The Ultimate Summer Road Trip ~Day 5 (morning)
Wednesday, July 28th
Tuesday night in the Tahoe. Worst night ever. Bar none.
The heat was oppressive, it had weight, it smothered us in much the same way that cool air does not. Rolling down the windows further was not an option -there were scorpions out there and neither of us was too keen on waking up to find one in our underpants. Consequently, though we had turned in for the night at the reasonable hour of 9pm, 10:30 found us both still lying wide awake: tossing, turning, and sweating -not necessarily in that order. We ran the air-conditioning for a bit and that helped a smidge, though not much. At some point we slipped into a restless semi-sleep, dozed on and off for a few hours, and by 4:30 am, gave it up as a bad job.
Thus, it was a bright and early start to Day 5 of the Road Trip! We had pulled off on “Dirt 66”, an older, non-paved parallel section of Route 66 and were within moments of Hackberry General Store -a true Route 66 icon and the former haunt of Route 66 artist, Bob Waldmire. It’s a gift shop, vintage gas station, and museum all rolled up into one! We hoped the sight of it would make up for not having been able to see the old Valentine Indian School we’d passed in the dark the night before. I know I have mentioned this already, but it is worth repeating -there is nothing quite so dark as nighttime in Arizona. Pitch black takes on a whole new meaning. Apparently, Arizona has no moon or stars in its night sky. I’m not quite sure why this should be so, but it is. Arizona wizard magic, I expect.
We headed for the Hackberry General Store, where we hoped to find coffee, wonderous Route 66 sites, and acquire the next stamp in my passport!
There was definitely much to see. Coffee and my passport stamp were not looking to be on the agenda, though. Um, hello? 4:45 am? The store was definitely not yet open for business. There was plenty of great Route 66 stuff to see outside, though, so we wandered around snapping pictures with abandon.
more Hackberry photos available here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/misty_bee/sets/72157625677785447/
At some point during this photofest, a gentleman came ambling round from the back of the building, a few large dogs bounding at his heels, and looked a bit askance to find tourists milling around his place whilst he was bringing out the dogs for their morning absolutions. We realized this was the proprietor, who must live on site, and we felt a bit awkward to be strolling around his place at the crack of dawn, but he was very cordial and even agreed to grab the icon stamper for Hackberry so my passport wouldn’t miss out on a stamp. This still left us shy on coffee, though, so after acquiring the stamp, we headed out in search of caffeine, and let the poor guy get back to his morning chores. Tourists!
More information on Hackberry is available here: http://hackberrygeneralstore.com/
On we went toward Kingman, AZ. Site of another passport stamp (this one required to be gathered at the Kingman Heart of Route 66 Powerhouse Visitor Center) and -getting increasingly urgent by this time- site of COFFEE.
Upon entering Kingman though, I almost (not completely, though, that’s just crazy) but almost forgot about the coffee.
Cause I saw a palm tree and lost my friggin mind.
All my life, I’ve been inordinately excited whenever I see a palm tree in person. Probably because they don’t exist in any of the places I have ever lived (well, okay, except Florida, but that was just for a year), only in those exotic, tropical areas I have traveled to. When I see a palm tree, I know I’m not in Kansas anymore. You know, metaphorically speaking. Not literally. I’ve never lived in Kansas, so the literal interpretation would not hold up at all.
I had to stop, even though I had yet to find coffee!, and take a picture of this poor, stunted-looking speciman. Still.
Back on the Route again, we saw a sign for Historic Downtown Kingman and took the right. A word to the wise, an espresso shop can almost always be found in the historic downtown area of any given town. Count on it.
Big-ass lattes in hand (I am not being vulgar, the espresso shop had your choice of small, medium, and Big-Ass ~we opted for big-ass) we headed to the Visitor’s Center for the next passport stamp. I was just sure that they weren’t going to be open yet -it was pretty darn early in the morning still -but they were! We browsed their nice Visitor Center and bought an old-style topo map of gold mine locations in the Black Mountains, as well as some Joshua Tree seeds to plant at home. The Joshua Tree are very ancient plants; the oldest living Joshua Tree is close to 1,000 years old and stands over forty feet in height!
Leaving the Visitor Center, we encountered a twisty little entangling of highways out of Kingman and carefully followed the directions in our EZ Guide to 66. Misreading this guide, though, is much easier than you’d think and we soon found ourselves on Highway 93, heading to Vegas. Fortunately, we had Big-Ass lattes by this time, so took this in stride and managed to get turned around and back on I-40 / Hwy 66 in short time. Ahead of us lay the Oatman Highway section of Route 66, described in our guide as “VERY steep and crooked, with deliciously scary drops!” and acknowledged, along with La Bajada Hill, as the most perilous road on the entirety of Route 66.
We drove across the drainage of the Sacramento Wash and then up into the Black Mountains. Our first stop as we climbed the Gold Hill Grade was recently rebuilt Cool Springs. Originally, Cool Springs Service Station offered gas, cabins, a cafe, and a bar -a welcome stop in 1926 for weary travelers. However, when this section of Route 66 was bypassed in 1953, Cool Springs quickly fell into disrepair and was abandoned by 1964. In the 90’s, the store was rebuilt by Hollywood, only to be blown up in a scene from the movie Universal Soldier. A pile of blackened rubble, it sat duty as a lonely mountain sentinel until purchased by Ned Leuchtner in 2001. Using original, vintage photographs, Leuchtner began a careful restoration, and by 2004, Cool Springs stood ready again to offer respite to the Route 66 traveller.
As an aside (if you are not familiar with the movie) Universal Soldier was a Dolph Lundgren/Jean-Claude Van Damme film. I can’t believe they blew up a Route 66 icon for a Dolph Lundgren/Jean-Claude Van Damme film. I wouldn’t blow up a popsicle stick teepee thrown together by a trained monkey for a Dolph Lundgren/Jean-Claude Van Damme film.
Cool Springs offers a nice display of vintage Mobilgas pumps, a small museum of Route 66 items in the back of the store, and a fine selection of Route 66 soda pops. We bought the set. The manager of the place, much like other Route proprietors and employees that we had met so far, was friendly, garrulous, and interesting. He lived on site, in a small camper set up behind the store, complete with a deck and hot tub. He philosophized to us a bit on the glories of the Route and his place in it. When asked if he enjoyed the solitude, he opinioned that there was nothing quite like closing up in the evenings and retiring to his hot tub to drink a glass of wine and contemplate the Arizona night.
See more on Cool Springs here: http://www.coolspringsroute66.com/
Up the mountain aways from Cool Springs lies Ed’s Camp. Here Ed Edgerton gave up gold mining to open a camp site to travelers of the Mother Road. This place remains fairly intact, though run-down, but it is privately owned now, and completely forbidden to tourists. The no tresspassing signs are everywhere, and unlike the Meteorite Museum site, Ed’s Camp has the look of a place that really means it. As in, you may very well find yourself staring down the short end of a sawed-off shotgun if you step on their land. I think there was even a sign somewhat to this effect. We parked to look, but did not get out, and the only reason we parked at all is because Ed’s Camp is supposed to be the location of the only living Saguaro Cactus on Route 66. I so wanted to photograph a Saguaro cactus. Or even just look at one. We hadn’t seen one yet. And we never did -I spied nothing even remotely resembling a Saguaro at Ed’s Camp, and one wonders if perhaps the owners of the property cut that sucker down to further discourage tourists. It really just had that air about it…
Now began the truly hairy portion of this road, all hairpin cuves, sheer deep drops, narrow lanes, and only occasional portions of the original stone guardrail between you and the completely vertical drops.
Our EZ 66 Guide informed us that near Milepost 30, we would encounter a wide spot on the shoulder to park, and would see the 30 rock steps that lead to Shaffer’s Fish Bowl Springs: a man-made basin dug out to collect water from a seep in the mountain. Now I love the EZ Guide, and highly recommend it to anyone, but we never did see milepost markers on this highway and had no idea if we were anywhere close to milepost 30 at any given time. Consequently, everytime we saw anything that looked like it might be the remains of rock steps, we stopped. Most, on close inspection, were not steps at all, but at one possibility, we did find stone steps near a parking pull-out and followed them quite a ways up the damn mountain before admitting they were not what we were looking for. For future travellers, the rock steps to Shaffer’s Fish Bowl look like this:
Legend has it that some creative traveler dug the basin shape of Shaffer’s Fish Bowl out, so that it would collect water from the spring trickling out of the mountain, to help early travelers who needed water (either for their vehicles or to drink). At some point, someone introduced goldfish to this bowl and they are still there.
This place is definitely worth seeing, just one word of caution –Watch for the bees! This spot is THICK with bumblebees -they stay here near the water, I guess. I am not talking about one or two bees incidentally, I am talking about swarms of bees the size of which are usually reserved for B-rate movies with titles such as Attack of the Killer Bees. We were not stung or even harrassed, but if I were a person with an allergy to bee-stings, I would skip this one on general principles.
After the fish bowl, we reached 3550 ft high Sitgreaves Pass and then it was time for the steep downward descent that would bring us to Oatman, AZ. This really is a beautiful drive, and fascinating to see all the remains of long abandoned gold mines. Be careful, though, mining is still going on here and mine foremen get downright tetchy about tourists stepping on to private mining lands, even if said tourists had no idea that’s what they were doing. Words such as federal prison, steep fines, and “hey you what the hell do you think you’re doing?” are bandied about.
Oatman, AZ at last!
Oatman was established over 100 years ago as a mining tent camp. In close proximity to the richest gold mines in the state, which operated from 1904-1931, the town flourished. After the mines closed down, Oatman survived by catering to travelers on old U.S. Route 66. But in the 1960s, this section of Route 66 was bypassed completely and Oatman almost died. The revival of Route 66 has somwhat revived the town.
The burros the miners used in the 1800’s as pack animals were set free in the 1930’s. They flourished, and Oatman now boasts a “Wild Burro” population that wanders into town for handouts from the tourists.
Everything we had read about Oatman described the burros as so thick on the ground you had to push them out of your way to walk the sidewalks (in Oatman -these consist of board planks). We had seen one burro coming down the mountain to whet my appetite and I was all a-twitter, just couldn’t wait to feed and pet a soft, fuzzy burro.
Not a burro in sight. The town was without one single jackass. No Saguaro cactus and no burros. You just can’t put your faith in advertising these days. Oatman is a really amazing sight though, even without the burros. And I bought an adorable little petting cactus. Some guy actually managed to cultivate a variety of cactus with soft spines, and now markets them as “petting cacti”. The store owner told us about a little kid who was all captivated stroking the petting cactus at the checkout counter, then before anyone could stop him, turned around to stroke the regular cactus on a shelf behind him. I love those sad little stories that are so hilarious 🙂
As we headed out of Oatman that morning, we had to stop almost immediately because the road ahead was completely filled with mommy and baby burros!!! They came right up to our windows, sticking their sweet inquisitive heads into the tahoe, demanding to be fed, and that right now. Aw!
Wow. That was a really long blog entry. And that was just the morning of Day 5!, Still, stay with me, ’cause our next stop? Route 66 through California, baby!