As I reported last night, I slept in a wigwam last night – at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. It was both awesome and ridiculous at the same time – and you can see pictures of what my room looked like over at my Facebook page. But this morning, I tried to take a hot shower – which didn’t work, until the hotel management figured out that the “hot” and “cold” knobs were backwards. Having taken my hot shower for the morning (and a delicious breakfast down the street), I am ready to leave Holbrook – heading due west towards Winslow, Arizona. And of course, there’s only one CD to put into the stereo for this drive: the Best of the Eagles!
More than any other state, Arizona requires Route 66 travelers to spend most of their time on the Interstate. Between towns, it is open red desert country – and the roads are inaccessible. So I reluctantly get onto the Interstate as the Eagles sing about a “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” and the gorgeous Arizona scenery gets me into the mood. Pretty soon, I exit at the Geronimo trading post – because the sign on the Interstate claimed the “world’s largest petrified tree.” Frankly, I was not impressed – but the clerk at the gift shop told me that most of the tree is buried underneath the ground. But not as picturesque as I hoped it would be. A few miles down the road, I once again exit to visit the famous Route 66 landmark – the Jackrabbit Trading Post with it’s “Here it is” sign. Not much there, however, except a gift shop with more curios to sell to gullible tourists.By 11:00 a.m., I finally arrive in Winslow, Arizona. And the town has milked its fame to the Eagles song to a ridiculous extent. At the corner of 2nd & Kinsley, I come across the “Standing On the Corner” park – complete with a life-size statue for a quick photo opportunity – while the gift shop across the street plays “Take it Easy” in a loop over and over again. I asked the clerks if they ever get sick of the song. No, they insist, “or else we wouldn’t be working here.” Fair enough … Downtown Winslow is actually a cute town with great old architecture, so I grab a cup of coffee while snapping more photos.
The battery on my digital camera is running low (and the rechargeable feature has mixed results), which is making me nervous as I head to the Grand Canyon. So I ask locals in Winslow if they can recommend where to buy a new battery. They all suggest Wal-Mart – so even though I had sworn not to step into Wal-Mart on this trip, I found the one in Winslow. The good news, however, is that Wal-Mart didn’t have the one I was looking for – so I left without buying a thing. The Wal-Mart clerk was very nice, though, and suggested I go to Best Buy in Flagstaff.
Getting back on the Interstate, I get more and more wistful about taking side roads. And with the yellow New Mexico sagebrush having been replaced by the red rocks of Arizona, it’s frustrating that Route 66 won’t let me take the frontage roads. But with 40-odd miles to go before getting to Flagstaff, I notice an exit for Meteor Crater – the “first proven, best-preserved meteorite crater on earth,” and the crater where every astronaut who went to the Moon got their training. Why had I never heard about this place?
Meteor Crater is about 6 miles south of the Interstate, so the open road allows me get a small taste of the Arizona desert – just enough to satisfy my urge. And I’m really glad I went. When you arrive, a friendly tour guide takes you on a 45-minute trip around what is basically a huge hole in the ground. 50,000 years ago, a meteor hit this part of the world – and what’s incredible is that nobody really noticed until sometime in the late 19th Century.Of course, the white settlers who discovered it were interested in exploiting it for mineral resources – and they spent about 30 years fruitlessly looking for fragments. What happened, in fact, is that the meteor pretty much disintegrated upon impact – leaving very little beneath it. But today, it’s a popular tourist attraction – and has been critical at helping scientists understand the impact of meteors and craters. Check it out, if you’re in that part of the world.
By the time I leave Meteor Crater, it’s 2:00 p.m. – and I’m hoping to get to the Grand Canyon fairly soon. So I get back onto the Interstate, as the majestic, snow-capped mountains get closer and closer. The Eagles are now singing “Take it to the Limit,” which gets me into the mood as the mountains stand right there in front of me.Before Flagstaff, though, I see an exit on the Interstate for Winona. And of course, Bobby Troup’s song Get Your Kicks on Route 66 reminded us to “not forget Winona.” Frankly, I didn’t see what was so memorable about Winona – the town itself was so small, that I drove right by it. But what was special was the road itself – as the mountains of Flagstaff got closer. Because I am no longer on the Interstate, I can actually stop the car and take a photo – which I did right here. The road winds towards Flagstaff, as the Eagles sing “Hotel California” – which could not be more perfect given the scenery.
In Flagstaff, I go to Best Buy and get a new battery for my digital camera – as I leave Route 66 to go due north towards the Grand Canyon on Route 180. Flagstaff had some snow a few days ago (a local told me it was the “last hurrah” of the winter season), and we still have some snow on the ground – but it won’t last. North of Flagstaff, gorgeous Ponderosa pine trees line the road as I get into the mood about hitting the Grand Canyon.
I get to the park at 5:00 p.m. – just in time to check in for my mule ride tomorrow, and then catch the sun set on the South Rim at 7:00 p.m. By 6:00, I am strolling along the South Rim with my Western attire – as the gorgeous canyon speaks to me in the most mythical way. A small boy, who must be about 6 years old, approaches me and asks: “are you a cowboy?” I look at him, and say: “no, I’m just having too much fun on this vacation.” I think it’s important that we don’t lie to small children. It only confuses them, when they get older and realize the truth for themselves.
Right when you think you’ve taken the perfect Grand Canyon picture, you get another view of the South Rim – and you can’t help it. As a result, I took many many photos today – all of which can be seen on my Facebook page. I walk two miles from Bright Angel Lodge to Yavapai Lodge, as the sun slowly sets and the red of the canyon reflects back. At one point, I spot an elk on the pathway – completely oblivious to the tourists walking by. He doesn’t even run away when I take pictures. Later on, I see a group of deer – who likewise remain nonchalant. It’s beautiful here, and I can’t wait to spend the whole day tomorrow exploring it …