The quest for information spawned by the current project, a Route 66 encyclopedia and atlas, has led to some quite fascinating discoveries, a few of which are in my back yard. As an example, while sorting out the various alignments of Route 66 between Williams and Ashfork, I discovered the Johnson Canyon railroad tunnel.
This tangible link to the frontier era in Arizona is also a link to the origins of Route 66. It is also a perfect little side trip for that Route 66 adventure if you don’t mind stretching your legs a bit. Long before Route 66 became a destination, back when it was still the highway folks cursed as they pulled the Ashfork grade behind a string of trucks, I ran the Williamson Valley Road from Seligman to Prescott or the Perkinsville Road from Williams to Jerome. The old bridges that spanned chasms on these lost highways provided a scenic link to the era when the Model A represented the latest and greatest from Ford Motor Company.Amazingly many of those old bridges are still there. With the exception of the one in Hell’s Canyon, they still serve the original purpose of making it possible to cross a canyon without detours of thirty miles or more.
I suppose if you are out of style long enough you will be out in style. Now when I drive the old roads it seems there is always company. Now when I drive the not so forgotten lost highways in search of answers there is most often some one already there who has the answers or that is seeking them as well.As with so many things in this old world, the increasing number of people seeking the back roads and lost highways isn’t a good thing or bad thing, it is somewhere in between. For folks like me who seek the back roads for the solitude and scenery as much as the history, it is a bit of frustration. However, to balance that I have met some of the nicest people in the most remote places, fine folk who truly take pleasure in these old roads, the bridges, and other remnants that hearken to another time. And on more than one occasion, the resultant conversation around the campfire or from the tailgate ends up being a lesson for this old dog. The haunting beauty of the abandoned Johnson Canyon railroad tunnel is but one of many discoveries made as a result of a shared back roads adventure.
Perhaps the most surprising, and embarrassing, of these was a magnificent segment of the National Old Trails Highway in the Black Mountains of western Arizona. I have wandered these barren, rock strewn hills for more than four decades. I was even privileged to have “Ed” Edgerton of Ed’s Camp as a guide. But it was a chance encounter with an amateur historian in Warm Springs Canyon that helped me to see a road long ignored out of ignorance was in actuality a very rare link to forgotten history. In all things there are lessons to be learned. For me, these encounters taught me that I can be frustrated with the changes that have resulted in the invasion of my sanctuary or I can see them as the opportunity to learn, to share, and to meet new people. As usual, the choice is mine and I prefer the later. In my world curiosity and a chance to learn trumps grumpy and bitter.