Now, a word on the various accommodations in the Grand Canyon. I stayed at Yavapai Lodge, which was one of the less expensive hotels, and had its own cafeteria. When I arrived on Tuesday, I figured it would be the cheaper food option – and I paid way too much for my spaghetti & meatballs. So last night, I ate at the Bright Angel Lodge Restaurant – and my far superior dinner turned out to be about the same price. The El Tovar Hotel is *the* fanciest place to stay in the Grand Canyon, and its restaurant is quite pretentious. But because all I had was pancakes and coffee, it wasn’t too expensive. In other words, cafeterias are a rip-off!Leaving the Grand Canyon, I headed south on Route 64 towards Williams – in order to re-join Route 66. And because I wanted to sing Joe-Joe left his home in Tucson Arizona, for some California grass, I popped in the Beatles’ “Let it Be” album in the CD player. One hour later, I arrive in Williams to get some gas … and get a cup of coffee in town.
Williams, Arizona is famous on Route 66 for being the very last town to be by-passed by the Interstate. After a long legal battle, Williams eventually lost in 1984 – and thus Route 66 was de-commissioned by the U.S. Highway System. But unlike McLean, Texas (which was really depressing), I found Williams to be a thriving town with a cute historical downtown – despite the locals telling me they took a hit.
My guess, however, is that Williams is also the only way to get to the Grand Canyon by train, with a nice depot in the heart of the city. If the National Park Service bans all private cars in the Grand Canyon (which would be an awesome idea, frankly), it would be a huge boon to the economy in Williams. If I hadn’t stayed in the Grand Canyon itself, I could have totally spent the night here.Getting back on the Interstate, I exit a few miles west in Ash Fork. But besides the car on top of a building, Ash Fork looks like another one of those depressing Route 66 towns that never recovered from the Interstate – so I move on.
As I mentioned the other day, more than any other state Arizona requires Route 66 travelers to stay on the Interstate. But once I exit about 16 miles east of Seligman, this is no longer true. The last 160 miles of Arizona will be completely on Old Route 66, as I am giddy with anticipation to hit the open road.
Old Route 66 fails to disappoint, as I zoom down the desert prairie without a car in sight. This would be the perfect time to put in my Bruce Springsteen CD and do “Born to Run,” but I played that already – back in the Texas Panhandle. And besides, I’m on a Beatles fix now.
So after “Let it Be” I put it in “Abbey Road” – singing (or harmonizing) to every song on the album. Later on, I put in “Rubber Soul” – as I sing Baby you can drive my car to absolutely no one in particular. This may not be the red rock desert of Eastern Arizona, but the mountains here are spectacular – and the miles of sagebrush tell me I’m all alone.Arriving in Seligman, the town has milked its Route 66 connection to a ridiculous extent. Tacky souvenir shops are everywhere – and when a gift shop owner tells me about the Roadkill Cafe, I know I just can’t resist grabbing my lunch there. At the Roadkill Cafe, which sports signs like “unattended children will be sold as slaves” or “sex prohibited on premises – but a little messin’ around is ok,” I order their famous Buffalo Burgers. Call me naive, but they say it’s made of real buffalo meat. Of course, the old gag every time a customer at Roadkill Cafe asks for the menu is – “mean you didn’t bring it in?” I could have stayed in Seligman longer, but I’m eager to cover more miles today – as I head on Old Route 66 towards Kingman.
I’d like to make good time to Kingman (since I don’t have a hotel reservation yet), but I have plenty of time to spare – and my hunch is Kingman’s not a popular place for the night. A few miles west of Seligman, I see a huge sign for Grand Canyon Caverns – a Route 66 “must-see.” I had seen Grand Canyon Caverns on the map before, but had not been clear what it is exactly. Turns out it’s another cave. Now, I’ve just been to the Grand Canyon – and I went to Meramec Caverns back in Missouri. So what does Grand Canyon Caverns have to offer? “It’s the oldest dry cavern in the world,” says the clerk – as he explains that Meramec was a “wet cavern.” But I’m not very impressed – and don’t want to spend 45 minutes in a cave.But right next to the Cavern entrance is a stable where you can sign up for horseback riding. I’ve got time to kill, and it’s a beautiful afternoon in Western Arizona – so why not spend the next hour riding a horse? I sign up for it, and Jimmy the tour guide finds me a good horse to get on – as we roam the 800-acre ranch. I’m truly embarrassed that I forgot my horse’s name, but he did have one – so it’s not like I’ve been to the desert on a horse with no name. What I do recall is that my horse was 22 years old (which is ancient for horses), and he was very very slow – but that was okay by me. Jimmy regaled me with stories about growing up out here in Arizona, and his children and grandchildren. It is truly a labor of love for him. As we ride for an hour, the desert scenery is beautiful – as we spot the occasional jackrabbit galloping between the bushes. There are beautiful cactus plants here as well, and I feel that I’m truly a million miles from everything. When the ride is over, I tell Jimmy how much fun I’ve had – and how this was so much better than I’d ever imagine going down to another underground cavern would have been. “I still haven’t gone,” he says nonchalantly. “It’s 22 feet below the ground, and Hell is at 23 feet. What if the elevator forgets to stop?”
I leave Grand Canyon Caverns – as I zoom the car down Old Route 66 through the small towns of Peach Springs, Truxton and Valentine. Not much to really stop for in these places, but I’ve got the mountains and desert scenery all around – and the Fab Four from Liverpool are still in my car, as I sing along loudly to songs like “Nowhere Man” and “In My Life.”As I get close to Kingman, the terrain gets rougher – which tells me it’s time to switch to some more mellow music. So I stop the car at the General Store in Hackberry (which is full of cute Route 66 souvenirs), and I put in some Don McLean for the last 25 miles. The first two songs are soft and mellow, as I maneuver tough hills and a windy road – but almost as if on cue, the road straightens out nicely just in time for “American Pie.” I then spend the next 8 minute and 33 seconds, zooming down Route 66 singing along to my favorite song of all time – with the mountain range on my right, and a train rolling by on my left. Then, as if by sheer luck, the song concludes as I get my first red light in Kingman. I slow down the car, as the other Don McLean songs mellow out – and I get closer to Downtown Kingman.
I had not made reservations in Kingman, but had heard of the Hotel Brunswick – a rustic and historic landmark that seemed like a perfect place to spend the night. But when I get there, the block is a little sketchy – and a man steps out of a bar next door, and informs me that the Hotel went out of business. I ask him about other options nearby, and he suggests the Motel 6 a few blocks away. I check into Motel 6 for the night.After getting my room, I take a short walk into downtown – as the sun sets. Frankly, the little I’ve seen of Kingman so far does not impress me. It certainly milks its Route 66 connection, but the local museum is closed. So I head back towards Motel 6, where I grab dinner at a neighboring restaurant – Calico. I have a pleasant meal, sitting at the counter – and chatting with the waitress, who’s originally from Massachusetts. She suggests that before I leave tomorrow, go downtown and get a cup of coffee at Beale Street Brews. “Tell them Joanne sent you,” she says.