Saturday, October 30, 2010

The parade to Santa Monica and the End of the Road.

Friday, Oct. 8 -- Rialto, Calif.

This day, our last, dawned clear and crisp. That was the good news. The bad news was that my e-mail had been hacked. It seems I was now selling Korean computers, which certainly is better than selling blue pills for men! I quickly changed my password and hoped that all was OK.

For at least half an hour, we'd heard the throaty rumble of 1950s-era engines as other T-Birds rolled into the Wigwam Motel. Here were our fellow T-Birders from several local clubs -- Inland Empire, Palm Springs and  Southern California -- ready to accompany us in our triumphal drive to the End of the Trail in Santa Monica. In all, 12 Birds made the trip to Santa Monica, but not without incident.

Before we left the Wigwam, we lined up the four PSEB Baby Birds by one of the teepees with Les and Jo's "California or Bust" Bird in front. Perhaps one of the photos will see the light of day in a magazine?

We began as a grand parade on the freeway, attracting an unbelievable amount of attention. It was beautifully planned: Lucy was in the lead, followed by our little group, and Doc was the last car; they were able to communicate using hand-held radios.

Unfortunately in short order we lost half the group; someone had a fan belt failure that caused overheating. The Birders behind the disabled car stopped to help, and soon our small PSEB group at the  front of the caravan was running solo. Lucy doubled back to find the breakdown with us in tow. By the time we got there, repairs were underway, and believe it or not, we all arrived at the Santa Monica Pier in tact and pretty much at the same time.

Once in Santa Monica, Lucy led us onto the iconic wooden Santa Monica pier where parking had been set aside so we could all be in a group. We were quite the attraction as we rolled onto the pier and also after we were parked. A lot of cell phones recorded our beauties --we'll never tire of this kind of attention!!

Before we went to lunch, Gordon ceremoniously attached our new Route 66 front license plate to the grill. "This is never coming off," he says.

And Lin Somsak, a member of the Southern California club and editor of the international T-Bird magazine, Early Bird, presented each couple with a customized khaki baseball cap, "We Did It!" We can't thank Lin enough for her generous and thoughtful gift commemorating our arrival in Santa Monica. It has become a treasured memento of the entire trip.

Lucy had arranged for lunch at Bubba Gump's, a popular eatery on the pier that takes its name from the movie, "Forrest Gump." Sad to say, two of our group had to leave at this point: Earl still wasn't feeling well, so he and Jane opted out of the lunch and began the trek home. Also, Les and Jo had to beat feet homeward because Jo was due back in her office on Monday.

Lucy's lunch plans went far beyond the usual. She and the others who joined us on our tour to Santa Monica paired up with a PSEB couple and treated us to lunch! It was such a surprise and so generous of our T-Bird friends.

Lucy presents a "Mother Road Musical Memories" CD to Nancy.
In addition, Lucy presented each couple with a CD she created, "Mother Road Musical Memories" "for the Thunderbird Road Warriors of Washington." This not just some CD in a plastic sleeve; this is the full-meal deal -- a CD case with photos of Route 66 on the front and back covers as well as the CD face itself, and a personal inscription, "From one Road Warrior to another! -- Lucy Clark." The 20 songs all pertain to Route 66 and include "Going to Chicago," "St. Louis Blues," "Dust Bowl Refugees," "King of the Road," Amarillo by Morning," "Fourteen Miles to Barstow," "California Sun," and my personal favorite, "It's Hard to Find the Old Road Signs of U.S. 66!" Lucy is some kind of clever sleuth to have found all these songs, and we all are delighted to have this special remembrance of our journey.
Thank you, Lucy!

Doc presents a certificate.
Not to be outdone, Doc Dockter, the other consummate T-Bird Road Warrior, also had something for us: A Route 66 Completion Certificate from the "Thunderbird Road Warriors of Southern California." Below our names, it says "for driving about 3,552 miles out of your way to cruise all 2,448 miles on Historic Route 66 (The Mother Road) from Chicago, Illinois, to the Santa Monica Pier in California in a Classic Thunderbird." It's signed by both Doc and Lucy. Ours will soon be in a frame and on the wall for all to see. Thank you, Doc!

Once we'd finished lunch it was time for a group photo at the End of the Trail sign, and then, for the benefit of a local newspaper photographer, we paraded off the pier and then back on. From there it was hugs and goodbyes and heartfelt thanks to our T-Bird hosts. The trip that was our dream during more than 18 months of planning had come to its official end. The reception by the California T-Birders put the frosting on the cake for us -- it was a wonderful and gracious send-off as we headed north toward home.

We took Pacific Coast Highway, our old Malibu stomping grounds, out of the L.A. area with Duane and Nancy and Bill and Doris on our tail. It was a beautiful afternoon as we sped up the coast with the shimmering ocean on our left. Our goal for tonight was San Luis Obispo, which would put us in good striking distance for another T-Bird gathering tomorrow in Los Gatos.

As we went inland, the sputtering and gurgling we'd heard in the exhaust system when we were in Arizona got louder. By now we were sounding like a truck and as we came downhill into the valley, we backfired every time Gordon let up on the gas. I remember when it was cool to make your car backfire; not now however.

We plan to check it out tomorrow, but for now, it's another motel room in another town.

Saturday, Oct. 9 -- San Luis Obispo, Calif. --

Gordon was on the phone bright and early trying to find a muffler shop that could take a look at the Bird.  He located one in Arroyo Grande, about 15 minutes south of SLO and was off by 8 a.m. Once they had it on the rack, it was obvious that the exhaust system was just plain exhausted! The head pipe needed to be replaced. This was something we could not have foreseen -- there had already been a lot of wear and tear on the pipe, but the continued driving at speed and the heat over the past 21 days had accelerated its deterioration. Although it meant we'd be late to Los Gatos, it was something that had to be repaired.

We left SLO shortly after noon and put the pedal to the metal to get to Los Gatos. Our hosts, Barbara and Paul Perry, live in a beautiful canyon surrounded by redwood trees. Barbara had met the other two PSEBers to lead them to her home, but we plugged the address into Gypsy and we had no problem at all. Actually, their house would have been hard to miss -- countless Baby Birds lined the road on both sides -- quite a sight to see.

Birders from nearby clubs, and some not-so-near such as Region 3 Director Chuck Korenko and his wife, Lani, who came from Sacramento, had put on a potluck meal. What a joy to have real food instead of restaurant food! The burgers and dogs were delicious, the salads were plentiful, and the desserts were to die for. We enjoyed meeting so many fellow Birders and had fun sharing some of our Route 66 tales.

Although he couldn't be there because of a family wedding in Las Vegas, Doc Dockter, who lives in the Bay Area, hatched the idea of this wonderful T-Bird gathering and did a lot of the behind-the-scenes communications and coordination. We're so glad he did! Thank you, Doc.

Once again we were struck by the genuine friendliness of other T-Bird owners. Perhaps it's because we share the love of an American icon, or perhaps it's that only really cool people own these marvelous machines. Whatever the reason, we revel in the camaraderie we experience no matter where our T-Bird takes us. Our thanks to all the Northern California folks who came to the Perrys' lovely home, and we thank Barbara and Paul for their delightful hospitality. We would love to have the chance to reciprocate some day.

And so our Route 66 saga comes to a close.

Would we do it again? In a heartbeat -- but we probably won't because the open road is calling us to new places: Canada Highway 1 through the Rockies, and the network of back roads from British Columbia into the wilds of the Northwest Territories and Alaska.

Do we recommend it? Absolutely. It gave us a look at a bygone America.

What did we learn? That Route 66 is alive and well . . . traveled, that is, not by the people who once supported hundreds of gas stations, motels and diners as they went from Point A to Point B. Instead, today it is a remarkable asphalt ribbon that is a mecca for nostalgia buffs worldwide who want to catch a glimpse of automobile travel in America as it was 70 or more years ago.

And yes, we DID get our kicks on Route 66.

Judy and Gordon

Friday, October 29, 2010

The desert brings us back to civilization. Sigh.

Thursday, Oct. 7, Needles, Calif. --

This morning the group is splintered:
• Bill and Doris are in Kingman, Ariz., planning to drive to the Havasu City truck stop, and Les and Jo, who are in Needles, are driving back to Arizona to meet them, then shadow them through the day to Rialto, Calif., changing batteries as needed until the alternator conversion can be done tonight.
• Jane is at the wheel of the VolvoBird because Earl is feeling poorly and sleeping in the back seat. They're skipping Route 66 and heading straight west on I-40. Depending on how Earl feels, they'll either go straight to Rialto or meet us in Victorville, where we will be visiting the Route 66 Museum this afternoon.
• We are with Duane and Nancy, two red 1957 Birds setting out to cross the Mojave Desert on our way to Victorville.

Straight as a ruler to the horizon.

The desert is remarkable -- we'd feared hot HOT weather, but we're lucky: It's pleasantly warm, the sky is dotted with a few clouds, the air is clean and we've got the top down. On Route 66 we have mountains on either side, with flat scrub growth near the highway. Again, we appear to have lucked out on the weather; two days ago, L.A. had record rainfall, so it looks like we've managed to avoid heat, rain and tornadoes. Lucky us!

There are few other cars on 66 in the desert today, and it feels as though we have the road to ourselves. If we had auto-pilot we could snooze -- the road runs straight to the horizon with nary a single curve or turn. Except for a 139-car train (Nancy counted) that gave us a huge, long whistle as we went past, we have no vehicular company. There's even time to stop and photograph our cars by the painted Route 66 emblem on the pavement. We stop to check on what's left of the town of Essex -- not much, just a boarded-up cafe and some abandoned trailers.

Between Essex and Amboy, desert travelers for years have used medium-sized rocks to spell out names along a miles-long berm on the north side of the road. The plant growth is so sparse that it's easy to read the names and to wonder how long they've been there. We opted not to add ours lest we come face-to-face with a rattlesnake.

At Amboy we come across Roy's where it appears that a motel is primed and ready for guests, even to the little blue-and-white cabins, freshly painted and waiting for occupants.

We've been in touch with Les and Jo by cell phone, and they and Doris and Bill are making good time toward catching up to us. They've decided to stop in Ludlow, and amazingly enough, we are able to meet them there within mere minutes of their arrival. Once again, except for the VolvoBird, the group is back together. Lunch at the Ludlow Cafe was good but slow, and to meet our hosts at the museum, it becomes apparent that we have the need for speed, so we reluctantly hop on the cement slab (sigh) and make tracks for Victorville.

Jane (left) hurries to get into the group photo.

What a great museum, and what a wonderful reception for us. The folks in Victorville really know how to make people feel welcome. This clever collection includes Route 66 memorabilia, gifts, and a "flivver" that provides a great photo op.

Our thanks to Paul, Saundra and Chick who made us feel so at home and also arranged for a surprise 65th anniversary cake for Bill and Doris. The lucky people who happened to be at the museum at same time were included in the celebration as well. Unfortunately we had to leave too soon, mainly because Les and Bill needed daylight to do the generator-alternator conversion in Rialto.

A surprise cake in Victorville
Jo and Les in the Route 66 Museum's flivver

The trip into Rialto took us out of the desert and over Cajon Pass. The descent was breath-taking, not because it was scary (although those California drivers are something else!), but because it was so spectacularly beautiful. There was some haze that contributed to the sight as layers upon layers of mountains unfolded in sun and in shadow at every curve of the road. It was a spectacular part of my native Southern California that I'd not seen in 45 years.

Nancy, left, and Lucy Clark
Getting to the Wigwam Motel was a GPS challenge -- using their GPS, Les and Jo were in the lead. We had ours, "Gypsy," programmed as well. And they did not agree! So as we followed Les and Jo on a crazy and impossibly convoluted tour of "beautiful downtown" Rialto, railroad and steel yards and residential streets with barred windows and iron security gates,

our GPS kept talking back to us!

Bill and Les look over the parts for the generator conversion.
But at long last we arrived at the Wigwam on Route 66 and were greeted warmly by California T-Birders Lucy Clark and Doc Dockter. As promised, Lucy (bless her heart!) had the conversion kit in hand for Les and Bill, and they quickly went to work.

It was past 5 o'clock, so cocktails were in order after we were situated in our individual wigwams. These 30-foot-high vintage motel rooms are great fun, and really helped us hark back to the days when Route 66 was in its heyday. The sunset was beautiful as it silhouetted tall palm trees against a light golden sky.

While the mechanical experts toiled, the rest of us went to dinner -- and an unplanned tour of local shopping malls, courtesy of Doc!

This was our last full day on Route 66, with just a partial day tomorrow as we make our way into Santa Monica, but with our return to civilization, the Mother Road is now pretty much behind us.

For us, there's a sense of sadness that it's almost over, and that although we logged more than 5,000 miles -- one mile at a time -- the 21-day adventure went way too fast. Tomorrow we complete the last leg by driving to the End of the Trail on the Santa Monica Pier. Are we ready for it to be over?

More to come.

Judy and Gordon

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Day 13 on Route 66: Unlucky for sure!

Wednesday, Oct. 6, Peach Springs, Ariz. --

Sun! Glorious sun! Although the weatherman predicts more thunderstorms, we're surrounded by lots of blue sky. We see a study in contrasts -- mesas, craggy rock outcroppings, pointed peaks and even perfect pyramids rise out of the sagebrush and golden grasses. 

At the tiny town of Truxton, we see a "junk art" sign, rusted bullet Studebaker and an old pickup truck. A weathered wooden sign points the direction to all of the towns named in the Route 66 song, but the wood is so soaked from rain that we can't see much.

We're headed to the Hackberry General Store, renowned for being among the funkiest on Route 66. One sign says, "Tourists treated same as home folks" and another says, "Hippies use side door." And out back are some antique cars and a Burma-Shave sign:

Big mistake
many make
rely on horn
instead of brake.

Inside, it's an assault on the senses: a cigar-store Indian, an old Texaco gas pump, a soda fountain mock-up and much more. The men's room walls are covered with photos of pinup girls; the ladies' room features full-size mannequins costumed as dance-hall girls complete with feather boas. Outside the front door is a 1957 red Corvette (hiss, boo) positioned just right for us to line up a T-Bird photo op. 

Unlucky incident No. 1: As we drove this morning, Gordon and I heard more and more "gurgling" from under the hood; some of the exhaust vapors were escaping and making noise. We opted to stop in Kingman to get it looked at by a muffler shop. Twenty minutes later it was pronounced OK to drive home -- a new connector would be needed once we were back.

From there it was just a few short minutes to the wonderful Arizona Route 66 Museum, where we met up with the huge group of motorcyclists we’d seen the night before. Turns out they are all from the same motorcycle club in England and on a tour of America's Main Street with Harleys rented from Chicago to L.A. (and a detour to Las Vegas) – 39 bikes in all – some singles and many couples. The worldwide fascination with Route 66 never fails to amaze us. Here we thought it was just an American thing!

This museum takes a different page from Route 66 history and focuses more on how the famous route came to be. In 1858, Lt. Edward Beale surveyed and cleared the Beale Wagon Road, the precursor to Route 66. So great was the constant need for water, the route was designed to take travelers from one spring to another. 

(In 1915 etiquette expert Emily Post and her son, Edwin, drove west on what was then called the National Old Trails Highway in a Mercedes Touring Car. They planned to write a guidebook on the route, but by the time they got to Winslow, Emily had had it and took a train home. Readers were none the wiser, however, because she wrote the book anyway.)

Clever life-size dioramas depict the evolution of Route 66, from travel by horse-drawn wagon to the huge exodus by dust bowl refugees during the Depression. Apparently when some of those refugees reached the California border, signs told them that they were not welcome in California and should turn back. According to the museum, only 8 percent of the refugees stayed in California, most returning to the Midwest within a few months. This doesn't jibe with other reports we've seen that say many people made their new homes there.

Gordon and the '57 T-Bird sign he bought off the wall at Mr. D'z.
And now there was a lot of discussion amongst the group about whether to take Sitgreaves Pass to Oatman. The Route 66 pass is steep with sharp drop-offs and no guard rails.  And you're out there basically by yourself in the loneliest portion of the route. With all the rain of the past few days, we decided that we might encounter washouts or other hazards and opted instead to take the long way around. All right -- go ahead and say it: We chickened out!

This route around took us through the desert on some heavily patched sections of 66. Les and Jo were ahead of us, and the rest of the group was behind us. We were solo on the road, winding around mountain peaks, soft hills, pinnacles, and even a chartreuse forest of short cacti, then dipping into shallow valleys. The only signs of civilization were huge power lines that just like the road seemed to go on forever. 

Unlucky incident No. 2:  The good news was that we found Les and Jo immediately upon our arrival in Oatman, and about 15 minutes later the rest of the group arrived. The bad news was that Duane was back on the highway just short of Oatman, with a T-Bird that had boiled over. As we set about gathering water to take back for the radiator, Bill heard from a motorcyclist that Sitgreaves Pass, which we’d avoided earlier because of potential washouts, had been in perfect condition just hours earlier. Bill and Doris decided to drive the pass back to Kingman, and lobbied us to joint them; because we didn't make a decision, the senior couple in the group sucked it up and started off to drive Sitgreaves Pass from west to east and planned to join us later that evening in Needles, Calif., our overnight spot.

Dollar bills (and more) stapled to Oatman Hotel walls, ceiling
Now – about Oatman. What a hoot! This western-themed town saved itself from extinction by being relentlessly western -- in a good way. (Sort of how Leavenworth, Wash., is relentlessly Bavarian.) A boardwalk, saloons, the famous 1902 Oatman Hotel (a favorite of Hollywood stars in the ‘30s and ‘40s) where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard honeymooned in 1939, plus the ever-present T-shirt shops, Kettle Corn tent, jewelry shop, and even a tattoo parlor. The Oatman Hotel has thousands of $1 bills (some larger) stapled to its walls and ceiling. The waitress said they had recently counted the bills and came up with some $70,000 just hanging there!

And as if that wasn't enough the other thing  Oatman has that sets it apart from other western towns are many feisty four-footed panhandlers, a herd of wild burros that roams the town streets looking for handouts, braying loudly for attention and following visitors to their cars. The shops used to sell carrots to feed the burros, but now they’ve opted for little squares of burro feed because the burros had become too aggressive with the carrots.  This Wednesday afternoon the town was jumping – lots of motorcyclists and other tourists; all the greedy burros were happy burros; Gordon bought a bag of burro feed and is immediately mobbed by a half-dozen of the creatures.

Unlucky incident No. 3: With a radiator full of fresh water, things once again looked good for Duane and Nancy. But it was not to be. Somewhere along I-40 they boiled over again and pulled off onto a side road; we all followed and set about trying to fix the errant thermostat. Silver Lining Sidebar: We were parked across the street from  a housing development with a fountain at its entrance. Voila! All the water we could ever need! Many jugs of water were poured over the radiator and a new thermostat was installed. But still the overheating problem continued. Finally, the thermo was removed, and we were all able to continue on to our Super Bargain motel in Needles, CA-- $35 a night – the least expensive motel on the entire trip. But think: Who willingly spends a night in Needles?

Unlucky incident No. 4 : Bill and Doris again had generator trouble on Sitgreaves Pass and limped into Kingman, deciding to spend the night there. The rest of us wound up in Needles. The plan was for Les and Jo to go back to Kingman the next morning (Oct. 7)  and drive with Bill and Doris to Rialto, switching batteries from one car to the other as needed to keep going. Once we reached our Thursday night digs,  Les and Bill would change out the generator for an alternator, which we hoped would be picked up by Lucy Clark of Los Angeles, the ultimate T-Bird Road Warrior,  best known for her 62-day, 48-in-08 tour of the nation’s capitals with Doc Dockter, who lives south of the Bay Area. They had already planned to join us for our last night at the Wigwam Motel, and had been busy drumming up Southern California Club members to come out and join us on the final morning, Oct. 8, as we made our triumphal drive to the Santa Monica Pier and the End of the Trail.

Day 13 on Route 66 turned out to be both eventful and frustrating given the car problems we encountered.  Dinner at a Denney’s in Needles didn’t do much to salvage our spirits, but nevertheless we were safe, sound and ready to meet a new day! The day ended with several phone calls between us and Lucy, Lin Somsak (editor of the Early Bird magazine) and others, all trying to make sure we could have an alternator delivered to Bill and Doris in Rialto. Lin's husband, Bill, talked to Les and together they walked through what had to be done to make the conversion possible. This was another of the many examples of the wonderful T-Bird camaraderie we experienced throughout the entire trip.

Historic Wigwam Motel, here we come! Tomorrow will be our last night on Route 66.

Judy and Gordon

PS – Due to a five-day business trip beginning tomorrow, I won’t be able to complete the final two days of the blog until next week. But it's almost done! Please hang in there!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thunderstorms, tornadoes and Burma-Shave signs

Tuesday, Oct. 5, Winslow, Ariz. --

Catching the news this a.m., we learned that much of Arizona would experience thunderstorms throughout the day, but the weather map showed that Route 66 would take us north of most of the expected rain. That was a good thing for us, and we were thankful our cars hadn't been hammered by large hail that fell farther south last night.

Before we left Winslow we drove a few blocks to see the "Standing on the Corner" statue that pays tribute to the Eagles' song, "Take it Easy." There’s some confusion about this because a lot of people, including Gordon, thought it was a tribute to the “Standing on the Corner” song from long ago by the Four Lads – “Standing on the corner, watching all the girls go by” etc. But no, this is Eagles’ corner. We also heard the Eagles song wafting from the Roadworks gift shop across the street! Not a coincidence, according to our guidebook.

"Well, I'm a standing on a corner 
in Winslow, Arizona 
and such a fine sight to see 

It's a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed 
slowin' down to take a look at me."
-- The Eagles

A light rain was spitting, and the air was cool. We're at about 6,000 feet above sea level and traveling through the towns of Meteor City (so named for the meteor that left a huge hole in the desert), Two Guns (a storied tourist town) and Twin Arrows (once home to a diner, now boarded up and surrounded by jersey barriers but with two huge arrows stuck in the ground) on our way to Winona. 

In the song "Route 66," one of the stanzas reads ". . . Flagstaff, Arizona,
Don't forget Winona, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino.  . . ." Well, we weren't about to forget Winona. No siree! But it would be fairly easy to do. 

What we found in Winona were several homes, some junk cars, and a wonderful old iron bridge that is on the National Register of Historic Places. A section of old Route 66 approaches the bridge, which is closed to traffic.  And that’s about it for Winona.

As we approach Flagstaff, elevation 6,930 feet, we are racing toward ever-darkening skies. Just outside this town nestled at the foot of a mountain, we seem to leave the desert behind and instead drive through a pine forest with huge trees that we didn't expect at all. Further along toward Williams, we're in rolling hills with brown grass and green trees, reminding us of Montana.

Twisters '50s Soda Fountain and Route 66 Cafe, a 40-plus-year-old combination soda fountain-diner-gift shop-bar, all housed in a 1926 Texaco gas station, was our choice for lunch. But while we dined, the weather began to act up outside. By the time we left, it was pouring. Driving was slow but steady, and there didn't seem to be any lightning or thunder. Westward we went, into the darkening clouds and steadily heavier rain.

At Ash Fork, we saw the Hi Line Motel and DeSoto's Salon, a beauty shop housed in an old gas station that boasts a real DeSoto on the roof. 

And then the Burma-Shave signs began:

It would be more fun
To go by air
If we could put
These signs up there.

He tried to cross
As fast train neared
Death didn't draft him
He volunteered.

The one who drives when
He's been drinking
Depends on you
To do his thinking.

But wait -- the weather was getting worse. Bolt lightning shot through the clouds ahead, the rain was more intense, and at 2:45 in the afternoon, it looked like twilight. Sheets of rain obscured our visibility as wind buffeted the car, and we had to slow down. Inside we were catching drips in several places. (Has there ever been a convertible top that didn't leak?) 

In Seligman, it was time for a milk shake break, so we stopped at the venerable Snow Cap Drive-in, built in 1953 of scrap lumber by entrepreneur Angel Delgadillo. This tiny hole-in-the-wall has a small indoor ordering area that possibly could accommodate 15 people at best. But because of the rain, we were cheek-by-jowl with at least that many others who had remained in the tiny space to keep dry. 

Behind the counter this day is Angel's nephew (Angel runs the gift shop a block away), whose sense of humor is a chip off the old block of Angel’s brother, Juan, and something to behold. He first does the mustard-shooting-out-of-the-bottle trick on me, then when Gordon asks for a straw, hands him a fistful of . . . real straw. Our bill was $50 for two malts, but the price was reduced when Gordon said he only had a $35 bill in his wallet. And so the off-the-wall lunacy goes: The neon sign says, "Sorry, We're Open." The door has a doorknob on each side – naturally, we tried to open it from the wrong side -- and this little ditty is printed on the window: "Our credit manager is Helen Waite. If you want credit, go to Helen Waite."

We toured the gift shop adjacent to Angel’s barber shop (Angel wasn’t there) and after seeing all the fun Burma Shave signs, Gordon found a Burma Shave license plate in red, almost the same color as our T-Bird. In a very short rain respite, that plate was installed on the front end. And we also found out that the Delgadillo family was responsible for making and installing all the Burma Shave signs in the area.

A regret: We didn't get a chance to eat at, or even see, the Roadkill Cafe in Seligman.

When there was a break in the weather, we left only to find out that the flashing lights at the next corner are not because of an accident; instead, a live power line has come down in the storm and is sizzling, shooting sparks all over the pavement -- road closed! We found a detour around it!

But now, all of a sudden, the sun is out, we have blue sky ahead and it appears that the storm is behind us. As we move west, we see mesas in the distance to the north and rolling green hills to the south. More Burma-Shave signs:

Cattle crossing
Means go slow
That old bull
Is some cow's beau.

If daisies are
Your favorite flower
Keep pushing up
Those miles per hour.

You can drive
A mile a minute
But there is no
Future in it.

From Seligman west, we are on the longest single stretch of Route 66 left – almost 160 miles. The road is taking us north in a huge half circle, with Peach Springs at the top of the half circle before 66 dives back down south rejoining I-40. We are getting farther and farther away from any signs of civilization, and are feeling very alone now – there are no other vehicles coming or going.  It’s like we’re in the back of beyond, just us and the road ahead, and the endless, unbroken landscape – it’s almost  surreal. Not a good place to break down.

Vroom, vroom! As we near Peach Springs, all of a sudden we are being passed by one motorcycle after another, and we estimate that there must have been at least 30 or more of them, each throwing up little walls of spray as they roar pass us. About half of them wave or give us a thumbs up  -- there's some kind of road-warrior camaraderie going on here. 

As we approach our motel in Peach Springs, the sky is a mosaic of color with pale and piercing blues, grays ranging from light to charcoal, and outlines of gold around soft yellow clouds. Suddenly the dark clouds lift and the sun explodes below, shooting flame-like shafts of bright light at us.

We're so busy watching the sky and trying to count the motorcycles that we blow right past our motel because it, and its sign, are on the other side of the road. Unfortunately we didn't discover this until we were at least 15 miles west of it. Sigh. So we turned around, backtracking eastward and arrived at the Grand Canyon Caverns Motel to find out that their onsite restaurant had been closed because of the storm. What? And there's no other place to eat in the entire area except one restaurant 15 miles west, ironically straight back in the direction where we had just come from, and where we had stopped to ask how far back our motel was. It seemed ridiculous to be so far from nourishment, so we decided to go back and stay at the hotel with the restaurant. So turn around and drive the 15 miles west. Again (primal scream).

The group was widely scattered by now: two couples decided to make an 80-mile detour to the south rim of the Grand Canyon and were driving back in pounding rain. Another couple decided to bag Peach Springs altogether because of weather and were headed to Kingman for the night, and the fourth couple had holed up in Williams to wait out the rain. Unfortunately, most of us have AT&T cell phones and we were in a huge area where there is no service. What to do? We left word at the first motel that we'd moved on to the second, and at last, we finally all arrived for what turned out to be lovely rooms in a hotel on the Hualapai Indian Reservation. And the restaurant was part of the complex.

Later we learned that we had dodged some weather bullets today. In addition to running several hours ahead of torrential rains, we also were in and out of Flagstaff before four tornadoes hit -- overturning big 18-wheelers on the highway, destroying buildings and generally wreaking havoc. Whew! That was a close one!

It had been quite a day, and we slept well. More soon.

Judy and Gordon

Monday, October 18, 2010

Racing the train, the Continental Divide and the Painted Desert

Grants, N.M., Monday, Oct. 4 --

We loved this sign -- Cheap O Car Care -- advertising an auto paint and body shop. But obviously it wasn't cheap enough! Out of business!

We raced a long freight train out of town. It had three engines, mostly flatbed cars with two-up containers and a number of auto carriers at the rear. No caboose. Sigh. We drove along Route 66 as it paralleled the tracks and raced alongside the train at 55 mph; we honked, waved, and got two great train whistles in return from the lead engine. We knew it was for us, and we reveled in it.

All around us are flat-topped mesas ranging in color from brick red to rose and sand beige. For water and forest persons, this scenery is so unusual, so different, so unexpected. It's not what we would imagine as beautiful, but seeing it in real life, it is gorgeous. As we look to the horizon, we see a huge smokestack rising out of nowhere, spewing steam into the clouds.

Soon we were in Thoreau, an Indian village where we saw a market and deli boasting 25-cent coffee. Ahead is another trading post with moccasins "for the entire family" along with plates, jewelry, spoons and T-shirts. Something for everyone.

But -- here's the big event: We have again reached the Continental Divide, this time heading west. At 7,295 feet in elevation, we are indeed on the high plains. But it's confusing: Claiming to be the highest point on Route 66, it is lower than several points in New Mexico and Arizona. Oh well, it's a great place for a Continental Divide marker and, of course, the ubiquitous gift shop.

Now let's talk about the gift shop restrooms: Pictured here is the ladies' version, which could be called a "hers and hers" or seen as a way for Mommy and daughter to be together. Or two really good friends. Or two really desperate strangers. Gordon reports that the men's room urinal was most likely installed by someone in the range of 6 feet, 8 inches tall. Where's a good soapbox to stand on when you need it?

The trains continue to keep us company as we cross over and under them; we've never seen such long freight trains. They’re all more than 100 cars long. Nancy counted one at more than 140 cars. But as we approach Gallup, N.M., one of the famous towns noted in the song, "Get Your Kicks on Route 66" by Bobby Troup, we are surrounded by pink mesas, ocre hills and green scrub growth. The town itself has hotels, motels, restaurants and gas stations that are thriving: There's even a respectable-looking motel offering rooms for "29.99" and up.

Once again we’re traveling in roadster mode with the top down; it was down for nine straight, glorious days from Springfield,  Ill., all the way to Grants, N.M., then up one day for rain, and now we’re back to the wind ruffling our hair and the sweet smell of Coppertone sunscreen. The heat we’d dreaded – and prepared for – hasn’t materialized. The sun is warm, even hot, but the air is cool while underway. Darned near perfect.

An odd sighting: An RV pulling a pickup truck with a golf cart in the flatbed. That’s a new one for us.

Striped mesas in the Painted Desert
Just barely into Arizona, we are on the Navajo Indian Reservation and soon have an extraordinary experience: The Painted Desert. I didn't know what to expect, but as we left the visitor center and pulled into Tiponi Point, the first viewpoint on a five-mile drive, the sight before us was breathtaking -- mesas, buttes, badlands all in remarkable colors, from bright coral to copper to pale pink. Some were topped with pale-green vegetation and dotted with mustard-yellow plants. 

Sugar, anyone?
Round Barn No. 2!
Because the sky was filled with floating, fluffy cumulus clouds, there was a constant shift from sun to shadow, turning distant mesas into blocks of deep purple. Many of the nearby formations were striped in multi-colored layers of sediment, the result of wind and water on the land for more than 200 million years. At our second viewpoint we had a 180-degree panorama of soft mounds of sand and sugar sprinkled on the mesas. Unfortunately, the camera does not capture the essence of these photos' extraordinary colors and depth. Just imagine these with Photoshop in full play.

Painted Desert Inn
We made a quick stop at the restored 1924 Painted Desert Inn, an old adobe hostelry that includes an old-fashioned soda fountain with wooden stools along the counter. Once an overnight inn and restaurant for travelers, the inn today is a mecca for artists' groups, small conferences and nature lovers; there is a rabbit warren of rooms, many with arched adobe fireplaces. 

Unfortunately, the top went back up on the car as we dodged dime-sized raindrops swirled by heavy winds in a series of squalls. We learned about the nearby Petrified Forest, but lacked the time to drive more than 12 miles of the 40-mile round trip to see the actual trees. 

"Help, help," she cried.
On our way to Winslow, Ariz., and our night's lodgings, we passed Stewart's Petrified Wood and Rock Shop, a sleazy, cheesie "attraction" where you can feed ostriches (food for sale, of course). If it's possible, this tawdry, tacky place made Clines Corners look good. The proprietor came on strong with the hard sell,  trying to get us to buy huge, table-sized pieces of petrified wood even though we pointed to the car and thought, "What are you thinking?" But at least we got a good look at the huge "dinosaur with a bloody mannequin in its mouth," a la Godzilla. 

Toward the end of the day we met Duane and Nancy at JackRabbit, a highly touted gift shop that we thought we ought to see. In its heyday, the shop was advertised for hundreds of miles in either direction, but when we arrived it was just a low-slung, rather small, rectangular building with a big painting of a jack rabbit on one outside wall. Inside, it was just the usual Route 66 stuff we’d seen several times before. Quite the let-down. To us, this was an example of a place that’s famous because it’s famous. I think we've seen enough of these souvenir shacks.

And then we were in Winslow at the fabulous 1928 La Posada Hotel, the last of the preserved  Harvey House hotels that were situated a day's train ride apart when there were no overnight Pullman cars. Guests detrained just steps from each hotel and then were able to spend overnight or several days exploring the area before reboarding the train. Considered to be the last geat railway hotel left in the U.S., La Posada is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s quite a story about how this hotel opened at the beginning of the Great Depression, and over the years went slowly downhill until a businessman rescued it and over the years spent millions to bring it back to its original grandeur.

Gordon had put this overnight at the top of his "must-do" list as our one “splurge”and it was spectacular. The grounds were lovely and the interior seemed to go on forever, snaking this way and that from one sitting area to another, and from the wings to the “tower.” We gathered for cocktails tonight in our room, one of only four rooms with a balcony (overlooking the nearby rairoad tracks, naturally) and then had a wonderful prime rib dinner in the grand Turquoise Room. Dinner was a splurge as well and worth every delicious bite.

More soon.

Judy and Gordon