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Saturday, April 30, 2011

TheQueen gets her kicks on Route 66 (VERY long, picture laden post)

It's funny the things that will get you traveling – the romance or mystery or curiosity that pulls you out of your routine and off on an adventure to parts unknown. 1985 and 6 were particularly happy years in my life and about that time Willie Nelson et al came out with that song about the highwayman, sailor and dam builder. I remember LD and I learning all the words and singing along with it whenever it came on the radio. I was particularly struck by the verse about the dam builder, something about all that massive effort in human building, the hubris, the hopefulness, the crazy belief that man could harness nature – moved me deeply. In some ways I am attracted to that aspect of humanity and in some ways I'm repelled. Ever since then I've had this little flame of curiosity about the Hoover Dam. Not a yearning to see it, like the pull of the Grand Canyon, but certainly a desire to see something so enormous, conceived by human brains and built by human hands. That desire tipped the scales balancing the port-of-entry destinations in favor of Las Vegas over Phoenix. I'm still not sure Phoenix wouldn't have been a nicer experience, but I know I'd have skipped the Hoover Dam had we chosen it and I'm glad I got the chance to see this colossal structure.

On this first day of real touring we didn't ask any directions, just drove on down 93 and suddenly we were over the Mike O'Callaghan– Pat Tillman Memorial bridge, named for a Nevada governor and the Arizona Cardinals football player who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. We U-turned and entered the dam site where we got picked up for a random car inspection. It was all so friendly, though, with the officials telling us all about the great things to see, both from the bridge and at the dam itself that it didn't feel like an invasion. Besides, we were driving an unfamiliar car and asked the guard, who looked at hundreds of cars, if he knew where all the secret buttons were. (We never did find one that popped the trunk.)

Then it was out onto the pedestrian walk, to take in the enormous views. Vast. Enormous. Staggering. Distant. These are words I'll be using all the time in describing this trip. My own world, which is rich and deep and lush and full, highlights the huge contrast between here and there. 

The dam was gigantic. I'm glad to say that I didn't have any issues with vertigo, either here or anywhere else there were railings, on this trip. Instead I could move about freely enjoying these soaring views. We walked to the end of the bridge into AZ and back, snapping photo after photo. Then it was on down to the dam itself, still enormous and completely embellished with Art Deco touches, sculpture, statuary.

The temperature was rising all the time and I wished for shorts. I had packed for Grand Canyon weather which had been promised as cool, with highs in the 60's, but here at the NV/AZ border it was hot. And of course, I spilled coffee on one of the two short sleeved shirts I had with me. The pale one. So I couldn't wear it again. Happily, the weather dot com guys hadn't mislead me and I never again longed for briefer clothing. But the WIND! Oh the wind. From this day on it blew and blew and blew – sometimes so hard it nearly knocked me down. And I will tell you – the guide books recommend a broad brimmed hat – but they don't say anything about having one you can tie on. The wind out there will blow the skin off a lizard so take a hat with a chin strap or you'll have to spend all your time holding your hat onto your head – at the best of times an irritation, but on a cliff edge with a 4,000 foot drop, not fun. That's a place you don't want to be suddenly grabbing for anything.

Of course, it wouldn't be TheQueen if there weren't also lots of photos of the wild flowers along the way. Some photos were snapped by the highway, some in little crevices in parking areas.

We had an amazing drive across NW AZ. The mountains near the Hoover Dam were dark brown rock broken by flat crystalline planes often guarded on top by a rock palisade. We even got a glimpse of the Colorado River along the way!

We continued down 93 till we got to Kingman AZ, a modest little city of small stucco houses. Some were empty, but many had pretty serescaped yards. I couldn't really tell by driving through what the economy was but the people were friendly. A pleasant lady on the street gave us directions to a grocery store where we stocked up on fruit and nuts and bottled water. It was a Safeway – a long mourned grocery chain that left VA 3 decades ago during the evil corporate raiding of the 1980's.

It was here that we picked up Rt. 66 – Historic Rt. 66 – the route BD took in 1964 when he hitchhiked back from CA. It was wonderful hearing him reminisce about that trip. I've heard many of the stories before, but seeing these place for myself added freshness to their telling. And the landscape was ever fascinating to me – so different from my world – so, as I said above, vast, enormous, open, empty! In fact – that emptiness was one of the things I never really got used to about Az. Hence – a snapped photo of Proof of Habitation!
And then there were the Burma Shave signs. My favorite was:

30 days
Hath September
April June and
The speed offender

The mountains gave way to flat land, always with scrubby growth, mostly of juniper bushes; first low, then taller, then as tall as the cedars we have here in VA. A railroad paralleled us most of the time 

It was here that I began to sketch what I could see as we drove along.

We got to Williams AZ around 3 and checked into the Grand Canyon Hotel – a darling old-time place that made me feel like I had stepped onto the set of Gunsmoke. This hotel was another important spur that got me out to see the GC, for it was in that AAA article that I first heard of it. They recommended the hotel for its wild west charm and they were right on the money. Tiny quaint rooms, sloping floors, but also a cozy lounge in the back where they had an internet computer for their guests. Reasonably priced. Friendly staff. Very sweet.

We walked through the historic area, starting with the information center in an old train depot. Here we picked up an AZ DeLorme's, our atlas of choice whenever we go rambling. Here, also we heard that it was National Park week and all entry fees were suspended! What luck, since almost everywhere we wanted to go was a NP. Williams plays a lot on the auto themed Rt. 66 tourist attraction – something that actually leaves me unmoved – though I did snap photos. We took lots of photos – 507 of them after I'd deleted the ones I knew were fuzzy or bad! I even got the obligatory library photo and this one of me by a wild west mural.
I promise - I'll load the bulk of the photos on and keep future posts a more reasonable size. 

Williams is where you can take an old-time passenger train into the GC and they have a museum built around a Fred Harvey Hotel where they stage a gunfight every morning at 9 a.m. We were in Willilams twice but never at the right time to catch the gunfight. That's the trouble with traveling. There's never enough time to see it all.

Armed with our atlas, we drove around town to get a feel for the place and at the end of one street we turned left towards Perkinsville to take the loop around the Dogtown Reservoir campgrounds – an enormous Ponderosa pine forest. This was the first I'd seen of these tall straight trees – and in fact, it was the first we saw of anything besides juniper shrubs, which seem to top out at 12-15 feet. But the roads! Oh wicked DeLorme! You misled us entirely, drawing this treacherous pathway with your parallel red lines, indicating a major connector! It was worse than the loop road on the Tamiami Highway in south FL – so full of chuck holes and wash outs. All that was missing was a rattlesnake. And of course, by the time the road became really daunting we were deep in the forest and had no idea if the road ahead was going to get better or worse. We poked along at about 3 miles an hour, fingers crossed, and as you can see, made it out alright. And there was a magic moment when we got out of the car to wander through the forest, serenaded by the unique tune these pine trees sing when the wild west wind tears through them. The ground was very spongy even though it wasn't wet. It had a spring to it that was something I'd never felt before in a forest. There were also a few flowers, growing low against the ground, but no other undergrowth at all, letting in sunlight in a way that dappled the shade. It was an entirely different sort of forest from my thickly grown pines.

Dusk was falling as we got back to town. There were lots of lively places to eat but the visitor book we got at the center had a coupon for Rosies Cantina so we decided to walk across the railroad tracks and eat there. Too bad for us, too. The empty parking lot should have warned us that the food would be a disappointment. We were the only customers and while the food wasn't bad, it was the first Mexican food I've ever eaten that had absolutely zero spices in it. Well. Maybe there was salt – but imagine – no garlic – no oregano or cumin – not even any cilantro! Without a doubt, it was the blandest Mexican food I've ever eaten. The portions were enormous – we took a box away – but bleh. In fact, we never once got any good Mexican food out in AZ. Unlike the divine and unforgettable taco we picked up in Doge City, KA 10 years ago, all the Mexican food we got in AZ was heavy, doughy and bland. Imagine!

Tired and ready for sleep, we headed back to our cozy room and collapsed into bed, knowing that tomorrow we'd finally see the Grand Canyon.

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