We’re finally able to get back on the road!
So for those who have been asking here’s a list of events for 2022
We’re finally able to get back on the road!
American Road Trip part 10 – End of The Road and ‘The Big Finish’
Familiar Faces in Far Off Places.
For Lucie x
Just north of Cambria is the town of San Simeon, the starting point of the “Big Sur”, a 90 mile section of coastline where the Santa Lucia mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. With its stunning scenery and dramatic twists and turns it’s incomparable to anywhere we had travelled previously. The 90 mile stretch ends in Carmel, a town known for its fairytale cottages and Clint Eastwood who served as Mayor from 1986 to 1988.
As I have said previously this part of the Californian coastline is a far cry from what I had imagined, we compared it to certain coastal roads in Cornwall, an almost Celtic feel to the whole experience. Hugging the coast with spectacular views of the ocean had a calming effect on both of us and we hadn’t spoken for over an hour.
The mixed feeling of wanting to do everything and nothing at all was ever prevailing. One simple but memorable moment for me was at Bixby Canyon Bridge, near the end of The Big Sur if you are heading North. We stopped at one of the many Vista’s to breath in its air and take advantage of the visuals. It’s one of the tallest single span concrete bridges in the world. Built in 1932 and at 360ft it also has the longest concrete arch span on the California State Highway System. It transports you from craggy rock to craggy rock over Bixby Creek and the Pacific Ocean.
We’d noticed there were a lot of younger people cycling the route and the road leading up to the bridge was arduous and winding.
“Hey, has anyone ever told you you look like the Dude?” Coming from a guy with thighs of steel, and the stamina and determination of The Hulk when things aren’t going his way.
“Yeah, well that’s just like your opinion man” Was Ian’s reply
“Ha ha cool, he looks like the Dude” and steel thigh Hulk man proceeded to high fine Ian before continuing up the slope.
“Well that’s just like your opinion man, where did that come from?” I asked
“The Big Lebowski”
“So what’s the bloody Dude?”
“No, who is the Dude?”
“I’ll show you when we get some wifi”
Back in the car.
“So do you actually look like this Dude bloke?”
“It’s Jeff Bridges, kind of scruffy, lazy, long hair, dirty beard and a bit overweight with a cardigan”
“You don’t wear cardigans”
We booked ourselves into The Sea breeze motel in Pacifica at around 5.30pm, trying to come to terms with it being the last stay of our trip, it was bitter-sweet. The stunning location, right there on the beach was enough to keep us smiling. The guy at check in mentioned we were lucky, rooms were selling very quickly. There was a huge baseball game going on, National League champions San Francisco Giants and American League champions, Kansas City Royals.
I know not the first thing about Baseball, but got the impression that this was something big.
There were two double beds in our room and I felt it only right to tell the check in guy that our daughter would be joining us the next day..
“Would this be an extra charge” I enquired
“An extra charge for our daughter, she’s arriving tomorrow?”
“I didn’t hear a thing, I know nothing”
Like this would happen in the UK.
Priorities, firstly check out this “Dude” guy and laugh hysterically, secondly upload some photos onto Facebook for my dad who had wanted to come with us but settled with my suggestion of keeping him updated about our roadtrip every step of the way in the form of photos. That way he could follow us on his map. He didn’t have a computer or phone so we settled for him borrowing the landlady’s on one of his many visits to the pub. I remained dedicated to this agreement every step of the way. He well, he forgot.
Trading at car shows and events up and down the country here in the UK for the last 16 years we have got to know a lot of people, some have become lifelong friends others we will recognise as being friends of friends .
As I’m flicking through my Facebook Newsfeed that evening I notice two guys that we see regularly at various events but had never spoken to. They were in the US and had been struggling to find accommodation in San Francisco for that evening, having only managed to find a place by the airport at a ridiculous price they were far from happy.
“Hey Ian you know the guy with the pink Mohican from the shows, he is in San Francisco with his mate, a bit pissed off at how much the prices have gone up because of the game”
“Yeah he used to go out with the girl with the legs. Hearses, they both have hearses”
“Oh him, that’s not pink it’s Purple!!”
“Ah ok, I’ve only ever seen him from a distance or at night, shall we mention to them that there are rooms here at a good price?”
So I did and they thanked me and that was that, for then.
Lucie was on her way to us from Chicago, around a 4000km 50 hour train ride and we hadn’t had any contact from the point of her leaving.
Her travels across the eastern states of the USA had made for a great story so far. Just over two months for her, it seemed strange that we were going to become part of that.
The last Facebook message from her had told us where to be and when.
Just to mention how proud I am of this hippy child who has been travelling solo since around the age of 17, she’s 30 next month. Stories from her travels are told on her brief trips back to the UK. I’ve learnt that it’s not always the best idea to be aware of events as they are unfolding.
Next morning we headed 24 miles north to the Emeryville part of San Francisco and the Amtrak station. Being early we were able to check out a nearby Market. Maybe it doesn’t happen everywhere but the few markets we had encountered had been a great combination of wares, hot food, music and alcohol. Here in particular we also had a ‘Jenga’ of second-hand furniture, placed high on top of pick up beds, simulating precarious product placement and numerous possibilities to win the game. However on closer inspection there was an ingenious interlocking of chair and table legs creating an invisible force field holding all solidly in place.
The California Zephyr has been called one of the worlds greatest trains. I was feeling it to be an honour and a privilege to be in its presence, reason alone for a rise in emotion I wasn’t fully expecting. It slid gracefully into the station in the style of Jane Torvill just before she collapses triumphantly onto the ice. Gleaming stainless steel carriages featuring no fewer than four vista domes for sightseeing!
I’m usually fine up to that point, that moment when I see for the first time the mode of transport that is either taking Lucie away or bringing her back. Today there was a definite increase in my emotional instability. The train and its incredible journey together with Lucie’s own undeniably unique story, my own pride at the adventurer in her and her strength to never give up no matter what, were all contributing factors resulting in emotionally charged and irrational behaviour.
So there I was, holding Lucie’s little face to make sure it was still connected to her head properly. Checking out her tiny little body to see if she’d lost or gained weight, studying what she was she wearing, were these her own clothes or those of a moonshine runner named Troy from Tennessee?
“Where’s your luggage?”
I was bloody right, she didn’t want to worry us, she’s lost everything!
“Erm, I’m not sure”
“You look so tired”
“No haven’t slept much, the seats weren’t the best so slept on the floor under this guy’s seat”
“Just a guy, this guy”
And there he was , kindly placing her luggage at her feet, thanking her for her company over the last couple of days, brief hug, knowing nod, gone.
What was happening to me? I was once this cool!
Back in the car and she’s talking but the words were only being heard intermittently, “Horses, sun rise, sunset, viewing carriage, rivers, mountains, no food”
One sense at a time, I am still doing a full body scan with my eyes my ears will be available soon.
“No food, you haven’t eaten?”
“Well kind of, but the food on the train was really expensive!”
Our motel, as I’ve said, was in a great location, the building itself is set back from the ocean, rooms all on ground floor level opening up onto the car park which leads to the seafront. On that day some of the cars parked out front were taking on quite a bit of sea spray from the waves crashing up against the rocks. Pretty cool car park too, a good 50/50 balance of classics and modern.
The room was fine, basic but everything we needed although when Lucie arrived it was as if we were showing her around the luxury home of an overpaid footballer in Cheshire’s golden triangle!
“Is this mine?” Whilst gently stroking the “Retro” quilted finish of the double bed throw.
“All of it?”
“Unless you’ve got someone stashed away in your luggage”
Her eyes lit up
“Do we have wifi ?”
“Oh and there’s a TV and a shower, does it work?”
“Luce where have you been staying?”
“Nowhere as luxurious as this”
I received a message of thanks from the guy with the purple hair and to say they had checked in and maybe we would meet up later.
Nick’s restaurant and bar is part of the Hotel complex and specialises in seafood, it reminded me of the large room where you would be served breakfast during your stay at a Bournemouth hotel in the seventies. Unintentionally retro, but classy at the same time with great food.
Myself and Ian at this time were in two completely different places in our heads, he was listening to the screaming coming from different locations around the building. We had concluded it could only be the result of the type of tension that exudes from men of a certain age who follow competitive sports.
I however had locked onto part of a conversation Lucie was having with her new boyfriend in the UK about travelling to San Diego in the next few days.
“Yeah San Diego, not sure how I’m getting there yet, doesn’t seem to be an affordable direct route via public transport”
“Ian, Ian” He was outside attempting his best impersonation of Inspector Clouseau whilst staring through motel windows striving to confirm the source of the riot.
“Lucie is heading to San Diego in a day or two and she’s not sure how she’s going to get there”
Stepping away from the window he placed his back flat against the adjoining wall of the two rooms and invited me to do the same.
“How far is San Diego?”
I had already checked.
“She’ll work it out, these guys are watching the game, it’s mental!”
“Why is she going to San Diego?”
I hadn’t wanted to be too intrusive on her conversation but,
“I think it’s something to do with dogs”
We headed over to the restaurant and the purple guy was nowhere to be seen or his mate, the place was busy. Dinner was outstanding, and as we finished up the crowd dispersed and I spotted his mate across the room. I smiled and he looked at me as if I was planning to steal his main course and down his pint.
Oh this isn’t going to be easy. Turns out it was probably the easiest 8 hours I have ever spent with virtual strangers. Ok it wasn’t 8 hours but it flowed great.
It’s interesting how much you can learn about a person by listening to their travel stories. I guess a person’s choice of road trip is a personal thing and there were so many similarities in choice and future plans it was a weird kind of comforting and helped to justify my life time need to just keep moving.
I learnt that the next day they were driving down to Los Angeles and my alcohol consumption was enough to instigate a cunning plan. I excused myself and made my way back to our room where Lucie had disappeared to speak to her boyfriend.
“We keep getting cut off mum”
“Luce you’ve got to come back in, purple guy and his mate are heading to LA tomorrow”
“Get back in there and seduce their butts off !”
“I heard you were struggling to get to San Diego”
“I know but if you can get to LA you’re nearly there, come on!”
She unwillingly came back into the restaurant and dropped a few hints about her struggle. My drunken mum intuition could still sense she was more than a little bit uncomfortable.
I bonded with purple man and his mate that evening in a way that only happens I think when you are sharing your experiences and dreams, I’m convinced it’s not something that would’ve happened over a drink in the UK. So on top of everything else thank you America for giving me the opportunity to hook up with a couple of genuine like-minded crazy folk.
Lucie didn’t get her lift to LA, she hadn’t asked outright but talking to these guys at a later date they knew exactly what she was hinting at. They had a loose itinerary but that definitely hadn’t involved the 24 year old blonde daughter of a couple of people they had only just met . I got that.
Next morning we said our goodbyes to purple guy and his mate, I was envious of what lay ahead for them, it was near the beginning of their trip and ours was drawing to an end.
It was another beautiful day in northern California, cooler than we had experienced in most other places but we were lucky to not have had the fog which is a common weather phenomena in the San Francisco bay area and has apparently acquired the nickname “Karl”. The name derives from a Twitter account set up my an anonymous user. For years the fog had received bad press taking the blame for ruining social gatherings, and generally setting a mood of indifference and lethargy.
Strangely giving the fog a name has helped residents embrace its presence. Karl has 400,000 followers on twitter, an instagram account and is a published author with a book of photos and wisdom!
Lucie was itching to drive the hire car so we headed down the coast road to Half Moon Bay with her at the wheel.
When did she ever get to be a grown up ? When did I ever think that I would be sitting in the back of a Mustang on the Pacific Highway with my daughter in charge of whether we stick to the tarmac or do a “Thelma and Louise” over the cliff into the ocean below.
People who had been following our trip on Facebook were realising that it all was coming to an end, some were asking for a big finish, others were insisting on it.
“Something mind blowing needs to happen today or tomorrow” I was starting to feel obliged to provide an entertaining finale.
“Let’s run naked on the beach!” This was Lucie
“Keep going to Mexico” Ian
“I’m up for that. I could really eat a meat pie” enthused Lucie
“A Mexican one?”
“No, one from the chippy in town”
“Oh yeah, with thick gravy and mushy peas”
I wasn’t sure if it was the drop in temperature where we were or our brains sending out signals to our bodies to start storing up the fat reserves as it was November and bloody cold in the UK.
We pulled over to take in some spectacular views of the ocean and contemplated food, lots of it.
The plan was to drive and pull over at the next visibly obvious place that would satisfy our ever-increasing need for stodge, chips and a pint of something dirty.
Back in the car, heading south and simultaneously we spotted something magical, however our level of surprise was expressed quite differently.
“Shut the front door !” This was Lucie and translates as; I can’t believe what I’m seeing/hearing.
“Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha” This was me, quite hysterically if I remember.
“They’re flying the Union Jack!” Ian, the artist and observer of the finest visual detail, always.
Cameron’s Pub! Cameron’s British pub even! Cameron, a guy who had moved to the US when he was 10 years old. His family are well-travelled but their roots lie in Newcastle upon Tyne.
We were each as equally excited as the other, a little emotional even.
From an early age I would immerse my overactive imagination into various travel scenarios and as a child I would act them out, each one with a Lee Marvin “Wandering Star” ending. Cindy’s beach buggy heads west to the foot of the wardrobe, I’d look back and wave at Bungle, Pippa Doll and a small French style ornament I’d named Sabrina, all whilst planning my next adventure from the end of the bunk bed.
As an adult and way more sophisticated, no more Cindy beach buggies for me, I made a promise to never indulge in the obsession of searching for the comforts of home whilst exploring other cultures. We had been here for almost 6 weeks though so surely it was allowed, I reminded Ian of this as justification for what we were about to do.
“You were craving Christmas dinner in Vegas, stew in Utah, we had it for breakfast remember? And I thought you were going to pass out with excitement in Arizona when you spotted self-serve homemade soup!”
“Oh yeah, it must just be in my DNA then, you can’t mess with that”
Cameron’s pub is quintessential of all that a British Pub used to be before they turned into just glorified eating places where you can purchase an alcoholic drink. Somewhere where it’s still OK to sit at the bar on a tall stool passing the time of day. 19 beers on tap and an impressive display of empty cans from around the world, a collection that apparently exceeds over 2000!
A vast and eclectic mix of typically British memorabilia adorns the walls and ceilings inside, whilst outside in the garden sits their very own vintage double-decker bus. Without discussing we jointly decided that’s where we were headed, but first, of course, the menu.
“They have pasties!!”
“Sausage and Mash!”
“Fish and Chips”
Sensibly and so much out of character we discussed the sourcing of the ingredients. Would they be English style sausages? Would the Shepherds Pie have gravy like your granny used to make ? And then the fish, we were on the coast it was a no brainer. Looking back that was such a sensationally impressive display of willpower considering the overwhelming inner pressure for shortcrust and Bisto!
So would that be my attempt at a “Mindblowing” end to the story for all who were asking and following our Trip? ……… Pfft, I don’t think so.
Did we have an adventure to end all adventures when we, on our last day had to drive Lucie to San Diego? ……….. Nope, not that either. She managed to piece together a trip that involved numerous trains and buses, all at times that meant she wouldn’t be hanging around in dark places for too long. Result! Result that happened at 3.30am after 3 exhausting hours of exploring hundreds of options.
I had tried to go to sleep about 1am, which was about as successful as trying to have just “Five more minutes” when your alarm has already gone off seven times!
Twice I had opened my eyes to her little furrowed brow twitching in the glow of her laptop screen.
In a whispered tone, “Mum I’ve done it, finally”
“Brilliant what about tickets and stuff”
Immediately I felt a huge relief and then a weird emotion which comes with wondering if she’s going to be ok.
“When you leaving?”
“Tomorrow morning, same station you picked me up from. Are you OK to drop me off?”
“Yeah of course”
“Yeah where you off to after that?”
“I’m home for a while remember”
“Oh of course you are”, and at that I went to sleep.
We had already discussed the dogs. She would be working at a Dog rescue centre in San Diego. Like I shouldn’t have guessed that one.
“Do they put you up?”
“Yeah of course, I’ll be sleeping in the back of a Chevy Van”
“Chevy van, like a Dayvan you mean?”
“Yeah pretty much like the old one we used to have”
The train was late the next morning, the guy at the Kiosk had, I thought, recognised Lucie from somewhere when looking at her travel papers he announced.
“Lucie!” ……….. proceeded by
“In the sky with diamonds” The station was small and old style, the guy was too.
“Bet you hear that all the time don’t you” he grinned back at her.
“Yeah quite a bit” whilst sending an approving grin right back at him.
“The train is going to be around 25 minutes late” says the guy, at the same time making an announcement over the speakers to the platform warning of the same delay
“Train is going to be late, don’t get on the next train that stops at the station, it’s not yours. You’ll end up somewhere ya don wanna be”
I wondered how he knew that all the people stood on the platform were waiting for the late train. What about the people who did want to get on the next train that was going to stop at the station?
He looked at us.
“Look at them, they aren’t listening” and at that he offered to escort Lucie to her place on the platform whilst advising her on connecting trains.
“You don’t need to go out there yet do you?” I asked
“Best to be safe” he advised.
I checked her face was safely on her head and she was gone.
That day we washed the car at an all American super efficient hand car wash in the city, it was covered in sea salt to the point of having that collapsed “M” mark on the windscreen where you have tried to clear the screen, entirely for driving visibility purposes. The mark that we get here in the UK from dust and grime. The interior had somehow managed to accumulate a few kilos of beach too.
We drove, we floundered, we drank some stuff, we ate some stuff, we floundered some more, discussed the possibility of stealing the hire car, drank some more and slept our last sleep in the USA.
The following morning, I removed the polystyrene cool box and its stinky contents from the back of the car and placed it in the hotel room.
The obvious and most sensible thing to have done with it would have been to break it into small pieces and stick it in the trash, but it had been with us since around day three so neither of us were ready to do that. We left it on the small dressing table at the side of the TV.
The weather was a very fitting 17 degrees, overcast with a dampness to the air, breaking us in slowly for the UK. Maybe we were going to get the chance to see Karl before we left?
We shut our last door on our last motel and headed for San Francisco, it was a quite a few hours before we needed to be at the airport so we had time. The Sea had danced a special dance on the car the previous night and had offered up an extra thick layer of Salt. We had reluctantly decided on one more wash and then maybe a quick tour around the city.
One shiny car later and we found ourselves on a 432 lane highway.
“Look Ian a plane landing, we’re near the airport”
We hadn’t really much idea of the protocol for returning the car, but guessed it was self explanatory.
“Oh yeah” Ian replied.
“There’s the signs”
“We need to get out of these lanes they’re heading for the airport”
The volume of traffic made it easier to go with the flow than go against it.
“This is no fun at all, what do I do?”
“There’s the sign for Avis rental return, shall we just do it?”
A nod later and we were on the second floor of a multi story car park. A far cry from the sparkle and glamour of collection. We actually felt as if we had made a wrong turn and accidentally come in the tradesman’s entrance.
“Ian there are cleaning ladies ready to pounce, look as soon as you drive over that mark on the ground they’re on you like those tiny ninjas that live under hotel receptions”
It’s so undignified, you don’t even get the chance to make sure its little face is still attached to its head
Ian shot me a look, I knew he was traumatised through his silence, his eyes were a very clear reflection of the turmoil going on in the side of his brain that deals with stress and makes him good at drawing. He summoned up words of a reasoning nature. I have known him long enough to be sure in thinking that the reasoning is purely for the purpose of his own sanity.
“To be fair those ladies probably know this car better than we do”
“There’s bloody hundreds of them!”
“Cars or cleaning persons?”
“The person that gets to clean this car has probably never met it before, and if they have it won’t have been a moving experience”
“Mandy we’re over the mark” and at that a tiny lady with a long-handled brush and wheeled accessories was running her fingers over my wiper whilst staring at us through the windscreen.
I turned to Ian
“I’m not ready”
As both our feet touched concrete it may as well have signified a signed declaration, a Decree Absolute. The mustang was gone, after six long weeks of bonding it was gone.
Signing for its return was more complicated than it should have been. There was a lot of looking at paperwork, looking at each other, then back at us.
“What do you think the problem is?” Ian was wearing his “I’ve run out of Naples Yellow” frown.
“Oh I don’t know, maybe turning off traction control and purposely landing us backwards in a ditch, driving on unpaved roads, the lingering smell of hot stale shoes?”
Turns out they didn’t know what to do with us because we had had the car for over a month!
So I could tell you about the flight being delayed and a bit of turbulence or how this was Ian’s first ever trip abroad on a plane and how he couldn’t sleep and was pretty much terrified for the whole flight. I could tell you that on landing our taxi driver was late, a huge part of the M25 was closed, our living room window had been smashed, but luckily nothing was taken.
I could tell you about the battery being completely dead on the truck so the central locking didn’t work and we couldn’t get into the house because Ian had put the house keys in the truck.
I’m not going to tell you any of that because it’s miserable, so let’s all get back on the plane. As I mentioned Ian didn’t sleep, he needs to be fully responsive, alert and prepared for all eventualities, especially the one where the plane plummets uncontrollably through the air. Personally I would prefer to be asleep for that one.
I’m really good at sleeping, I would say it was my specialty and would most probably exceed on Mastermind with it as my specialised subject.
Ian has his strangeness and I honour his needs to cope in the best way that I can, sometimes I will poke his weirdness for my own pleasure but in all I get it.
I have my own weirdness and rules, these mostly revolve around sleeping and the definite dos and don’ts
When we first got together and shared a bed, Ian was the first to get up the following morning leaving me to sleep in.
First rule, never ever think it’s then a good idea to come back into the room an hour later turn the light on, rip the covers off the bed and laugh hysterically. This will never be funny.
Secondly after learning the first rule never then return to the room an hour later, turn on light and hand me a cup of tea. I have never drunk tea in my life and before I can function I need to get rid of the sticky gloop that is predominantly gluing my eyelids and lips together, doing so sends an instant message to my bladder and I need a pee!
“So is there any instance at all where I can wake you up and it would be ok?” He had asked about 3 weeks into our relationship.
“Yes, only if it’s snowing or if Tom Jones is in the building”
So here we were 30,000 plus feet in the air. I’m in the most beautiful slumber and Ian had been preparing himself for every possible case scenario for the last couple of hours.
He knows not to wake me, it’s right in there deep.
I feel a slight prod on my elbow but it doesn’t compute, and then my name is spoken ever so quietly followed by another prod a few seconds later.
I was pretty sure Tom wouldn’t be taking a commercial flight to Heathrow with the rest of us riff raff, and if it was snowing it wasn’t as if we needed to go out and clear the drive. He didn’t seem to be in a state of panic so I feigned sleep until I was able to drop off once more. But the prodding was becoming more regular and insistent.
I turned to look at Ian, he didn’t speak just lifted a finger and pointed to the screen at the back of the headrest in front of me.
“Northern Lights to the left side of the plane”
What an incredible rush of emotions.
It was on our bucket list, Something we were both desperate to experience, but holidays that offer tours can’t always confirm a sighting, and they’re expensive. We had even compiled a list as to other things we could do in the blistering cold and snow in case of a “No Show” to make a “Northern Light” holiday worthwhile, we had ruled out skiing.
My head shot round to the left hand side of the plane and to all of the people sleeping and missing out.
“The crew have made a window available at the back”
A small queue had formed, I panicked that it would be gone soon. I didn’t fully understand the nature of this force.
I joined the back of the queue of just three people, the first person stepped aside leaving space for the German lady behind. She took her place at the window for just a couple of seconds before turning to me.
“Have you seen them before?”
“No I haven’t, only TV footage”
“Here take my place, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them so many times”
“Come on in, I’m going back to my seat, enjoy”
And there we were after the most memorable six weeks, myself and Ian sharing a window at the back of a plane, 30,000ft up, somewhere around the Arctic Circle and the most epic display of ethereal magnificence. My eyes had been subjected to some extraordinary sights over the last few weeks, some which hadn’t made an immediate connection with my brain to decipher exactly what was going on.
This was an overwhelming mix of extremes, a visual and emotionally charging showcase, a finale to end all finales.
So that’s it……. The End……. I’m finding it difficult to stop typing so I will leave you with a short poem.
So I concluded with Aurora,
Determined not to bore ya,
But what were the chances,
Of ethereal dances,
Thanks for reading, I adore ya
I was surprised to learn it has taken me almost 3 years to complete the ten parts. If you have been following since part one you will know that Ian has nagged me continuously to do this and I procrastinated for as long as I could.
Coming back together 18 years ago after 20 years apart he had reminded me how I had always written as a kid.
“That was just for me though, messing about”
Back to the recent times and Ian’s website designer had created a blog on the website with the instruction to keep it updated to keep the website “Alive”.
Initially I started writing about our road trip for the purpose of the Website only, until I started to get feedback from all of you lovely folks who were actually taking the time out to read.
Feedback was coming in in the form of reviews, comments on the website, private messages and then people I had never spoken to before begging me for the next instalment whilst trading at the different events up and down the country through the Summer months!!
I was talking to a friend recently about what makes us happy in life. I remember saying that if I could live out my years knowing that I’d made some kind of difference at the end of it then I’d be done. Not long after that I received a message out of the blue from a friend neither myself nor Ian had spoken to for a while. He had thanked me for the blog and explained how it had inspired him to do a similar “Trip of a lifetime” with his son. It was a lovely message and a great feeling to have actually inspired someone.
It has been weird, exciting, humbling, and has helped bring back to me something that probably could have been lost forever. So thank you because seriously without the feedback I would’ve given up and probably kept the website alive with simple posts of where we would be trading next, any special offers or sneak previews of paintings in progress.
So, if I’ve managed to make you smile, capture you in a story, caused you to reminisce, inspired you to take your own first trip, excited you enough to take your 2nd, 3rd or 44th then that’s me happy.
I’m done. xxx
And if you missed the beginning here’s Part 1, ‘California Dreaming’ :
American Road Trip part 9 – From Dust Till Prawn. The Reunion: Into the Woods and Back.
End of the Mother Road.
Dropping down out of Oatman feeling melancholy. Contemplating the limitations of time and feeling a kind of separation anxiety for all the things we would have to leave behind at the end of our trip. One of those things being the mostly inefficient polystyrene “Cool box” purchased from “Ten pound bag of ice lady” on the third or fourth day. It really didn’t serve a purpose but none the less we filled it daily and had a relationship with it the same as you would have with your laundry basket. We continued to fill it up regardless of what’s going on underneath, ignoring the constant and prevailing pungency of its contents with hope that one day we might reach down and a combination of science and magic will have worked in such a way to offer up something completely mind-blowing that has been sat on the bottom for weeks.
We were looking at just over 200 miles of Route 66 before turning North West at Barstow, heading for The Famoso Raceway Bakersfield and The Hot Rod Reunion. I was wondering if Ian was aware that our Route 66 journey could be over in less than a day. I contemplated breaking the news, a gentle reminder maybe of what lay ahead, but the consequences of my actions were too much to bear right then. I was having my own struggles with “Fridge Gate” at that point to wander over to the fluffy side and break the news. It could wait.
The desert is a stunning place at Sundown, the sun throws a light casting shadows fit only for cowboys and tumbleweed, I felt blessed to be able to share its space.
“Ian do you ever think that when no one else is around, when you’re alone in a place staring at the emptiness that you are the only person in the whole world enjoying the experience ?”
“I hadn’t but yeah”
“We’re the only people in the world experiencing this right now”
We “Wowed” simultaneously and continued silently into our very own space. The landscape was flat ahead and we were able to watch darkness arrive inadvertently taking us out of our comfort zone and into the unknown.
Ian stopped the car, staring blankly ahead.
We had been travelling on the interstate for some miles hoping to rejoin Route 66 at Junction 115, the sign was telling us otherwise.
Further down the interstate all exits were displaying the same arrogant obstruction, we were unable to turn left and rejoin the mother road. It was catastrophic, a complete destruction of dreams! Ok yes a bit melodramatic, but I’m writing for your pleasure so feel obligated to provide tension and drama to heighten your reading experience. As it was we took the next left, drove around ten miles through a dark empty space, reached a T Junction and a process of elimination helped us make the decision to take a right turn and follow the light.
You know the films where a vehicle pulls into a gas station at night, the camera angle is very low and focuses on the car door and the feet of the person about to disembark , the guys boots are stained and well travelled, he is hesitant, there is a soft thud as he pushes the car door closed and the camera pans up from the floor.
“It’s Roy’s!” We were both already out of the car
“Roy’s?” Ian’s head was tilted so far back he looked as if he was having a moment with the lord himself!
We glanced at each other then back up at the sign, it stood in near darkness, had apparently done so since the mid 80’s.
Roy’s is in Amboy California, a Route 66 icon. It had in the past rightly claimed its place amongst others as an established gas station and cafe. Six cabins had provided a much needed stop over, an oasis in the stark dryness of the Mojave Desert. The interstate however removed it from the map in 1972 effectively cutting off Amboy from the traffic flow.
A shell of what it had been, the owner’s partner at the time took a bulldozer to the town and left little remaining. In 1995 the town was leased and later purchased as a filming location.
Today its future lays in the hands of conservationist Albert Okura, it’s struggle is still evident. One of the biggest challenges seems to be a constant supply of clean drinking water, a task in itself which keeps the cafe and motel non functioning to this day.
I headed for the toilet, Ian into the gas station to find drinks and possibly a snack or two. This was a world away from the bustling dust and sun-bleached scenes of many a travel book.
There was an urgency to my visit so walking straight out of the small dimly lit toilet block would never have been an option, it did however cross my mind at that point whether the hills really did have eyes and today was wash day.
I am going to come straight out and say that the walls were possibly bloodstained, or splattered!
I will now take a step back and say “Maybe it was something else” . A lack of running water lent itself perfectly to how the story was unfolding.
Back in the cafe, whispering.
“What, why are you whispering?”
“This place is weird, there are bloodstains over the walls”
“In the toilet, splattered all over the walls! Well to be honest I’m not sure what it is but it’s red and it’s running down the walls”
“Is it wet?”
“No, what are you suggesting then?” He’s sounding genuinely concerned, but before I could reply.
“The bridges are closed both ways too” Ahh so this is the cause of his concern he’s feeling trapped!
“And?” I asked, ready to play along but confused as to who had the trump card here.
“There is no way out on Route 66 ?” he stresses, or does he ?
“So we go back the way we came?”
“What if we can’t?”
“Where’s your info coming from anyway?” I enquired.
“Guy at the counter, they don’t serve food, I got you crisps”
“And some soda thing”
“So does guy at counter suggest we go back the way we came?”
“He didn’t say”
“Maybe he thought it was the common sense thing to do”
A tiny part of me was ready to go outside and fight through a Zombie Apocalypse, I’ll put that down to possible dehydration!
Strangely at the time of writing this, Saturday November 16th 2019, Ian sent me a link to a Facebook page. Roy’s would be holding a relighting ceremony, and true to its word on that very day Roy’s iconic neon sign lit up the forecourt for the first time in over 30 years !
More research on my part showed that prior to this and an interesting addition to my own experience in the toilet block, Amboy had managed to get itself a reputation as a place of paranormal happenings. The screaming of children has been heard at the old school in the still of the night and in 2015 a photo taken by a traveller captivated the internet as it showed what appeared to be a bloodstain on an interior wall of one of the cabins! The Telegraph newspaper tells about “A photograph of an eerie ghost town” that is “Freaking out internet users”
Comments from readers pointed out that over the years Roy’s has been used as a location for many films, including the American thriller “Beneath the Dark” and 1986 horror“ The Hitcher”.
Whatever the explanation it has got us all talking. Roy’s has thrown out a noose and pulled us right in. Maybe the intention wasn’t there, maybe it was? The newly lit neon sign however gives the impression of a new beginning, a “Sign” of things to come maybe.
Back in the car,
“So did the guy at the counter explain why the bridges are down?”
“But the guy at Hackberry Stores blessed me for bringing the rain ? They’ve been in a drought for months, further west is worse?”
We left it at that.
It was only around 30 miles until we reached our stop for the night. Described as the “Almost Ghost Town” of Ludlow, the town which refuses to die. As far as I was concerned Ludlow seemed to be doing just fine. Little did I know at the time but in pulling off the interstate and stopping at the very first sign of civilisation meant we were actually in “New Ludlow” If you can’t entice the travellers on the Interstate to the town then take the town to the travellers and that is just what they did . In the 1970’s a small motel, interestingly designed cafe and two gas stations were built and still thrive to this day.
It was dark, we were hungry and there was no visible place to check in, turns out the guy for the job is also the guy that works the shop and gas station over the main road. You exchange cash for keys as simple as that. It was very basic, we ate potato wedges that had been sat under a heat lamp for all of their wedgey life, the bed was fragile and the shelf holding the TV was just about ready to end its relationship with whatever had been holding it to the wall, it ended the story of that particular day perfectly !
The one thing I am noticing looking back on all of this now is by this point we were floundering, we had just over a week to go until the end of our trip and we were wanting to do everything and nothing at the same time. There were so many places we hadn’t been, so much more to see and so many roads untraveled. Death Valley was calling us back and Vegas seemed so close yet too exhausting at that point to even contemplate. Our minds were racing, our bodies wanted a beer a wash and a decent night’s sleep!
One thing was sure for now, we were heading for Famoso Raceway and the Hot Rod Reunion. Just over two hundred miles with no plans to stop. We hadn’t discussed it, it was just known and understood. We would be leaving Route 66 at Barstow and I was yet to break the news to Ian.
In the light of day we were able to see the other side of the road block on 66 a few hundreds yards from our motel, we tried not to think about the section of the road we had been unable to access and focus instead on the road ahead.
The next 50 miles of Route 66 survive as a kind of frontage road, running almost parallel to the interstate. I was noticing a different kind of heat, a particular dryness to the air and the landscape was visibly parched.
We had picked up a CD, the sound track from Quentin Tarrantino’s 1996 film “ From Dusk Till Dawn” at a gas station in Arizona , the same place I had discovered self-service hot and thick chunky soup in a cup. I was crazed like a kid without his mum at the pick and Mix counter!
Dirty blues and sleaze coming through the speakers was undeniably a fitting soundtrack to these last few miles, which I also remember as the road of revelations
“Ohhh we’re here” I used this gas station as reference for ……. painting, and before we both knew it Ian was out of the car reacquainting himself with one of a number of abandoned buildings like they were old friends.
I remained, basking in the sounds of ingenious magnificence.
Whilst Ian had been researching his dream over the years, recreating his escape on paper and canvas he had become well acquainted with just a few of these buildings that had served as a release from what was going on in his own mind. He had been unaware of their place on the map, but each one had held its own story. Now here he was, a meeting of troubled mind and abandoned matter.
“How does it feel?” I’m a woman we need to know these things. Ian was back in the car.
“Yeah, good, nice, shame isn’t it” and at that we drove into the ever increasing heat sharing the mike with Tito and Tarantula “ Angry cockroaches” which meant making up the words and a lot of screaming!
Newberry Springs also forced us to an unintentional halt. Bagdad Cafe from the 1987 movie of the same name has brought notoriety to this particular area. It remains open for business and doing very well. We both briefly made contact with its walls, but neither of us were tempted to go inside.
It was the end of our Route 66 Journey and I can only compare it to waving goodbye to someone you love on a train when you know you’re not going to see them for a while. You don’t want them to go but it’s going to happen so you just want it over with. That’s the only way I can explain our lacklustre attempt at interested.
Looking at the map and just a few miles from Barstow I filled Ian in on the road ahead, and he kind of yelped like a dog in a running dream. I checked out his face to distinguish the level of trauma.
“Oh look a train !” these were his words and a perfectly timed distraction !
Around 1934 the worst drought in living memory drove hundreds of people from Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl west along Route 66 in search of work on the fruit farms that filled the Southern Californian Valleys. Eight decades later California’s Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency. California was having its own struggle, the driest year on record, effecting a 400 mile long agricultural basin of four million people and hitting those with the least the hardest.
I was shocked to learn that wells supplying some of the smaller communities had dried up months before. Some were in the position to pay for new wells to be drilled up to four times as deep, in the first instance the costs were lower and the waiting list shorter but over time with increased demand things started to get out of hand.
We were driving through a vast area traditionally rich in agriculture, the normally irrigated fields ripe with crops had given away to hard-baked soil, parched and barren. The impact as a whole was catastrophic, we learnt about certain relief efforts that were in place but hardship and frustration were clearly visible amongst the farming communities, we passed placard after placard pleading for help from the Government. No Water = No Food, No Water = No Jobs, No Water = No Future.
One thing I had learnt from our trip was a diversity that I wasn’t expecting. The variance in temperature and weather conditions over a few miles, kitsch and bubblegum a stone’s throw away from nature and the ceremonies and rituals of the tribal nations. Route 66 had played out in front of us, a story unfolding with every right or wrong turn, it provides you with the props and within reason you are able to make it whatever you want it to be. Turning the page however right then and the story was undeniably real.
It was around this time that I received a message from my daughter. She had been traveling the Eastern States for just over two months and having the time of her life. The message was to say she would meet us in San Francisco in just less than a week before we caught the plane back home.
She had mentioned this before leaving the UK, but I had taken on board her Facebook posts and photos and considered why the hell she would want to spend time with her parents with only a few weeks left of her trip.
The messages went something like this.
“So where are you travelling from ?”
“Chicago wow, that’s some trip”
“Around 4000km I think. Can you pick me up from the train station in San Francisco?”
“Yes no problem, do you know when? How long does it take?”
“About 50 hours I think, will let you know, Thank you”
Don’t know about any of you folks but if your grown up child is travelling 4000km to see you and you know they’re on a limited budget would you start to wonder if there was possibly something else going on?
“Ian do you think she’s ok?”
“Yeah she’s having the time of her life”
“What if she’s lost her passport or something, money or ……. ?”
“I don’t know, maybe she’s being stalked by a madman”
“Yeah maybe it’s that”
I did a quick Google of the California Zephyr, a passenger train operated by Amtrak and everything fell into place very quickly.
The journey from Chicago to San Francisco is considered to be one of the most scenic in North America, climbing through the heart of the Rockies and snow capped Sierra Nevadas, through Salt Lake city and the plains of Nebraska into Denver, Reno and Sacramento.
I read this to Ian and we both agreed it’s a journey we would love to take ourselves.
Cruising into Bakersfield and another example of believing one thing and it being another. Famoso Raceway is actually north of the city by around twenty miles. Looking for somewhere to stay for a couple of nights we sailed past the track and into the town of Wasco around 10 miles to the West.
We were spoilt for choice of accommodation in that there was a lot of choice.
It had become a kind of ritual just to park up, without discussion, and book a room in the first half decent motel we could find. The only part of a trip where we’d had difficulty with this was Zion National Park and now this was proving to be the second. Three try’s down and I was standing behind a small bar like area in a box of a foyer.
“Hi do you have any vacancies?” spoken to the tiniest of Chinese looking ladies on the other side of the bar.
She shortened her stance with a bend of the knees, and addressed the underneath of the bar.
“ Have we got spare woom ?” followed by ‘Chinese’? banter and waving of arms on her part and some serious death stares before she resumed normal height made her way around to our side of the bar and proceeded to leave the building !
A bit concerned about voicing an opinion to each other for fear of upsetting the tiny ninja that lived under “Reception” Ian made a jerky head movement to suggest we should leave. but she was back with a key on a key ring that resembled a child’s sock.
“Woom 27, take it” and she forced the sock into my hand.
We did take it but just to give us time enough to plan an escape.
“Ok thank you, we’ll check it out” words that could suggest it was possible we could disapprove and leave. The look on her face was enough to suggest that wasn’t an option, the state of the room was more than enough to suggest that we leave.
“Oh so here’s a plan, we’ve had a phone call from friends they’re lost a few miles out of town and we need to go and help them, they will want to stay too so we’ll be back soon, force key into hand take a sneaky peak under the bar and run” and that’s what we did but she didn’t make it bloody easy!
Half a mile down the road, a contrast so extreme it was as if we had traveled through space and time, The Best Western Plus Hotel and Suites.
“That’s not going to be cheap”
“They’ve got trees”
“And one of those fancy in and out drives. Look! Pillars! And shady areas!”
I had flashbacks to previous overnight stays along the way some which were memorable in the best possible way, others not quite so and some that I was struggling to remember at all.
So what was common ground? What was the deciding factor for a memorable stay? Turns out it’s cabins, we like wooden shacks and rustic cabins, so why was Wasco’s attempt at a Disney Hotel looking so appealing?
“I think we might need some pampering” I winced and recoiled at my own profanity, then as if by magic the portal fairy arrived and we were inside the building, and the air changed instantly.
People were drifting and floating across shiny floor spaces, some lounging on over sized sofas and then there were teeth, lots of teeth, brilliant white and smiling at us across the highly polished sweeping surface of the check in area.
“Can I help you sir” and unlike the Travelodge in Farnborough where we had once asked at the desk for a room for the night and were told they only accept online bookings, the place where we had sat in reception, very close to said desk and booked our nights stay on our phone only to be greeted once more minutes later as complete strangers. This place had us checked in in the glint of an eye and the wink of a tooth.
I can’t think of a word to explain what we did next so am going to make one up and I think it should be added to the urban dictionary with the definition of being to able to relax oneself in slovenly sophistication. The word is to poshslob. We poshslobbed in bed with takeaway Chinese food, I tried to unposhslob in the bathroom but was very conscious of the water situation.
Unlike room 13 in the dodgy motel near the start of our journey, room 13 that had been vacated for the very purpose to serve a “Breakfast” of many colours, the same Breakfast that blew away as I tried to eat it sitting on a bench at the side of the road. The Best Western had a dedication Breakfast room offering up a wide selection of freshly cooked fare to bust your gut and send you back to bed in a food coma.
I have mentioned before about the things we weren’t told before we took our first trip out to the US. We had asked the question to so many of our well travelled friends,
“So what advice can you give, what should we know before we leave?” and the answer was mostly
“Ahh, nothing to know really, they drive on the other side, you’ll never be stuck for a burger and it’s a game of dare at any crossroads”
No! No! No! There was so much more we needed to know ! And this very morning was a prime example. Stood at the entrance to our fine dining experience we looked on in awe at the queue of Americans waiting, all cool and confident to use what we discovered to be the Waffle Maker!
I’m not sure at that point if I had even seen a real waffle or its maker, it was just about as alien to me as the dishwasher I was shown in my first pub job in the UK after spending 10 years living in a small Hungarian village.
We stood silent for a while observing the protocol of the whole affair, the room was busy and a far cry from anything else we had experienced previously in the breakfast area.
Sometimes the name Ian when spoken can sound just like a noise so Ian tends to not answer straight away.
“Ian mate, fancy seeing you here” and within minutes we were amongst friends, all off to the reunion and all staying at the Best Western in Wasco, who would have thought.
Our whole trip had been just like Christmas week in that we were often unaware of what day it was. During breakfast we learnt that it was in fact Sunday and a particularly quiet day at the track.
We had apparently missed a sensational cacklefest on Saturday night, 60 vintage dragsters and fuel altereds lined up diagonally on the strip blipping their engines sending huge columns of flames into the air. It was described as soul stirring and tears were shed throughout the crowd.
The Reunion is an end of season affair, a classic event established for 28 years, surviving through good and bad economical times. It attracts the best in cars and their drivers.
On the Friday night six veterans had been awarded with trophies, Saturday had seen racing and qualifying, racing how it used to be.
Arriving at the event we very quickly realised that we should have possibly skipped breakfast and headed straight for the track, parking was already rammed and people were starting to claim their space on the side of the freeway. A not so quiet Sunday after all.
We were experiencing one of the hottest days so far of our trip, with the exception of Death Valley and a couple of days in Monument Valley, it helped add to that nostalgic feel of bygone days when the sun shone brighter and days were longer.
It was an unexpectedly emotional day for us for many reasons, not only did we meet up with friends from the UK, but we also had the pleasure of coming face to face with like minded folk we had only had the pleasure of knowing through social media. Max Grundy for example, an automotive artist with a very distinct style, someone Ian had admired for years. Ian was in awe and we both imagined a time in the not too distant future where we could somehow uproot our mobile studio and transport it or part of it over the water to that very place.
The stands were quieter than I had anticipated and the racing to me seemed a little sporadic but maybe I wasn’t paying too much attention, my senses were on overload on realising that this isn’t just a drag racing event. There is a huge swap meet which focuses heavily on vintage speed parts and even the odd race car. At that time this area was buzzing with folks, some last attempt efforts at end of show bartering taking place, and then silence as the National Anthem sounded out over the speakers. It was a level of patriotism I had never experienced before, hats were removed and placed across chests, others sang along their faces raised to the sky. I’m not totally sure what induces this level of respect in a country, whatever it maybe it was a refreshing change and powerful enough to emotionally charge my tear ducts.
The Grove is a really attractive tree lined area that gave me a rush of a feeling as if I had been there before. The feeling stayed with me, it was kind of comforting and I wondered if it had reminded me of somewhere I could have possibly visited in my childhood. This area is just behind the grandstands and for this event in particular it is known for the incredible diversity of car and trucks parked up for your pleasure. It’s also a great place to grab a beer and sit in a shady area watching the world go by whilst contemplating starting a new life as a hobo.
For all you car racing, spectating, general followers of the drag racing, vintage/classic car scene in the UK can you relate to this ? You attend a weekend event desperate to arrive as soon as commitment and time allows. If you’re lucky you find yourself in a queue of equally enthusiastic individuals around Midday on a Thursday. You’ve brought enough alcohol, sausages and spare car parts etc to see you through to Monday when you unwillingly vacate the premises, and things start to get weird, as if you want to wind down the car window and shout “ You don’t understand man, you weren’t there!”. As we left Famoso Raceway that evening I anticipated that same sinking feeling but it didn’t happen. Great weather, some good friends old and new, a selection of cool cars, beer and enough fried food to knock a donkey off its legs, all contributed to a much needed extension to the end of racing.
The next morning after some serious waffling, we’re back on the road.
“Ian, so what’s the plan?”
“Not sure, just heading west”
I checked out where we were on the map and this happened.
“Let’s head back to the coast”
Just over 100 miles later and we were back on California’s Highway one, back to where we started and what better place to revisit but Cayucos. A place we had stayed briefly at the start of our trip but hadn’t ventured out much because I had been ill.
Cayucos is a world away from my other favourite place, Beatty in Death Valley, they both call out for me to give up my life in the UK and get on the first plane out. My life in Cayucos would involve baking pie and wandering around cool antique stores, in Beatty I would squat in an old abandoned trailer change my name to Rooster and learn how to play Rock Gee-tar.
One of the things we had been wrongly advised about was the amount of good old classic vehicles on the road.
“ Don’t expect to see cars and trucks on the road like you see here at the show’s, yeah maybe 15/20 years ago but it doesn’t happen these days they’re all mostly Japanese” We were told
Now I am not sure where these people had been travelling but I would say where we had been it was a good 50/50 balance, in Cayucos in particular it was more like 60/40, the larger number being classics. Like the Wild West by sea, Cayucos has its old saloons, it steps back in time to a more relaxed pace. Beautiful surfer dudes stretch out over the sun-bleached patina hoods of their mid seventies pick ups, quietly contemplating the horizon and the next wave.
Everyone displays happiness and they are eternally thankful, for your time, money, or sharing a story with them.
We checked into the small Dolphin Motel, clean simple rooms with doors opening out onto a small patio and central courtyard, palm trees in abundance and a serenity similar to eating a light chocolate cake whist floating on a lily pad.
We chilled on the beach, in the pie shop and at the saloon, I was even given a small puppy to hold to add to the pleasantries, the guy went to the rest room and arrived over an hour later through the front door.
“Thank you” he said
“No thank you, it’s been a pleasure. The little guy is adorable”
“Well thank you for saying that”
“He really was no problem”
“Thank you, have a great day”
“Thank you” and that’s how it starts. I think the exception was the strangeness of the artist’s studio, which drew Ian in like an artist to an artist studio. As we chatted and looked at the various pieces.
“Hi, so am I right in thinking you’re from the UK?”
“Hi, yes, quite often mistaken for Australian, great work by the way”
“Thank you so much, what brings you in here?”
“I’m an artist, just intrigued, glad I did”
“You know that Banksy’s dead right ?”
We turned to each other then back at the guy who had been joined by his work colleague.
“No we had no idea, we haven’t been keeping up with the news much, that’s shocking what happened?”
“He died” First guy
“Think he was murdered or something” New guy on the scene
I briefly wondered what the “Or something” could be.
Turns out it meant they weren’t sure how he died. They continued into the devastation caused by the drought and the last time they had seen rain.
Not watching the news for 5 weeks and only using Facebook to contact family and post photos, it was weird but quite believable that Banksy was actually dead. One of those people who makes a massive impact then are gone before their time. We chatted about it whilst eating the best Tacos I’ve had in my life. Ruddell’s Smokehouse is the place and if you ever get the chance to go to Cayucos you cannot give it a miss, a sensory fiesta on your taste buds that will turn your palate inside out. We had noticed a plume of smoke rising into the air earlier in the day, a sweet BBQ aroma that lured us to the corner of the street on the seafront like a couple of Bisto kids. Well established and family owned its over the counter service emulates a bygone era, unspoilt and thriving.
Back at the motel and checking the news, Banksy of course was very much alive, my immediate reaction was to pop down the road.
“Hey don’t worry, Banksy he’s alive!” and then it struck me that they probably already knew that.
I hadn’t done a massive amount of research on anything before our trip. I had booked a few motels in places that I thought could be busy, stared at the map a lot and looked at possible places to visit around areas where we could be staying for longer than a day. Initially Cayucos was one of those places, but with me sleeping for the first few days Ian had made the decision to drive. This time around, and back where we started I was remembering some of my research.
“Ian there is a town just south of here that has an amazing street party every Thursday night”
“Yeah I remember you saying”
We asked around for details and learnt that to the locals this “Street Party” is actually their weekly farmers market !
San Luis Obispo is the place to go and we arrived early, 5pm for a 6pm start. I had seen the photos and the streets were packed. If it could be compared to an indoor event in the UK it would be full capacity and a stern looking door man would be beaming internally at the power of his, “Sorry we’re full”.
We were concerned about parking hence the early start. We needn’t have worried.
“Have we got the wrong day?” The streets were empty and there was nothing vaguely to suggest any evidence of a good time.
“It is Thursday?”
We asked a passerby.
“Yeah no worries, you got the right day, it’s only 5.30 it starts at 6.00.
“OK Ian, I don’t get it. There has got to be loads of vendors with stalls, what about the traffic chaos when they all arrive at the same time, parking up etc, setting up stalls, and there are massive BBQ’s too”
We all know in the UK that you light the BBQ, wait a few bloody hours for the coals to get hot and the smoke to die down, then you can proceed to place the meat on the grill, not before then!! There is, without doubt, always someone ready to jump down your throat for premature placing of meat.
So as you can imagine there was confusion, on both our parts to be fair, as to how it was going to work, it had also been a few hours since the Taco.
Needn’t have worried, I can only describe the way they worked as antula, definition: Thinking and working in an ant like way. Huge BBQ’s were set up off the back of hefty pick up trucks and in no time they were serving up perfectly cooked ribs, steaks, chicken and corn. Vendors selling fresh and cooked produce lined both sides of the street, a rhythm of Jazz and Blues filled the air, street performers freaked out young children, and this was a Farmers Market !
If a similar event was to happen here in the UK it definitely couldn’t be on a weekly basis. It would take a week for the council to close down the street putting all health and safety procedures back into place. Fences around offending trees etc, disagreements over who was going to patrol the road closure that week. Dave’s Cat is at the vet and Alan said weeks before that he wanted to watch that special episode of “ I hate where I live, find me somewhere else”, and the parking ! There would definitely be parking rage.
When sober us British are really good at stopping just short of having too much fun, we need a good crank up to silliness that can take a couple of hours.
These guys were wasting no time at all, the fun was had the food was served and a little guy in brown baggy pants offered me strawberries and we danced around some fresh dairy produce.
A really tall guy in a top hat took our attention and we followed him into a dimly lit bar, strangely losing him in the crowd. They were selling Newcastle Brown Ale of all things, would never dream of drinking it in the UK but we weren’t in the UK so of course I had to have one.
The rest of the night we spent listening to a solo artist on his guitar, kind of Kid Rocky with a bluesy twist.
Floundering, floundering, panicking, our days were running out. Have I mentioned that I loved California more than I anticipated? It’s rugged coastline hadn’t been in my mind’s eye or the friendly laid back approach to life. We hadn’t seen half of it so I’m aware that the larger towns and cities may be something else entirely.
It was around the end of October and houses, stores, bars and small businesses were showing fascinating displays of what I can only describe as scarecrows but in every shape and form, some represented a kind of Halloween theme whilst others seem to be based around the harvest. We visited Cambria a nearby town, where an abundance of very creative designs had each stopped us in our tracks.
We had the pleasure of meeting Baxter a homeless guy and his celebrity 28 pound cat Sunshine. Baxter had lived on the streets for quite some time and had become acquainted with Sunshine on Venice Beach in LA. He was feral but Baxter remained persistent with his care and a bond development from an understanding of each other’s needs, a bond developed through trust.
Baxter was I’m guessing in his mid forties at that time, a friendly, interesting and well educated guy who told a good story packed with a wealth of information. Sunshine however is the one that draws in the crowds and is always available for a photo opportunity. Baxter explained how he fell in love with Cambria, yes the larger cities have more facilities to cater for the homeless but he feels at one where he is and maintains how people have been so kind towards him, there has never been a cross word and as he understands it there are no obvious bad feelings. He was happy with his lot.
The next day we packed our bags and travelled 170 miles North East to the Sequoia National Park, on the edge of which we ran into “Roadworks?”. I can remember it happening only once before on our trip, halfway up a mountain just outside Vegas. We were through it in no time. This occasion was different in that all we knew of the delay was a man in a hard hat with a stop sign. We were the front of the queue and waiting.
“He’s your side ask him what the hold up is” This was Ian
“No he’s not! You ask him he’s not smiling much”
It was far from clear what was going on, I wound down my window.
“Are there any bears in this forest?”
“Yeah plenty, black bears”
“Black bears wow”
“Yeah they’re not all black though some are blonde”
“Blonde black bears ?”
“Yeah and brown”
“Do you see many whilst you’re stood out here with your sign?”
“Yeah on a regular basis”
“And you’re OK with that?”
“Sure, share my lunch with ’em sometimes”
“Nice, so what’s the hold up?”
“We’ll have you through in no time”
“It’s not bears is it?”
“No it’s definitely not bears this time”
And at that he turned his little sign to go and waved us through.
The stark contrast between landscapes from a few days earlier was undeniably noticeable. The barren hard baked soil of the farmland just a few hundred miles south was a far cry from what we were experiencing here. We knew the shortage of water was widespread and over 62 million trees had perished, so it begged the question why the Sequoia trees, these Giants of nature didn’t seem to be suffering . They can reach heights of 300 feet, trunks spanning 30 feet, so what was happening? Sequoia National Park has 5 of the 10 largest specimens in the world.
At that point I had no idea and right now I’m re reading an article which explains how the bark of the Sequoia is soft and fibrous making it very resistant to fire, they also have the ability to withstand disease and drought, can live for a few thousand years and rarely die standing upright. Root rot apparently can deprive a tree of a solid anchor and fire can undermine its base but rarely will this kill the tree. It’s the persistent tug of gravity that will eventually pull an unbalanced tree to the floor.
The article is long and a difficult read at 1.30am, but in conclusion it was an insight into how little we still know about the world, we’re all still learning. Ambrose, a forest ecologist explains that Sequoias are some of the most spectacular organisms on the planet, they force you to think about life and our place in it.
On a lighter note, although it must have sent reverberations through neighbouring towns, in 1937 a giant Sequoia fell on its side over the road in the park, by 1938 a hole had been cut through the centre forming a tunnel which you are able to drive through to this day. I had read about this years before and was intrigued, it didn’t disappoint.
So not having had enough of the trees we headed 180 miles north to Yosemite, an hour in and we were in darkness on an empty road.
“Shall we pull over and stop somewhere for the night” I asked
“Yeah, hope we can get food”
There was nowhere for miles and then a light, it could’ve been anything but experience was telling us that on a road like that it was most probably a motel, we weren’t wrong. It was basic, very basic. It was kind of clean but the selling point was the pizza place next door. On checking in however we were informed that it was now closed, and there was unfortunately nowhere else around for miles.
“Ian the light’s still on inside” and at that we made our way with sheepish confidence to the door, trying to ignore the guy heading towards us with a key and that obvious sorry but we’re closing look on his face.
“Soooorry we’re closing”
“Ah ok, do you have anything ready cooked that we can take back to our room, we’ve been travelling for miles”
“Oh you’re British, hi, I have a great aunt living in Bright-on, do you know Bright-on?”
“Yes we do, other side of the country to us though, great place”
“Oh have you been?”
“Well no” At which point I wondered which middle aged person residing in the UK for most of their life has never been to Brighton. In a matter of seconds I had questioned myself, been embarrassed, reminded myself it has a pebble beach and was over it. We were also over the threshold, the door was locked and we were on the inside. Now to get man to cook pizza, biggest pizza that we can also enjoy as a staple breakfast.
Ian was on it like the crazy charmer that he is. I held that pizza box tight, it wasn’t going to go anywhere, we entered our room for the night, Ian went to the loo and I collapsed onto the bed fully clothed clutching the box. I pushed my back against the wall to assume a more favourable seating position and the bed shot across the room on the vinyl floor and parked up on the opposite wall.
“ What happened, what did you do ? ” Ian had a worried look that turned into a grin evolving into a weird kind of manic laughter where he seemed to be struggling to breath.
“The bed has wheels! You don’t put bloody wheels on a bed unless you’re being sponsored!……. I quite like it over here”
We slept very still that night, ate cold pizza for breakfast and contemplated the implications of more trees.
“So about the trees”
“Yep I know what you’re thinking” and at that we headed back south, we had both separately concluded that this was the wrong time for more trees. We live in a forest, a beautiful forest, there’s time for trees and it wasn’t then, we will visit Yosemite another time. With just a few days to go we headed towards San Francisco and a place called Pacifica, a few miles north of Half Moon Bay.
Checking the map it was obligatory that we took the long route, it was the last leg of our journey so we took the road south 240 miles inland finally dropping back onto Highway 1, The Pacific Coast Highway, between Cayucos and Cambria. The plan was to drive back up the Coastal Road to Pacifica a further 200 miles …
Here’s part 10 – End of The Road and ‘The Big Finish’
American Road Trip part 10 – End of The Road and ‘The Big Finish’
And if you missed the beginning here’s Part 1, ‘California Dreaming’ :
American Road Trip part 8 – Route 66 heading West.
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
American Road Trip part 9 – From Dust Till Prawn. The Reunion: Into the Woods and Back.
And if you missed the beginning here’s Part 1, ‘California Dreaming’ :
American Road Trip part 7 – Standin’ on the Corner, A Journey Through Season, Space and Time …
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’ :
American Road Trip part 6 – Route 66 through New Mexico into Arizona
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”
“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, pickups 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!!
“Over there in the beer tent, next to the fence”
“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 !”
“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”
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”
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!”
“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 that 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”
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”
“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 …
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.
“Drive safe and enjoy your stay in Arizona”
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?”
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”