take a look at me…………” ♪ ♫
Now on the main crossroads of Kinsley and Second Streets in Winslow the scene in set, an actual Ford flat bed truck is parked up on the street alongside a two storey mural, a complete mock up of the side of a building with a couple of large ‘Windows’ on the ground floor.. With this the truck on the street can be ‘Reflected’ in the ‘Glass’ on the mural and include the girl. Ingenious creative thinking!
I’m guessing that they didn’t get any takers when advertising for:
“ Pretty girl, preferably in her twenties, needed for photo opportunities. You must not only be confident in your capabilities to stare seductively from the driving seat of a stationary vehicle but more importantly you have to be an Eagles superfan , keeping up the same level of seduction whilst listening to continual repeats of the song ‘Take it Easy’ blasting from the nearby gift shop for the duration of your working day” .
Actually situated on the old mother road the crossroads has the biggest painted Route 66 shield on the road I had seen so far. The music helped set the mood for time enough to browse through 100s of commemorative donor bricks and eat ice cream whilst sitting on a bench on the opposite corner.
Cars were just rolling on by slowing down to check out the sounds and sights, as our eyes met there was always a wave or happy smile. Could this be the happiest crossroads in the country ? Most probably, just keep an eye on your watch, the continual loop of music could possibly have you questioning your sanity.
From insanity to beyond, a few miles west of Winslow is a Meteor Crater, the result of a collision 50,000 years ago between an asteroid travelling at 26,000 miles per hour and the earth, it’s almost a mile in radius and 550 ft deep. Could we drive past? Winslow had placed us back on the road in a kind of contented stupor, not needing or wanting anything, brain functioning at around 45% . The Meteor Crater would be asking for us to get all sciency and alert, were we ready ?
“Dream Catcher !” and at that Ian left the interstate into a cloud of dust and intrigue. The Meteor City Trading Post. Its ransacked remains an indication that trading probably ceased some time ago, as for ‘City’ ? A gimmick maybe to tease people off the interstate ? We were alone, the landscape flat and parched, outside temperature of 86 degrees.
The main building a, geodesic mo-hawked dome, was grabbing our attention, the graffiti, teepees and rubble were telling the story. Inside a ‘Marie Celeste’ of curiosity sent me straight for my phone and Google. The Trading Post opened for business in 1938 as a Service station, in 1941 it was given its present name by new owners, the signature dome being added in 1979, unfortunately burning to the ground in 1990 . The present , more fireproof, structure still stands today. During our visit certain observations were suggesting that the abandonment of this once thriving business was maybe more recent than we had originally assumed, investigation through Wikipedia confirmed it ended its life in December 2012. Nature had started work in all of its rawness claiming back the land, desert and fauna combined with broken glass, beads and jewellery creating a new kind of art. To the rear of the dome stood derelict mobile homes, undamaged colour family photographs were amongst the debris, evidence of happier times maybe? Or maybe not ? And then of course the dream catcher, once claimed to be the largest in the world. That together with supposedly the longest painted map of Route 66 displayed on an exterior wall must have been reason enough to pull off the highway. The wall no longer stands and the dreamcatcher has lost its title, however the reason behind why this place now stood as it did is a mystery to me.
The Ballinger Meteor Crater, museum and gift shop are around 6 miles south of the highway on a single road, I’m guessing purposely built for ease of access. On entry to the building I felt like a kid teleported from Disney straight back into school and at 18 dollars each for entry, maybe we were actually going to be transported back in time ? Over the last half hour high winds had picked up and the observation platforms were still open but venturing outside was at your own risk. All tour guides had decided to play it safe. A TV crew had found a sheltered area but were struggling with equipment whilst I clung to a telescope trying to make sense of the vastness of the hole, silent and desolate with the wisdom of age, the wisdom to stay calm whilst everything around you is going ape shit ! Apparently in 1968 NASA used it’s surface for the training of astronauts for walks on the moon, my telescope focused on the crater surface to reveal an Astronaut and what Ian was convinced to be a London Taxi , both excellent markers, helping provide a more realistic insight into the vastness of its space.
“Ian how many astronauts can you fit into a crater ?”
“Seventeen and then I’d get bored”
We headed back to the car and highway. Just a few miles took us to our last Trading post of the day ‘Twin Arrows’. The desert heat had been kicking out its best and we were rolling onwards and very soon upwards where the temperatures and landscape offered up a whole new feel.
Twin Arrows is just that, a couple of giant arrows penetrating the ground as if fired by ‘Chief Too Tall’ and his sidekick ‘Abnormally Large Hands’. What was once the Valentine Diner, Gas Station and Gift Shop are now boarded up, falling into decline, another victim of the interstate, finally being abandoned in 1995. The land is Navajo owned.
After discussing the size and relevance of the arrows we decided to move on. So what had I concluded after a morning spent with Ian visiting places which to that day had been his creative escape, a therapeutic canvas to bury his emotional pain. Well, he had questioned the size of the petrified log at the Geronimo Trading Post, been disappointed at how small the rabbit was at Jack Rabbits, and wondered how the points of the arrows have stayed in the ground for so long considering their size and angle to the ground. He was not traumatized or particularly happy. My conclusion, artists have special brains, I will never be an artist.
Ian stepped out to take a couple of photos and I reached for the map.
“ Shall we go south and visit Sedona” I asked as he got back into the car.
“ What and leave Route 66 ?” There was panic in his voice.
“ Yes, it’s 25 miles to Flagstaff and then we would leave on the 89a south to Sedona, it’s 50 miles in total so we would come back up to Route 66 and just carry on ?” spoken with what I thought was just the right balance of reassurance, persuasion and menacing seduction.
“ Yeah ?”
“Yeah” By the look on Ian’s face I needed to be more reassuring and my style of persuasion needed to move away from seductive.
“ It’ll be fine, it’s supposed to be beautiful, we don’t have to stay long”
Leaving the interstate at exit 204 we continued into Flagstaff leaving the heat of the desert behind with its wide open spaces and entered Canada, or so it seemed. Route 66 winds it way through a Ponderosa forest, roughly paved in places. The curve of the tarmac within the confines of the trees somehow allowed for a better understanding of the road, it was clear we were climbing in altitude. In the short time it had taken for us to reach Flagstaff I felt not only had I travelled through the seasons but day time had become night time in a matter of minutes making it not only dark and cold but we were also stuck in rush hour traffic. We didn’t see much of Flagstaff, in addition to the premature darkness, the rain clouds had burst their load transforming the thick covering of desert sand on the Mustang to mud. With wipers on, we followed the fuzzy red tail lights of the car in front out of town.
“What time is it” I asked
“ Half past five”
“ It shouldn’t be this dark”
Taking the road south to Sedona, visibility was at a minimum and we had strangely adapted to our new surroundings”
“ The sky looks brighter where we’re heading”
“ Maybe we should stop pull over until the rain clears, get some food or something?”
“ We could get the car washed maybe ?”
“No!! remember who you are, rebels of the road, you are neither hungry or needing to be clean!” The voice came from nowhere but we both heard it.
Can you remember that part of the Wizard of Oz , Dorothy’s little wooden house hurtles through the sky, crash landing, perfectly intact and timed to squash the life out of the wicked witch of the west? The scene unfolds, Dorothy questions her whereabouts and pallid surroundings then welcome Glinda the good witch of the north all calm and beautiful. Glinda switches on the colour and the mood lifts, dancing and hilarity ensue. An adaption of this unfolded over the next few minutes, with the exception of everything but the transformation from dull to a dazzling full Ozlandic rainbow of colour.
The sky had cleared, night time returned to daytime and we were descending through Ponderosa Pines on one of the most beautiful stretches of road I have travelled in my life! Flagstaff has an elevation of around 7000 ft, Sedona 4000. The 89a takes you down through Oak Creek Canyon so over 20 miles we would be making a descent of 3000 feet with some breathtaking hairpins bends and views over the canyon. I’m not sure if words can describe the extent of what your eyes are being offered. The rich reds of the canyon walls, dark greens of the pines, Aspens and Oaks giving it their best for Autumn.
Ian had pulled over and parked, we had no words. Walking to a point where we had a bird’s eye view of the road yet to be travelled we stood and stared, it could have been 5 minutes or 15.
Walking through pathways amongst wooden cabins we came across native Indian craftsmen set up and selling their art. In complete comparison to some of the kitsch we had encountered on Route 66 this area breathed a spiritual calm.
Descending further down into the Canyon we saw a sign for Slide Rock National Park, a natural water slide formed by the slippery bed of Oak Creek. Beautiful, brightly coloured houses lined the road at generously acceptable intervals. According to the Mustang the outside temperature had increased almost 20 degrees since Flagstaff and was now settled at a very pleasing 78 degrees. Those last few miles before Sedona were like a descension into therapy and luckily Ian was feeling it too.
“Shall we find somewhere to stay ?” He didn’t need to ask twice, we stayed three nights in total.
The 89a leads you directly into Sedona town, a desert town surrounded by deep red sandstone buttes that change shade at sunrise and sunset lending a warming glow. Pine forests also dominate the landscape amongst the steep canyon walls. Sedona offers convenience and culture spread out in a way that doesn’t interfere with the beauty of its surrounding, a sensory overload in parts. New age types believe Sedona is the centre of vortexes, powerful and transformational energy centres, intersections of electromagnetic earth energy attracting spiritual types, healers and artists…
On reflection and knowing what I know now I would replay those 3 days in Sedona and make a few changes because somehow those sandstone buttes practiced some kind of witchery on our burnt out Route 66 shoulders, they muttered “Relax” and we slept. We slept on the terrace, by the pool, in the jacuzzi and under the stars. Our motel was an old single storey bleached terracotta building with a low roof, friendly service offering just 15 rooms, and a simple breakfast. It was a complete surprise to us the next morning when we ventured around the back to find a beautiful kidney shaped pool area, sunken jacuzzi and a huge built in barbecue and fire pit with the same bleached terracotta finish as the main building. The temperature that morning was 82 degrees the sky was empty and so was the pool.
“Can you float without sinking? I asked Ian
“ Do you mean, is it possible to float without sinking or do you mean me in particular?”
“ No you”
“ Don’t know I’ve never tried”
“ I can teach you if you want”
We both knew what this really meant
“ Let’s stay here all day drink beer and eat snacks, I’ll pretend to teach you how to float, you’ll drown a couple of times, then get the hang of it and stay there for the rest of the day. I’ll practice sunbathing, overheating then cooling off in the pool until I get the hang of that and we’ll end the day watching repeats of TJ hooker and eating pizza” Which was exactly what we did with the exception of the pizza. We ate sushi from Safeways instead.
Day two in the terracotta house.
“Diamond tours, or something. I think they’re pink. Supposed to be the best or that’s what Pete said” I was remembering conversations with friends prior to our trip.
“The Jeeps, yeah I remember him saying something about Pink Jeep tours in Sedona”
“He called it a white knuckle ride, why are they pink then do you think?”
So later we headed into town to find Mad Max in his flamingo coloured jeep. Sedona town is a wonderful combination of culture, art and cultural artistic tat for those who can’t get to grips with the former. From a street view however it manages to retain its grace and charm throughout.
Finding Mad Max however was proving to be more difficult than we thought. Most shop windows were offering a “Tour special” each more exhilarating, challenging, stunningly beautiful than the next. The deciding factor for us was price, and just as we had settled on the tour of all tours like no tour you have been on before or will again, I spotted it across the street, a flash of pink in a window. We were there, Pink Mad Max was ours and they were offering him for free ? Diamond back, white knuckle style. So what was the catch ?
“Hi, I can see in the window you’re offering a two hour pink jeep tour at no cost, is there a catch to this ?”
What came next was a long drawn out sales pitch, happy smiley style.
“ A beautiful resort, blah blah blah, holiday, no obligation, friendly, no obligation, breakfast, confidential, no obligation, just an hour of your time”
I think we may have walked through a cloud of special dust as we entered the shop because the next day at 8am we pulled up and parked outside a Holiday resort, our designated representative for our time there was “Craig”. Craig was going to try and sell us timeshare for a free ride in a jeep! Craig had the exterior of an over excited kitten, the concerned demeanor of the pope, and a darkness underneath his outer layers that suggested false motives, deception, game playing and greed. You could see it in his eyes when he realised you weren’t falling for his feline type charm.
The Timeshares we were shown were nice, there was no breakfast as promised and we were part of a group of around 20 people. All just wanting a ride in a jeep? I wasn’t sure right then.
The lengths that these guys were going to to get us to sign on the dotted line were incredible. We had been taken to a pleasant but dimly lit room on the first floor, each couple, family etc were allocated their own table and work began to disconnect the logic from any part of our brain that deals with decision making. It was a finely tuned practice, fast paced and so very “Sincere”. My eyes scanned the room, so many people were already signing away, page upon page of unread literature and small print. It had only been 15 minutes. I couldn’t look at Craig, who had placed himself directly opposite the both of us. If the situation hadn’t been as it was I would have identified his look as seduction in its wildest most desperate form.
I found myself laughing out loud, the sound travelled like a lightning bolt across the room, bouncing off the walls and hitting Craig in the back of the head.
“Oh my we’re having some fun over here aren’t we. My name is Michael, am I right in thinking you are from way over the water in the UK ?”
“Yes we are”
“ Where do you call home?”
“A small village in Herefordshire”
“ Oh my gaaaad ! I have friends in Chel- Tan- Ham, I just got back from there. What a beautiful place, lovely to meet you, what a coincidence! Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaaaa !!”
Craig left the table, to go to the toilet? Get a glass of water? No, Craig had just written us off, he didn’t come back.
Michael continued by steering his way through a monotony of ludicrously constructed anecdotes relating to his superbly hilarious visit to Chel-Tan-Ham just a few weeks before.
“Did you stay with your friends in their house in Cheltenham ?” I asked
“ Yes wonderful place ………….”
“We have timeshare too in the UK”
Michael turned our attention back to the paperwork, he was asking $11,000 from us right then without giving us the hard facts or any thinking time.
“Say I reduced the payment to say, $10,000, including free flights?”…….
“Ok what about $9000, free flights and a free holiday?” He was desperate
“We just need time to check out the paperwork” Meaning just let us out, this is getting extremely creepy and uncomfortable.
“$8000 my final offer?”
“ Sorry no, we’re really only here so we can get a free jeep tour”
“I can offer you a small private room to discuss things”
“$8000 final offer, I’ll throw in the free flights”
“We’d like to leave please it’s been almost three hours”
“$8000, the flights the holiday and we can go down to the restaurant, a larger room and you can sign down there”
“ Next time you’re in Cheltenham at your friend’s place look us up, we’ll talk about it then”
“Come on come on down to the restaurant”
“I’m going to throw up”
Michael shuffled his workload and left the table, we were escorted out of the building down an industrial looking back staircase by a man in a grey shorts and shiny shoes. There were no words.
Later on that day at our allotted time we made our way back to the jeep tour office. Checked in at the desk, their computer confirmed that yes we had indeed been down to time share towers, subjected to a masquerade of scrumptiously misleading persuasion tactics and now in some kind of Derren Brown witchery we were separated from the small crowd of people waiting for their tour and ushered up between two buildings into a large car park.
Our tour guides were waiting.
At the top end of the car park ,
Line 1. These were I’m sure the people who had paid a good price for their ticket, and hadn’t haggled for a discount . They probably smelt nice, wore good shoes, and were devilishly undevilish.
Line 2. These scoundrels had probably haggled for a discount and been offered a pre tour party at Persuasion Manor then signed away their dignity, sanity, and retirement plan.
Line 3. Was us. Just curious and always liking a bargain but signing up for nothing.
We all got what we ‘Paid’ for, and as the guides shouted out names for the tours and each group made their way to their jeep I started to notice the conflicting styles of our tour leaders.
Line 1. Genuinely sincere and courteous, informative and respectful.
Line 2. Don’t mention the money, keep talking about any old crap as a distraction.
Line 3. “ Anyone seen Jessie, been missing since the last tour, I’ve got her hearing aid and medication. Hey don’t sit on my last toke!”
Our guide was “Mett” or Matt, he was Australian or South African I couldn’t tell. I had wondered what sin the family of three, mum and dad and young boy had committed to be assigned to Matt.
They were Canadian and soon it became quite clear why little Damian was riding on the wild side, the plan was to tip him over the edge to wherever Jessie was hanging out.
He had the manners and appetite of Augustus Gloop and he knew just about everything.
Matt turned out to be pretty cool, but no tour guide. Full of interesting facts, nothing in the slightest way connected to Sedona or surrounding areas. He insisted I travel up front with him and we became a part of the Crazy Hen Tour. The ride is extremely bumpy, the terrain is rough, the conversation was unconnected but you cannot distract from the impact of the visuals on your senses, mind, body and soul. It just grabs you no matter what you are being forced to listen to “This is where a Chinese guy lost his camera, I saw a dog eating a coyote, I snook around the back of that rock with an aging French hippy”. Maybe this explains why Jessie ripped her hearing aids out and didn’t hear the call to get back in the jeep.
The Crazy Hen tour was in fact a weekend frenzy of overly excited ladies in their twenties in Sedona with the bride to be celebrating her last remaining days of singledom . Crazy Hens, their drivers challenging us at speed from all directions. “How you doing?” spoken famously by Joey from the TV show ‘Friends’ seemed to be the question of the day. Matt swiftly ground to a halt when ‘Challenged’ by a hen and on questioning his reply was of course “No, how you doing?” and so the flirting ensued until we were challenged by Hen Party code name Jane, “ Chief bridesmaid batch”
“How you doing?” asked Jane
“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” enquired Matt.
Ian and I decided to dismount to take photos leaving Matt to cluck.
Damian Gloop was getting more and more contemptuous, when Matt offered to take him backwards at speed down very steep and rocky terrain, Gloop, having already lost a selection of his snacks, didn’t take him up on it and remained particularly silent there in.
Tour over and what did I conclude? Sedona is stunningly beautiful but given a second chance I would definitely do things differently. Reason enough for a return visit, most definitely.
What did I conclude from having Matt as our guide? I’m not sure, maybe they could change the tour name to the “ Have you got everything you set out with tour ?” considering….
Matt lost Jessie,
Chao lost his Camera.
The dog lost its senses and became as wild as the coyote it had feasted upon.
Juliette Marie lost her virginity for the 79th time.
Jane lost her dignity,
Gloop lost his fizzy blue drink, snacks and I’m sure I must have lost a few pounds in weight.
“What did you make of that?” I asked Ian as I climbed out of the passenger seat of the jeep.
“Have you seen my sunglasses?” He replied.
The next morning we sadly left Sedona, travelling back up the 89a in the early hours, a light purple haze evidence of the unfolding of yet another beautiful day. The ride up was equally as stunning but from a different perspective. On the road down, from the passenger seat, I had had the best of the views, now it was Ian’s turn. We climbed back up through an invisible portal taking the gentle back to mental, in the best possible way of course. We were getting hip, taking that California trip, getting our kicks again on Route 66…
Here’s Part 8 – On Route 66 heading West
If you missed the beginning here’s Part 1, ‘California Dreaming’ :