Back into the Desert with a Cowboy to meet an Angel for a Haircut.
I was kind of sad to leave Sedona behind, it was the longest we had stayed in one place since the beginning of our trip and it was slap-in-the-face obvious that we had actually needed the break. Don’t get me wrong waking up, packing up and hitting the road with no plans as to where we would put our head that night turned out to be one of the best feelings, alternatively lying in bed and watching the clock go past that hour when you are supposed to be up and out is on the same level as your mum coming into you room and telling you it’s Saturday and there’s no school.
Back on the I40 just outside of Flagstaff we headed for Williams on a recommendation. A city with a population of around 3500 people, they held onto their beloved Route 66 until October 1984 when they finally surrendered after a succession of court battles making Williams the last Route 66 town to be bypassed by the I40.
We exited the highway at junction 185, the map reading part of my brain was still recovering from being on a hippie trip, and my instincts had taken a walk on the wildside. I resorted to the book to find out if we were able to leave the highway at any point on that short trip and absorb some of the sentiment and nostalgia of Route 66, possibly rebooting my navigational system.
Until recently we weren’t quite sure what happened next. The book informed us that we would enter a private section of road and to be respectful of the residents. What it didn’t say was that we will be in the forest on a rough gravel track with no road markings or signs.
Apparently there are three different alignments of Route 66 around this point. 1926 to 1931, 1931 to 1963 and 1963 to 1975. By a process of elimination, we have concluded, with a certain amount of doubt, that on that beautiful sunny October day we travelled back to late twenties early thirties America. I wondered how much of that section of Route 66 had changed, because it was far from obvious.
We were entering an area of tall pines, oaks, aspens and juniper, marked on the map as the Kaibab National Forest. Were we supposed to be there? I’m not sure, could we have turned around? Yes. Did we want to? Well no not really. The rough dirt track lay straight ahead, its vanishing point the dark opening to the forest, it was long enough and straight enough for us to turn to each other knowingly and smile.
“Ian, we have to be respectful, the book says”
Ahead of its time I know but I could almost imagine Laura Ingalls skipping down the small grassy inclines between old rustic cabins, some had seen better days and could tell a thousand tales others still had years of memories to make.
At the end of the straight we entered the forest, where priorities changed and the twists and turns of the track were determined by the layout of the trees.
“Ian look at all of the RVs in the clearings, they’re huge, how did they get them in between the trees”?
I had lost Ian to something, did he have his artist eyes on or was this something else ?
“ What are they all doing, wild camping, living off grid, teaching naked Zumba to elk?”
“The RVs in the clearings what’s going on with them? Look at them! They’ll have every possible appliance and gadget and they’ve all built a kitchen outside. I want to live in a clearing with gadgets and an outside kitchen”
Ian stopped the car, staring straight ahead .We had hit a T junction and a wall of conifers just a few metres from the front of the car across a gravel track, a choice of making a left or right turn to somewhere else. The last road sign had been quite a few miles back. Could we have turned around? Yes, did we want to? No not really.
We made a left turn into “Hazzard County” and Ian was back behind the wheel of the General and I was, well I was someone who would have probably liked to have been told what was going on!
I now realised where his head had been for the last 10 minutes.
Foot to the floor he raced up and down the gears bouncing in and out of ditches on each side of a series of shallow chicanes. We were kicking up a dust storm behind and always one for a great photo opportunity I leaned out of the window to capture that perfect shot. The dirt road had opened up again and Boss Hogg was closing in. Ahead I could see a challenge, straight ahead was narrow and overgrown the right turn would take us a sharp angled 90 degrees in the wrong direction!
The decision was with Ian and he was resolute on one thing only , he wasn’t slowing down.
Smiling like a kid with a lollipop on a dodgem he slammed the steering wheel to the right and I clung like a cat to the roof lining of the car, wishing I had been gifted with at least 3 more arms.
That few seconds waiting for the Mustang to find its resting place seemed like a lifetime.
“What the f*#k happened? you lost control!”
“I turned traction control off”
“Further up the road”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t think, and look it’s OK, we’re pointing in the right direction”
I had to hand it to him we were parked up perfectly straight.
“We’re in a ditch!”
Looking around it became apparent that this rough dirt track was probably impassable during or after heavy rain. There was caked in evidence of deep tyre tracks on its undulating surface.
I got the impression that we weren’t the first ones to swing around that corner sideways and plant ourselves in that very spot contemplating whether we could just drive away without the embarrassment of possible local man with a bigger smile and lollypop!
“Ian I can see a car coming through the trees”
“That’s too big for a car”
“It’s not a truck”
Less than a minute later a clean looking cowboy type pulled up in a Hummer to tell us that we are lost. It was most definitely not a question.
“Follow me” He said and we did as we were told with Ian’s lollypop staying perfectly intact whilst he thrust us safely back onto the road.
“Is he having a laugh, how fast is he going?”
“About 65, I can’t see him for the dust!”
“Ian we didn’t tell him where we were heading” but realisation struck us both simultaneously. We were in a Mustang with California plates, on a dirt road in the Kaibab Forest. We weren’t the first to do it, nor would we be the last and it wouldn’t be the first or last time Mr Hummer Guy had guided someone back onto the calculable road to predictability. But we don’t have an itinerary! Turns out we actually did.
Back on tarmac and trying to enter Williams on the cool side with our new Hummer friend, but we just weren’t cutting it. The Hummer was in showroom condition a shiny testosterone oozing piece of kit. The mustang was covered in dust and on checking out myself in the mirror so was I, with the exception of two white circles where my sunglasses had been.
Hummer Guy parked on diagonal street parking and out of respect or possibly embarrassment we parked a few bays away and as he saluted his farewell a fanfare of trumpeters welcomed us to Williams!
In stark comparison to where we had been this northern Arizona town was alive with overly excited folk and some kind of street parade was taking place.
I turned to a lady, one of the many lining the street, and between her hugely enthusiastic screams of encouragement and approval I enquired about what was going on.
“Hi, so what’s the occasion?” She looked immediately taken aback and more than confused.
“What are you all celebrating?”
A group of cheerleaders bounced by, the lady pointed with bulging eyes. She was possibly practicing some kind of hypnotic hysteria, religious maybe considering her frequent call outs to “Jesus Christ”?
A young guy appeared over my shoulder, “It’s the homecoming parade, an annual event here in Williams” I turned just to catch the back of him wandering into a nearby bar.
It was becoming clearly evident that Williams is an established and flourishing community. The shops, bars and restaurants, some dating back to the 1900’s, give a powerful impression of old-time America and Route 66. The classic cars and trucks more than suitably compliment that feel good vibe. To this day however I still don’t fully understand the meaning of “Homecoming” but right then, for me, it wasn’t taking front seat in my list of curiosities. Anything that brings the community together for a positive dose of mass hysteria has my full backing.
Williams is known as the Gateway to the Grand Canyon. Just 65 miles south of the Southern Rim, vintage train rides can be taken daily leaving at 9.30 am lasting a total of 2 hours and 15 minutes. They travel through ponderosa pine forests and open prairies within varying elevations.
We wandered slowly along the main street, the parade was still going strong, super heroes, a convoy of firetrucks. Ian’s eyes were however fixed on the scattering of muscle cars and trucks parked up on the street, in gas stations and outside bars.
Still not tiring of looking in every gift shop and Route 66 museum, Ian did just that, whilst I stayed on the street watching the world go by.
Pete’s Route 66 Gas Station and Museum is world famous and Ian enjoyed a good hour chatting to Pete himself about Williams, Route 66 and his wonderful collection of memorabilia. Pete recommended we venture down to Goldie’s Route 66 Diner for the best food around.
It really was an experience, we met Leslie Stevens the owner of Williams Community Radio and our waiter for that day.
“Hi, we’ve been sent down here on a recommendation by Pete from the Route 66 museum”
“Ahh Pete” he replied “He’s been dead for 10 years and nobody’s told him”!
After learning that Leslie had been a DJ in LA for forty years, moving to Williams a few years previous with his wife and setting up and broadcasting Community Radio he finally brought us our menu. I was intrigued by his story. His wife, he says organises the running of the daily train up to the Grand Canyon. I concluded that they were valuable and much loved members of the community. Maybe his exceptionally contagious and fun sense of humour emerging from speakers in and around Williams is part of an ambiguous catalyst that keeps the people of the community so upbeat and willing?
The choice on the menu was vast. I’m not a great lover of burgers here in the UK but over in the US they are something else altogether, and so much choice!
“It has to be a burger for me”
“Could I have the triple, quadruple beef, roast pork dinner with apple sauce pancake and a fried egg, over easy burger please”.
“No, you’ve sold out of that one?”
“No, I’m not serving you a burger”
“Not any kind of burger”?
“Not any kind of burger, you’re on a road trip right? You can eat a burger anywhere”
“Ok” I kind of liked his forceful attitude and was really intrigued as to where this was going, I reached out to take another look at the menu and his hand came flat down on top of mine.
“No! You like Turkey” said kind of in the same way that Hummer guy told us we were lost. So the only right way to answer seemed to be.
“You like Gravy” Now this was a tricky one. The gravy that I knew and loved wasn’t from the same family as the Gravy I had been served in the US with ‘Biscuits’
“Ok” We replied in unison.
“Mash and Beans and a surprise for dessert”
It was without doubt the best meal we had on our trip. Thick creamy turkey soup to start, Beef Ribs carried in by two Mexican bodybuilders, mash, beans and just when we thought we could eat no more a wedge of sweet potato cheesecake to keep us going until the following year’s homecoming!
“That was absolutely superb” Spoken in short bursts.
“I know, thank you”
“So did you ever intend to bring us anything off the menu”?
“Of course not”
Our grossly stuffed bodies cut short our stay in Williams, we headed back to the car hoping that one day we would visit again.
The sun was going down on the Interstate as we headed west towards Seligman, around 40 miles and the starting point of 159 miles of uninterrupted Route 66.
I’m not sure when I first heard about Seligman, it could possibly have been a TV show about Route 66 and its history. They interviewed a then 90 year young Angel Delgadillo, a local resident and businessman who had resided in Seligman for all of his years. His story and upbeat personality took me straight to Google maps and the convenience and beauty of Street View. I walked the main street in that small town of around 450 residents and it made me giggle.
Seligman was bypassed by Interstate 40 on the 22nd September 1978, it fell silent overnight, thousands of cars without time or thought thundered across the interstate just a couple of miles south of the town. Angel and his barber’s shop were one of four businesses that fought and survived.
In 1987, after years of fighting the state of Arizona, a group of Seligman residents fronted by Angel himself convinced the state to dedicate the 87 mile stretch of Route 66 between Seligman and Kingman a historic highway. The route between Kingman and the California border later took on the same title. This dedication assured the preservation of the longest remaining stretch of Route 66 in the United States.
Angel is known Globally as the “Guardian Angel of Route 66” , founder of the “ Route 66 association of Arizona” and the driving force behind Route 66 associations being set up in all of the other Route 66 States, each with preservation as their main goal. It became a reminder to travellers of a more nostalgic route, slowly but surely promoting travel through small forgotten towns, putting Route 66 back on the map and back into the minds of curious travellers from around the globe.
Something happened on the next part of our journey, I became whimsical and care free. It had been kind of out of character for me but on my late dad’s recommendation I had been keeping a diary. He had advised me that I could regret it in years to come when the memories start to fade. Maybe I had concluded at this point of our trip that the reverberations of various powerful stimuli along the way would be etched solidly in my brain until my dying day and as the day arrives when the memories of yesterday become a strain I will still without a question of doubt be able to recount stories of our trip to our grandchildren and any one else happy to listen. Turns out the memories are fading, and after Seligman I stopped collecting data so my story from now on will be complete fiction and occasional bullshit! No not really! Between the two of us and a ton and a half of photos on the laptop, we’re doing ok.
Arriving in Seligman was similar to driving onto a 1950’s film set, or was it? Maybe it was somewhere else? No definitely Seligman I have photos.
Ian, what happened next? … No, seriously it’s not that bad, I can do this.
The very last entry in my little book actually reads
“Went round the back of a bar with an old guy a beer and a great Elvis impersonator, he serenaded us with his mate on guitar, arrived back late after visiting whore house”
I do remember the guy and the beer and Elvis. Whore house? Pffft !
We did earlier in the day however bump into the man himself! No not Elvis!
“Look it’s him” Ian whispered whilst throwing me sideways into the road.
“The man, the Godfather, Guardian” neither of us could actually pronounce ‘Delgadillo’.
“Oh my god he’s heading this way”
As the sun went down on Seligman Angel Delgadillo walked towards us with his little dog, a hundred greetings, questions rushed through me but neglected to venture to the vocal part of my being so as he smiled and stopped to cross the road I bent down to stroke his dog.
“What a cute little dog” I said
“Thank you so much” he said and he was gone.
As we stood staring in the general direction of an absolute Route 66 legend the very reason why Route 66 survives in its current state for our motoring pleasure, I had complimented the loveliness of his dog.
“He must have so many people ask him the same questions day after day” I consoled myself with that.
The streets of Seligman were empty and the majority of businesses had closed for the night. We did however manage to catch the last few minutes in Angels Barbers shop with his lovely family. Ian had the obligatory pretend haircut in Angel’s historic barbers chair. We wandered to a place where life-size 1950’s styled mannequins looked down on us seductively from an overhead balcony, passed the Snow Cap Drive In, built in 1953 by Juan Delgadillo, Angel’s brother. On a limited budget he used mainly scrap timber from the Santa Fe Railroad yard.
The Snow Cap restaurant offers Cheeseburgers with Cheese, dead chicken and around the back, amongst other things a 1936 Chevy with a sliced hardtop and Christmas tree, a phone booth with toilet and apparently during working hours a neon sign apologising for being open. It was becoming more and more evident that a major part of the Delgadillo persona was humour , maybe it’s was the driving force that helped see them through difficult times and spearhead the revival of Route 66.
After beer with Elvis we checked into the Historic Route 66 motel and were given keys to the themed Coni Lee Room. We were informed at reception that she had stayed there, no amount of googling has revealed who she actually is ?
It rained heavily the following morning, we ate breakfast at the Road Kill cafe and OK Saloon then headed 159 miles west, Kingman, Oatman and on into California. The first time since touching down on Route 66 that we didn’t need to resort to the map for Interstate exits or the book for a choice of alignments. Seemed like the ultimate in luxury.
Axl Rose was calling me his Rocket Queen, offering friendship and stressing how he hates to see me out in the rain, so on reaching Hackberry General Stores I refused to leave the car.
Hackberry Stores was always near top of the list of Route 66 places to visit for Ian. The day he received a commission, 20” x 30” canvas, incorporating the customers car in the foreground of this nostalgic building was a happy day and gave him a good excuse to do some research into its history.
Route 66 came to Hackberry in 1926, a small silver mining town and soon a busy tourist stopover, Gas stations and various stores opened up to serve travellers along the way including the Northside Grocery Store and Gas station owned and run by John Grigg and his family until his death in 1967.
The building of the Interstate 16 miles south of Hackberry left the town stranded in Isolation.
The Store and Station experienced a rebirth in 1992 in the form of new owner Bob Waldmire, an artist and historian who had travelled the road extensively in his 1972 VW camper. It re opened as the Hackberry General store and Visitors Centre. I believe it has changed hands a couple of times since.
With untrained eyes and a very simplistic way of looking at a situation, analysing it for the purpose of my own understanding, Hackberry Stores seems to be mainly constructed of roadside flotsam and jetsam held together with a glue gun, evidence of which is hiding behind the many rusted vintage signs, advertising things that have long time passed. It’s your Grandad’s man cave, a patchwork of his history, a story of his memories.
Sat in the car on that dark and overcast day with the rain belting down on the roof you could have taken that scene added a bit of artistic license and imagination and transported yourself back to 1950’s Yorkshire.
Ian had parked us up next to a couple of vintage gas pumps, their state of disrepair not evident enough to stop travellers pulling up for gas. I could see the Model A Ford that Ian had studied with intensity some years before as a backdrop to the painting, the shiny cherry red 1957 Corvette parked under the front canopy. An old rusted sign read “300 miles of Desert ahead” . I contemplated the possibility of this whilst checking out the map, leaving me with questions and before I knew it I was inside the building being blessed.
“Bless you Maam for bringing the rain!”
Ian was already deep in conversation with the owner and after establishing that he was from the UK the conversation had quickly turned to the weather and how they were experiencing the most serious drought they had faced in modern times. This became alarmingly evident later on in our trip as we headed west towards Bakersfield and the Californian Hot Rod Reunion.
Right then we were just under 100 miles east of the California State Line. They hadn’t suffered to the same extreme as Southern California where it had seemed to be a helpless case especially amongst the farming community. It made me wonder if the weather would follow us, it didn’t, it was short lived.
I was initially wondering if my wandering eyes were being disrespectful to the current situation, but you just can’t help yourself. A mash-up of old black and white photos blanketed the walls and ceiling, a patchwork of currency notes from around the Globe. Not your average souvenir stop. Man cave had evolved from outside to inside and man bear was collecting his honey.
In places it was difficult to decipher between décor and wares.
“Absolute 1970’s porn, you should go in there” Ian was looking like a cross between Eric Morecambe and an excited teenager.
“Go in where?”
“The men’s loos, it’s all over the walls!”
I was intrigued but the place was busy, with a continuous flow of eager visitors.
Back outside the rain had stopped and a band of blue hung over distant mountains in the direction we were heading.
Back in the car
“I forgot to ask someone about the feasibility of there being 300 miles of desert ahead”
The sensible one
“It’s just a ploy, a joke to get people to pull in for fuel”
“There is no Fuel”
“It’s an old sign”
I did check the map to find that we were on the eastern edge of the Mojave desert, leaving the green of the forests surrounding Williams, Flagstaff and Sedona behind.
We were travelling North West to a point on our Route 66 journey where we would be the furthest distance we had been from any major roads. After that point the road takes a downward turn towards Kingman.
I was staring at the map and almost imploded. A year or so before we had been watching a TV show with either Henry Cole or Billy Connolly I don’t remember but they had been travelling Route 66. They had visited a “Living Ghost Town”, yes I know that leaves itself open to so many questions, still unanswered. Named Chloride it’s an old silver mining town with a population of around 350 residents and apparently the oldest continually inhabited mining town in Arizona, it had looked as completely out of the box as you can get before contemplating what life would be like inside a giant cider press.
“Ian 30 miles north of Kingman heading towards Vegas is that place, you know the Ghost Town we saw on TV with the two guys at the bar. You know the ice cream comment”
“Yeah” and then we reached that point on the road, Ian had tuned into a radio station that was kicking out upbeat 70’s Rock and a manic DJ broadcasting from inside his very own cider press.
We took that downward turn towards Kingman with Boston “More than a feeling” feeding the desert good vibrations and a section of blacktop hitting a dot and a burst of light at its vanishing point.
“How long is this straight?”
“Around 25 miles”
♫♪ More than a feeling, More than a feeling ♪♫
Right at that point I was at my Route 66 happiest, desert, sunshine, some great 70’s cheese, road as straight as an arrow and knowing we were taking a right turn at Kingman towards Vegas was the icing on the straw that fixed the camels cake !
Ian hadn’t mentioned turning right at Kingman. He didn’t need to.
♪♫ Limee, Ruinee, Videe, Comblee,
You are the King of the Divan,
Hou, Hou, Hou, Hou
I am the King of the Divan. ♫♪
This song had never particularly impressed me, but right then it was funky french feelgood
Then Elvis was in the building and I have never loved him as much as I did right then . Way on Dowwwnnn !
Imagine the situation and that Intro
♫♪ Bomdeebom, Bomdeebom, Bomdeebom, Bomdeebom
Babe you’re getting closer, the lights are goin’ dim,
The sound of your breathin’
Has made the mood I’m in,
All of my resistance is lying on the floor,
Taking me to places I’ve never been before……..
Ohh and I can feel it, feel it, feel it, feel it !! … ♪♫
Turning right on the 93 to Vegas was weird in a way. One of our biggest plans was to drive the 159 mile uninterrupted section of Route 66 from Seligman and enjoy what it had to offer from beginning to end, we hadn’t imagined an alternative distraction. Heading towards Vegas was also a reminder that we had driven a huge loop back to where we had been a few weeks earlier.
Kingman tried to seduce us immediately with its used car dealerships. The first, “Kingman Auto Plaza” had a great selection of classics in different states of repair, all cleverly and clearly visible from the road. We’ll be back soon we both said without actually speaking a word.
We entered the small town of Chloride to Guns and Roses “Welcome to the Jungle” How do I remember this? Some things I’m just not going to forget. Chloride was so quiet and still, certain clues were there to say that this place was definitely inhabited, children’s bikes, a few shops, bars, and eateries. Where entering Seligman had been similar to driving onto a film set, this was like they were just having fun with the whole “Ghost Town” thing. It was a hot, dirty, dusty, ramshackle of fabulous.
Just before Ian switched off the engine and Axl rose welcomed us to the jungle for the last time and told us we were going to die!
“It’s so quiet”
“And so still”
“Shall we drive around?”
We rumbled as quietly as we could through a grid section of scattered wooden clad houses, getting a strong impression that in that town nobody throws anything away it just becomes a kind of yard art out front for all to see. Old abandoned farm machinery and vehicles to make you drool.
“Do you get the feeling that every time we turn a corner people scatter into their houses?”
“I know what you mean”
Turns out that the people of Chloride are far from timid, they know exactly what they are doing and everything is for sale.
How do we know that? We were heading out to leave and this happened ….
“Look over there, it’s the bar , the one from TV, it’s got the porch, veranda thing out front”
Ian turned and drove closer to its quirky decorated wooden exterior, you could easily imagine a shootout at noon.
“Oh my god! It’s the two old guys from the show, sat in the same spot!”
They had been interviewed and confessed to sitting under that canopy day in day out just watching the world go by. It was at that point they were questioned about whether they thought they would ever bore of sitting there. This was the answer as best I can remember.
“You can love ice cream but too much of it will make you sick as a dog”
We were almost 100% agreed it was the right bar, whether it was the same old guys was at about 85%.
“I want to buy them ice cream!!” Yeah I know, away from the heat and the adrenalin that was filling my veins right then I get on my own nerves.
“Are we going in?” The two guys hadn’t actually moved and there wasn’t another soul to be seen, anywhere.
“Maybe they’re mannequins?”
“No, that one just got rid of a fly”
We were already out of the car. Before I continue let me quickly explain something about Ian.
If someone was to ask me to name something about Ian that confused me or got on my nerves it would be this.
He can park a car, no problem, he can get out without difficulty but the amount of time it takes him to walk away from the car is longer than is normal. I only get to see him from 50 plus yards away, fiddling with tyres, wheels, checking the boot. This day was no exception and to no surprise I found myself at the foot of the steps to the bar having a little chat with myself. Ian was back in the car fiddling with the radio and possibly looking for an aerial ? I returned to find him looking confused.
“It’s not the guys” I was deflated
“How do you know?”
They just said something like
“Worden wir benzin becommon” Sorry any German speaking readers
“I think they’re German”
On closer inspection they were around 30 years too young. Confused and unsettled as to why I was up in their faces frowning they exclaimed
“ Ve are zeust seemple Zuerman biker’s”
I wasn’t really that close! we had a chat with them later but first….
If you’re ocd about clutter and cleaning it would be a good idea to stay clear of this place, saying that I can’t advise as to where to stay clear from because we didn’t think to look at the name.
There wasn’t a soul inside the bar which just added to my curiosity about where everyone was and what do people in Chloride do with themselves during the day. The owner however was on us like a DJ fresh out of his very own cider press ! What a great guy!
He gave us the full history of the town stopping at the end of every paragraph to inform us that all the old western antiques and memorabilia that adorned the walls and hung from the ceiling were for sale. Right then I could have happily taken the place of the two old guys who had previously claimed those two seats out front. My question was where were they now? maybe it was a set up? maybe they had needed mint chip instead of raspberry ripple? I didn’t get to ask, we were joined by the bikers. They were from Munich and had traveled the whole of Route 66 from Chicago, almost 2000 miles over 10 days , now they were heading to Vegas for some “Down time?” then back down to rejoin Route 66 in Kingman.
I was completely in awe and kind of ‘Starstruck’.
It’s in situations like this when I would prefer to say something impressive, and stay down with the cool guys that I end up saying something stupid. Today was no exception.
“I used to ride a Suzuki AP 50 in the eighties !!”
The same had happened in Seligman with the legend that is Angel Delgadillo “I love your dog” I had said!
In the late 80’s at a Black Sabbath after show party I approached Cozy Powell all seductively, stared into his eyes and announced the classic “My mum loves you!!”
The piece de Resistance has to be around 1986, Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin) left his wife and ran away to hide in the country with her sister. His hiding place turned out to be a house in the woods just up the lane from my family home. He would spend nights in our local pub and play Sunday league football with the local team. We had chatted on and off and my mum had looked after his girlfriends kids. He approached me one day in the pub…
“I’m going to Ibiza to do a few gigs, do you want to come?”
Are you ready for this……..
“No thank you, I have a boyfriend!!” I actually walked away disgusted wondering why an old man like him would be interested in a 19 year old girl!
So here I was over 25 years later sat in a bar in Arizona still saying dumb shit to cool people !!
Heading back down to Kingman I went on a slight downer thinking about the possibilities and excitement of taking the unknown road, the road less travelled. Were we being predictable within an ocean of possibilities? We headed back down to Kingman, Ian had managed to do something with the car radio and resident DJ Cider press was back in the room!
Irene Cara’s Flashdance took on a whole new feeling.
♫♪ Take your passion, and make it happen,
Pictures come alive, you can dance right through your life.
What a feeling!!! ♪♫
Music, I’m convinced, influences your thoughts and feelings. On a road trip I’m sure this is enhanced, at some point over the next 20 miles Mr DJ stepped out of his press and into the desert sun resting by a giant cactus.
America’s Horse with no name
♪♫ After two days in the desert sun, my skin began to turn red,
After three days in the desert fun, I was looking at a river bed,
And the story that told of a river that flowed,
Made me sad to think it was dead … ♫♪
It woke me up again to the drought that California was experiencing. We hadn’t noticed much on the way through on the first section of our trip. I had been ill and slept and I think Ian was concerned enough not to be looking properly.
We were going to head towards the California coast at the end of our trip to find out more.
Back in Kingman and staring at the rear ends of some suitably sexy classic cars, it’s the way they were facing to the road. 50 to 60 photos later we were back on the road trying desperately to rejoin Route 66 and failing. Again neither the map or book were making any sense, all that we knew for sure is that we would be heading up the black mountains to the Sitgreaves Pass at 3,500 ft between Cool Springs and Oatman. We had been told to expect a narrow section of hairpin bends, or switch backs, and a rough road surface.
“Ok, so the mountains are over there, so let’s just take the first road that looks like it’s heading that way”
“Ok”. Turns out it was the Oatman Road, we were back on the Mother Road!
“How did we miss that?”
“Blame the DJ”
The desert road out of Kingman is initially flat and straight, our first encounter of another vehicle was a car abandoned on the side of the road, the driver, a man, was in full squatting position having a desert poo!
“Does he know something we don’t?” I asked
“I don’t know, maybe a sign saying no toilets for 300 miles?”
“How far is Oatman from here?”
“Around 20 miles, and Cool Springs is a garage, gift shop, attraction thingy and that’s not far at all”
“I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that Cool springs has an award-winning toilet!”
The views were outstanding, the road so far had offered little challenge and I became obsessed with the toilet facilities at this famous stopover. I could well believe they had preceded all others in reaching a first, but in which category evaded me. Outside within good view, an arrangement of wood slats around a toilet, a wash basin and mirror on the exterior wall under a corrugated canopy.
I don’t remember if it had a roof even. Award for cleanliness? Most definitely. Award for quirky? Absolutely top of the list.
Ian wandered over to the far side of the car park to check out a 1930’s shell of a car and an early 50’s Chevy pick up which has been strongly suggested to be the inspiration behind Mater from the Disney Pixar film ‘Cars’, Radiator Springs from the same film taking its name from this very place.
I watched poo guy pull over and get out of his car. The bad side of me wanted to nod towards the toilet facilities and say something like.
“Bet you feel like a bit of a twat now don’t you?”
I was saved by my own conscience and a small voice saying
“Maybe he had no choice, maybe he couldn’t wait any longer?”
What actually came out was,
“Hi, views are breathtaking aren’t they, we passed you further down the road, are you ok?”
Whaaat, why would I say that?! Luckily he just replied,
“Yes and Yes” I don’t know how much further I could have taken it !
A small history of Cool Springs Gas Station tells how it has been part of Route 66 since the beginning in the 1920’s. Sadly in the 1930’s it burnt to the ground leaving just fragments of the stone foundations and original stone pillars. In 1991 Hollywood used it as a location for the film Universal Soldier with Dolph Lundgren and Jean Claude Van Damme. They built a frame mock station around the old pillars and at the end of filming one scene they blew the place to smithereens. The owner at the time held on to it for sentimental reasons for many years before selling to a guy who completed a full rebuild and on December 7th 2004 Cool Springs was back in business.
It’s an impressive building quintessential of what we expect from a Route 66 roadside rest stop.
The road towards Oatman is everything we were warned it was, but not as bad as we were hoping. The hairpins were tight and the road narrow, every driver was cautious, some quite obviously at a high level of panic especially when challenged by one of the many Burros that wander the road. They know what they are doing, I’m sure they have a meeting every morning, planning their movements of the day and how they are going to terrorise unknowing travellers by standing on the turn of a hairpin or the inside of a bend pushing the driver out into the road and further towards the edge where the tarmac crumbles into the valley below. Evidence shows that over time some cars just hadn’t made it, never recovered they had become part and parcel of the landscape and endless photo opportunities for those who dare.
Entering Oatman is comparable to entering the old Wild West. If it wasn’t for the many vehicles lining the road I could well have been sat alongside Marty McFly in the Delorean. The road was wide with a slight decline into town and a mountain backdrop that set the scene so perfectly it could’ve been accused of being a little contrived.
Oatman is an old mining town beginning as a tent camp until two prospectors struck gold to the value of $10,000,000, giving the town the characteristics of any gold rush boomtown. By 1941 all of the mines had closed down after producing $40,000,000 worth of gold, around $2,600,000,000 in today’s market! Oatman survived as a tourist town, catering to travellers on Route 66 until 1953 when the town was completely bypassed.
The revival of Route 66 has brought life back to the old town, and although it’s population only stands at around 150 residents, its many gift shops, bars, restaurants and wacky event days keep Oatman alive and a definite stop off for anyone travelling Route 66
The Burros alone would give me good enough reason to make a return trip. In my opinion they own the town, wandering the wooden sidewalks and road , loitering in shop doorways ! Don’t be fooled by the cute, they have inherited shrewd , descended from pack animals turned loose by the early gold miners. They know what they want and they know how to get it.
I don’t know what today’s protocol is for whether you should feed them or not but whilst we were visiting it seemed to be a mixed bag of opinions amongst the local traders. Whist some were encouraging us to buy carrots and hay cubes from their establishments others were telling these cuddly creatures to f*@# off away from their store. In all honesty they were far from cuddly, and were only interested in what was in your pocket. They can be quite intrusive to your visit, intimidating and at times aggressive. Thing was they served up a challenge, could see it in their eyes and I love a challenge.
So whilst Ian wandered the many shops again, I sat on a tree stump with an ice cream, waited and they came. Lovely baby Burro was the ultimate in fluffy curious cuteness, mum wanted the ice cream, dad chased me up the road for it! He didn’t get it! I armed myself with carrots and offered him a stand-off!
Ian had no idea, he was over the road chatting to a well dressed guy in an E type Jag.
“Shall we head back to the car?” Ian said
“Yeah OK” the car was around 300 yards away, it took us a good hour to reach it.
“Oh look, an actual gallery with paintings!” and he left the street with no second thought.
The Sun was going down on Oatman and the perfect opportunity for a great photo, we didn’t get one.
“Ian…? Ian…? Ian Guy is that you?” The voice was directly behind us.
“It is you, Bloody hell !”
It’s an awkward situation when you know a face but you’re not quite sure what to associate it with.
The guy quickly introduced himself and it turned out we had a good selection of mutual friends, he’d seen and spoken to us quite a few times at the shows we trade at.
Ahh it all made sense! But how surreal! As far as we were concerned we were up a remote mountain in the middle of nowhere! After chatting for quite a while we confirmed we were heading to the same place in a few days and we would definitely meet up again for a drink. Turns out we were headed in completely the opposite direction! We didn’t meet up with Mark again until the following year in the UK ! That wasn’t the end, strangely once we reached California we encountered a succession of very surprising meetings with people we knew in a variety of surprising locations.
As we descended out of Oatman Arizona I noticed a much older couple sat up on a rock edge, their car acting as a backrest. They had prepared a picnic and I got the impression that they were possibly local and this was something they did on a regular basis. They were silent and their movements slow as they reached to each other lovingly with offerings of edible fare. Their purpose I’m sure wasn’t just to watch the sun go down over the distant Californian mountains but to feel it, blissful systematic therapy.
“Do you think he’s going to push her ?”
Less than an hour or so later the light disappeared and things started to get awkward. I’m convinced it was aliens, the locals were trying to tell us otherwise …
Here’s part 9 – End of the Mother Road
And if you missed the beginning here’s Part 1, ‘California Dreaming’ :