Travelling the Main Street of America
Winslow, Arizona is where, according to the Eagles song, a guy should "stand on a corner to wait for a girl (my lord) in a flatbed Ford". Never known to miss a marketing opportunity, the good merchants of Winslow have made sure that the exact corner is well marked with photo-friendly signs, and that "Corner" merchandise is to be had in abundance in every emporium in town. The Old Trails Museum in the centre of town is held to be especially interesting, and staffed by the most knowledgeable and friendly people. When I called in October, it was closed and there was much evidence of painting and decorating in progress. It should be back in business by the time you're snapping away at the corner.
It's hard to make rapid progress along this section of the Route. Every couple of miles there's something you just have to stop and see. After Winslow, you've got Meteor City with the remains of its famous observation tower. This was built by an enterprising developer in the '20s right on the boundary of the Meteor Crater National Park, on the closest point to this natural phenomenon for which he could get planning permission. Apparently, the view from the top gave little more than a telescope-aided glimpse, but it was enough to make the tower and its accompanying museum of 5000 meteorite fragments a popular attraction for several decades. There's a lot of private land around here now and you have to watch your step if you decide to go exploring, but the road out to the crater itself is well marked and this is an extremely worthwhile side-trip.
Next comes Two Guns, named after a sad set-upon half-Apache recluse, "Two-Gun" Miller, who may or may not have killed one of his neighbours. (No doubt all you Monty Python fans will wonder if he was related to Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson.) In its heyday, Two Guns was the site of Route 66's most famous zoo. You can still pick out the various cages and enclosures that were once home to an esoteric collection of hapless animals. What with its assorted ruins, piles of junk and dubious founding father, this is a sad place indeed.
The bridge over Canyon Diablo will lift the spirits with its great view down the chasm - until you reflect that this was once the most lawless and violent patch of territory on the whole transcontinental trail. Well into 66's history, the owners of the Toonerville gas station at Exit 219 were murdered during a robbery.
Last stop before the climb towards Flagstaff is Twin Arrows. The truckstop near the two giant arrows seems to be about the only thing still working here, but the real Roadie will enjoy the air of a place that's struggling on past its best.
We're still working out how best to handle Flagstaff and Williams on "Route 66 in 99". There's just so much to see and do around here that we'll need to plan on spending two or three days in the area. My arrival in Flagstaff in October was under ink-black skies with heavy rain, strong winds and plunging temperatures. This proved to be the overture to the blizzard which engulfed the town the following morning. A weather-related pile-up on I-40 caused the only significant traffic jam I experienced in the recce run's 6000+ miles. Sitting at over 7000 feet amongst the San Francisco Mountains, Flagstaff has a micro-climate all its own. Its fresh air, cool temperatures and rugged scenery make it a mecca for retirees from all over Arizona and beyond.
Flagstaff is an interesting destination in its own right, but it is also the gateway to the stupendous grandeur of the Grand Canyon and the spectacular scenery of Sedona and Sunset Crater. With further essential side-trips, and a wealth of great 66 sites, I found this a hard town to leave. And Williams is just as bad. It's here that Paul and Sandi Taylor run the greatest little Route 66 visitor centre of all, and edit the glossy Route 66 Magazine. They should have their new annex open for us in August, and they'll turn on a welcome to remember. Paul and Sandi are mines of information on all aspects of 66 and are always willing to share their incredible knowledge with fellow Mother Road enthusiasts. Williams is also the depot for the restored Grand Canyon Railroad. It's steam-hauled throughout the summer months and is the best possible way for lovers of old-time transport to get up to the South Rim. It's no disadvantage going by train, as you're not allowed to drive between the viewpoints in your own car anyway. There's a highly efficient system of shuttle-buses running continuously along the rim, with stops at every major vista. Whether you get to the Canyon by road or rail, this is the way you'll get around once you're there. We're also looking into helicopter charter rates, and there are overnight camping treks to the floor for the more intrepid. If you've been to the Canyon before and want something different, or if you can squeeze in an additional side-trip, I know you'll be completely bowled over by the fantastic scenery around Sedona, just south of Flagstaff. By the time of "66 in 99", we will have reduced these overwhelming choices to a sensible set of options for you, but whichever way you play it you'll leave plenty to do next time!