I never liked New Years. I understand its purpose; new beginnings, years to remember, years to forget. I don’t need a party to figure this out. I don’t need a night of alcohol and a kiss from a random girl. I need to cross into the high desert with a good friend. Travel to a place I call The Spine of Arizona. Ever since I was a kid, I believed a sort of spirit lived there. He was difficult to find, if you searched too hard, he would hide, but if you didn’t search hard enough, he would lose interest and run away. This trip would be my new years, and that spirit would be my glass of champagne at midnight.
The Trip: Los Angeles to Williams, through Flagstaff to Sedona, onto Cottonwood and Clarkdale, up to Jerome, onto Prescott.
We started off on the I-40, this road used to be known as Route 66, and the old highway would haunt us during the entire drive.
There are old signs along the side of the road, places that used to exist, places that used to be important.
We quickly learned that desert dwellers have a security system that is much more powerful than ADT.
We cross into Arizona. The reminence of route 66 are all around us. There were many names for this great highway, America’s Main Street, The Mother Road. It birthed towns all across the country. People built places like this for travellers to stay the night, or take a break with a slice of pie and cup of coffee. There was a certain mutual respect between traveller and host back then. Both understood that one could not exist without the other.
There is a history in the air, this is how the Okies got to California during the Dust Bowl, it was how the whole country came west during the era of America’s Main Street.
We land at Williams; the gateway to The Grand Canyon. We park on a the main street, really the only street, and are greeted by the smell of barbeque, the sounds of American Standards, an Elvis statue, and the sights of the neon signs that dotted this forgotten world.
Williams was the last holdout for route 66, fighting a battle they knew they would lose; one of the most beautiful things a people can do. The interstate would kill the city, so they bombarded the government with lawsuits until they reached a final compromise. The I-40 would be finished, but Williams would get 3 exits on that giant behemoth of a highway that cut across our country. They call it progress, I’m not so sure.
On to the mountain town of Flagstaff. With an elevation of 7200 feet, I can feel my lungs gasp for oxygen.
We wake up early and take a small detour to Walnut Canyon. My traveling partner has never seen Indian Ruins or Cliff Dwellings and these thousand year old buildings are only a few minutes of out town.
The Sinagua tribe moved here from a mountain now known as Sunset Crater a few miles away. The mountain blew about a thousand years ago, covering hundreds of square miles in ash and lava flows. I try to imagine that sight before pictures and media. A mountain just blows up, billows smoke, sets the forest aflame. Ancient legends come alive. What they must have thought?
“What a day!” My friend exclaims!
“Day’s just beginning,” I say as we drive towards Oak Creek Canyon.
We’re driving down the 89, then slam on the breaks. The red rocks of Sedona appear.
We stay till the sun sets, then make our way to Jerome. A vein of copper was discovered here in the 1800’s. The mine owners decided to build the company town up on the side of the cliff. Stairs lead up to each new street. The current road zig zags back and forth until it reaches the top, an old Hospital that has been turned into a hotel.
We spent the night a the Jerome Grand Hotel. Easily the creepiest place I have ever been.
Between 9,000 and 10,000 people died here during its run. I did not believe in ghosts when I entered the place… Now I am not so sure.
We heard noises through the night. Gurneys being pushed down the halls. Children’s and patient’s voices. Stay here, you decide for yourself.
The next morning we see the city by day. Jerome peaked in population around 1940. Accurate numbers were not taken – women and people of color not being real human beings back then- but it is estimated it reached 30,000 people. Ten years later that number would drop down to 100. Then the 60’s came, and the hippies discovered this strange city, they turned it into a sort of art commune. The town now lives off of tourism, crafts, restaurants and wine.
We drove down another mountain road towards Arizona’s original state capitol, Prescott.
We land in the town square, and I wish cities were still made this way. Four main streets that surround a park which contains an old courthouse that served as Arizona’s first state capital. This town used to be important, and thought it would continue to be; there is a pride in the construction of each building adjacent to the square; I can feel the soul in the air.
We stayed in a small hostel like hotel and woke up to snow covered streets.
Then we went home, making one last detour! Damn right we took this road!