Route 66, The Mother Road, America’s Time Machine

sedona vista

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.

the trip

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.

desert road

The desert feels safe, though it was built to kill you, maybe it is because human’s came out of the desert.

There are old signs along the side of the road, places that used to exist, places that used to be important.

Indian Sign

this led to a sort of mining amusement park on the side of a hill

We quickly learned that desert dwellers have a security system that is much more powerful than ADT.

u r in range

I have never turned around quicker.

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.

route 66 store

the cities that were destroyed by I-40 now try to live off the nostalgia for the route


americas main street

new color TVs

Obviously we stayed here for the night… TV’s in color! The future.

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.

downtown williams

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.

williams route 66

On to the mountain town of Flagstaff. With an elevation of 7200 feet, I can feel my lungs gasp for oxygen.

hotel monte vista

flagstaff

me in alley

 

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.

walnut camnyon
ruins in distance

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?

 

leaning against ruins

walnut ruins

“What a day!” My friend exclaims!
“Day’s just beginning,” I say as we drive towards Oak Creek Canyon.

road into valley

We’re driving down the 89, then slam on the breaks. The red rocks of Sedona appear.

first sign of sedona

no one behind us complained, I think they were happy we stopped in the middle of the road

sedona in distance
We pull over and stare at one of the most beautiful sights on the planet.

 

entering sedona

sedona stream

sedona vista

 

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.

 

main street hotel jerome

jerome main street

downtown jerome

We spent the night a the Jerome Grand Hotel. Easily the creepiest place I have ever been.

hotel at night
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.

 

IMG_4185

creepy room
We heard noises through the night. Gurneys being pushed down the halls. Children’s and patient’s voices. Stay here, you decide for yourself.

hotel on hill
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.

jerome during day

winery

old theater

We drove down another mountain road towards Arizona’s original state capitol, Prescott.

creepy cow

cows are creepy

indian arts sign

creepy forrest

 

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.

 

statue in front of court

court house

court house at night

We stayed in a small hostel like hotel and woke up to snow covered streets.

snow covered presscott

snow covered court

 

Then we went home, making one last detour! Damn right we took this road!

 

ghost town road

gold town road

 

This is Arizona’s Spine, the trip can easily be done over a weekend, and you will see a part of Arizona you did not know existed, and a part of Americana that is slowly being lost.

Go make the world more awesome!

Some of these photo’s were taken by my dear friend Shane Russeck. 

Author: John-Michael Thomas

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1 Comment

  1. what an enjoyable read. I love learning about the adventures along the Mother Road, Kookie, Kookie lend me your comb- you know and all that kind of memorable stuff.
    The photo’s are wonderful.

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