US Road Trip Travelog: 18th March 2005

In case you missed the reference to Winona on the way into Flagstaff, they both of course feature in (Get Your Kicks On) Route 66. Yes, we've found The Mother Road.

I decided quite a while ago that I wouldn't try to do all of Route 66 in either direction. The problem is that when it was replaced with the Interstate for large sections they just went straight over the top of the old road. So to do Route 66 in many places involves a lot of Interstate driving with occasional drop-offs to drive bits of the old road, which may be fine for the die-hards but I think I'd find it all a bit frustrating.

Businesses in Ash Fork
Old businesses in Ash Fork. Note that they're both closed.

Ash Fork, 50 miles west of Flagstaff, is a perfect example. 'Historic Route 66' is signposted off the I-40 but all this means is a 2 mile drive through town before rejoining the Interstate.

One exception to the above is the section of Route 66 from western Arizona into California, where the old road was completely ignored for the path of the I-40. There is an added bonus here as this part of Route 66 crosses the mountains before dropping down into the deserts of California.

Running with the Santa Fe on Route 66
Don't race the train. Don't race the train. Sorry, can't resist. The Santa Fe lost this one (it was a bit of an uneven contest, to be fair).

The initial part of Route 66 is fast, well-surfaced and arrow-straight for long sections. In fact, though it takes a longer path, the speeds are probably much the same as on the I-40. After 40 miles or so it heads up into the hills for a bit before the long straight descent into Kingman.

Hackberry General Store
Hackberry General Store. Whilst I was in there a woman pulled up in an SUV and asked if she could buy some gas. Um ...

Along the way is this gem. Part shop, part museum and part outside display of the history of Route 66 it's a fascinating place. It also has a bit more credibility that most places selling Route 66 merchandise along the way as it was started by one of the people determined to preserve the road itself.

Old pickups and music hall at Hackberry
The music hall is closed and I think it's probably time these boys went home.

Behind the shop itself is an area with all sorts of old junk. It's a great display, with an old-style auto repair shop, a 50's stock car and a selection of old wrecks (some of which are for sale).

Route 66 before Sitgreaves Pass
Route 66 before the Sitgreaves Pass. Ahead is the challenge.

Further on from Hackberry, and on the other side of Kingman Route 66 changes character. The surface is a lot rougher and initially it's a straight road with a series of sharp dips crossing (currently) dried-up run-offs from the mountains. Once the climb up starts it changes yet again, becoming much more narrow and clinging to the side of the mountains.

This is a challenging piece of road. As well as the sharp drops to the side (often with no barrier) there's a number of 20 MPH turns, and even slower switchbacks, with sharp climbs following. To my surprise, it must be said, the Riviera is in its element here. Though a big car it can be placed on the road with some accuracy, though a fair degree of spinning the steering wheel is needed at times, and the enormous amount of torque pulls the car out of the tight turns without the slightest hesitation. I don't think we'll be doing the Monte Carlo Rally next year but it's damn good fun.

Near the top of Sitgreaves Pass
Near the top of the Sitgreaves Pass, and time for a rest. Behind can be seen a section of the road up.

One guidebook I've read compares this section of Route 66, and it is a long one, to the Stelvio Pass in Italy. I don't know about that but, if it helps, it's a bit like an extended version of Zig Zag Hill in Dorset. No, that probably doesn't help at all does it.

Route 66 down the mountain
Route 66 down the mountain.

The road down the other side is a bit easier than the way up, though there are still enough turns to demand concentration. I was a bit worried about brake fade here but, though the pedal was a bit further away at times, it wasn't a problem. On the way across is the town of Oatman, which is part authentic wild west and part tourist trap. I couldn't see a reason to stop so I didn't.

On the other side of the mountains is the desert. This must have been really dispiriting for the original travelers west, thinking that all the hard work was done. I'm expecting it and decide to get it over with today. The forecast was for rain today - or worse- and so far it's been clear so I'll keep going whilst the going is good.

50 miles south on Highway 95 then 100+ west on Highway 62. This is not somewhere you want your car to break down, even nowadays. Highway 95 is a long series of moguls, that's in a skiing sense not that the road is littered with movie producers. Highway 62 is easier but still throws in a set of dips or a corner just to make sure that you're paying attention.

My destination for the night is a town called Joshua Tree, on the edge of the national park of the same name. Joshua Tree is famous as the place where Gram Parsons checked-in but never checked-out. I have no desire to stay in the motel in which he died, or to see the place where his (stolen) body was cremated, but I am interested in getting a feel for the place. My way of paying my respects, I suppose, since there's nowhere else to do it.

Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree from my motel, with the park behind.

Even though it has a 'No Vacancy' sign outside, I pull into the High Desert Motel and manage to blag a room. Ok, it's one with two double-beds (so more expensive) and is non-smoking, but it'll do for the night.

I'm standing outside my room having a smoke as some women check-in to the room next to me, and one of them makes a point of coughing as she passes. An hour later she knocks sheepishly on the door and asks if I can open a bottle of wine for them. That's the problem with health fascists - no muscle.

US Road Trip Travelog: 19th March 2005 >