Saturday, May 26, 2018

Getting Our Kicks: Route 66 New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma

Near Albuquerque, New Mexico Route 66 got musical. There is a short strip of road in Tijeras that has been scored to play a piece of America the Beautiful when you drive over it at 45 mph (the posted speed limit).

Rte 66 singing America the Beautiful

This is a relatively recent addition to the road, paid for by National Geographic for its TV series Crowd Control. The musical road fits right in with the weird and wonderful attractions of the original route.

Amarillo Texas found us visiting the famous Big Texan Steak House and Brewery home of the 72 oz “Eat it all and it’s free” steak dinner. The steakhouse sent a horned limo to pick us up at the RV park and the driver told us stories about the area for the entire 15 minute trip. We enjoyed steaks of a reasonable size with fellow RVers Anne and Dave who we had met through the Living the RV Dream Facebook page. Alas no one accepted the challenge while we were there but we did enjoy checking out the Wall of Fame. It is amazing how many people have manage to eat the entire meal.

Cadillac Ranch
Amarillo is home to the Cadillac Ranch, a famous art installation on old Route 66. It consists of 10 Cadillacs with the front ends buried in the ground, tail fins in the air. They are all at the same angle and spaced regularly so that they look like a junkyard Stonehenge.

It is customary when visiting to leave your own spray painted tag on the cars, so of course we did. The paint is an inch or more thick in places. We passed by Cadillac Ranch 6 times during our visit to Amarillo and there were always cars parked along the road and people walking to and from the caddys.

Downtown Amarillo still has some old Route 66 establishments including the Golden Light Cafe, where we enjoyed perfect burgers while exploring the Mother Road.

Oklahoma City was our last stop on old Route 66. We made the time to seek out Leo’s Barbeque. Leo’s has been serving OKC diners since 1974. We enjoyed the ribs and brisket and have been making a version of their pickled cucumber and tomato salad weekly. Every dinner comes with a slice of homemade strawberry banana cake-don't even think about turning it down.

Chairs at the Oklahoma City Memorial
The rest of our visit was spent seeing the Oklahoma City Memorial and the national Cowboy Museum both of which were recommended by my Mom, Ella.
Mom served as a volunteer disaster coordinator for the American Red Cross and worked for many months in Oklahoma City after the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in 1995. It affected her deeply. She returned to OKC to see the memorial and wanted us to see it too.
It is a solemn place that manages to preserve history, remember the lost and celebrate the survivors of that violent senseless act.

Wall made from children's art work from all over the world.
The memorial is so effective because it tells so many stories. Those stories begin with the Field of 168 chairs that sit on the ground of the former Murrah building. Their are 9 rows of chairs for the 9 floors of the building. Each chair is inscribed with the name of someone taken that day. 19 of those chairs are small ones. The museum tells the story of the bombing and its aftermath in a personal way. News clippings and video of the bombing and rescue and retrieval are very factual but they are not dry. Victims are always named. Survivors, first responders, and rescue workers have been interviewed and recorded. Their words are the most effective kind of lesson.
The Responsibility Theater is at the end of the museum tour. In the theater visitors are asked questions about their thoughts and beliefs and how involved they would be in trying to prevent a dangerous situation. Video clips about the bombing and its aftermath are shown in response to their answers with further questions about how they might have acted, knowing the outcome.
It was interesting and rather heart wrenching to watch a group of high school students struggle with the choice of trying to stay safe or “snitching”.
The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum was good for our souls. We loved visiting works by our favorite western artists Frederick Remington and Charles Russell and discovered for ourselves the works of Grand Canyon Artist Thomas Moran, and Native American artist Jerome Tiger. A favorite part of the museum was a room that honored Western film and television stars. It included homages to John Wayne, Gene Autry and Barbara Stanwyck. There were displays about Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Wild Wild West, The Big Valley, Death Valley Days and so many others. I lost Fred to the movie theater for more than and hour.

We are leaving Route 66 now and continuing East through Arkansas on our way back to New York. It seems that we have seen middle of the road. Chicago and LA will wait for another journey.

Musical Route 66
I-40 exit 170 drive east 3.5 miles on Hwy 333/66 between mm 4-5 only works east bound.

Big Texan Steak Ranch
7701 I-40 Access Rd
Amarillo, Texas

Cadillac Ranch
13651 I-40 Frontage Rd
Amarillo, Texas

Golden Light Cafe
2908 W 6th Ave
Amarillo, Texas

Leo's Barbeque
3631 N Kelly Ave
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Oklahoma City National memorial
620 North Harvey Ave
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd St
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Getting Our Kicks: Route 66 Arizona

Motoring east we stopped for one night in Kingman Arizona on our way to Williams. Driving into Kingman you can still see the old pull up motels typical of Route 66. You know...the ones where your park your car right by the door of your room, with vending and ice machines near the office. Most of the neon signs were long gone and the buildings looked very tired but it was fun to see some of the old style signs and artwork. We passed the colorful Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner and Locomotive Park on our way to the Desert Diamond Distillery.

D3 is a young up and comer in the distillery world. Established in 2009 they are already winning international awards. The owners claim that the dry heat of the Arizona High Desert is the perfect environment for barrel aging rum. I don’t know if its the dry heat or their gigantic German still but have to admit they have a very good product. We sampled several rums and a gin that they make and enjoyed a tour of their still and barrel rooms.

The distillery has acquired a vintage railroad pullman car and are in the process of restoring it as a weekend dining area for their customers. It’s an impressive project. Desert Diamond Distillery is a Harvest Host’s stop so after visiting for a while we stayed the night boondocking in their parking lot.
The next afternoon we arrived in Williams Arizona, a Route 66 town that embraces its past. Old Route 66 runs right through town. Route signs invite you to “Get your Kicks” while a variety of hotels, eating establishments and attractions attempt to lure in weary road travelers. A colorful zipline soars above town. Our main purpose in visiting Williams was to see the Grand Canyon but we also took the opportunity to travel down to Flagstaff and visit the Lowell Observatory.

The astronomers at the observatory have been searching the stars since 1894. It was goosebump inducing to tour the place where Pluto was discovered and where so many maps of the stars have been made. Our tour guide was an excellent storyteller who made the history lesson enjoyable and brought the characters to life.

Sedona Red Rocks
Another day found us driving part of the old road past beautiful red rock formations that lead into Sedona and out to Montezuma Castle National Monument in the Verde Valley. The cliff dwellings of Montezuma Castle have stood for a thousand years. We have seen many of the cliff homes preserved throughout New Mexico and Arizona.

Montezuma Castle
Montezuma Castle is not just enhanced caves, it is an architectural marvel and is considered one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in North America. The ancient remains attracted early travellers of Route 66 and we are still visiting in 2018.

Not far from Williams is the Flintstones Bedrock City. The 40 year old amusement park is dedicated to the cartoon show of the same name. It is a color fading, paint peeling nostalgia lovers dream. You can walk into and around the homes of Fred and Wilma, and Betty and Barney.
RVing Bedrock Style
We had fun sitting in the foot powered cars and watching cartoons in the Bedrock Theater. All Flintstones all the time.
The highlight of our stay in Williams was a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway described in our previous post.
We continued down America’s Main Street determined to see as much of it as we could.
We drove to Holbrook, Arizona passing the remnants of old trading posts and the giant twin arrows by the roadside. Holbrook served as homebase while we explored nearby attractions.

Fred finally got to Stand on a Corner in Winslow Arizona, which is something he has dreamed of doing since we started this journey 3 years ago. The experience was made even better as Eagles music filled Standing on a Corner Park from a nearby gift shop.

Standing at the edge of the Meteor Crater
We drove back west toward Flagstaff to spend a day at the Meteor Crater. The 700 foot deep crater is about 4000 feet across and almost 2 ½ miles around. It was formed more than 50,000 years ago when a large meteorite slammed into the flat plain with the explosive force of 20 million tons of dynamite. The force lifted rock along the rim and beyond, creating hills where none existed before the impact.
This Meteor Crater is deemed a National Landmark. It is privately owned and operated by the Barringer family through Meteor Crater Enterprises.  It is one of the best preserved craters on planet Earth and is providing much information to scientists. Apollo astronauts trained here before walking on the moon, learning that meteor samples could be collected from the debris field surrounding the crater.

We were able to participate in a walking tour along the rim of the crater and were lucky enough to see and touch 2 large pieces of the meteorite that formed crater, one located at the Meteor Crater Center and one at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff.

Holbrook is home to Joe and Aggies Cafe a vintage Route 66 establishment recommended by Roadfood. We left our names in the guestbook and enjoyed enchilada dinners before walking back outside to admire the Wigwam Village up the street.

Painted Desert 
Our last day in Holbrook was spent exploring Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert. I have been fascinated with stories of this place since the 1960’s when my Aunt Marian visited and brought home a piece of the petrified wood and gave it to me. I still treasure that little piece of contraband. As a child I pictured the Petrified Forest as a standing forest of trees made of stone. It seemed a magical and wondrous place. Study showed me how wrong my assumptions were but the Petrified Forest still piqued my curiosity.
We entered the Park at the Painted Desert Visitor Center where scenic overlooks and several trails provide a birds eye view of the colors of a landscape created by wind water and the result of mineral deposits.

Thye park is best seen by a 28 mile driving tour. There are 12 major stops and many lesser known ones. Most have short (less than 4 miles) hiking paths that let you really enjoy the landscape.

The old Route 66 alignment is marked by a rusty 1932 Studebaker.

Newspaper Rock
We enjoyed a stop at the Puerco Pueblo where Newspaper Rock has so many petroglyphs that the information resembles a daily publication.

Blue Mesa
Blue Mesa is a small area of badlands with blue and grey tinted sandstone. It was spectacular to walk the 1 mile loop among those beautiful tent shaped rocks scattered with pieces of petrified logs.

Jasper Forest
The Jasper Forest has beautiful views out over the desert to the mountains beyond. Large pieces of petrified wood are all over the ground. Colors of Jasper in the wood ranged from gold to brick red and were pretty brilliant even in the hot sun.

Crystal Forest
The Crystal Forest was showed us smaller logs with quartz inclusions that sparkled in the sun like bits of glass.
We exited the park at the Rainbow Forest Visitor Center and headed back to Holbrook on rte 180.

Petrified Forest National Park
1 Park Rd
Chambers, Arizona

Standing on the Corner Park
100 E 2nd St
Winslow, Arizona

Meteor Crater National Landmark
Interstate 40 Exit 233
Winslow, Arizona

Joe and Aggies Cafe
120 W Hopi Dr
Holbrook, Arizona

Wigwam Village
811 W Hopi Dr
Holbrook, Arizona

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

All Aboard the Grand Canyon Railway

We are back in Arizona camping in Williams on old Route 66.
The Grand Canyon is calling us to the South Rim and Williams is the "Gateway to the Grand Canyon".
Railside RV Ranch will be our home for the next few days. Railside is very near the train tracks and station as you might have guessed from the name. The park is not a luxury resort, the long pull through sites are quite close to each other but it does have a lot of conveniences. There is a hot tub, a dog park and Cable TV and decent WiFi are included in the nightly fee. You can get complimentary continental breakfast in the office each morning as well. The RV park acts as a concierge service for the Grand Canyon Railway. We were able to book our tickets through them with senior and military discounts, arrange pet sitting for Rascal and get a complimentary ride to and from the station.

The Grand Canyon Railway runs twice daily to the South Rim. The 65 mile journey takes 2 hours and 15 min each way and provides expansive views of the Colorado Plateau. There are several classes of travel ranging from non air conditioned coach coach to luxury parlor car. We chose the observation deck experience in order to see more of the landscape.

While we were waiting at the station to board there was a wild west show featuring some rather inept robbers and the marshall. It ended with a shoot out and we heeded the call to board.

It was great riding on the second deck and watching the long train snake on ahead of our car which was 4th from the end. Ticket prices included complimentary coffee, juice and pastries. A variety of cocktails were available for purchase. Our personal travel assistant Christina kept everyone supplied with beverages all the making sure we were comfortable and that our questions were answered. She provided each of us with a pocket map and spent time with each cgroup helping us plan our 4 hour visit to the canyon. We were entertained by a wandering guitarist and the engineer occasionally announced points of interest along the route.

The train passed the station and then backed up using a maneuver they called the Santa Fe split to get us into position. Once in the station we headed straight for the rim trail and our first view of southern portion the vast space that is the Grand Canyon. The colors and shadows were magnificent, changing around each turn in the trail as we made our way to the Verkamp's Visitor Center. You know I had to put the stamp on the passport book.

From the Visitor Center we headed back east along the rim trail past the Hopi House and El Tovar Hotel and down to Bright Angel Lodge for what we thought was going to be a quick lunch. The long lines made it a 45 minute wait but it was the fastest option. Note to self: Pack sandwiches and lots of water for a future trip, the lines are crazy and crowded.

Once fueled we continued to the end of the Rim Trail at Kolb Studio and walked to the first stop on the Hermit Road Loop which is called Trailview Overlook. 

The overlook is on a promontory out into the canyon so once you are out on the point you can look back at the Rim Trail down into the canyon at the folks hiking the Bright Angel Trail and a glimpse of the Colorado River at the end of that trail. We were also lucky enough to spot a mountain goat jumping on the rocks across from us.

There are Buses that run all along this route and beyond but we decided to spend our time looking at the canyon rather that queing for the bus. On a return visit we will plan to stay at the lodge and do further exploring but this time we had the dog to consider.

With an hour left we headed back toward the train station. Fred wanted to walk part of the Bright Angel Trail and I was interested in the Hopi House exhibits. We split up at met later as the train backed in to pick us up. Christina had snacks and beverages waiting for us and we were happen to get to our seats. The ride home was eventful. we saw antelope, mule deer, traveling musicians and the train was boarded by bandits who overcame the Marshall. The sun was setting as we pulled into the Williams station.

Our ride was waiting and we got home to find a happy Rascal, who had been walked and fed in our absence.
If you only have a day to see the Grand Canyon the Grand Canyon Railway is a great experience. The town of Williams on old Route 66 is fun to experience. There are a number of restaurants to choose from, Brewed Awakenings Coffee Co, and the Historic Barrel + Brew Bottlehouse to enjoy.
We didn't try it but folks we met on the train raved about Rod's Steak House.

Grand Canyon Railway
235 N Grand Canyon Blvd
Williams, AZ

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Las Vegas: A Walk on the Wild Side Part 3

Elephant Rock
Fifty-five miles northeast of Las Vegas is one of Nevada's most impressive state parks, Valley of Fire. The parks 42,000 acres were formed by the action of wind and shifting sand millions of years ago. Time and erosion carved surreal shapes and formations out of the brilliantly colored sandstone and limestone, creating the amazing environment that we enjoy today.
Valley of Fire is very accessible. 18 miles of paved road transect it and give you a view of the amazing rock formations. There are a few miles of dirt road near the campgrounds that will also accommodate vehicles unless you are driving a car very low clearance.
The Beehives
For those wanting to get a closer look there are 4 1/2 miles of developed trails. We began our tour at the west entrance where a $10 entrance fee gave us all day access. We drove Valley of Fire road to the first pull-out at the Beehives. These unusual sandstone formations have been eroded into the domed shape of a beehave. Many of them have tunnels big enough to crawl through and little window holes to peer inside. There were a lot of families with school age children enjoying the rocky playground of rocks.

Petrified wood
A little further along Valley of Fire  Road there are some petrified logs to walk around before arriving at the East (Lake Mead) Entrance where you can park and climb the hill to get a closer look at Elephant Rock.

Stone cabins built by the CCC to shelter hikers.
We turned around and stopped at Seven Sisters picnic area for lunch before returning to Visitor Center Road where the most spectacular formations in the park are located. Across the road from Seven Sisters are 3 historic stone cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the mid 1930's as shelter for hikers traveling the Arrowhead Trail. The cabins are in a beautiful setting and remain in very good condition.

We stopped at Mouse's Tank to hike the petroglyph canyon. Valley of Fire is dog friendly so Rascal was able to walk with us. He seemed to enjoy the soft sand after struggling with volcanic rubble and cactus thorns all winter. The canyon trail is only 1 1/2 miles round trip. It has dozens of petroglyphs on the steep walls of the canyon. 

The sun over the steep wall of Petroglyph Canyon
We had a good time spotting them and trying to figure out what they meant to the person that chipped them into the desert varnish.
Are they art or graffiti?
Do they have spiritual significance or are they the bored winter doodles of someone that would rather be hunting?
Do they tell a story?
Document history?
Were they meant to leave a message?
In the end it doesn't matter. We love them for their antiquity, a visual link through time.

Fire Canyon, Fire Wave and the White Domes are further along Visitor Center Rd. The colors, the soft rock edges carved by wind and sand, the play of light and shadow all seem familiar somehow. Familiar and other worldly at the same time. 

Doesn't this rock formation look like the Starship Enterprise?
Many movies have been shot on location in the Valley of Fire. Transformers, Con Air, the Martian scenes of Total Recall, Captain Kirk's death scene from Star Trek Generations were all filmed in the park as late afternoon sun made the rocks glow red.

We enjoyed our visit, the drive and the short hikes but were disappointed not to have spotted any wildlife. Then right at the side of the road were a herd of Bighorn Sheep feeding on the burrobush and brittlebrush.

The sheep were as curious about us as we were about them.
We plan to return and plan to spend a few days in the RV campground so that we can enjoy more of the park.

Valley of Fire State Park
29450 Valley of Fire Rd
Overton, Nevada