Route 66 Day 7: Another Planet

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We left the Grand Canyon on a cold and rainy morning. Unfortunately The weather denied us one last view of the Canyon, so we packed up into our Ford Taurus and took off for fairer weather. We were not disappointed.

Within 45 minutes of leaving the park, the overcast clouds began to break up and I could feel the sun coming in through the car windows. Our first destination of the day was the wonderful little city of Flagstaff. It was a nice little town, with a charming old train station and an old section that featured century-old buildings and little boutique shops. We took took a coffee break in one of the many cafes and plotted our course east across the desert.

A few hours later we found ourselves standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona. The town commemorates this famous lyric by featuring a statue of what appears to be Don Henley perched on the corner of Kinsely and Second. We took the obligatory pictures beside the statue, all the while trying to withstand the heat radiating off of the sidewalk. It’s sad to say but besides that particular attraction, Winslow appeared mostly dead. I take it that it’s never a good sign when your town’s main claim to fame is being mentioned in an Eagles song.

While we were in Winslow checked out the historic Tortuga Hotel, which catered to Route 66 travelers in the decades gone by. It was a charming old building and while they couldn’t serve us lunch, they did end point us to a local joint that could. It was there that I had my first taste of Indian Tacos, which are much like regular tacos except for the fact that they are made using a fried bread rather than a corn tortilla shell. The clientele were mostly American Indian, as were the people standing outside the building. As we entered the restaurant a couple of them made a feeble effort at panhandling, which though harmless still compelled us to cross the street when we exited.

After driving through a mostly deserted Winslow, we made our way to Petrified Forest National Park. For years my father has kept a slice of petrified wood given to him by a friend on the mantel above our fireplace. That fossilized tree always fascinated me growing up, so when we were plotting our Route 66 trip I made it a point to visit the source of this intriguing fossil. The park itself is nowhere near as large as the Grand Canyon and we were able to drive through it in little more than an hour. Along the way we saw the various rock formations and the hundreds of fossilized logs that dotted the park. We were reminded again and again not to remove any piece of petrified wood from the park and even as we were leaving we saw a sign that suggested that our vehicle may be searched to verify that we weren’t smuggling anything out of the park. Luckily, we not subjected to such a search.

The drive to the New Mexico border took no time at all and soon we were in the self-proclaimed “Land of Enchantment.” In Grants we stopped at a roadside burger joint on the original Route 66 called Blake’s Burgers. And in true New Mexico fashion, our burgers were served with a healthy helping of spicy green chilies. We ate our dinner outside and got a good look at the town, which like Winslow seemed pretty dead to our eyes.

It’s amazing to see all the history on the old Route 66, but at the same time there’s a certain sadness about passing all these decaying motels and gas stations. Many of these towns depended on the traffic that 66 brought and when the interstate was built many of them were left to wither and die. But progress has its victims, I suppose.

We pulled into Albuquerque around 9 pm and checked into the La Quinta just off of the highway. As a side note, I have to say that out of all the hotels we’ve stayed at (with the exception of the Venetian), La Quinta has had the nicest rooms and provided us the best service. As we make our way east, we have decided to book with La Quinta whenever possible. Now give me my money, La Quinta!

The scenery that we saw over this leg of the trip can only be described as surreal. Coming from the East Coast, I can say for sure that we don’t have anything comparable to the canyons and buttes that pepper this vast desert for miles and miles. It’s almost hard to believe that we were even on the same planet as LA or New York, let alone the same country.

From Albuquerque we head into the Great State of Texas, where the desert gives way to the rolling plains of the panhandle. Stay tuned!

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