It wasn’t the nations first highway. Nor was it the most scenic. It wasn’t even the number one choice for the vacationing family during the 1950’s. In spite of these, as well as a few other shortcomings, Route 66 became an American icon and today is recognized throughout the world as an asphalt yellow brick road, the gateway to a simpler time when the world was just a little less rushed and a whole lot less plastic.
However, few travelers of the Main Street of America are aware that with a short detour of seventy short miles it is possible to step back even farther in time, all the way to the very beginning in the Garden of Eden.
Imagine a beautiful, tranquil village where no galloping signs replace speed limit signs along shady tree lined sandy streets, the mail is still delivered by mule train and beautiful waterfalls dropping into rich blue green lagoons offer respite from the blistering heat. Picture a village surrounded by towering multihued red rock walls slumbering under the bluest skies imaginable and you have an idea what it is like in the home of the Havasupai.
With Kingman as a starting point head east on Route 66; almost exactly halfway between Peach Springs and the Grand Canyon Caverns, about sixty miles, two lanes of blacktop designated Indian highway 18 leads north towards Supai and Hualapai Hilltop.
This leg of the trip, another sixty miles, from Route 66 to the edge of the canyon is to be counted among some of the most beautiful to be found in the state Arizona. Rolling grasslands stretch to the farthest horizon only to be broken by thick stands of pine and tantalizing glimpses of the canyons that mark the end of the road and the 21st century. The awesome views are but one of the distractions for the driver, wildlife – such as deer, elk and wild turkey – are another.
Hualapai Hilltop, the end of the highway and parking lot, is where the real adventure begins. For the truly adventuresome and hardy this is where the eight and one half mile trail to the village begins. For those who question their physical prowess it is where, instead of cars, horses can be rented. And for those who just simply want to experience a touch of Eden without breaking a sweat helicopters (reservations are recommended), like taxis, await to transport visitors to the heart of the village.
If you choose to hike in I highly recommend at least two days for the trip. One day for the trip down, to explore the scenic beauty of the area and to rest, the second for the return trip. I also recommend that if you choose to hike down you wear sturdy, well broken in shoes, carry plenty of water, as well as film (the views and scenery will astound you) and be sure your in relatively good physical condition as this is a difficult hike. Coming out this way is even more demanding as the last mile is almost straight up via a series of switchbacks.
To fully immerse yourself in the Supai experience it is imperative to hike or ride a horse at least one way. The trail winds along the floor of deep canyons rimmed by towering red rock walls, past small streams and into the village over shimmering Havasupai Creek and with each passing mile it seems as though the clock has been turned back at least a hundred years.
Then you come to the beautiful lodge with all of the modern amenities and it becomes apparent that Supai can offer the best of both worlds. But wait, the best is yet to come.
The trail leaving the village winds past small family farm plots, under towering cottonwoods and along the rippling waters of the creek. A bend in the trail, about a mile from the village, and Navajo Falls springs into view. Framed by ancient trees and near vertical canyon walls this incredible scene is nothing short of breathtaking.
Before another mile has passed the sound of thundering water echoing from the cliffs begins to fill the air and quickens the heart with expectation. Another bend in the trail and the beautiful Havasu Falls engulfs the senses. A short, but steep, climb down the trail provides access to a park like area in front of the falls and turquoise blue lagoons into which the water flows.
After several miles of battling the heat stretching out in the soft grass with a light mist falling upon your face, or even a dip in the lagoon, is incredibly refreshing. It was here that I first entertained the thought that, perhaps, this was but a brief glimpse of what the Garden of Eden had been like.
However, this isn’t the end, its really but a preview of things to come for the hearty explorer. A couple of miles farther down the trail lies Mooney Falls, arguably the most beautiful of the four falls, there is another even farther down the canyon, just a short distance from where the creek joins the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.
Even if you decide on saving your strength by getting to the village by helicopter the two-mile trip to Havasu Falls, as well as the trail to Mooney Falls, and the campground (for a small fee your camping gear can be transported from the parking lot to the campground on pack horses), is not for those unused to a little strenuous walking. The trail alternates between deep sand and rock and in places is quite steep. If, however, you are up to the trip I guarantee, that as far as scenic beauty goes, it will be the most rewarding walk of your life and if you are a little soft around the edges it will be the best incentive there is to get into shape so you can come back and enjoy all of the falls.
Planning is an important part of any trip to Supai as lodging and camping are both very limited in scope. In addition there is the necessity of making travel arrangements, if you choose to travel by horse or helicopter, in advance.
If would like more information about visiting this little corner of paradise, inquire about permits, would like to make camping or lodging arrangements or would like to arrange for transportation call 520-448-2111 and make your plans for an unforgettable adventure.


Over the years I have written to great length about my love for the back roads of America. Even though the Interstate highways have forever altered America it is the back roads that offer the best opportunities for discovering, or rediscovering, what fun a road trip once was.
For the younger set, those under forty, it may come as a surprise to learn that there once was, and in some rare instances still is, a non-generic world. When I speak on this subject I am always amazed by how many of this generation ask questions as though I had been talking about traveling by Conestoga wagon across the trackless waste.
Granted, traveling during that prehistoric time, say between 1955 and 1970, had its disadvantages. Imagine Highway 93, the portion from Kingman to Wickenburg, with, say, twice the traffic. That was the way most of the major highways, especially Route 66, was during their heyday.
Then there was the matter of summer travel. Air conditioning was a fairly rare option in most automobiles of that period so we, not really knowing different, simply lived with the heat as did countless generations before.
Lodging and food were often the biggest gamble. A motel, or hotel, could turn out to be a real dive complete with bugs, broken furniture and paper thin walls, the reason many chose roadside camping, or it could be a memorable experience with friendly owners that invited you in for breakfast, asked you to grab a cantaloupe from the garden before you left or helped you out of a sticky situation, the result of a breakdown. In one instance, sometime around 1963, we stopped at a motel in Ashfork and were asked to limit water use as it was brought in by rail car.
Even though the chains, such as McDonald’s and Howard Johnson’s, were starting to explode upon the scene they had yet to crowd out the old-fashioned mom and pop establishments. As a result you could eat meatloaf that made you nervous because of the corral full of horses immediately in back or you could find a retired pastry chef making pies just because he liked to stay busy.
Regional drink specialties were another reason a kid looked forward to travel in those bygone times. One extremely hot sticky night in the delta country of Mississippi we stopped for gas at a place that looked as though it had changed little since it had been built to serve the needs of motorists traveling the dusty roads in their Model T Ford’s. The smells of the south during the summer are truly unique but my fondest memory of that night was the wonderful cool taste of a locally bottled peach soda.
That was another advantage of traveling without air conditioning, the smells that would waft through the car. Some, obviously, were not particularly pleasant but others, such as in the evening after a rain in the desert or in the farm country of the deep south, are beyond description.
I realize that some things change and that there is no way to hold back the hands of time. It is for that reason that I wax nostalgic.
The opportunities to experience these one of a kind adventures, or to allow our children to, are fast disappearing. The family owned eateries and lodging establishments are fast giving way to the generic chains in small town America. In some places the combination of bypassed highways and a dwindling population can even make it difficult to find a place to stay, eat or get fuel especially in the evenings.
And, to be perfectly honest, air conditioning, guaranteed room or meal quality and highways that are more than designated demolition derby tracks have made traveling better. But, like the cars that travel the modern roads, there is something missing – individuality.
With this somewhat long-winded narrative as the foundation I would like to suggest some routes that offer the best of both worlds and at least offer the opportunity to find modern conveniences without much effort.
Heading my list has to be Highway 54 from Tucumcari in New Mexico to Highway 36/Interstate 72, a few miles west of Springfield, Illinois. Lots of small town America, proximity to the Interstate system as well as larger communities allow for indulgence in modern generic eating or lodging and a number of truly American stops (the world’s largest hand dug well in Greensburg, Kansas) place this one in my top ten list.
Closer to home is Highway 180 from Holbrook, Arizona, to Deming, New Mexico. If I were rating a road for sheer beauty and time capsule businesses this would be number one. However, as there is little access to the Interstate once you leave Holbrook, there is little opportunity to take advantage of modern road trip “conveniences” I rate it as number two.
Another that falls into this category, just a bit farther down the scale on roadside beauty, is Highway 60 between Show Low, Arizona, and Socorro, New Mexico. If you try this one I highly recommend a return trip via I25 south, then state highway 152 through the Black Range to Silver City and Highway 180 north to Holbrook. If you enjoy scenery, taking pictures, real ghost towns, wild life and lots of mountains I guarantee this to be a trip without equal.
For a shorter adventure of similar stature, without the ghost towns and absolute wilderness, try Mormon Lake Road (paved) south from Flagstaff to state highway 87. Run south to Payson and turn east on state highway 260. This will take you to Springerville where you can catch Highway 180 north to Holbrook.


I would wager that one of the predominating conversational topics in Kingman, as well as most of the southwest, as of late is the communities’ explosive growth and how it is transforming the very spirit of the town. I too find myself discussing this quite often, as the changes are both exciting and saddening. However, I have learned that it is historical perspective that provides the balance and that provides the answers on how to ride the waves of change while maintaining a sense of excitement about these changes.
William Kirkland grew up in the verdant hills of Virginia but came to the Arizona Territory in 1856. He was in Tucson when the Mexican army evacuated the town and pulled south to the newly established Mexico/United States border. Legend has it that he became the first to fly an American flag in the territory by climbing to the roof of Ed Mile’s store that day and raising one on an improvised pole.
The following year he drove a herd of cattle north from Mexico and established a ranch at Canoa. In 1863, he loaded his family into the wagon and moved north for greener pastures as well as better prospects to a small valley where the town of Kirkland is located today.
With the establishment of a stage station on the nearby Prescott road, a little farming and some prospecting Kirkland prospered. An increase in attacks by Apaches on outlying ranches in the area prompted him to forego profit for safety so he moved his family to Phoenix.
Undaunted he took advantage of new opportunities presented by growth in the territory and opened a freight service that moved goods from the river port of Yuma to the boom town of Wickenburg and Phoenix. Once again, he prospered.
Bill Kirkland died in 1909. To his credit, he was one of the few who came to the rugged territory in the 1850’s that lived into the twentieth century. Think of the changes he saw in Arizona!
I recently acquired a copy of “Illustrated Road Maps and Tour Book” for Arizona dated 1913. As I looked through the old book and read in another stories about individuals like Kirkland it came to me that Arizona has been synonymous with changing times for more than three centuries. Moreover, few things exemplify those changes or allow an opportunity to step back in time, if you will, as roads.
Therefore, with my newfound treasure and the recent acquisition of a sturdy, rugged desert wagon I have decided that this fall and winter should be spent, as time and finances allow, seeking out the road less traveled. Perhaps tangible links to the transforming changes of the past would better provide a perspective for the transforming changes of the near future.
Now the question is where to begin. The road from Seligman to Williams is intriguing. Then there are those tantalizing “hints.” Just east of “Patterson Ranch” is an arrow with, “good road to Prescott.” A few miles from this on the Williams road are another, “to cathedral caves.”
As winter is an excellent time to explore the deserts and the tour book features maps of southeastern California, perhaps this should be the focus in the months to come. After all, who can resist trying to find the remains of a place listed as Siberia in the desert east of Ludlow?
One place promoted and advertised in the old tour book has long intrigued me, Castle Hot Springs near Wickenburg. The pictures show this to be an extensive resort at the time. What remains?
Scattered throughout the tour book are similar advertisements, some with photographs, which truly pique the interest and spark the wanderlust. “Indian Hot Springs – First Class Hotel and Sanitarium via Fort Thomas” and “Hotel Modesti – Agua Caliente, Arizona.” Then there is “Hamburg, a beautiful resort in Ramsay Canyon.”
The advertisements scattered through the book are snapshots from a world changing at warp speed. There are garages that offer Studebaker cars with safe drivers as well as surreys with matched team. Thorpe’s Restaurant in Safford offered, “…good, clean home cooking and dairy products from our own ranch. White help only.”
Lodging was also in a state of great transition. The Jones Hotel featured, “…American and European plans, good home cooking and no Chinese or Japanese servants.” The Santa Rita Hotel offered, “…local and long distance telephone service.” The Hotel Beale offered, “47 Handsomely Furnished Rooms – All Modern Improvements including running water, baths, electric lights – Thomas Devine, proprietor.” Throughout the book there are some telling reminders of how rapidly the new was overtaking the old. Then as well as now more often than not the new was not always better than the old.
In the Kingman, profile section side notes indicate Mineral Park is only a two-hour ride from the depot. From Safford to Mt. Graham is, “just three pleasant hours by horseback or four hours by automobile dependant upon weather.”
It would seem I have some adventures on the horizon. And as I am in need of material for the forthcoming book, Ghost Towns of the Southwest, there seems to be no better time than now for such adventurers.


The grand adventure, a convoy to promote the need for federal involvement of road development and determine the viability of motorized trucks for long distance transport in military applications, left Washington D.C. on July 7th, 1919. It was now August 20th and 78 of the original 81 vehicles began rolling west from Salt Lake City along what was known as the Lincoln Highway.
The following evening ended with the convoy clearing the Goodyear Cutoff, an eight hour nightmare of heat, dust, sand and sagebrush. The trucks overheated, carburetors clogged with dirt, bearings failed and the men suffered. The morning of the 22nd dawned with the trucks heading onto the featureless salt flats and almost immediately the heavily laden trucks, some with a combined cargo and truck weight of ten tons, broke through the hard crust into silt that seemed bottomless. The caterpillar tractor was off loaded and harnessed to the first truck in line but it merely slid back and forth in the muck so there was but one option; each truck, one at a time, was pulled across the flats by teams of one hundred to one hundred fifty men.
By 3:30 in the morning the trucks were strung out across the desert for more than thirty miles. Men caught a quick sleep in the dirt beside the stalled vehicles and then continued with the task of trying to get them across the salt flats. No food had been served since the previous morning. Now they were running out of water.
The last vehicles made it across the Salt Lake Desert by 2:30 in the afternoon under a blazing desert sun. Incredibly the convoy was not the only traffic on the salt; twenty five tourist parties were struggling to get their vehicles across during the same period.
Amazingly only one truck was destroyed beyond repair in the ordeal but as they neared, and crossed into, Nevada the exhausted troops were awarded the luxury of believing the worst was behind them. The illusion was fostered in large part by a stop at Tippet’s Ranch and the opportunity to actually bathe.
The Schellbourne Pass in the Schell Creek Range of eastern Nevada was a series of sharp bends, roads so narrow the trucks, in some locations, brushed against the hillside on one side while the other sent rocks sliding into the gorge below and grades as steep as 24%. A Garford began to spray oil forcing it to be towed which in turn caused the Mack that was towing it to burn its clutch.
After all the men had been through the dusty town of Ely must have seemed like paradise. And the city had gone to great lengths to ensure it was – the ball park had been seeded to grass for a camp site, mine workers had laid in water lines and set up showers. But there was little time for rest for the trucks was in dire need of maintenance and repair.
Today U.S. 50 follows the route of the Lincoln Highway, and the convoy, between Ely and Fallon. With the exception of pavement and the removal of a few curves it is almost as it was when the convoy rolled west.
In Eureka the men received a true moral boost in being joined by a contingent of journalists who had driven out from California. The following day’s schedule, based upon decisions made more than a thousand miles to the east by men who had assumed the term highway meant what it said, called for a seventy mile run to Austin. The roads were so deplorable, the men were so exhausted and trucks so battered by 4:00 in the afternoon they had made just thirty five miles.
The rest of the run to Carson City would be a replay. A FWD sank to its hubs in sand. The front springs on a Mack snapped. Two Garford trucks blew head gaskets. And the heat was without respite.
Carson City had rolled out the red carpet and as it was Saturday evening the commander decreed the following day a rest stop. That night there were dances in the street and the lawn in front of the court house was lined with tables piled high with food.
On Monday the final adventure began, the climb into the Sierra’s via a series of steep narrow switchbacks and bridges designed for loads far less than the heavily burdened trucks. As the trucks began the ascent east bound traffic was halted. The heaviest trucks were sent up first with the others following at intervals of one hundred yards. Men walked alongside with wheel blocks to prevent trucks from rolling backwards.
The California line was reached on Monday, September 1st – fifty seven days after leaving the White House. The rest of the journey into San Francisco, after all they had been through, was rather anticlimactic, the result of a well maintained, modern road system.
The end of the journey, on September 1, marked the end of an era. The bridge between the era of the frontier and the horse, and the modern day had been crossed.
The story of the Ezra Meeker is a fitting epitaph for the convoy and the times it linked. Meeker, in 1852, had followed much of the same route through Nebraska and Wyoming on his way to Oregon. Then in 1906, after loosing his wife and the age of 76 he decided to return to the east.
He did so via a covered wagon similar to the one he had made the original journey in. Teddy Roosevelt heard of his adventure and invited Meeker to the White House. He arrived two years later.
In the twenty two years that remained of his life he would make the journey across these trails twice more. The first time was in an automobile. The final trip was in a biplane.
The epic journey, an intimate snapshot of America in transition is captured in the highly recommended work. If you want a first rate winter read this is it.