It was a perfect morning for a bit of reflection and some desert exploration. I was alone with my thoughts for the first time since hearing that my pa had passed, and there was a hint of a chill in the air as the light of dawn chased the shadows. Seldom do I sleep in later than 5:00 A.M. and this morning was no exception. That habit was a part of my legacy. For as long as I can remember the day started early and years spent working farms and ranches have ensured that it is an ingrained habit.
I had held emotions and thoughts in check even during the drive to Needles, California at the historic El Garces. That also was a part of my legacy as there was a job to be done but it was a challenge since the drive took me past the ruins of the old homestead that I had helped pa build in the late 1960s and along old Route 66 where I had been taught to drive.
Now, however, was time to give thought to the loss. For more than a half century I have found solace in the desert. And so I slipped from our room at Fenders River Road Resort, the only motel that is located on the National Old Trails Road, Route 66 and the Colorado River, and walked to the river as the sun broke in the east. Then after a bit of reflection I began walking into the desert along Route 66 with little to no thought as to distance or direction. And so it was a bit of a surprise to notice that at some point in my wanderings I had left the highway and was following a long abandoned segment of iconic Route 66.
Route 66 figures prominently in my life and so I consider it a part of my legacy as well. Aside from being taught to drive on a bypassed alignment, I learned to ride a bicycle on this iconic old highway. My first job was on old Route 66. I learned to drive a truck on Route 66. And Route 66, and the desert, figures prominently in the story of how my inquisitive nature and passion for the quest, for exploration was kindled.
As I followed the broken asphalt and faded white line deeper into the desert, the ruins of a once thriving truck stop or service station complex was discovered. Judging by the extensive trash piles, and the pile of bulldozed ruins, my best guess is that it had been in operation during the mid 1950s and into the 1960s. Had we stopped here during my childhood travels?
As I wandered around the overgrown remnants of the complex a tsunami of memories engulfed me. The road trip figured prominently in my relationship with pa. We hauled hay from Mohave Valley over Sitgreaves Pass to the homestead in the Sacramento Valley. We hauled scrap metal from Silver City in New Mexico to Phoenix and Tucson. We hauled appliances in Michigan. We moved the family from Arizona to New Mexico, from New Mexico to Michigan and from Michigan to Arizona. And we stopped at thousands of dusty old truck stops and gas stations on our desert odysseys.
With my eyes closed I could hear the ringing of the gas station bell and smell the hot engines. I could smell the tires, the oil, the gear oil, the diesel fuel and the exhaust. I could feel the hot desert sun on my face, and see pa checking the radiator as the gallons pouring into the tank were counted with the clanging of the gas pump. I could taste the cold soda pop, the hamburger and hear the accents as people from Michigan and Florida and Wyoming mingled in the cafe.
It was here that I bid adios to the man that instilled in me a hunger for the open road, for adventure, and a passion for the empty places and the desert.