SUMMER SUNBURNS AND WINTER FROSTBITE

SUMMER SUNBURNS AND WINTER FROSTBITE

I never tire of the diversity here in the desert southwest. Just last week we had summer and winter with a hint of fall mixed with just a touch of spring. 

On Monday, April 9, my dearest friend and I struck out in search of the Johnson Canyon railroad tunnel. As there was an early spring chill in the air just before sunrise, and as the tunnel is located at an elevation of about 6,000 feet, I wore the long johns. 
Well, as it turned out summer swept into the area about an hour after we left. The end result was a a bit of sunburn for my friend, a dramatic improvement in my farmers tan, an encounter with a snake, and the consumption of a great deal of water.
On Thursday, Dale Butel and his merry band from down under stopped by for lunch and were able to enjoy the brisk spring desert winds with a chilling dose of fall. 
Saturday, as the Fates would have it, I had to work on trucks and trailers most of the morning. To keep the howling wind, the sleet, and the snow mixed with downpours of freezing rain at bay, I donned my long johns, insulated coveralls, and heavy, water proof jacket.
Yesterday, the temperature was hovering around eighty degrees by mid afternoon. Today it is even warmer, the ice cream truck just drove past the office, and by the end of the week, if the weatherman is correct, we should be pushing ninety. 
None of this causes worries about a lengthy and hot summer. We are still about three weeks away from the Route 66 Fun Run and I have witnessed snow flurries on that first weekend in May. 

It is the diversity of the desert southwest, its lands as well as the weather and people who call it home, that captivates me here in this almost magical land. My dearest friend and I often talk of moving, of new adventures, and on occasion, have even given serious consideration to Alaska with its vast wilderness. 
Still, in all honesty, I find it almost inconceivable to imagine life without the desert, without weathered spires of stone stretching into a cloudless sky of deep blue and vast plains that stretch to the distant horizon where forested mountains tinged red by a setting sun dominate the horizon. It would be almost unnatural for me if it were not possible to climb over vast jumbles of bleached stone under a blazing desert sun as I made my way toward the shade of towering trees that whispered gently on pine scented breezes heavily laden with the chill of snow. 
In the manifestations of folly by those who feel they can conquer this harsh land with dams, metropolises, and technology, I see the reflection of the Hohokam cities and the adobe dreams of the Spanish conquistador. When I sit high above a desert valley in a silence only broken by the sound of a hawk on high, with a hint of creosote in the wind, I can feel the past and future swirl about me in a comforting embrace. 
I can sense the presence of God among the giant redwoods and in the forests of the Ozarks, on a quite Oregon beach with waves crashing on the rocks or high in the Colorado Rockies where it seems the mountains reach to heaven. But only in the desert do I feel He is close enough to touch. 

The next time you find yourself flying across a vast desert plain headed for anywhere else but there, find a quiet place and take the time to listen, to feel. Take the time to savor the silence and let the warm winds caress you. You may just discover that what appears to be a stark land where the bones of the earth are bleached under an unrelenting sun and the emptiness of the tomb, and the specter of death, seem to have free reign, is actually a magical land where the soul is nurtured and restored.


FROM THE LAND DOWN UNDER AND THE NEXT BIG ADVENTURE

FROM THE LAND DOWN UNDER AND THE NEXT BIG ADVENTURE

The adventure to Johnson Canyon and the exploration of the historic railway tunnel on Monday set the bar impossibly high in regard to adventure or excitement for the rest of the week. This is not to say the past few days have been uneventful. 

Johnson Canyon railroad tunnel. 

My side job with Auctions America continues to pique my curiosity. A new twist was added to the Route 66 encyclopedia, a project that just never seems to end. I am eagerly awaiting word from the publisher as there was a meeting today to discuss new projects and a couple of my proposals were to be the primary topic of discussion.
Yesterday, Dale Butel of Route 66 Tours and his merry band from Australia stopped by for lunch as they motored east on Route 66 to Chicago. Meeting with Dale and his crew is always an eagerly anticipated event as is meeting the great folks from down under that take advantage of Dale’s expertise in order to get the best Route 66 experience possible.
For the second year in a row Dale is including the Route 66 Fun as part of the spring tour and for the second year in a row I will be meeting with the group for dinner, to answer questions and for a little old fashioned socializing. The Fun Run weekend is also when I will be signing copies of Ghost Towns of the Southwest and Ghost Towns of Route 66  at the Powerhouse Visitor Center, and visiting with an old friend, Bob Stevens, former editor for Cars & Parts, who is driving out from Ohio to participate in the event. The Fun Run is an event I often look forward to but this year has the promise of being the best yet.

I am hoping that everyone that comes to Kingman for the Fun Run, or that will be cruising Route 66 this year, will take the time for to cruise Beale Street that is just one block north of America’s most famous highway. It looks as though this is going to be the next hot spot in the Kingman historic district – Dora’s Beale Street Deli, the award winning Sirens, Redneck’s Barbeque, the Wine Cellar, and Beale Street Brews & Gallery are all to be found with a two block stroll.
Even better, try and time your visit for the third Saturday evening of each month when the Kingman Route 66 Association hosts Chillin’ on Beale Street. Cars, friends new and old, good food, and good music under a desert sky make this a great summer destination. 
As for the encyclopedia, the latest twist is the addition of illustrations, which will require the writing of captions this weekend, and a few tweaks in regard to format. As frustrating as this is, with each preview my excitement builds. I can’t wait to share this with the Route 66 community!
And that takes me to the final items of the day. The debut for the encyclopedia is going to be at Cuba Fest in Cuba, Missouri on October 20. As it so happens, this will also be where the winners for the Big Palooza contest will be announced and prizes awarded. For more information about how to enter for what may be the biggest contest in Route 66 history, check out the latest issue of 66 The Mother Road
Last but not least are a few details about the next big adventure. I am in the process of confirming information about a World War II era plane crash in the Mt. Tipton area and then will begin making plans for an expedition. Could this be a bigger find than the Johnson Canyon railroad tunnel? 



JOHNSON CANYON ADVENTURE

JOHNSON CANYON ADVENTURE

It was once a place deemed so vital to national security and commerce a military outpost was established to protect it. Two decades before Arizona moved from territory to state it was front and center in the creation of an engineering marvel. By the dawn of the 20th century it had developed an infamous reputation for death from industrial accident, wrecks, and even murder. 

West entrance to the historic Johnson Canyon
railroad tunnel. 
Today, the Johnson Canyon railroad tunnel west of Williams, Arizona is less than an obscure footnote to history. Befitting that status as a lost time capsule it stands as a silent monument secluded deep in the Arizona wilderness.
The history of the tunnel is often conflicted as far as exact dates are concerned but the story begins in 1881 when the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad was faced with a challenge almost as daunting as bridging Canyon Diablo. The western escarpment of the Colorado Plateau dropped precipitously with only steep, rugged canyons providing access to the rolling plains below. 
A survey expedition declared Johnson Canyon as the best option and construction soon commenced. To maintain the maximum grade of descent, 3%, required carving a shelf from the canyon wall, bridging two gorges that exceeded 100 feet in depth, and boring a tunnel though a shoulder of rock at crucial curve. 
Soon a rough and tumble railroad camp complete with saloons and brothels had appeared on the flats more than one hundred feet above the proposed tunnel. With unheard of wages – $2.40 a day for laborers, $2.80 a day for drillers – the camp became a hotbed of unsavory characters.
In February of 1882, the Arizona Weekly Miner published in Prescott noted that an alcohol fueled argument resulted in James Casey shooting William Ryan in the head and neck. Casey then fled to a neighboring saloon where he barricaded himself. 
Enraged residents of the camp stormed the saloon with predictable results. “Luckily a ball from one of the guns ended his villainous career and he was sent to meet his maker with the blood of Ryan fresh on his hands. Both men were buried Thursday …”
These were not the first deaths associated with the Johnson Canyon tunnel. In August of 1881, a premature explosion killed six men. 
As construction fell behind schedule and costs began to mount, the Atlantic & Pacific entered a limited partnership with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad. Eventually the Santa Fe would absorb the Atlantic & Pacific.
The bore was completed in 1882 but it would be months before the tunnel was tracked and the trestles to the west were completed. One of the preparatory projects was shoring the ceiling with timbers one foot thick. 
After several devastating fires the ceiling of the tunnel
was lined with riveted boiler plate.
In 1893, and again in 1898, fire in the tunnel resulted in closure of the main line and death. To resolve this recurring issue, the tunnel ceiling was lined with riveted boiler plate.
The sharp curves and steep descent could not resolved quite as easily. As a result, wrecks soon gave the canyon an infamous reputation.
Shortly after World War I, the tunnel floor was lowered to accommodate larger rolling stock. This would be the last major renovation in the tunnel before the entire line through Johnson Canyon was replaced in 1959 by a modern double line several miles to the north.
Indicative of its importance, and the bottle neck the canyon represented, is found in the fact that during World War II the tunnel was deemed a vital war asset, and an observation and sentry post was built on site. The remains of this remote outpost are also part of the time capsule that is the Johnson Canyon tunnel.  
Surprisingly, I was unaware of this amazing place and its role in Arizona history until last spring. From then until now, I have developed a deep fascination for this place and an eagerness to see it, to experience it, to embrace the solitude of this marvelous place that is a tangible link to the earliest history of the Arizona territory. 
Late Sunday evening my dearest friend and I had decided that as it had been a full month since our last major expedition, and as I am on the cusp of a grueling six week stretch that will include six day work weeks and a night job, and as the weather was almost perfect, it was time for an adventure. The destination remained an unknown until early Monday morning. 
After evaluating the budget for a 250 mile drive and related expenses, we prepared a lunch of kippers and crackers, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grapes and granola bars, loaded the ice chest, and filled my day pack with camera gear, lunch and a few essentials we hoped to never need as they are for emergency only, and set our sites on Johnson Canyon. 
As we were unsure of how much time would be required for the adventure, we put aside the luxury of a Route 66 cruise and followed I-40 east to Welch Road, exit 151. We continued north on Welch Road, also forest service road six, through the rolling hills studded by junipers, along a segment of pre 1931 segment of Route 66, and past an incredible sink hole to the forlorn remnants of Welch Station and the old rail bed, a drive of less than six miles from I-40.
The rail bed was in surprisingly good condition but as discretion is often the better part of valor I parked in a wide spot about a half mile from the site of Welch Station. My concern was that the road bed, still in excellent condition, appeared to offer little opportunity for turning around as it climbed into the confines of the canyon. 
As it turned out my concerns were justified but just a bit premature. A half mile from where we parked, a narrow defile is spanned by a wood and steel bridge that was somewhat questionable. Obviously it had been used by folks with ATV’s but a full size vehicle such as the Cherokee was another matter. 
The second obstacle was of even more concern. Shortly past a deep cut the road bed had washed away leaving a narrow ribbon with unstable ground on both sides and a fairly steep drop into the canyon below. 
So, we walked. At every turn we were awarded with stunning views of quintessential western landscapes and vestiges that provided tangible links to almost a century of railroad engineering evolution. 
A large bull snake gave us a bit of a start but most of the wildlife encountered were bold rock squirrels, rabbits, and a wide array of birds and butterflies. It was an unseasonably warm day and even near the 6,000 foot level there was little respite from the heat. 
Then as we followed a sweeping curve around a rock shelf, we were awarded our first glimpse of the dark maw of the tunnel framed by a stunning display of the stone masons art. Here was the legendary Johnson Canyon railway tunnel. 
In light of its history there was a sense of solemnity as well as awe as we climbed over the debris at the tunnel entrance and entered the cool darkness. As my eyes adjusted to the light after hours spent in the bright sunshine, I could see the faint hint of light at the far end around the curve. The sheer size of the edifice was almost spellbinding.  
Our initial plan had been to follow the rail bed to the head of the canyon. However, as it was now late afternoon, and as we had a hike of two or two and and a half miles back to the Jeep and the long drive home, we decided to follow the tunnel as far as the east entrance, and then find a place for lunch before making the return trek. 
There was simply no more time for further exploration. The urge to see the rest of the canyon, as well as search for remnants of train wrecks in the canyon below and explore the old segment of Route 66, will serve as adequate incentive for a return trip or two. 
And so our grand adventure to Johnson Canyon ended far to quickly. To round out a perfect day, we decided on another picnic along old Route 66 near Williams, and then a drive home along that storied highway from Crookton Road to Kingman. 

ROUTE 66 NEWS AND NOTES FROM THE ROAD

ROUTE 66 NEWS AND NOTES FROM THE ROAD

With a nod to Ron Warnick of Route 66 News, I have some exciting developments from Route 66 to share. I also have a few personal updates that might be of interest to fans of the double six.
Last week I announced with excitement that the neon is back on at the historic El Trovatore Motel in Kingman. In that note I also mentioned that the owner, Sam Frisher, seemed quite serious about bringing this landmark back to life.
This week he launched a website that features then and now views of the hotel, views of the refurbished rooms, contact information, availability and reservation options, and rates. He also notes a limited partnership with the Hot Rod Cafe  on nearby Hualapai Mountain Road that allows him to offer a room and breakfast special.
Once the entire complex is fully refurbished it will be one of the few historic motels on Route 66 big enough to handle large tour groups. This photo isn’t the best but it provides context for the size of the historic motel as well as the height of the refurbished tower.
If by chance a group is still to large, the historic Hilltop Motel with its refurbished neon signage is directly across the street. It is almost as though the world of 1957 has intruded into the world of 2012 along this segment of Route 66.
Frank at Seligman Sundries in Seligman had a surprise visitor this past week, Gallagher. It seems that as the highway continues to grow in popularity celebrity spotting are becoming quite common.
The Alexander’s continue to expand and improve their already impressive website, Legends of America. If your unfamiliar with this delightful little stop on the information super highway you owe it to yourself to pack a lunch and take a detour.
At the risk of sounding a bit prideful, Ghost Towns of Route 66 is becoming a rare commodity as the publisher scrambles to get a reprint out. In addition to ordering copies through the blog (see the tab above)utilizing Paypal there are several locations along the highway that have copies available.
As of today, two of these locations have signed copies available. One is the gift shop at the Mohave Museum of History & Arts, and the second is the gift shop in the Powerhouse Visitor Center.

To inspire road trips I am also a special package of travel guides. Order all four books (Ghost Towns of the Southwest, Backroads of Arizona, Route 66 Backroads, and Ghost Towns of Route 66) and I will include a little something special that will ignite that passion for the road less traveled.
The deadline for entry in our little contest is fast approaching. To win a signed copy of Ghost Towns of Route 66, dinner, and an evening of conversation about America’s most famous highway, simply submit a brief essay of how you discovered the magic of legendary Roue 66 and provide permission for us to reprint your story by May 1.
Speaking of contests, don’t forget to register in the Big Palooza being sponsored by 66 The Mother Road. The list of prizes continues to grow and we still have months to go before the winner is announced at Cuba Fest in Cuba, Missouri in October.
Dale Butel of Route 66 Tours, an Australian based company, is adding a new twist to his already popular tours for 2013. The first of his Route 66 Golf Tours is scheduled for May of next year. For more information here is a link for further details
What did I forget? Oh, the dates for the Route 66 Fun Run, KABAM, and Wheels on 66 in Tucumcari is fast approaching. If you plan on attending any of these events please let me know as it would great to put names with faces.

ADVENTURE AT EVERY TURN

ADVENTURE AT EVERY TURN

Adventure is often a matter of perspective. For some folks anything less than an African safari or swimming with the sharks along the Great Barrier Reefs falls short of the term adventure. At the other end of the scale are people like me who have steadfastly held onto the concept of adventure that they have had since their sixth birthday.

I find adventure in the walk to work, in my job, in my evening dinner, in my quest to become a writer when I grow up, and even in a shopping trip to Walmart or Safeway. Granted, I prefer adventures on a larger scale and that is the subject of this evenings rumination.
It was about this time last year when a friend introduced me to the Johnson Canyon railroad tunnel through pictures he had taken on a recent trip. The thought of that beautiful canyon, the artistry of the stone mason made evident in the tunnel facing that dates to the early 1880s, and countless articles such as the one in the link above, have simmered for months.
Deadlines and commitments over the past year prevented an actual expedition to Johnson Canyon. Then a few days ago Ron Warnick featured a story on Route 66 News about the early alignment of Route 66 west of Williams being utilized as a hiking and bicycle trail. As a segment of this alignment is utilized to reach Johnson Canyon, the desire to explore the area reached a fever pitch.
So, we have decided that in the next few weeks a trip to Johnson Canyon will be made a priority. Then we can decide if further explorations are warranted and if so, we may have found our summer getaway as the high country is the place to be in the summer. Besides, what better place to camp and avoid summer storms than in an old railroad tunnel (see link above for photo)?
Meanwhile, I have a domestic adventure that is requiring attention very soon and that is the repair or replacement of a tub surround in the main bathroom. The catch 22 in this relatively simple project is the small matter of window in the back wall that would necessitate cutting a surround and then fabricating a waterproof fix for the window frame. I am quite sure this will be an adventure. Any one out there have ideas or suggestions?

The view from the Mesa Trail

The rapid approach of summer means we will have but a short time to enjoy the delights of the Mesa Trail at Cool Springs. This was one of our favorite local discoveries in 2011 and we would hate to have to wait for fall to make another trip. So, that means I have another little adventure to look forward to.
In looking toward the months ahead all I see are adventures stretching toward the distant horizon. But as exciting as Johnson Canyon and a trip to Cuba may be, the greatest adventure of all is my role as a grandfather that is still developing.
For those who take the time to look, the opportunity for adventure is found with every turn. For those who develop the ability to see adventure at every turn boredom is word without meaning.