DAY ONE – THE ROUTE 66 ADVENTURE BEGINS
The tumultuous week that threatened to derail the thrice planned Route 66 adventure closed with a relatively uneventful morning at the office. I was able to close on time at noon and as my dearest friend had lunch waiting all that remained to do before hitting the road was filling the tank and loading gear.
As the focus of the adventure was Route 66 and the folks who keep it alive we rolled east across the wide Hualapai Valley toward Hackberry. The gusty winds had given way to a steady blow of near gale force strength that pelted the Jeep with sand and on occasion obscured the road ahead with thick dust.
Undaunted we pushed on with music from an interesting CD provided by a friend serving as theme music for the new adventure. The quintessential western landscapes that squeeze the old double six between Hackberry and Truxton, even with the scarring of mining and the ghostly monument to somber times that is the old Indian school at the Truxton Canyon agency, always stir me deep with deep emotion.
As a kid, after days on the road, I knew we were drawing near home when we rolled through this canyon. Often we would stop at a little store for ice cream that was located where the wildlife park is today.
The first years after the bypass of this section of Route 66 in the 1970s were marked with a dramatic decline in Truxton. The garage started by Clyde McCune that served as the cornerstone for the founding of the town in the 1950s was struck by lightning and burned to the ground, the Catlleman Cafe closed and was razed, the Orlando Motel closed, and the store closed after the owner was convicted of murder.
Stability has returned to Truxton and little has changed there in the past twenty years or so. Still, I can’t remember the last time we stopped for lunch at the Frontier and on this trip we continued that tradition by rolling through with the focus being on Flagstaff for stop number one.
For me the old road between Kingman and Ashfork is a ribbon of asphalt that links more than a half century of memories. Our first trip west was along this road in 1959. I still remember the excitement that came with the realization a stop at an Ashfork motel was the last one before reaching our new home in Kingman during the summer of 1966.
As a ranch hand I often road into Valentine to fetch my mail. This was also where I picked up feed and supplies dropped by trucks unable to negotiate the rugged road tot he ranch.
A 1946 GMC pick up truck was never designed to meet the rigors of modern high speed driving and so old 66 from the Crookton Road exit to Kingman was my preferred route when driving in from the ranch near Chino Valley to court my dearest friend. Even though our vehicles have been updated since then I still abhor the current obsession with speed that is fueled by the interstate highway system and as a result often choose Route 66 when we drive east.
The winds of spring, often near gale force, is just something we accept as situation normal during the months of spring here in the desert southwest. Still, by the time we arrived in Ashfork it was apparent this was more than just another windy day.
Tractor/trailer rigs were parked along the highway and in parking lots at cafes. Powerful gusts that rocked the Jeep transformed this from a drive into a wrestling match.
Between Williams and Flagstaff an electronic highway sign informed us that I-40 between Winona and Winslow was closed due to the winds and resultant near zero visibility caused by blowing sands. Undaunted and armed with the knowledge that comes with the experience of driving through similar storms, we turned to plan “B” – a stop for food and fuel while we contemplated options that including bypassing I-40 with an alternate route.
In Flagstaff one our favorite eateries is Salsa Brava on east Route 66. The food is one notch above average but the salsa bar is without equal.
As our destination for evening was the storied Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, one of two reservations made for this trip, we had three alternate routes to consider. One would add at least sixty miles to the trip, the second would be risky in the best of weather, and third was a little used highway that connected Winnona with Leupp Corner near Winslow.
After a delightful dinner we chose Route 66 to Winnona to evaluate the situation before turning to highway 99 and running the gauntlet of sand and wind. Waiting trucks lined the shoulder of I-40 for miles, an indicator that the opening of the highway would be followed with a flood of traffic that would make LA rush hour congestion look like a church picnic.
To say we were blessed would be akin to saying Lake Havasu City is warm in July. We arrived in Winnona mere minutes after the highway was opened and a highway patrolman directing traffic flagged us onto I-40!
From Winnona to Holbrook the winds howled, clouds of sand slammed against the Jeep and we jousted with a veritable sea of impatient truckers and drivers Hell bent on making their destination. I never thought the recent refresher courses in battling traffic taken on the LA freeways would come in handy in eastern Arizona!
We were a bit frazzled by the time we arrived at the Wigwam but in an instant the tension, stress, and frustration melted away as we stepped from the modern era into the world of the 1950s. This is more than a time capsule, it is truly a portal into an earlier time.
My earliest memory of the Wigwam dates to our trip during the summer of 1966 and the disappointment that came with finding there were no vacancies. As the centerpiece of this adventure was a journey down memory lane I had made reservations to ensure a child hood dream was realized.
It was all that I had imagined and then some. Enhancing the long awaited anticipation of turning the key for Wigwam number eight was the laughter of my dearest friend as we opened the door and stepped into the 1950s.
Mere words can not describe the flood of long lost memories unleashed by the lobby, the rooms, and even the parking lot at the Wigwam. This is travel as it was with the only concession to the modern era being the television.
This is a living monument to the creative genius and entrepreneurial spirit that manifested along the highways of America in the form of gas stations shaped like tea pots, restaurants that appeared as igloos in the desert, and trading posts where you could see “Live Indians” and have your picture taken on the back of a giant rabbit. This is a tangible link to a pregeneric time when travel on the highways of America truly was an adventure.
Even with the resurgent interest in Route 66 that has led to the refurbishment or recreation of roadside monuments to creative thinking the Wigwam is unique in the fact it has survived rather than been recreated. For those eager to experience travel as it was, or to introduce a new generation to the wonders of Route 66 unveiled in a mythical place called Radiator Springs, the Wigwam must be experienced.
We ended the first day of our Route 66 adventure immersed in memories of what once was and with visions of what we might find on the road in the days to come. It was here that our long awaited trip really began.