As you can guess from the lack of postings recently, my schedule has been rather hectic. Suffice to say the forthcoming adventure to Crown King via the Senator Highway in March is proving to be strong incentive for continuing to put one foot in front of the other when what I really want to do is play dead for a day or two. Adding to the fun has been a maelstrom of frustration in a wide array of guises. I learned yesterday that the contract for a new book sent to the publisher several weeks ago never arrived. Being shorthanded at work, again, has left me as chief cook and bottle washer (anyone interested in hiring a young at heart, somewhat articulate, heavily opinionated, ambitious, hard working, quick thinking individual, whose technical skill set has progressed little beyond that of rotary phones, eight-track tape players, and setting up a VCR?). Then there is the frustration that comes from biting my tongue and striving to be diplomatic when I really just want to try another more physical approach to conflict resolution after an exhaustive tirade filled with colorful but physically impossible descriptors and disparaging remarks about the offending persons lineage. Magnifying the frustration is the number of friends and apparently rational people who seem bent on seeking reasons to be offended or finding new and creative ways to cause divisions. Prime examples include a recent piece of legislation in Arizona, and a posting by a Route 66 business owner on a Facebook page that asked a simple question about Route 66 and when an adventure on that road ceased to be fun. Even though I didn’t recognize it at first, the heated and divisive responses lead me to believe the question was couched to spark this type of discourse.
Justification for this train of thought continued to develop as the discourse spiraled downward and the person who posed the question never responded. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed and surprised by some of the people who joined in the fray and their responses. The international spate over the Arizona legislation also surprised and frustrated me. Trumpeted as being “anti-gay” by most media sources to ensure an impassioned outrage, the law was in fact anti Baptist, homosexual, heterosexual, Druid, Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, Christian, etc. In short, it was legislation that cloaked the most ignorant form of bigotry in the guise of religious freedom. In a more perfect world this type of legislation would have become the butt of late night comedians, and the legislators that introduced it and voted for it would be driven from office and to eek out a living, were forced to become televangelists or used car salesman on some Podunk lot in Nogales where every car is sold with a salvage title. Instead people were whipped into a frenzy, stampeded into taking sides, and in the end, everyone lost. Arizona looked foolish, again, and divisions were fostered. Okay, now that I have vented, the week has also been peppered with exciting developments and good news. Even though blood test results are pending, a recent physical indicates the odds of my surviving another dozen or so years are quite good. My newest book is hitting the market and initial reviews are quite positive. Even more rewarding are the notes received by folks like Nick Adams at the Ariston Café. A sure sign that spring is fast approaching is the arrival of books ordered by tour companies that will become autographed souvenirs. This means that soon I will again be regaling visitors with tales of Kingman and old Route 66, and visiting with old friends. The efforts to creative a unified sense of community are gaining ground as plans for the Route 66 International Festival move forward. As a result, this event has tremendous potential for transforming Kingman. Breakfast is about finished so, its time to this the trail. As things are settling into the normal state of chaos, I should be able to assume a regular schedule of postings. Stay tuned for details …
In the 1920s the stunning discovery of an ancient boy kings tomb in the deserts of Egypt transfixed the world and spawned an architectural movement. In the 21st century people flock from throughout the world to travel Route 66 and play Indiana Jones as they explore the ghost towns, as well as the abandoned trading posts, and motels that now only offer shelter from the storm to wildlife.
What is the allure of the empty places, the ghost towns, and the ruins? Why is their haunting appeal so universal?
Since early childhood I have pondered these questions during long nights spent reading about the exploits and discoveries made by intrepid explorers such as Howard Carter, Heinrich Schliemann, John Lloyd Stephens, Gertrude Bell, Frederick Catherwood and a pantheon of intrepid adventurers. In time, their exploits inspired my own adventures on the road less traveled and to the empty places.
In the explorations of my youth to Civil War battlefields in Alabama, to forgotten mining camps in Arizona, and to long lost villages in the forests of Michigan, the adventure was shared through journals, and photographs on film protected from the desert heat. Today, in the modern era of digital photography, social media, and smart phones, adventures to the empty places often assume a voyeuristic quality. Still, there is no indication that this has quelled the curiosity or dampened the quest for the empty places. High definition video and the instant sharing of photographs can’t replace the musty smell of memories turning to dust, the feel of a sage scented desert breeze, or the embrace of a haunting quite in a place once full of life. Film and video, and even a well written word, can’t replace the thrill of experience. Countless photographs of now empty Glenrio, Texas adorn countless pages on Facebook and on blogs. However, just as it is impossible to capture the stunning beauty of the Grand Canyon with a camera or artists eye, it is impossible to capture the cacophony of serenity, depression, and excitement that is unleashed by standing at the center of an overgrown former four-lane highway that serves as main street in an empty town where motels and gas stations, garages and stores, lumberyards and cafes once bustled with activity day and night. Perhaps this is the allure, as it is only in the quiet places and ghost towns that we can dream in a cemetery of dreams. Only in the forgotten places does the ghost of Christmas future embrace the ghost of Christmas present. Those late night adventures shared with Carter, Bell, and Stepenson inspired more than countless voyages of discovery. They also inspired an all consuming passion to share those journeys, to ignite a hunger for exploration. I owe a great deal to these explorers and adventurers, and to a beautiful woman who fell in love with a dreamer. Because of them I have lived a life of adventure and discovery, and because of her I had the encouragement to share them with others.
Though my discoveries chronicled in several books pale in comparison to those of Howard Carter, they have enabled people to vicariously explore the fading vestiges from the sunset of the American frontier, and the dawning of the modern era. Occasionally, just as with books I read so long ago, they have also inspired voyages of discovery.
That is the true reward of writing. That is the real treasure that comes from adventure and adventure shared.
I know it isn’t possible, or even a realistic expectation to have adventures every day. Adventures need to be paid for.
So it is the mundane tasks such as having a job, meeting deadlines, dealing with taxes, home repairs, and a myriad of related activities that often consume our days. These, however, are what provides the resources need for adventures as well as ensure that each adventure is savored.
The National Old Trails Highway entering the Aubry Valley from the west.
Last weekend it was an Arizona out back adventure exploring lost remnants of the National Old Trails Highway, predecessor to iconic Route 66. Plans for this weekend are a bit more mundane as they include a long walk with my dearest friend, tax preparation, a long overdue visit with Ed Klein of Route 66 World fame, research for the new book project on violence in the taxi industry, a bit of consultation work for a company working on an innovative Route 66 related project, and packing the wheel bearings on the ’68 Dodge Adventurer (aka Barney the wonder truck).
Meanwhile, plans are under development for a birthday (a friend, not mine) adventure in March of truly epic proportions. As the length of the day seems to have been truncated to only twelve hours this year, (which accounts for why March is almost here even though we just celebrated New Years Eve) this will be taking place before I have time to pee or pay attention.
The essence of this outing is to fulfill the request to see Crown King made by this friend. While this may not require the planning of an African safari it is not something that is to be undertaken lightly.
To ensure it is a memorable adventure resultant of enjoyment rather than disaster will require a bit of preparation. After all, if one is to really get the full flavor of Crown King they must drive the historic frontier era Senator Highway from Prescott.
Sure, you can follow the old rail bed that is a twisted gravel trail from the saguaro studded desert to the deep pine forests that embrace the old mining town. That, however, is for the return trip.
The Senator Highway presents a real sense of wilderness adventure as it is an almost fifty mile trek through the Bradshaw Mountains that is little changed from when it was a toll road on the Arizona frontier in the 1860s. Mines, and mining camps, stage stations and wildlife are found at every turn of the rutted track that courses through the forest and canyons, across streams and along ridge lines that offer stunning views.
Four wheel drive is seldom needed, unless one is crazy enough to try this route after a snow storm. Still, ground clearance is a must as are good tires and ensuring the vehicle is in good mechanical condition.
Indicative of the road conditions are admonitions by the forest service to plan on two to three hours for the drive. That, of course, is not including the endless opportunities for stopping to take in the view, explore historic sites, of watch wildlife.
It wouldn’t be fair to make such an arduous drive without an evening of relaxation in Crown King. So, I just may have to rent a cabin, and also plan on a dinner at the Mill.
All of this should give me something to work toward, a sort of carrot and stick situation. This little adventure should serve as adequate incentive to endure the mundane and frustrating for another week or so.
Once the decision was made to head east instead of west for a day of playing hooky, it seemed an ideal opportunity to look for signs of an early alignment of the National Old Trails Highway that linked Ash Fork with Seligman in a southerly “U”. Professor Nich Gerlich, a leading contender for the Indiana Jones of the Route 66 community title, had called to discuss this quirky circa 1913 alignment a few days ago.
Well, Nick (Jeroen, Maggie and fellow fans of Route 66 and the National Old Trails Highway), I didn’t quite make it to Ash Fork. In fact time ran out on this adventure at a point somewhere to the east of the Crookton overpass along an early alignment of Route 66 where what appears to be a vintage roadside park hides among the cedar trees.
Author Jim Hinckley, left, and John Mcenulty in search of the National Old Trails Highway in Arizona.
Still, thanks to John Mcenulty owner of Grand Canyon Caverns, the planned voyage of exploration instead became an exciting voyage of discovery. Let me provide a visual teaser before telling the tale.
Just like a couple of giddy kids on Christmas morning, my dearest friend and I had the Jeep loaded (assorted tools, first aid kit shovel, jack, peanut butter and raisin bread sandwiches, water, canned beans, utensils, our fancy foldin’ chairs, jackets, cameras and gear, a variety of granola bars, one bottle of beer, small ice chest, topographical maps, compass, and, of course, our autographed and note riddled copy of the EZ 66 Guide) for the adventure before the sun cleared the western horizon. We picked up the old double six near the I-40 interchange in Kingman and were closing in on Antares Point by full sunrise.
As per our discussion on Saturday morning, my dearest friend and I met John at the caverns motel, drove to the caverns parking lot, and began our hike into the cedar forest to the east. Almost immediately it became apparent that sixty years of development had failed to erase traces of what had once been a very important roadway.
Scattered among the construction debris, discarded equipment, and modern housing were hints of roadside stone work. Less than a half mile to the east, where nature was fast reclaiming the old road bed, any hint that we were still in the 21st century was obscured by brush and trees.
As we continued to hike east under an overcast sky, it quickly became apparent that the old trail we were following had at some point in time been far more than a mere cattle path into the canyon and through the broken red rock. Here and there the path was boarded by rock that had laboriously been cut from the opposite bank in order to create a road bed on the shelf in the canyon.
Then we encountered a series of stone constructed road supports with clay pipe drainage. It seemed as though each one encountered was more spectacular than the last.
Just as we turned a corner that awarded a view of the valley below, and the old road sweeping toward the distant mountains, we encountered the most spectacular of these monolithic monuments from the era of the tin Lizzy and the National Old Trails Highway. That is the picture at the top of the page.
What an amazing adventure! But it didn’t end there, this was only the beginning.
After the second hearty breakfast of the day at the lodge in Peach Springs, my dearest friend and I continued east on the double six toward Seligman. At Hyde Park we turned south in search of the National Old Trails Highway in the hope we could find it, and follow it at least as far as Pica.
The first road encountered that held promise was truly a cattle path overgrown with grass and brush, washed out in places to such a degree we were forced to abandon its course and snake our way around the trees on the side, and strewn with rocks. Hints that we were on the right path were few (stumps of phone poles, an occasional rusty can, broken bottles that dated to the 1920s or earlier) but yet they were adequate enough to encourage us to continue.
Then we came to the fence with the locked gate and oversized no trespassing sign. So we retraced our tire tracks to Hyde Park Road, and continued south toward Yampai crossing in the hope we could pick up a railroad road to continue the journey east.
That game plan worked rather well, until we came to a boulder strewn, washed out cut that twisted down a steep grade well in excess of eight percent. So, again we backtracked, this time all the way to Route 66 at Hyde Park.
At this juncture we decided to stick to the pavement to a point somewhere east of Seligman. And that led to our last discovery of the day.
At the bottom of the downgrade east of the Crookton overpass, we turned onto a dirt road on the north side of the highway in search of a suitable location for a picnic lunch. I had only driven the gravel track for a short distance when I noticed what appeared to be bits of pavement among the gravel.
In consulting our EZ 66 Guide (Arizona, page 18)I determined this was definitely an older alignment of Route 66. Thank you Mr. McClanhan.
So, we continued to the west on the upgrade and on the south side of the road, below the current course of Route 66, discovered a clearing in a grove of trees. It was the ideal place for our late afternoon picnic.
Apparently a few other folks had a similar idea. There was a fire pit, and in the wash below, a few hints of modern refuse.
Initially I paid little attention to the fire pit, after all from the front it was just a stack of stones. However, as I set up the foldy chairs under the shade of the lift gate, I noticed that originally the fire pit had been built of finished concrete!
This prompted further investigation. Scattered in the thick brush and scrub oak above the wash was a wide array of cans and broken bottles circa 1940s (plus or minus a few years). The next discovery was what appeared to be a broken concrete picnic table seat. Had we inadvertently set out our picnic in a vintage roadside park?
Once again Gumby had been proven right. The flexibility that allowed us to abandon a long planned trip to the ghost town of Swansea and head in the opposite direction with eager anticipation turned out to be the best adventure of the new year.
Gumby. Now, there is a role model for a life lived with a modicum of calm and serenity. After all, when this old world ties you up in knots a bit of flexibility can be a most valuable attribute.
Flexibility, some excellent ice cream, a very good friend, and, perhaps, a bottle of hard cider, that is the best way to get through crisis, chaos, and the uncertainties of life. Perhaps I should start at the beginning, or at least at the beginning of the recent bout of chaos that started a few weeks ago.
Lets see, there were issues with the Illustrated Route 66 Historic Atlas that required immediate attention, attendance of a meeting in Wickenburg that had been rescheduled resultant of family issues in January, and two organizational meetings pertaining to the Route 66 International Festival. Software issues midway through rectifying issues with the atlas were followed with a bout of stomach flu ( a dear friend, not mine).
So, as it has been three full weeks without a real day off, we decided to take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and head to the ghost town of Swansea on the edge of the wilderness along the Bill Williams River on Sunday. In short, I would be playing hooky as the appointment with our accountant is looming and there is a need to organize records for tax preparation.
This was to be resolved last weekend but issues with the atlas, and the meeting in Wickenburg, derailed that plan. So, the decision was to take off for a day of adventure tomorrow as this morning we had a meeting scheduled with Werner Fleischman and Klaus Wenigk, the developers behind renovation of the historic Brunswick Hotel.
Then the weather threw us a curve ball with a revised forecast. For those suffering through a rather bleak winter an unseasonable warm spell may seem like an enviable problem.
However, along the Colorado River and the deserts to the east and west, this warming trend will push temperatures close to or beyond the 100 degree mark. When temperatures exceed the triple digit mark extensive adventures and desert exploration becomes more of a chore than a relaxing outing as there is a need to pack extra water as well as a snake bite kit, and hikes just aren’t as comfortable.
Obviously I can and have made long treks in the desert on days far warmer than that. Still, this is supposed to be a day for unwinding, a quiet picnic, and long walks, not a military training exercise.
So, we decided to head east instead of west and explore areas of the National Old Trails Highway near Ash Fork recently discussed with Nick Gerlich. Temperatures around the 75 degree mark should be just about right.
The meeting this morning centered on possible contributions to the Route 66 International Festival by Werner and Klaus, and our store and gallery in the hotel upon completion of refurbishment. As the historic hotel on Route 66 is next to the new ice cream parlor and bakery that officially opened last Thursday, we simply had to make a slight detour after the meeting.
Now, a bottle of cider, then load the Jeep, turn off the phones, have a pleasant dinner with my dearest friend, and eagerly await sunrise. Thank goodness I had Gumby as a role model.