Our time capsule for the night, wigwam number eight at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona, with its zany amenities such as the shaving mirror mounted on the angled wall that provided a better view of the top of your head than the face, provided us with a restful nights sleep. The winds that had subsided only marginally from the gale that had closed I-40 the previous afternoon were hardly noticeable and throughout the night the sound of trains that rolled by close enough to gently shake the bed was muffled to little more than the sound of surf on a sandy beach.
Waking up to the sound of a screeching mocking bird in an odd shaped time capsule surrounded by vintage furniture illuminated by rays of early morning light left little doubt that we were no longer in Kingman. As it turned out this was most definitely an ideal way to begin the first full day of our long anticipated Route 66 odyssey.
With Safeway, a western grocery chain, just across the street we saw no reason to tap into our travel supplies for breakfast. So, we set out through the early morning chill for muffins, juice, and coffee.
Loading the Jeep was interrupted time and again by questions from fellow travelers on the most storied road in America and requests from others who wanted their picture in front of a “wigwam” for a souvenir. We had driven less than three hundred miles, much of it on I-40, but in that short distance Route 66, a highway we interact with on a daily basis, had magically transformed us into tourists sharing a grand adventure with an international cast.
By the time we had driven through well worn, historic Holbrook the winds were again nearing a steady twenty five miles per hour with gusts easily exceeding thirty. This dampened the enthusiasm for extensive exploration but not our sense of anticipation about the adventures awaiting us as we drove toward the rising sun.
At exit 320 we turned north on Pinta Road, traded places so my wife could take the wheel, and headed north across the vast high desert plain accentuated by red sands and colorful knobs of stone that punctured the bright blue sky. Our goal on this detour was a forgotten alignment of Route 66 and the crumbling ruins of the Painted Desert Trading Post perched on a knoll high above a vintage bridge that spanned the Dead River.
In recent years the old trading post has become a not so secret destination for travelers seeking the very essence of Route 66. Surprisingly, respect has been shown for the fragile ruins and there is little graffiti or vandalism.
Still, it is obvious that time is running out for this haunting landmark and the bridge below. Both are showing the affect of time and the harsh high desert climate.
The winds limited our explorations and shortened our plans to drive the old road to the fence line at the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest park boundaries. So, we returned to the modern world made manifest by the never ending flow of traffic on I-40.
Our next stop was another time capsule of sorts, the Cheif Yellowhorse Trading Post nestled against a towering wall of stone at Lupton just west of the Arizona/New Mexico state line. As a kid we seldom stopped at these places as money was often tight or we were on a schedule but now I find them a refreshing and tangible link to the lost world of road trips on the two lane that are remembered with fondness.
As hokey as these places are it is nice to see that a few have survived or been recreated. After all they are as much a part of roadside Americana as Whiting Brothers stations, station wagons, and the road trip itself.
I don’t remember the first time we drove through the stunning landscapes that press in upon Route 66 as it crosses from Arizona into New Mexico but my guess would be it was around 1959. However, the first time I drove into the long shadows cast by the towering rock walls is a distinct memory.
It was in December of 1976 and I had agreed to help my dad move the family back to Kingman from Michigan. Dad, as was his custom, had resurrected a vintage truck (this time it was an old 2 1/2 ton 1960 Ford with two speed axle that had served as a Goodwill truck) for the move. In tow was his tried and true 1953 Chevy p.u. loaded to the the top of the racks that loomed high above the cab.
Even though my dad had done a pretty respectable job of bringing the old Ford back to life it was tired, overloaded, rusty, and slow. So we took the back roads, including old alignments of Route 66, as much as possible.
We took turns at the wheel, drove straight through, and made pretty good time in spite of the trucks limitations and the winter weather that included wind, cold, snow, and ice. Then, somewhere between Grants and Gallup as the snow blew across the road in blinding wisps, the tow bar broke and the old Chevy began to violently whip back and forth.
To this day I am not sure how dad kept that old beast on the road. Still, in spite of his best efforts, when he brought it to a stop on the shoulder the Chevy slammed into the rear of the Ford with a loud crash crushing the left front fender and shattering the headlight.
We climbed down from the cab, surveyed the damage, pried the fender from the wheel with a tire iron, disconnected the remnants of the tow bar, and set out into the fast fading afternoon light as a two truck convoy. It was somewhere near the Chief Yellowhorse Trading Post that I drove the wounded Chevy into the shadows with one light illuminating the old cracked asphalt as the sun was fast sinking into the west, a memory that came rushing back as we crossed the New Mexico line with such clarity I could almost feel the deep chill that enveloped the unheated cab on that cold winters evening so long ago.
In Holbrook, after consultation of Jerry McClanahan’s wonderful EZ 66 Guidehttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0970995164&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr, my wife and I had decided to pick up with Route 66 again in Gallup. So, we parted ways with the interstate at exit 16 and rolled into Gallup, drove past the cornucopia of artifacts spanning a century of history, and found a gas station ($2.62 per gallon) near the historic El Rancho Hotel.
Nestled amongst a sea of roadside flotsam that runs the gamut from well worn vintage motels to the Chamber of Commerce with its colorful, Route 66 themed neon sign designed by Jerry McClanahan, the El Rancho is far more than an interesting roadside artifact. It is a tangible link to that almost magical time when cinematic epics forever enamored the world with stunning southwestern landscapes and larger than life characters pushing the frontier into the Pacific.
Opened in 1937 by film mogul D.W. Griffith’s brother, the luxurious showpiece soon became a haven for the stars of the silver screen filming on location in the Gallup area including John Wayne. This as well as its association with Route 66 and a stunning mix of memorabilia, Native American art, and vintage furnishings framed by delightful southwestern architecture make it a must see stop for travelers on the double six in western New Mexico.
From Gallup we picked up I-40 to exit 47, and then stepped back from the generic era with a return to Route 66. The section of the old road between Thoreau and Mesita at exit 117 is variously masked as state highway 117, 122, and 124 but at every turn there is evidence this was once much more than an asphalt ribbon tying forlorn, dusty, well worn roadside communities together. It is also apparent that in some of these towns the designation of Route 66 in 1926, or even statehood in 1912, is a recent chapter in a very long history.
Settlement in San Fidel dates to establishment of a farm by Baltazar Jaramillo in 1868. The first post office was established in 1910.
The Villa de Cubero Trading Post, once a favorite retreat for celebrities including Ernest Hemmingway and Lucille Ball, dates to 1937. The namesake village just to the north, on the pre 1937 alignment of Route 66, appears on maps as early as 1776. Some places along he old road west of Albuquerque are even older.
The winds continued to howl as we rolled east toward the Rio Grande and the former Spanish outpost turned metropolis of Albuquerque. Plans for a picnic, as well as a few for exploration of older alignments were shelved and instead we stopped at the Route 66 Casino for a pit stop (bathroom break) and to visit with Sandra Ashcraft of the New Mexico Route 66 Association at Enchanted Mesa RV park near the beautiful steel truss bridge on the Rio Puerco River built in 1933.
In what would become a pattern on this trip we missed Sandra. So, we left a few copies of our new print and note card series as a small thank you gift for her assistance with the book, Ghost Towns of Route 66, jumped on I-40 again and prepared for battle with the traffic in Albuquerque.
At exit 170 we again joined Route 66 and began the long climb from the valley of the Rio Grande. With our picnic plans abandoned we succumbed to the hunger that had been held at bay with our snacking from the supply box, returned to the genric age, and stopped at Subway in Tijeras for a sandwich.
As it was still relatively early we continued our eastward journey rolling through Edgewood, Barton, and into Moriarity where we again stopped for fuel ( $2.69 per gallon).
Even though the Jeep was performing without a hitch there was a sense of apprehension as we drove past the city limits sign in Moriarty. The last two trips along Route 66 had been punctuated with unintended stops here.
The first breakdown was actually just to the east of Clines Corners late one evening in January as I was returning with a battered Nissan Pathfinder that had been stolen in Kingman and recovered in Oklahoma City. The alternator seized tighter than a drum about five miles out and broke the fan belt. Using only the parking lights and driving the shoulder, again in a snow storm, I made Clines Corners where a towing company in Moriarty was called.
The second unintended stop came shortly after being contracted for my first book. We were on a father and son adventure to Michigan via Route 66 in our 1988 Ford station wagon when the rear transmission seal blew out. We limped into town and spent the next day strolling the streets and dining at the Rip Griffin, now a TA, truck stop.
On this trip all was uneventful and we continued our trip having decided to end the day in Santa Rosa, another historic community that hovers between ghost town and modern, generic haven for weary travelers.
As this was a reservation free adventure, upon our arrival we began that timeless road trip game of checking availability, rates, and condition of motels. On our second stop we struck gold even though the rate was a bit more than I am comfortable with ($69.00 plus tax).
Still the room was spacious and clean. We had Internet access in the lobby. There was a nice continental breakfast to offset the cost, and the staff was polite as well as helpful. So, if you find yourself in Santa Rosa and are in need of lodging for the night my suggestion is the Santa Rosa Inn at 2491 Historic Route 66 next door to Denny’s where we succumbed to temptation and hunger after a long day on the road and finding the supermarket had closed. A pleasant dinner was followed with a leisurely stroll back to the motel and an evening of planning the next days grand adventure – exploring lost highways, the ghost towns of Cuervo, Newkirk, Montoya, Endee, Glenrio, and introducing my dearest friend to the wonderful people and the delightful pies only found at the Midpoint Cafe.