As there are no major adventures on the schedule for December, it seemed safe to post my annual top ten destinations list a couple of weeks early. As always, this list is based on our travels during the past calendar year. BEST BOOK STORE – I enjoy mom and pop shops, especially those set in time capsule neighborhoods. If that book store happens to specialize in a staggering array of automotive related titles, new as well as used, with just a sprinkling of interesting travel guides, so much the better.
Now, add in a Saturday morning tradition that includes an informal cruise in where odd, vintage, and obscure vehicles manufactured by Doble, Citroen, or Maserati out number Buick’s and ’57 Chevies, fresh pastries from a neighborhood bakery, excellent coffee, and informal, friendly atmosphere, and you have the perfect book store. Auto Books – Aero Books in Burbank, California is all of this and more. For all of your automotive, aeronautical, or travel book needs, check or their website or, better yet, stop by on a Saturday morning. MOST OVERLOOKED ATTRACTION – This would have to be the schoolhouse museum complex in Goffs, California on the section of Route 66 bypassed in 1931. From restrooms that present the illusion of visiting a friends home, to fascinating and informative displays, a wide array of outdoor exhibits, and even vintage vehicles this little treasure should be moved to the top of any list for those planning a cruise west on Route 66 or into the Mojave Desert of eastern California. For more information or hours contact the Mojave Desert Heritage & Cultural Association at 760-733-4848. BEST PIE
Well, in this years grand adventure to Missouri, we discovered the peanut butter/chocolate pie at the Midpoint Cafe in Adrian, Texas. Whether traveling I-40 or historic Route 66, mark your maps for this wonderful oasis, back the belt off a notch, and prepare yourself for a real treat. Food on the road just doesn’t get better than this. I can also suggest a light lunch (to save room for the pie) as the food here is excellent. FAVORITE GHOST TOWN Ghost towns have long been a main stay in our adventurers but with the penning of Ghost Towns of the Southwest and its promotion, as well as the writing of Ghost Towns of Route 66, scheduled for release in June of 2011, these forlorn and forgotten places have dominated a great deal of our travel time. This past May, in search of Route 66 ghost towns, we journeyed to Missouri using a 1929 atlas for guidance.
Endee, New Mexico
Along the way we discovered dozens of fascinating and picturesque places. None, however, captured our attention like Endee in New Mexico. Even with a howling wind that made it difficult to really explore, we found the ruins on the hilltop to be scenic and haunting, comforting and sad. Endee, dating to the 1880s, now rates very high on our list for future exploration. BEST AUTOMOTIVE EVENT
The annual Route 66 Fun Run, held on the first weekend of each May, blends the mystique of Route 66, the best of small town America, with stunning western landscapes and the American love affair with the automobile and the road trip into a weekend of fun in the sun on Route 66. If I were to have a complaint it would be the unpredictable weather. In my twenty year association with the event I have witnessed most everything. One year there were snow flurries, a few years later temperatures were nearly one hundred degrees, and during another events the winds were almost gale force. Still, I highly recommend the Route 66 Fun as a vacation destination. Even better plan your trip as a grand adventure on Route 66 and make this the center piece of the road trip of a life time. BEST LODGING I had a few ideas for inclusion in this category as we have been on the road a great deal this past year. Then we made the trip to California last week and discovered the Wigwam Motel in Rialto on old Route 66, Foothill Boulevard.
Wigwam Motel, Rialto, California
The restoration of this property has transformed it into a near perfect time capsule from the non generic era when Route 66 really was the Main Street of America. With the exception of the flat screen television and cable, there is little to intrude on the illusion that at the Wigwam Motel the Edsel is the hottest news from Detroit. As a bonus, it was the most reasonable lodging we found in the L.A. area. It was also one of the cleanest. SURPRISE DISCOVERY This was a tough call. After all, we have covered close to 10,000 miles this year seeking the wonders found along the back roads of America to share on this blog, in our books, and through feature articles. Still, the most surprising discovery had to be Writhgwood in California, specifically the Evergreen Cafe.
Located less than fifty miles from Route 66 in the Cajon Pass and the high deserts near Hesperia, this little oasis in the midst of towering mountains and a pine forest seems to have been lifted from the Alps, transported to America, and given an overlay of small town America circa 1958. No visit to Wrightwood could be complete without a stop at the Evergreen Cafe; good food, fresh coffee, and friendly folk make it a wonderful place to start, or end, a day of adventure. BEST POST CARD SETTING Have you every found a setting where the man made and the natural blend so well it was almost impossible to get a bad picture even if there wasn’t film in the camera? Well, that would be the Marsh Arch Bridge on Route 66 in Kansas.
Marsh Arch Bridge in Kansas
Idyllic, scenic, contemplative, historic – pick your adjective. This little road side gem is just one of the many surprises found along the 13 mile stretch of Route 66 in Kansas. BEST QUIET SPOT If you want a place to simply savor life, to meditate in a setting of truly awe inspiring landscapes with just enough historic content to spark the imagination, then look no further than the forlorn ruins of the Painted Desert Trading Post on an abandoned section of Route 66 to the east of the Painted desert and Petrified Forest National Park. The landscapes here seem timeless. The broken path of the old highway seems to be a thread linking the distant past with the present. The ruins hint of the frailty of dreams.
The old Painted Desert Trading Post is a near perfect place to escape from the daily grind and while away an afternoon. If you do visit remember why you came and strive to ensure the fragile ruins are still there for the next visitor.
The international fascination with Route 66 never ceases to be a source of curiosity for me. How did an interconnected series of dusty pioneer trails linked by signs bearing a double six become an American icon? I suppose it is for the same reason the lowly ’57 Chevy came to symbolize the American automobile industry during the 1950s and the entire classic car hobby today. Hype. Route 66 is not the longest, the most scenic, or most historic highway in America. Its history is tinged with tragedy. The ’57 Chevy sold poorly when new. Dealers despised the warmed over model. To a large degree its poor reception was responsible for the surge in the sale of new Fords. Still, long ago both transcended their original purpose to become larger than life icons symbolizing the best of America. Illusion and romanticism have supplanted reality. The resurgent interest in iconic Route 66 is rapidly transforming it into a hybrid of sorts, an authentic replication and a time capsule, with a Disneyland overlay. The obsession with the ’57 Chevy has spawned an entire cottage industry to foster the illusion and maintain the legacy. This past summer I played tour guide to a charming young photo journalist, Chris Tres, from France. Through her questions, her wide eyed wonder at the grand landscapes of the desert southwest that embrace Route 66 in western Arizona, I was able to better understand what people see in this battered old stretch of asphalt but still have trouble grasping the magnitude of that interest. Here is a link to a sneak preview of her film that is currently available through Youtube. In spite of my near constant exposure to, and immersion in, the international fascination with the old road, I still have trouble grasping what people see in this old road. I suppose my difficulty in grasping this is similar to that experienced by folks who have trouble understanding passionate affection for antique cars. I have difficulty grasping the lure for this old road, or any road, that is so strong people walk it on stilts, save for years to ride it on a bicycle, or participate in rallies for motorcycles manufactured before 1916 because it is on Route 66. And this is in spite of a year that included dinner with a tour from Holland led by a friend from Amsterdam, Dries Bessel, dinner and visits with a tour operator from Australia, Dale Butel, and interviews with French journalist. Interestingly, after countless films, tours, books, and articles hyping the wonders of an adventure on Route 66, the interest does not seem to be waning. In fact, it seems to be escalating. A few years ago late April to mid October were the months when Route 66 fairly hummed with motorcycles, bicycles, runners, and rental cars. Now, we are seeing tourist in every month of the year. This week a leading Australian news celebrity is going to be doing live broadcasts as Dale Butel, owner of Route 66 Tours, leads him on the adventure of discovery. You can follow along beginning tomorrow morning. Here is a link. I have driven Route 66 countless times. I have driven ’57 Chevrolets. Neither need to be understood. Like love, friendship, and a sunset in the desert, they just need to be experienced.
After a few false starts and a couple of delays, I am ready to initiate the weekly presentation of book reviews and gift ideas. If all goes as planned this should be something you can look forward to at the end of each week. Unless otherwise noted, clicking on the title of the featured book will take you to the Auto Books-Aero Books (my favorite automotive book store) website. Clicking on the description of a featured product will take you to the ordering site for that item. Ordering books on line from Auto Books-Aero Books is easy and safe. However, if at all possible my suggestion is that you stop by the store to make your purchase. I guarantee a visit, especially on Saturday morning, is well worth the trip. In either case please say hello to Chuck and Tina for me. Lets kick this off with a review of the book I am currently reading. Chrysler’s Turbine Car, subtitled The Rise and Fall of Detroit’s Coolest Creation. The sterile title masks the story of one of the most fascinating endeavors by a major auto manufacturer in the past sixty years. The subtitle is a gross understatement. Author Steve Lehto weaves a masterful, informative tale that reads as a novel written by an insider. However, it is the subject matter that you will find riveting. The Chrysler turbine powered automobile project spanned more than thirty years but the high water mark for this astounding concept came in 1964 with the creation of a fleet of Ghia bodied, turbine powered automobiles test marketed in the most unique way, they were loaned to ordinary families from all walks of life to test in real world conditions. The fleet eventually logged more than one million trouble free miles in all manner of weather conditions. The engines would run on any fuel from tequila to perfume, gasoline to diesel, with cleaner emissions than a standard piston engined automobile and deliver more miles per gallon with performance equal to or surpassing any thing available at the time. Maintenance was another marvel as the engines had more than 20% fewer components. Additionally, these cars never needed an oil change, had no radiator, and no fan belts! What went wrong? Why were such amazing cars stillborn? That is the rest of the story, that is what makes this a must read book. Next on the list is a fascinating and inspiring true life story by Dan Rice, the vice president of the California Route 66 Association, and proprietor of 66-Cali, Inc. End of the Trail(Barnes & Noble link) chronicles Dan’s amazing eight year odyssey from injury to recovery. Traumatic Brain Injury affects an average of 1.5 million Americans annually and is the number one combat injury of returning troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. If you know someone suffering from this injury and want to better understand the trials they face on the road to recovery, this book is for you. If you simply need inspiration for the daily battles of life, this book is for you. If you just need a good book for these cold late fall evenings, this book is for you. In addition to Barnes & Noble, the book can be purchased directly from Dan. He maintains a small Route 66 shirt shop on Santa Monica Pier and can be contacted through his website for 66-to-Cali for signed copies. While we are on the subject of Route 66, I want to suggest the most informative, easy to use, and interesting Route 66 guide for deciphering the labyrinth of the legendary highways course in the L.A. area. I tested the book, Finding The End of The Mother Road, Route 66 in Los Angeles Countyby Scott Piotrowski, on my last visit to L.A. and give it my seal of approval.
Now, for the owners of Ford built products powered by gas guzzling, raw horse power, small block V8 engines, a great “how to” book by CarTech. This detailed, heavily illustrated manual is ideal for the master mechanic or the beginner intent on keeping his Ford running as new. If you like the idea of a weekly review of books and gift ideas, please let me know. Additionally, I would like to hear from you in regards to the books promoted. On a final note, for 2011 we are taking Route 66 Chronicles to the next level. So, if you have a publishing company, a Route 66 related business or museum, an automotive restoration shop or parts business, salvage yard that specializes in vintage automotive parts, or a real estate business with Route 66 related properties for sale, contact us to discuss advertising opportunities.
Thanksgiving. The giving of thanks. It is is a simple term until one takes time to reflect on the meaning of the words. In the America of today there is confusion and confliction about the term. This was not always the case. Until quite recently the giving of thanks was seen as more than a right, it was a duty. To whom thanks was given was also clearly understood. On October 3, 1789, President George Washington issued this proclamation.”Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almight God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor…Now therefore, I do recommend…that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interposition’s of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed…And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions…to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue.” Abraham Lincoln, during a time of national crisis, expanded on this with his proclamation of 1863. “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied, enriched and strengthened us: and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray tot he God that made us. It behooves us then to humble ourselves before the offended power, to confess our national sins, and to pray clemency and forgiveness upon us.” I am not preaching or condemning. I am merely providing a bit of historical context and a few thoughts for mediation during the Thanksgiving holiday. However, I would be remiss if a public proclamation of my blessings was not shared. Any list of blessings would have to begin with my wife of 27 years, my dearest friend. Without her love, her gentle support and encouragement, it is doubtful if I would have ever written more than weekly column for the local paper. My son, my grandchildren are also manifestations of blessings in my life. Likewise with my father and mother. All have been a source of aggravation and concern at various times but I am grateful for those times as well. My recent Saturday spent with Jay Leno is an amazing blessing that began with a fellow breaking down in Kingman. When one considers the fact that just over thirty years ago I was homeless and living on the street, the series of events leading to this point is even more amazing. None of this is to say we have not endured many trials and tribulations this past year. There have been financial and employment issues. I have been dealing with cancer, broken, teeth, issues with aging parents, and the loss of several very good friends. Still, I am blessed. I have much to be thankful for. I have made many new friends this year, have had some of the most amazing adventures, and have been overwhelmed by the opportunities that are beginning to manifest. I would also be remiss if a public proclamation was not given to all who have contributed so much of their time and resources this year. Thank you Laurel Kane, Joe Sonderman, Mark Ward, Dan Rice, Chris Durkin, Dries Bessels, Dale Butel, Bob Lile, and the countless others that have enabled me to transform ideas into books. As noted previously, I am not here to preach this morning. Nor am I here to offer condemnation. However, I feel led to respectively ask you give thought about the concept and meaning of Thanksgiving this holiday. It is my sincere hope that each and everyone of you will be richly blessed this holiday season and in the year to come.
After bidding adios to Dan Rice, his charming wife, Jessica, Farmers market, and my hat, we rolled south on Fairfax through a sea of automobiles and hopped on to the race track signed as I-10. The destination for this leg of the adventure was the L.A. auto show at the convention center. The goal in this segment of the adventure was, “A”, avoid friendly notices from the L.A. police department similar to the one received in Santa Monica, and “B”, avoid the crush of traffic at the convention center. To that end we found a parking garage in the area of Grand and Olive offering a $5.00 special for those visiting the auto show. This left us with about a ten block walk into a chilly wind. As it turned out it was also a cultural experience. There were panhandlers who spoke no English, folks trading baggies of spices for cash, gals shivering in the cold because they just couldn’t afford a dress that fit or a jacket, interesting corner stores with signs in Spanish as well as Korean, and friendly security guards lounging in front of a church. The auto show was full sensory overload. For the first time, as I stood in line for tickets, I understood how the cattle felt as they were herded through the chutes.
The ghost of Christmas future according to Cadillac
The sea of humanity that poured down the escalators as a waterfall was broken into various eddies by the automotive displays, the stylish models, and the multitude of high tech exhibits. It was almost as though someone had bussed the entire population of Kingman, as well as Hackberry, Wikieup, Peach Springs, Bullhead City, and Lake Havasu City into one location. Once inside there was a stunning array of over sized posters featuring historic photos from previous auto shows, including the 1929 disaster where most all cars on display were destroyed by fire including the unique Auburn cabin speedster, stylish models, robotic displays, and, of course, automobiles. The concept cars, as well as futuristic production models, provided a startling contrast to the vintage vehicles and ornate, simplistic machinery examined at Jay Leno’s garage.
Did Infiniti find inspiration in the Batmobile?
With realization that our time was limited, and that we would never be able to see all that was on display, we selected areas of particular interest and set out on an expedition of discovery. The stylish lines of the Infiniti line have captured my wife’s attention in recent months so that exhibit rated high on our list. Likewise with the electric vehicles, Ford, Chrysler, and Toyota. In my humble opinion the only period in automotive history more exciting than today would be the infancy of the industry, roughly 1885 to 1935. Again, daring styling is moving the automobile from mere transportation into the realm of art. Again, innovation is pushing the envelope of engineering and technology.
Return of the electric automobile
However, in this era of automotive revolution the advancements further distance the owner from the actual experience of driving, of becoming intimate with the inner workings of the vehicle. As a result, even though the innovations in engineering and styling excite and quicken the pulse, they also seem cold and alien. One aspect of the auto show that I found depressing the Chrysler exhibit. At every turn there were crowds of people swarming around the new Mustang and the Raptor, the Leaf and Camaro, the Honda and Toyota, Cadillac and even Fiat.
The new Power Wagon
It was almost impossible to photograph a vehicle as a result. However, the Chrysler exhibit was so empty it was startling. A handful of the elderly, perhaps stirred by memories of the legendary 300 series or the Imperial, carefully examined the sedans. The very young enjoyed the mini van as they would a club house. There was no life, no enthusiasm, no tangible excitement. The vehicles seemed to be mere obstacles to the crowd moving between exhibits rather than a destination. If the crowds are an indicator, Ford is doing well. As is Toyota, Kia, Honda, Nissan, and few of the smaller companies. Chrysler may be in serious trouble. By late afternoon weariness was settling deep into our bones and as we still had a long drive ahead of us, we reluctantly left the glittering, promising future, and returned to the grim reality of homelessness, drugs, and tattered neighborhoods as we wandered back to the parking garage. Without realizing it, we had selected an excellent location for our getaway. The traffic was very light as we pulled from the parking garage and we were mere blocks from the I-10 race corridor. The drive east was relatively uneventful. In L.A. anesese that means we saw but two disabled vehicles and two wrecks. We caught up with Route 66, Foothill Boulevard, in Ranch Cucamonga and began looking for a supermarket as we had decided dinner would be picnic style at the Wigwam Motel, our evenings destination. To that end we stopped in Fontana and explored a market that was an intriguing blend of modern mega store and Mexican village market. Fresh produce, tortillas being made and packaged, wonderful aromas of fresh spices, drying chillies, and simmering menudo blended with all of the generic trappings of a modern American grocery store. Here, English was the foreign language and as a result the illusion that we were now international travelers rather than mere tourists was made complete.
Wigwam Motel in Rialto
Words can not describe the Wigwam Motel, it must be experienced. In the Route 66 community I have been hearing much about the loving restoration of this property and the friendly curator of this time capsule, Kumar, but nothing prepared me for the actual experience. I was left with but one regret, being to tired for a long visit with Kumar. Rectifying this now rates very high on our list and will serve as an excuse for another visit. If you are looking for a unique experience, as well as clean, reasonable lodging, in the east end of the L.A. metro area this has to be your destination. The intrusion of the modern era has been limited to a large flat screen television and cable. For all intents and purposes, this is a near perfect snap shot of the Route 66 experience circa 1955. Again we were blessed with relatively light traffic as we rolled east early on Foothill Boulevard, Route 66, Monday morning. The only blemish on our near perfect escape from the confines of the L.A. basin was detours and resultant congestion where Mt. Vernon meets the freeway in San Bernardino.
Our last stop on this adventure of discovery was Wrightwood, a very short detour from Route 66 accessed via the Cajon Pass or Phelan Road out of Hesperia. I discovered this hidden gem on my last trip as a result of an invitation from Kris and Hank Hallmark and was quite eager to share it with my dearest friend. Breakfast at the Evergreen Cafe with Hank and Kris was followed by a guided tour of this charming mountain hideaway. Unfortunately, we had to cut our tour short as a result of issues that required us to be back in Kingman early Monday evening. In spite of the crush of the pending schedule we chose the drive and see route by picking up old 66 at Ludlow. It proved to be the perfect end to a perfect weekend. The Hinckley hillbillies survived an adventure to the big city. The question that remains to be answered is has the city survived a visit by the Hinckley Hillbillies.