Discretion being the better part of valor (a fancy way of saying that I am a bit smarter than I was a few decades ago) we began our adventure with an immediate adjustment to plans. A winter storm that coincided perfectly with our trip led to scracthing the long anticpated drive from Prescott to Seligman on the Williamson Valley Road. We made the decision for the change in plans on Saturday evening and were not moved to second guess our decision even though Sunday morning, the day of our departure, it was deceptively warm and calm with banks of clouds dominating the eastern horizon and the faintest whiff of rain in the breeze.As we tend to see things such as a change in plans as opportunity for new adventures, the weather reports did not dampen our excitement. So, as we do most anytime we head east, Route 66 was chosen over I40 in an effort to make this a relaxing drive. The lack of traffic, the familiar scenery and the gentle curves of the old highway as it follows the canyons, hills, and valleys, were so refreshing. It was almost as though I was visiting an old friend.
Even the impending storm was comforting as we always find deep awe in the way cloud shadows transform the landscape here in the desert southwest. By the time we passed the ruins of Hyde Park (“Park Your Hide Tonight At Hyde Park”) we were so engrossed by the storm clouds it was difficult to concentrate on driving or keeping in mind that the purpose of the trip required we keep to a schedule of sorts.
I was further distracted by the occasional glimpses of the old road between Ashfork and Prescott. My pulse always quickens at the site of an abandoned bridge but when it is framed by quintesential western landscapes shadowed by storms I find it almost impossible not to stop. As an added treat the often dry stream beds were full rivers further enhancing the dramatic affect. It was truly a day of surprises and unexpected roadside delights!The premier launch of the new book, Ghost Towns of the Southwesthttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0760332215&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr, at the Barnes & Noble in the Gateway Mall in Prescott, Arizona, went well. The book was well received and we met some of the most fascinating people. Counted among these were the recent purchasers of Cool Springs, the actual springs and not the iconic station, near Ed’s Camp. These springs are on the north side of the highway and in the mouth of the canyon. Years ago there was a dairy here and I can’t count the times we camped among those ruins under dazzling desert skies. On more than one occasion we were blessed with an actual stream flowing from the canyon and a stunning sunrise illuminating big horn sheep at the waters edge.When we first to the valley in the mid 1960s there were several occasions when we hauled water from these springs and it wasnear here that I first learned to shoot a pistol. Now the road is impassable with the exception of a 4×4 with ground clearance. Prescott has morphed from a quaint portrait of small town America circa 1950 into a small metropolis during the past few decades but it has managed to preserve a central core that is a veritable step back in time. Anyone traveling east or west on Route 66 would be well rewarded for their efforts if a small detour were made to Prescott, about 45 miles south of Ashfork. The historic district is unique in that it was preserved, not recreated. There are several historic hotels that have without interruption provided lodging for more than a century, a real western saloon that dates to the 1870s, and an amazingly diverse number of restaurants, shops, and galleries. The area is a beehive of activity and the diversity of the crowds quicken the pulse. Bikers and real cowboys, yuppies and celebrities, tourists and retirees, locals and people from throughout the world make for a very exciting mix.As is our custom we stayed at the historic Hassayampa Inn and walked to dinner. This time we tried the little cafe at the Hotel St. Michaels (circa 1902) on the courthouse square, a bit pricey but good food and excellent atmosphere. For my dearest friend and I, Prescott has always been our place, our special get away. With our stay, dinner, and frosty stroll under the vintage lights this weekend that tradition continues.The Hassayampa with its beautiful lobby, vintage furnishings, and wonderful old lounge is a near perfect time capsule circa 1927. Moreover at $49.00 per night it is a true bargain. As an added plus it is centrally located within walking distance of restaurants, museums, and galleries.
It rained off and off throughout the night but the temperatures hovered near 35 degrees so the promised snow never materialized. Then, this morning over breakfast in the hotels authentically preserved restaurant, we watched the rain turn to sleet and then into a hard snow. By the time we left for the studio, I had a morning interview on AM Arizona, there was an inch on the ground and the snow was falling thick and heavy. When we hit the road for home several hours later the roads were a mixed bag of slush and fresh snow more than three inches thick over ice. A unique driving experience for desert folks such as us as my days of dealing with weather such as this in Michigan and other nasty places that start with “M” were long ago!
On the return leg as the weather showed signs of improvement we cruised Ashfork under skies of lead and soft snow flurries in search of interesting photo opportunities. As usual we were not dissapointed. Check out the ornate tin overlay on the front of this building on Railroad Avenue.
We repeated this in Seligman and again found a wide array of fascinating places. Half hidden to the side of this old hotel was a circa 1920 tractor. With the mood firmly set we gleefully abandoned I40 at the Crookton Road exit and rolled across the cedar studded plain frosted in white on Route 66 as rays of sunshine illuminated the deeply snow covered peaks on the horizon. What a spectacular drive!
For the first few miles west of Seligman we drove in sunshine and I honestly felt the storm was behind us. Then, near Hyde Park, we drove into a wall of sleet that erased all landmarks and on occassion, even the road itself. The pattern of blinding sleet followed by bright sunlight continued all the way to Truxton.And so ends another grand adventure on Route 66 and the roads less traveled. Two days, 315 miles, stunning scenery, new friends and old ones, new experiences, and a wonderful new adventure shared with my dearest friend. Next on the adventure calendar – Seligman to Crown King, almost 100 miles of pavement free backroad into the wilderness of the Bradshaw Mountains. Stay tuned –