A key foundational element of happiness is to be honest with yourself. Well, I am a desert rat, a dry roasted nut that eagerly awaits the first one hundred degree day. I accepted this long ago. Still, there are those occasions when I entertain the thought of a more normal life such as on a small farm in the foothills of the Ozarks in Missouri or among the glaciers of Alaska.
Usually these thoughts are ignited by a road trip and are quickly dampened by the second day of that journey when the craving for a dry heat (similar to that found in an oven), a stunning sunset framed by spires of stone, or just the solitude of an empty place with an unbroken view of a vast empty plain corralled by snow covered peaks begin to stir something similar to hunger pangs. I love to travel, I love to meet new people and see different places, I love to share these things with my dearest friend but there is no place like home, that special place where it seems as though it were designed by God with you in mind. This morning when I set off for work on the bicycle the temperature was just topping the eighty degree mark (at 7:30 AM), the sky was the most brilliant shade of blue, and coveys of quail scattered into the brush as I rode past. It was a perfect morning for reflection and thanksgiving.
Our recent adventure on Route 66 was one of the finest we have had in several years. The friendly folks met along the way, the delightful landscapes and scenery, and, of course, mile after mile of Route 66 that has this strange magical power to induce relaxation and smiles. Even though we lean towards the empty places, the places where it is so quiet you can hear your own heart beat, we also enjoy the simple pleasures in life such as a good slice of pie and the easy conversation that can only be found where the locals gather and the visitor is warmly welcomed. Any list of places like this on Route 66 has to have the Midpoint Cafe in Adrian, Texas near the top. For my dearest friend our trip was one of discovery as she had never motored east of Albuquerque. For me it was one of rediscovery, an opportunity to become reacquainted with an old friend. I first traveled Route 66 in 1959, one year after my birth. As noted countless times in the past six hundred posts on this blog, that old highway has been, and continues to be, an integral part of my life. Still, the power this highway has to mesmerize, to enthrall, and to captivate never ceases to amaze me. Oddly enough, those who sing its praises most passionately are from distant shores. Consider this perspective from Australia or this one from Holland. Route 66 is as much a part of my life as driving, eating, and other activities associated with daily life. However, just as it takes the awe of a child to draw your attention to the sunset you see everyday but never see, so it is with Route 66. The essence of our adventure was to gather material for the new book, Ghost Towns of Route 66, but the real reason was to again see Route 66 with fresh eyed wonder. To this end we set the clock back to the 1960s, made but two reservations, and drifted along like the tumbling tumbleweeds.
We left Kingman on a Saturday afternoon and as is our custom drove east on Route 66 to the Crookton Road exit. Still, it was the dawn of day two with the first rays of the morning sun brightening our teepee misnamed as a wigwam before the reawakening began. It was as though I had received a new prescription after wearing the same glasses for several years. In an instant the blurriness accepted as normal was swept away and clarity was restored. It was this mornings reflection on the trans formative power of our Route 66 excurison that led to thanksgiving. I am grateful to live in the modern era where I can savor Route 66 rather than endure it. I am grateful that I can visit places where the very bones of the earth are hidden beneath a sea of green but live in a land without pretense, a land made pure by the refiners fire. I am grateful for folks like Laurel Kane, Jerry McClanahan, and countless others who work so hard to preserve this asphalt link to another time for future generations to enjoy. It is with gratitude that I reflect on the blessing that is a lifetime spent on Route 66, a gift for sharing its wonder through the written word, and a dear friend to share the adventures with. If you are jaded, tired, or the world has left you feeling hollow perhaps all that is needed is an adventure on the legendary double six. Perhaps all you need is a little immersion in the magical world that is Route 66.
Maybe all that is needed is to while away the afternoon at Afton Station or spend an hour sipping coffee, eating pie, and shooting the breeze at the Midpoint Cafe. Maybe the only therapy required for full restoration is to wake up in a Wigwam. Onhttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=097034077X&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr a final note I have a book to recommend. This fascinating little gem chronicles the evolution of one mans journey of discovery on the back roads of America as he seeks to unravel the story of the legendary muffler men often disguised as lumber jacks. spacemen, and cowboys. I was intrigued by the story and by its telling. I was also inspired by his desire to unravel the mystery without the use of the modern equivalent of a cheat sheet, the Internet.
Facing the future with head held high and without flinching is not for the weak at heart. However, if one has a properly balanced perspective that is derived from accurate historic knowledge and an open mind, the job is made much easier. One of my favorite books for providing perspective on the “good old days” as a comparative study to the rapidly changing world we reside in today is By Motor to the Golden Gate http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=1150545259&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrwritten by Emily Post and published in 1916. Fortunately the book has been reprinted. Fortunately we live in the era of the Internet and as a result obtaining a copy is as easy as the click of the mouse, a process that exemplifies one of the great blessings of the modern era. When I wanted a copy it took years to find. It also took lots of phone calls and endless hours in old book stores. For the Route 66 enthusiast consider this, before the 1936 realignment in New Mexico, the stretch of road between Santa Fe and Albuquerque was a dreaded experience, largely because of the grades and curves of La Bajada Hill. Emily Post noted, “The Bajada Hill, which for days Celia and I dreaded so much that we did not dare speak of it for fear of making E.M. nervous, was magnificently built. There is no difficulty in going down it, even in a very long car that has to back and fill at corners; there are low stone curbs at bad elbows, and the turns are well banked so that you feel no tendency to plunge off.” This section of road saw a great deal of improvement between 1916 and 1936. So, why was it dreaded by motorist on Route 66 but praised by motoring pioneers? Perspective. Think how bad the roads must have been in 1916 for this to seem like a nice road. Think how much roads had changed by 1936 for drivers to see an improved version of Bajada Hill as a rough road. In 1936, it was quite feasible for a motorist to drive from New York to Los Angeles in five or six days. Emily post noted her trip from New York to San Francisco via San Diego required 4,250 miles of driving and that a person should plan on at least four weeks for the trip! It should be noted that on her trip the car was in such need of repair by the time they arrived in Winslow the vehicle was shipped by rail to California. The driver on Emily Post’s trip was E.M.Post Jr. In one of the final chapters he details what is needed for anyone planning to drive across the nation. “Two spare ties should be sufficient. I only had five punctures all the way.” Other items suggested included a small shovel, African water bags, one hundred feet of rope, extra spark plugs, extra valves and valve springs, fan belt, links if the car is chain drive, tire chains, complete tool chest, spare rim, extra tubes, and a tire pump. One aspect of this book I found quite frustrating was the absence of any indication about make or model other than it was built by a European manufacturer. This was doubly frustrating when I read the car had traveled more than 30,000 miles before making this arduous trip. In the back of the book is a breakdown on expenses and daily schedule. This was most interesting. “Third Day’s Run, Utica to Buffalo.” “Eighteenth Day’s Run, Albuquerque to Winslow.” “Omaha – Hotel Fontanelle 3 single rooms with baths at $3.50 each.” “20 gallons of gas – $4.40.” “Albuquerque – Coleman Blank Garage – 2 men, 4 hours each (nigh labor, double rate), mending leak in radiator, taking off exhaust, filling grease cups, etc. $6.00” Perspective. That is how we know a road trip today is much better than a road trip in 1916. That is how we know a road trip today, even on Route 66, is almost sterile. That is how we know these are the best of times and the worst of times. Pick up a copy of Emily post’s book before your next road trip. My guarantee is you will never see the road traveled in the same way ever again.
The railroad closed up shop and pulled the rails almost a century ago leaving the depot empty and forgotten. The stopes went quiet in the last of the great mines more than sixty years ago and only the eroded tailing’s remain. The traffic from Kingman to Las Vegas and from Las Vegas to Kingman flows along the four lane, modern incarnation of U.S. 93 about five miles to the south rather than through the heart of the old mining town on US 466 as it did until the late 1940s.
Scattered throughout the southwest are dozens of towns with similar histories of boom and bust, prosperity and decline, but unlike many of those, Chloride still has a pulse. Retirees have discovered its quaint charm, quiet streets, and friendly neighbors. Eccentric artists have found inspiration in the vast landscapes that embrace the old town and equally inspiring old buildings that easily transform into galleries. Hermits can immerse themselves in the solitude of the surrounding hills and those trying to keep a low profile for a myriad of reasons find refuge here with few questions asked by neighbors. Few who scurry toward the glitter of Las Vegas are aware of this little oasis. Likewise with those who somberly return home after a visit to the town that never sleeps.
Every year, on the fourth Saturday of June, all of that changes as the town turns out to celebrate Old Miners Days. For the briefest of moments the streets again teem with activity, a parade rolls through town, and visitors from far and wide discover, or rediscover this charming little time capsule where the past, the present, and the quirky collide.
As the featured artist I had a place of honor perched high above Tennessee Avenue, the main parade route, on the porch of the Mine Shaft Market. Here I had my table for book signings, a shady place from which to watch the excitement, a view of the thermometer as the temperature climbed from eighty degrees to ninety degrees, a nice breeze, and when customers opened and closed the door from the store, a chilled air conditioned blast. People, lots and lots of people. I spoke with scores of people from as far away as Berlin and filled another page in the note book with contact information including a former highway patrolman (US 93 at Wikieup 1960 to 1970), the eldest patriarch of a family that began their trucking company in California in 1910, and an interesting fellow who went to school in Chloride during the early1950s.
My dearest friend and I have a long association with this old town. As it is less than twenty five miles from Kingman we used to come here often for dinner when dating. We still slip away to Yesterday’s when we need a break but the budget, financial as well as time, won’t allow for extravagance. Her uncle grew up here, moved here after retiring, and his home became ground zero for family gatherings. His final resting place, as well as that of his father and mother, are in the cemetery overlooking the valley to the south of town.
Today, we added a new chapter to our association with this historic town, billed as the longest continuously inhabited mining town in Arizona, and marked the calendar to be sure we are here for next years Old Miners Day Celebration. How can I resist the temptation of a festival that features hokey gunfights, the strangest swap meet on earth, and a parade that includes solar powered golf carts with an evaporative cooler on the back, horses, model A Ford powered rat rods, vintage convertibles, a vintage hearse turned “El Camino”, and Shriners?
One of the rewards of being a published author with moderate notoriety who resides on Route 66 is the opportunity to meet with fascinating people. In the past week visitors included George Higgins, rally master for the annual Mother Road Rally, and Claudia Heller, columnist for a Pasadena based newspaper and blogger, and her delightful husband. On the home front the rough layout is complete and 2,000 words are on virtual paper. The new book project, a Route 66 encyclopedia and atlas is well underway. In rough numbers that means I have only about 148,000 more to go. Then I can work on the illustrations and the writing of a thousand or so captions! This book is unique in more than just its size and scope. With each of the six books written the pattern has been the same – research for months, initial writing, and then an all consuming urge to write. For this project much of the time consuming research is complete. I have copious notes, reference books, and a head full of facts as a result of the most recent endeavors, contributions for the anthology Greetings from Route 66, http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=076033885X&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrand a new book, Ghost Towns of Route 66 scheduled for release this fall. So, I am already at the stage where the compulsion to write, to create is almost unbearable. From that perspective this will be a most challenging day even though it will be a busy one filled with some of my favorite activities. First, it will be a few hours at the office. Next, will be a short road trip to the historic mining camp of Chloride. Then its an interview with KNAU radio of Flagstaff and a book signing to coincide with the Chloride Old Miners Day celebration. This will be followed with answering correspondence, filling orders for books and prints, and phone calls. It would seem I have turned writing into a second, enjoyable, full time job. Now, if I can just figure out how to make it one that pays more than that of a job as a fry cook at McDonalds. Another aspect of this project that is unique is all illustrations will be my responsibility. This means an overwhelming percentage of the fresh photography will be manifestations of our skills and an opportunity to utilize lessons learned from masters such as Kerrick James.
I have in mind a fall trip, perhaps October, for the eastern portion. I would really like to photograph Route 66 landmarks such as the Marsh Bridge in Kansas, Spencer, Missouri, or the Canadian River Bridge in Oklahoma against a backdrop of fall colors. I close this mornings post with an unrelated but exciting note. The organizers of Chillin’ on Beale in Kingman, Arizona have an ambitious goal of lining Beale Street from end to end with vehicles on the evening of July 17th. The theme and central focus will be on orphaned automobiles and they are hoping of attracting 200 representatives. This might not be as hard as it sounds when one considers that Saturn, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile, have now joined the ranks of Packard, Studebaker, and Nash.
If I were to be limited to a one word descriptor for life it would be adventure. I have found over the past half century or so that every day is good. Some days just happen to be better than others. I have also learned that labeling the day after today as tomorrow, and the one just past as yesterday, is rather misleading. We would be better served if we saw, and taught our children to see, yesterday as opportunity for adventure lost, the future as endless opportunity for adventure, and today as the opportunity to make the adventure of the future possible. From that lofty philosophical perch I generally look toward the future with a sense of eager anticipation. It also allows me to see adversity, usually, as an opportunity for developing new skills and talents or for expanding on those that have been dormant. Twenty years ago I embarked on the adventure of becoming a writer to fulfill a childhood dream. Well, I have now written six books, am starting on a seventh, am an associate editor for a major magazine, and have literally written hundreds of feature articles for a wide array or periodicals. I still have a day job that pays the bills. I have also had adventures (seeking the ghosts of Route 66 with a 1929 atlas and a Jeep) and surprises (a phone call from Jay Leno as your watching his program!) that never would have been possible if it were not for the ability to see a dead end job as an opportunity and incentive nursed by my dearest friend to pursue the dream.
The dream continues to be an elusive one but the adventures spawned by the chase are worth far more than the price of admission paid with frustration, rejection, long hours, and hard work. Fortunately for me, the pursuit and subsequent adventure show no signs of abatement in the near future. This Saturday, I will be in Chloride for an interview with KNAU radio from Flagstaff, Arizona and to sign copies of 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=ifras part of the Old Miners Day celebration. I will also be eagerly looking forward to the end of the day and dinner with my dearest friend at Yesterday’s, one of our favorite eateries. If you are unfamiliar with Chloride, and Yesterday’s Restaurant, this would be a great weekend for discovery. Billed as the longest continuously inhabited mining camp in Arizona, Chloride is located about 15 miles north of Kingman just off U.S. 93. The rest of the weekend will most likely be spent chained to the desk. After all, the deadline for completion of a Route 66 encyclopedia and atlas, a project that brings me closer to making the dream a reality, is now only seventeen months away. July is peppered with a myriad of opportunity to break the monotony of the daily grind and to provide a welcome break from work on the new project. We have the Fourth of July, a favorite holiday of mine, a possible trip to the village of Supai, and on July 17, Chillin’ on Beale Street, a celebration of the automotive orphan. As it is the people that give life flavor, not the event or the location, July promises to be truly spectacular for my dearest friend and I. The trip to Supai would an opportunity to visit with friends and acquaintances not seen in several years. Chillin’ on Beale Street is an endless opportunity to visit with old friends and to make new ones. On the 27th of the month, Dries Bessels from Holland will be stopping in Kingman as he leads a tour from Chicago to Santa Monica in celebration of two American icons, Harley Davidson and Route 66. A visit and dinner with Dries is a rare and pleasant treat. Dale Butel of Australia will be in Kingman at the end of the month and plans are to introduce him to the pine forested island that is the Hualapai Mountains. This should be a wonderful evening filled with friends, good food, and stunning scenery. If I am having this much fun on the grand adventure we call life, what would happen if the elusive dream is captured?