The weather wasn’t conducive to a great deal of exploration on Monday but as plans for the forthcoming exhibit at the Powerhouse visitor center, Route 66 in Mohave County, call for images showing the highway in all seasons, the near blizzard conditions presented some interesting photo opportunities. In cruising the empty and soggy streets of Ash Fork, not in Mohave County, and the snowy streets in Seligman, also not in Mohave County, I found my thoughts centering on the dramatic contrasts between the two communities.
Both have colorful histories and both can trace their histories to the territorial era and beyond. Both have a wide array of historical structures representing more than a century of societal evolution in western Arizona, including a vintage auto court that predates the introduction of the Model A Ford.
In both communities Route 66 is main street and both communities were devastated by bypass with completion of I-40. Both communities also suffered greatly when important ties with the railroad were severed and both communities once had elegant Harvey House establishments to meet the needs of travelers.
There the similarities end. Ash Fork mirrored the cold, leaden sky and even the purity of the falling snow was unable to add a hint of life, of color, or mute the graveside feel that hangs heavy over the community like winter storm clouds.
In Seligman there were colorful banners and store fronts, a faint glow of neon muted by the heavy snow, and a feeling that the town was sleeping, not mortally wounded. There was a sense of life, of vitality in the air and the snow accentuated the sense that this was a well worn Norman Rockwell print.
Why is Ash Fork succumbing to its wounds while Seligman is thriving? What could create such a dramatic contrast between two communities so closely linked?
|Sunset in and of Glenrio, Texas|
The answer, and the lesson to be learned, is Angel and Juan Delgadillo. Ashfork never had an Angel or Juan. Likewise with Kingman, Glenrio, San Jon, Avilla, Halltown, or Needles. These towns had people that cared, people that tried, and people that still try but they lacked an Angel.
Route 66 is, and always has been, about opportunity. It is also the story of missed opportunity, of seeing the glass as half empty rather than half full. But most of all it is a story about people, people who saw the road as an opportunity for a quick buck, and those who understood that profit is not always monetary in nature.
Tragic tales of towns like Radiator Springs and Ash Fork that were left to wither on the vine often obscure the tragic tales of towns like Cucamonga in California that were transformed from quiet, sleepy farming towns into bedroom communities for the metropolis with its farms and way of life swept away by suburbia fueled by the wave of immigrants that rolled west on U.S. 66.
The resurgent interest in Route 66 is but another chapter in the history of a highway that mirrors almost a century of societal evolution. How that chapter is written in the communities along the course of that highway will depend on how the people who live in them view the opportunity before them.
|Hackberry General Store|
Will they see it as an opportunity for a quick buck or as a catalyst for restoration, for preservation of a unique way of life as Cuba is doing? Will they lament, cry, and wring their hands about what once was or will will they see the opportunities before them, seize them, and make the years to come the best of times?
Okay, now a couple of unrelated notes. I do not have details but the El Trovatore Motel in Kingman, dating to 1939, is back in business. I am unsure if it will again serve as apartments rented by the week, or as a motel but refurbishment is underway and my understanding is that this will include the neon tower on the bluff to the south.
The first set of images for the Route 66 in Mohave County exhibit were delivered on Monday. Plans at this time call for it opneing in stages with completion around the 4th of July.