Taking on the Famous Route 66
By Joyce Kiefer
Road Trip! My husband Bill and I pack up our SUV to head out from Silicon Valley to Colorado for a family gathering. We’re taking Memory Lane to get there. We’ll follow parts of Route 66 that I traveled as a kid. Our major destination enroute is Monument Valley, the breathtaking scene of countless Westerns. If you want to take on this famous stretch of road, here's what you can do too!
Day 1. We drive to Bakersfield and climb Techachipi Pass on Route 58. Here’s where the Joad family in “Grapes of Wrath” saw the promised land of the San Joaquin Valley after leaving the Dust Bowl. If you face west. the view is as wondrous as Steinbeck describes it. Later we hit the Mojave Desert. Lots of scrubby yucca plants and abandoned shacks. We’re spending the night in Barstow, where we’ll meet Route 66.
In downtown Barstow we pass old-time motels on our way to check out the majestic Casa Del Desierto next to the railroad yard. It was once a Harvey House, which offered a classy place to eat and sleep for train passengers . “ Harvey Girls” served there, just like Judy Garland in the movie. Now the Casa sports the Western America Railroad Museum with engines and cabooses outside and memorabilia within, like a collection of date nails. At the other end of the building the Mother Road Museum is tucked in the basement where the Harvey boys bunked down. Nooks and crannies bulge with curios from the tourist traps of Route 66. I collected post cards of motels the first time I traveled the Mother Road.
Day 2. We drive the original Mother Road from Topock outside of Needles (99º at 10 a.m.) to the old west town of Oatman, Arizona. The surface is like gravel. Wild burros gaze at us. Their ancestors worked in the gold mines. Suddenly we’re in Oatman where the burros join the tourists who wander the streets, checking out the rough-cut curio shops. One burro loves Bill. Wish we had time to stay for the daily gunfight. Leaving town on Sitgreaves Pass wasn’t easy. The narrow road twists through the mountains with something like 128 curves. When Dad drove this pass, I kept my fingers crossed. So did Mom.
One place Dad wouldn’t stop was Meteor Crater. He said it was fake. Today it’s so close - between Flagstaff where we’re spending the night and Winslow - we can’t miss it. Yes, Dad, a meteor really did blast that mile-wide, 550 feet-deep crater about 50,000 years ago. The Visitor Center proves it. Wish we had time to go on to Winslow to check out “Standin’ on the Corner Park”, but I have to take it easy on Bill. The park is on my bucket list for next time.
We pass Twin Arrows–huge red arrows stuck in the ground next to the ruins of a Route 66 trading post, as well as the town of Two Guns where nothing is left but a great name.
Day 3. See one crater, might as well see two. We check out the volcano Sunset Crater near Flagstaff as we head north to Monument Valley. The wind kicks in early, but stops long enough for us to get out and admire the rosy morning light on the crater’s slopes.
On a good road trip, everything is serendipity.
WHEN YOU GO:
Western America Railroad Museum, Casa Del Desierto, Barstow, CA. Open weekends 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Admissiion free. (760) 256-9276. www.barstowrailmuseum.org
Mother Road Museum, Casa Del Desierto, Barstow, CA. Open weekends 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Admission free. (760) 255-1890. www.route66museum.org
Oatman AZ. Much more about Oatman plus its connection with Clark Gable. Jump into www.welcometooatman.com
Meteor Crater, Arizona. Complete with sound effects. Find out more at www.meteorcrater.com
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. More about the volcanic features around the crater. See details up close at www.nps.gov/sucr/index.htm.
Joyce Kiefer is a regular contributor to BAFT and loves national and international travel.