The Journey West: Albuquerque to Las Vegas
Okay, nothing bad happened. I did wake up about 2 AM to discover a
bright light shining in my face. I thought, what the heck? Did I park under
a streetlight? No, it was the Moon. The Moon had risen as I slept, and
even through it was a Half Moon, it lit up the campground like twilight.
I tried to get back to sleep, but the silence of the place unnerved me.
I had to get up and listen to hear any crickets. I eventually found the
moonlight comforting. If any escaped madmen with hooks for hands decided
to come after me, I’d see him coming. I went back to sleep… until the coyotes
woke me up two hours later. It sounded like there were at least a half-dozen
of them, howling and yipping, until they moved on out of earshot. It got
really chilly by then, since the park was at over four thousand feet elevation,
and I shivered as I pulled the sleeping bag closer…
The eastern mountains were even more beautiful as I would my way back towards
the interstate, sunlight filtering through the clouds like Sunday morning
in a medieval cathedral. Coming over the crest, the valley ahead greeted
me with the sight of magnificent red cliffs, ruddy and vibrant. It was
like the Earth itself was rising to greet the dawn. Satori clicked over
215,000 miles coming over that ridge.
Near the Continental Divide
I crossed the bridge over the interstate and turned down the two-lane service
road. Was I on the original Route 66? At the Continental Divide, I stopped
for a picture. Neither of the stores there looked open. So, I continued
down the highway and stopped at the Pilot truck stop I’d stopped at years
before. Nothing much had changed. I had a cup of tea in the restaurant
and got caught up on my writing. The waitress kept checking up on me. I
felt super grungy, so I sprung for one of those trucker showers truck stops
often have. It cost $10.66, just like the year. For that, I got my own
little bathroom, with a toilet and a shower with a towel and everything.
There didn’t seem to be any time limit for using the shower rooms. If they
delivered food there, a guy might not ever have to leave… I got clean,
got some gasoline ($3.65 a gallon) and hit the road.
|I woke just before dawn. It was Saturday, August 23. The breeze was
crisp as I sat up and put on a sweatshirt. To the east, clouds were being
broken up by the oncoming glare of the Sun. Breakfast was an apple and
a can of V-8. I’d read that the camp had showers, but I couldn’t find them
anywhere, and I was too impatient for to wait for the park ranger office
to open. I pulled out of camp just as the Sun was rising.
I decided to spend the day checking out as much of the original Route 66
as was still intact. I got off the highway and went through Gallup. I followed
the old Route 66 trail through town, past decades-old businesses, shops
and old motels. I stopped at the Cultural Center to get a picture of the
Code Talker statue, then followed the 2-lane road until it crossed some
railroad tracks and disappeared into the rocky hills. Pretty yellow-green
flowers dotted the shoulders of the highway, highlighted with patches of
Open range cattle
New Mexico sunrise
The highway meandered its way between two rugged ridges towards the Arizona
border. Shadows from clouds danced across the cliff faces. At 11:28 Oklahoma
time, I crossed the line into Arizona. The chilly night before made me
interested in finding some extra blankets. A sign advertising inexpensive
rugs brought me to Chee’s Trading Post. (I also liked their sign: “Smile,
say Chee’s.”) The “rugs” turned out to be, technically, “placemats,” but
I bought a couple of pretty rocks anyway. Back on the road, Exit 346 announced
I’d reached 6,000 feet in elevation. By Arizona time, it wasn’t even 10
AM, but I’d already traveled 90 miles since dawn. The land flattened out
into gently rolling prairie. I crossed Crazy Creek at mile marker 323,
and seven miles down the road I crossed the Dead River. Colorful bands
of rock began to poke out from beneath the topsoil as I approached the
Painted Desert. The Petrified Forest was off at Exit 311. I noted that
Route 66 veered off to the south of I-40. Ahead, dinosaur statues appeared
alongside the road, landmarks that I was getting close to Holbrook. Near
Exit 303, I passed a whimsical statue of a 2-headed dinosaur—something
that I doubted was supported by the fossil record. There were more statues
at Stewart’s on Route 66, but I’d visited there years ago.
|I was never that taken with the "romance" of Route 66. Living along
Route 66 in Oklahoma for years, it's easy to become cynical. Every store
you go to has Route 66 stuff: t-shirts, shot glasses, refrigerator magnets...
and in many cases it's the same stuff, over and over. Living in
an environment like that, Route 66 seemed to symbolize everything wrong
with the economy-- trivializing important, historical events into cheap
trinkets just to squeeze every last penny out of tourists.
But then, I went to England. The bus tour took us to lots of neat places,
sites I'd dreamed of seeing my whole life. Objectively, though, lots of
places we visited were little, out of the way towns-- villages I might
have passed by withouth a throught, places where the only reason for visiting
at all was because of some obscure monument, or because some famous person
once lived there, or because some general that just got the crap beat out
of him ran through there like a wounded puppy. In lots of cases, these
attractions were the only things keeping those little communities alive.
So, why not sell trinkets? Why not put pictures on shot glasses and
magnets? In their own way, souvenier trinkets keep cultural heritages alive,
remember historical events, and show respect for remarkable individuals...
and if it helps somebody put food on their table or keep a roof over their
head, more power to them.
I listened to “Car Talk” on the radio. It turns out shock absorbers are
important for a car’s health even if you don’t mind a “bumpy ride.” They
help keep the wheels all on the road. There were more dinosaur statues
when I got off the highway at Holbrook, one of the landmark Route 66 towns.
Hopi Drive was on the original route; that’s where I passed the Wigwam
Motel and a classic movie theater called the Roxy was showing “Hellboy
II.” There was a dinosaur statue and a closed barbecue place called Bubba’s.
The end of Hopi Drive links back up with Interstate 40. It was 25 miles
to Winslow, Arizona. Big mountains appeared on the horizon.
Satori with Holbrook dinosaur
Here I is
Between Holbrook and Winslow, I pulled off the interstate to visit the
Jackrabbit Trading Post. Made famous by the iconic "Here it Is" sign and
jackrabbit silhouette, it's a fairly large general store on the old highway.
I made a pit stop and looked through their Route 66 memorabilia. They sold
booze, too. There was a giant jackrabbit statue out front, but there wasn't
anybody else there to take my picture astride it. I bought a refrigerator
Down the road, I turned off the interstate. I planned on going through
Winslow, but there was something I wanted to see first. Just a couple of
miles north of Winslow are the Homolovi Ruins, a 14th century Anasazi site—except
I found out they don’t like using the word Anasazi anymore. The Hopi prefer
they be called the Hisat’sinom. Again, there was nobody at the gate when
I drove up, so I dropped my $5 fee in a slot and drove on. It was a state
park, but mine was the only car on the narrow roads. It’s a lonely place,
with hardly any signs. There were a handful of campers in the small campground.
I went to Ruin Site I, my car the only one in the parking lot. Through
a small gate, I walked along an unmarked path over the crest of a hill.
There were no signs, no marked paths, only some little flags on wires.
I found a couple of walls, build with mud bricks, half-buried in the ruddy
soil. Some mounds, and scattered bricks on the ground. It must be frustrating
for archaeologists, I thought, to find something like that and know it
was the site of some ancient center of culture, but to others it just looks
like a pile of bricks. I looked through some more rocks, but my gas tank
was getting low, so I skipped the visitor center and headed on into Winslow.
The restored Standin' on the Corner Park
Gas was $3.69 a gallon in Winslow, elevation 4,850 feet. I was pleased
to see that Standin’ on the Corner Park had reopened. The building area
that used to be next door had been planted with grass and trees. The wall
with the mural had been reinforced with supports on the rear, and people
were on the corner, taking pictures. I drove down the interstate for a
while, then stopped at a roadside park near Meteor Crater for lunch: hard-boiled
eggs and an apple. The state very artfully built the park around some unique
rock formations. To the west, it looked like a storm was brewing. It was
mid-afternoon when I resumed my journey westward. As I passed Twin Arrows,
it looked even more run-down than the last time I went that way. I crossed
Diablo Canyon without stopping.
closer I got to the storm, the cooler the air became. The sky grew dark.
Lightning flashed to the southwest. I could see the gossamer curtains of
rain dangling from the low-lying clouds. About an hour after leaving Winslow
I pulled into Flagstaff, Arizona. The first drops of rain hit the windshield
just as I crossed the city limits. The rain came down steady all the way
past Flagstaff to the Arizona Divide, 7,335 feet above sea level, then
slowly petered out. The clouds broke up, and it turned into a fine drive,
with mountains and wild flowers and big white clouds. It was at Williams,
Arizona that I found a classical radio station, which put me in a contemplative
A little over an hour past Flagstaff, I pulled off the interstate again
and got back on Route 66 at Seligman, “the birthplace of historic Route
66.” I spent most of the next hour driving the original route, the trail
bypassed by the interstate. Once I got past an old pickup, I was alone
on the old 2-lane asphalt, its surface cracked and patched from decades
of use, streaked with varicose veins of tar. There were Burma Shave signs
on the old road! They looked pretty new, so I don’t know if they were vintage
signs, or new signs put up by historians. One said, “Train’s approaching
/Whistle screaming /Pause! Avoid that /Rundown feeling.” It was a lonely
drive, but the landscape was thrilling. I headed northwest, off the beaten
trail, into the land the interstate forgot. This was traveling! When getting
someplace was full of mystery, danger and adventure. I couldn’t stop smiling.
A ridge of mountains off to the east followed the road from Chino Point
past Rhodes Canyon, pointing towards Blue Mountain. This was the view thousands
of travelers saw before 4-lane superhighways passed them by.
The wind picked up. A pair of prairie dogs scampered across the hot road.
Old Route 66 goes in pretty much a straight line through the arid land
before turning into towards the hills. I passed the turn for Grand Canyon
Caverns. Nine miles from Peach Springs, a sign told me I’d crossed into
the Hualapai Indian Nation. The speed limit slows to 35 going through the
sleepy town of Peach Springs, about a half hour from Seligman. A sign reminded
motorists to keep their headlights on day and night. I passed the Music
Mountain High School, and wondered what their football team was called.
The water in my canteen was hot. In the little town of Truxton, the vintage
Frontier Motel seemed to be doing good business. The old Orlando Motel
across the street, boarded-up and overgrown with weeds, was not so lucky.
I saw more Burma Shave signs. In Valentine, I passed the local Bureau of
Indian Affairs office. The old highway slowly wound down into a sharp valley,
the late afternoon sun beating down from a cloudless sky. Clumps of cactus
sprouted across the surrounding rocky hillsides. My cellphone declared
“no service,” and I had trouble finding a radio station. At the turnoff
for Hackberry, I was still 25 miles from Kingman. At mile marker 75, a
store displayed a big, green Tiki head out front. I kept thinking I should’ve
gone back for a picture. The road turned into a wide valley. Traffic picked
up, and the road widened to a 4-lane. I passed a road called Diagonal Way.
I arrived in Kingman just before 4:25 Arizona time. That’s where I left
Route 66 behind me and turned onto Highway 93—which put me back on Interstate
40, but not for long. I soon pulled off the interstate and started a long,
slow slog up Highway 93 towards Las Vegas, 100 miles away. To the east,
Chernum Peak and Packsaddle Mountain loomed as I zoomed out of Arizona.
To the west, the Black Mountains cast their shadows across the wide Detrital
Valley. The sun was bright on my left shoulder.
Highway 93 is a comfortable 4-lane road until you get to mile marker 17,
the beginning of the Lake Mead Recreational Area. I never fail to be humbled
by the gargantuan mountains on the approach to the Colorado River. As impressive
as the construction of Hoover Dam was, just getting to Hoover Dam
must have been an achievement in itself. Nine miles from the border, all
traffic was detoured over for a police check. As I slowed down, the officer
looked me over, then waved me on. I don’t know what, or who, they were
looking for. An hour and 20 minutes after leaving Kingman, I reached the
Hoover Dam, and was surprised to see the makings of a bridge being built
high over the entire gorge. It rose up and up about, oh, a million feet
in the air. Would I go over it when it was completed? Hell no!
On the Nevada side, I pulled off the highway and turned towards
Lake Mead. My destination was the Boulder Beach campground. The park ranger
charged me $5 to get into the park. At the campground, I put $10 in an
envelope, and I had a place to sleep for the night. The campground was
fairly empty: 150 campsites, and I counted about 5 other people. Tall eucalyptus
trees shaded the campsites. I found a spot about 30 yards from the bathrooms,
but completely hidden by trees and bushes.
I made myself at home. I got out my camp chair, ate my last two hard-boiled
eggs (still good) and relaxed with a beer. The wind whispered through the
eucalyptus trees, and was unfortunately still quite warm. The distant mountains
caught the last drops of sunlight as the Sun crept below the horizon. I
called in a voice post to my LiveJournal and relaxed. In the distance,
I could hear the sigh of the highway. As darkness fell, I could see other
vehicles wandering through the campsite, finding places to roost. None
came near to me. They may have been boaters from the marina heading home.
Boulder Beach wasn’t technically on the beach, but you could see it plain
enough. Dusk fell, and overhead I could hear jet planes headed for Vegas
or points beyond. The breeze died down, then started back up again from
across the lake. I decided I liked New Mexico beer. I settled down for
the night. By my calculations, I’d traveled 499 miles that day, traveling
from sunup to sundown.
Broken Arrow to Albuquerque
||Las Vegas to Beatty