Wednesday – Albuquerque NM
Thursday – Albuquerque NM to Flagstaff AZ
Friday – Flagstaff AZ
Saturday – Flagstaff AZ to Page AZ
Sunday – Page AZ
Monday – Page AZ
Tuesday – Page AZ to Tusayan AZ (Grand Canyon)
Wednesday – Tusayan AZ (Grand Canyon)
Thursday – Tusayan AZ (Grand Canyon) to Kingman AZ
Friday – Kingman AZ to Santa Monica CA
It’s done and I have a curious sense of modern-day achievement. We arrived in Los Angeles mid-afternoon Friday and now have a couple of days to chill before the next leg of our trip.
We’ve done the obligatory walk (no cars permitted) along the surprisingly grubby pier at Santa Monica to photograph the official end-of-the-road signage. That’s more than 3000 miles or 5000km if you’re metricated. The extra mileage over the published distance between Chicago and Santa Monica was our five days in Page and the Grand Canyon National Park.
After that, we drove back south, picking up 66 just outside Flagstaff and re-started our journey west.
I’m now ahead of myself. Let me re-wind a bit.
It had been a pleasant few days, save the haul from Albuquerque to Flagstaff which turned out be much longer than we’d anticipated; 07:15 to 16:00 in the car. Nonetheless, it’s been as interesting as the mounting number of miles (kilometres) building-up behind us.
We’re both loving every revolution of the Nissan’s tyres, but have still to come to terms with the book/satnav/maps navigation this trip requires. I doubt we could have prepared much better, but there are still many Route 66 options that escape us – finding the way onto these long-abandoned tarmacadamed strips is easy. Getting back into civilisation at the end of the detour isn’t.
Albuquerque isn’t a great cultural centre, despite boasting a Holocaust museum, silently protesting against genocide and bullying. We gorged ourselves on BBQ (twice) and moved on, leaving the city’s semi-faux art deco in our rearview mirror without too much sadness.
En route, the now standard fare of Interstate-caused desolation and abandonment continued, with lots to see and little to comment on. A few towns live on, fighting to survive, the rest gave up long ago, the deserted diners, motels and homes testament to a bygone era.
Flagstaff. Tourist haven during the spring/summer/autumn as holidaymakers and Route 66-ers flock the hotels and streets. Busy too in the winter as the ski set arrive. It’s funky and we’ve enjoyed our 36 hours here, eating pizza and steaks and drinking seriously good craft ales. Tomorrow, we leave 66 for a few days to visit Page and the Grand Canyon.
Road kill is everywhere on 66, mainly racoons and other small furry creatures and occasional large black carrion crows. Yesterday, a driver in front of me mowed down what was clearly a family cat that had (foolishly) ventured onto the road. I know that it can be fatal to swerve to avoid an animal, but seeing something like that is a really bad way to start your day…
I’m just sayin’ but after just a few days, I’m tending to the opinion that American drivers are not very good at dipping their headlights for oncoming traffic.
Altitude. A hassle. Despite living in Jozi (Johannesburg) a mile high city for three decades, the altitude in Santa Fé, Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon region has been a problem, with shortage of breath the least of our concerns.
Road food – to quote Peter Drucker, this was a blinding flash the obvious. There we were looking forward to BBQ, fajitas and breakfast burritos in Triple-D style food joints. What neither of us had really thought through was that this is the food everyone eats, everywhere. Worth mentioning in this regard is Delgadillo’s Snow Cap in Seligman, Arizona.
In addition to a startlingly good cheeseburger, the Snow Cap delivers a display of low humour and camp that that is probably unequalled anywhere. Even the
toilets rest rooms are a joke. Plus, there’s a goodly selection of dead and rusting cars around the property to grab the attention of the travelling photographer.
If one small town can keep their small section of Route 66 alive, how come so many others can’t?
As the line runs along Route 66 almost end-to-end, you’ll soon discover that America’s freight trains are startlingly long, especially when the rail crossing barriers come down and you have to wait while a kilometre long train of double-high stacked containers eases past. My guess is that on each one, there is a total mass upwards of 15,000 tonnes of freight on the move, let alone the 3 or 4 or 5 huge diesel locomotives hauling this serpentine monster along. It’s quite a spectacle and every train clearly saves a small mountain of cash over road transportation.
And, as if that wasn’t enough and your hotel is close to the railway – most are – you’ll know very quickly that these east-west and west-east behemoths run around the clock, horns blaring a warning at every crossing and often with just a few minutes between trains in either direction. Light sleepers are warned.
Our W-E trip across Canada a couple of years ago and this E-W journey has convinced me that there is no perfect type of car to hire for these distances. The Toyota Yaris we left Chicago in and the Nissan Versa we arrived in LA driving are ideal; comfortable, fuel efficient and reasonably well appointed. Most cars now seem to have at least one USB port, to facilitate an iPhone, which in our case, also doubles as a satnav and a music player – all playing through the car’s audio system. A bigger car might have a boot big enough to have avoided a suitcase on the back seat, or softer suspension, but still not enough to justify the extra daily cost of hire.
If you’re arriving from overseas, buy a local SIM card for your phone. If you have an old phone (I use a several year old iPhone 4), even better. This will give you a local phone number – hotels and Web site wi-fi logins often confirm access via an SMS/text message – and data access for Apple’s Maps, or Google’s Maps navigation apps. I bought an AT&T card in Chicago which gave us phone, texts and unlimited data for a month for $60. Not exactly a bargain, but invaluable as it got us un-lost on many occasions.
The advertised wi-fi rarely works as advertised in any hotel, motel, or anywhere. So, if you’re planning a driving day-end orgy of e-mail, Web trawling and catching-up, don’t hold your breath. Most hotels make an effort and some succeed, others seem to think it’s OK for you to sit on your room’s veranda in the rain, or by the pool to get anywhere near a decent signal. The Marriott in Tusayan has a wi-fi that simply would not accept my MacBook Pro, despite a half hour long (toll free thankfully) call to their support team, somewhere in the mid-west. Admittedly, the whole region is bereft of services – even our AT&T SIM failed to connect – and when it does work, the whole of Tusayan’s wi-fi is iffy at best.
If you are thinking your Route 66 adventure will be a photographic overload, stop now. The photo ops are really few and far between. Leaving Chicago, there was quite a lot to see and shoot, but as the miles passed, the scenery changed and as the scrub of Texas gave way to New Mexico and Arizona’s semi-desert, the photo ops almost dried up completely.
By then Route 66 had become about a journey through Middle America, much of which can’t be captured, rather experienced. We have had an extraordinarily good time, seen many, many things we’ve never seen before. We’ve spoken to all kinds of folk and met nothing but kindness, interest and politeness.
We’ve slept in a great number of hotel/motel beds and without fear of contradiction, can say that they have all been comfortable, clean and in rooms that are way up there by international standards. And, the James Dean themed room in our Kingman motel might not shake a stick at the Hilton Garden Inn we’re in Marina del Rey, but its wonderfully wacky pretensions more than made up for it.
Was the time we allocated for the drive enough? Yes. I really don’t think you could do justice as a road trip to try and cover that distance in less. On many occasions other obvious 66-ers have hurtled past us, their hats, t-shirts and decals clearly visible, only for us to briefly catch up with them at the next town, stop or view site. Getting out of the car, we’d then see them haring off to make the next town, stop or overnight. That’s no way to travel – if you don’t have enough time to do it properly, bucket list it until you do.
Could we have spent more time on the road? No doubt – in fact, I often found myself pondering whether a small Winnebago (yes they do exist) might not have been a better idea. Changing hotels and motels for a camp site would require a different planning methodology and going anywhere away from our parked “home” might have been problematic without a car, but yes, I’d certainly consider it.
Tomorrow (Monday), we fly west, having chosen to head home via Japan. It’s an early start (05:00) to hopefully avoid LA’s traffic, return the hire car, check in and navigate the inevitable security checks by our 10:00 take off time.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. With the knowledge I’ve gained on this trip, I wouldn’t change much except to be a little better prepared re communications and to try and resolve the navigational issues that plagued us all the way from Chicago to LA.
Mrs P? Not. Too stressful on the Interstates with giant trucks seemingly unaware and impervious to our tiny Nissan and of course, the issue of poor directions in so many places making navigation a university-level challenge the whole way.
Still, we never thought it would be easy – wouldn’t be worth doing if it was.