Route 66: Arizona, part 1

This entry is part 10 of 17 in the series GDB & Route 66
old filling station, gas at 66 cents
a restored Phillips 66 station

Remember, I’m reporting Route 66 from west to east, which is atypical. (I even found one guide which said running Route 66 from LA to Chicago was “historically wrong.” Like the whole highway was just a 2,400-mile one-way road.)

So here’s Arizona, from sunset to sunrise.

caution traffic sign, BurrosA Dearth of Burros

Oatman is famous for its feral burro population, descended from those escaped from or turned loose by prospectors in the (very rich) mining area. Tourists feed the burros, which wander down the street freely.

We arrived at Oatman early, and we shopped and we had breakfast, and….

two story wooden building with false front
First a pharmacy with soda fountain, then variously offices for a doctor, dentist, bank, attorney, and telephone company, used as a set for “How the West was Won,” then an antique store, now for sale. “Ghosts included,” says the sign.

Seriously, there were dozens of burros before. I suspect they’re savvy to both tourist season and tourist timetables. There’s no point to showing up when only a half-dozen tame humans are wandering the streets; better to come in when it’s worth the while.

(Edit: My comment in the video was a joke; of course there’s no cover charge for the town. It’s a town. We supported Oatman by eating breakfast and shopping, which was perfectly fine even without burros.)

Olive Oatman
Olive Oatman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By the way, the restaurant behind me is named Olive Oatman’s. I learned a few days later that she was a real person, kidnapped and ransomed from the local Native Americans.

Leaving Oatman

The road between Oatman and Kingman is delightfully twisty and steep. I found a lump of rusty wreckage which I could distinguish as a car, rather than an indeterminate ball of abandoned mining equipment, only by a single windowless door which still stuck out from the crumpled soda can of a frame. In the glory days of the road, some drivers would hire locals to navigate their land yachts over the wavering road.

Jon standing beside waist-high rock wall damming Shaffer's Fish Bowl Springs

There is water in nearly every desert, if you know where to find it. One place where a seep, water coming from the rock, has been walled in for collection is called Shaffer’s Fish Bowl Springs. Someone has put a few goldfish in, which makes for a striking juxtaposition with the desert environs. You have to climb to the seep, with some rock steps Jon compared to the stairs of Cirith Ungol for their steep invisibility. (They weren’t quite that bad.)

steep steps cut into desert rock
Not a Shelob or orc to be seen.

And while we were enjoying the view from the fishbowl, I spotted our one-and-only wild burro sighting:

a winding road over desert mountain vista

What? Don’t you see him?

tiny pixelated burro in the distance of a desert vista
No, seriously, there’s a burro in the picture.

He was climbing to our right, probably circling for a drink at the seep, we supposed, so we got out of his way.

On the Road

Hualapai Tribal Forestry Department building

It’s easy to forget how recent “history” is in the west. The Hualapai Tribal Forestry Department sits within a former trading post — not the touristy kind built to 1950s television western standards, but the real thing.

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s the dinosaurs at Grand Canyon Caverns. I have to tell you, I am a connoisseur of ugly concrete prehistorics — I can’t say why, I’m just tickled by them — and these are some ugly concrete dinosaurs.

Seligman, AZ

sticker-covered door with a knob on either side
Note the two doorknobs on this door. Only one works.

Seligman, and specifically the Delgadillo brothers Juan and Angel, is a great part of why so much of Route 66 here survives. They were very instrumental in forming a road association and preserving and promoting Route 66.

The Snow Cap, run by Juan before his death and continued by his family in the same style, is a Route 66 icon. The whole drive-in is built around tasty food and practical jokes. Our order-taker greeted us with the same pranks as 17 years ago. (They’re still silly.)

The food — hamburgers without ham, cheeseburgers with cheese, dead chicken, etc. — is excellent drive-in fare.

While Seligman certainly isn’t the first place we saw a Cars reference, it’s a place which has embraced the Cars reference.

On the Road Again

two enormous red arrows, jutting tip-down from the dirt

But while Seligman, near the interstate, is doing well as a Route 66 tourist destination, other old Route 66 destinations have withered. Twin Arrows is defunct and can only be photographed from a distance, as it’s on Hopi tribal land.

"Mountain lions" painted on the collapsing shell of a rock building

Two Guns was a town catering extensively to the tourist trade, now entirely empty shells. It, too, sits on private land, so I just photographed one of the old roadside zoos (of the dubious and once ubiquitous type, now fortunately more rare).

La Posada

We stayed the night in Winslow, AZ. And that means it’s time for another incidental Route 66 song reference.

I was standin’ on the corner
in Winslow, Arizona
Such a fine sight to see
It’s a girl, my Lord!
in a flatbed Ford
slowin’ down to take a look at me“Take It Easy,” recorded by the Eagles

Route 66 icon painted on street in front of mural of girl in flatbed ford and bronze statue

Winslow finally designated an official corner for people to stand on, with a bronze statue and a trompe-l’œil mural as if a girl in a flatbed Ford is being reflected in a shop window. There was also a flatbed Ford parked when I was there, and obligatory tourist shots being taken beside it.

La Posada is a restored Harvey House (once a chain of restaurants planted by Fred Harvey at rail stops, designed to serve good food really fast to passengers on a train schedule during a time when trains literally set the clocks). It is, simply put, gorgeous. It is also an Amtrak station, and it also offers Tesla superchargers. As I posted on Facebook, I could check all the boxes if it only offered a free pony as well.

La Posada was designed by lady architect Mary Colter in the style of a Spanish hacienda, and it became a destination resort of its own as well as a quick lunch for rail passengers. Unfortunately it opened in 1929, the last Harvey House, and the Depression kept it from succeeding as it should have. It struggled and closed in 1957. The building was nearly demolished, and the Santa Fe Railway tried to turn it into a bland 1960s commercial office with acoustic tile and blank walls, but the story has a happy ending and today it is a gorgeous hotel once more, though still undergoing restoration.

worked tin enclosing painting of Mary
the Madonna at what is now the front entrance, by Verne Lucero

Upon its reopening, an older gentleman arrived with his bride. “I know what belongs here,” he told the new owner Allan Affeldt, pointing to the area just inside the front door. “You must let me build it for you.”

What the heck, he could always just not put it up if it were ugly, right?

Turns out that gentleman was Verne Lucero, a master tinsmith, and he had just married a master glass painter. They crafted a beautiful Madonna, appropriate for the family entrance of an old hacienda, and then went on to make a number of chandeliers for around the restored hotel.

La Posada, being a railway hotel first, was designed to face the railroad. Today the front entrance is at what was once the back, where in a real hacienda a religious icon would have greeted the family as they entered. Verne Lucero would have known that Mary Colter had included one for La Posada, because he worked at the old hotel as a dishwasher when he was 14.