August 14: Amarillo to Tucumcari to Painted Desert to Holbrook to The Grand Canyon
Soundtrack: Radio 98 Oldies, Radio L.A.-N.Y.
Arizona is one of the Route 66 states where tourists can gorge themselves with attractions. The Grand Canyon, Painted Desert, Petrified Forest, and Meteor Crater alone can keep an army of camera-toting travelers occupied for weeks. There are also subtle enticements to be discovered in the Arizona canyon lands, mountains and high desert. Many of these are tied to the Mother Road. With a bit of luck, they can still be found.
Michael Wallis, Route 66: The Mother Road
Clouds heading into New Mexico were picture perfect over the beauty way of buttes and mesas, but threatened rain off and on. I missed the turnoff for Cadillac Ranch, an attraction which had always eluded me. Route 66 became lost weaving around Interstate 40 into Tucumcari, where the famous neon signs advertising the Blue Swallow and other renovated motels and coffee shops shone among the ruins of less fortunate establishments. I stopped for gas and bought a Route 66 book by Michael Wallis that turned out to be the same one John Lasseter used to navigate the Mother Road in 2000. Lasseter’s love of driving and the alchemy of how he spent his summer vacation became the hit cartoon CARS.
The clouds kept the temperature at 70º all the way; billboards for various Bowlin’s curio stores (easy on/easy off) promised hillbilly figurines, fireworks (they’ll blow your socks off!), cactus candy, kachina dolls, and Minnetonka Mocassins. “We’ve got bears and elephants, too,” one sign declared. I read ahead in the Route 66 book to make sure I didn’t miss any more roadside attractions.
I stopped at one, Cline’s Corners, in the middle of nowhere except weedy remnants of Route 66, and bought a pair of the requisite mocassins in red leather with beads and a couple of Route 66 stickers. From the parking lot, I called the reservation number for the Grand Canyon and managed to book a room at the Yavapai Inn. We had never been able to get any kind of room anywhere near the National Park in all the years we had gone there; I rushed west on the 40 toward the cutoff, slowing only for the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest and a gas stop at Holbrook where there is a giant jackrabbit and a wigwam motel. There were so many delights that had to be deferred: Cheech Marin live at a Casino west of Albuquerque, the Malpais and Ice Caves south of Grants where Charlie and Laura and I climbed a volcano and searched for Anne Baxter’s place, the Swapmeet 66 with its promise of vintage license plates and hubcaps.
Despite only a quick nap and visitor center stop at the Painted Desert, where the colors WERE amazing, it was 10:00 and pitch dark by the time I made it to the Grand Canyon. My room was the last one in a concrete strip of courts among evergreens, basic but comfortable. Under a wheel of stars, I got to sleep early, since sunrise on the rim was the big thrill.