I have breakfast in the restaurant, a very good fruit, granola and yoghurt dish. Today it’s just under 130 miles on the road to Winslow in Arizona. Hence I don’t leave the hotel until just before 12 noon. Research indicated there is quite a lot of Interstate today. Once out of town it’s soon just frontage road. A few miles on and I swop from south to north of I-40. Once crossed over I soon see a Road Closed sign at the side of the road. Not in the road, but by the side. I stop and check Maps but there is no road closure indicated ahead – and Maps is usually quite up to date on such matters – so I ignore the sign.
Then two miles down the road, there is another Road Closed sign, this time across the road. I get out of the car and in the distance I can see a high cliff face and a rock fall blocking the road. There’s no choice but to turn back. Luckily, where I crossed I-40 there is an entry ramp onto I-40 W. It’s quite a long trek though to the next exit, by which time I’ve crossed into Arizona and gained an hour. Whilst it is still Mountain Time, Arizona does not do daylight saving time. Bizarre, but there you go.
There is a short section of frontage road again after coming off the Interstate but it doesn’t last long and I’m soon back on I-40 W. In fact, I’m on it for the next 40 or so miles, all the way to Holbrook. Or I should be, but today I’m having an away day from most of ‘Rt 66’. Not that I consider I-40 to be Rt 66, but you know what I mean. I come off at Exit 311 to enter the Petrified Forest National Park. At the Visitor Center I watch a short film that explains some background to the Park. Back outside I eat lunch in the car park before driving off and enter the Park proper, for the usual steep fee of $20.
To Start, a Painted Desert
The first part of the road through the Park takes me through the Painted Desert. Rock formations created by millennia of natural forces have resulted in a multitude of colours being ‘painted’ onto them. It looks quite wonderful.
The Painted Desert Inn, a famous stopping off point on Rt 66, was restored a few years ago. Today it looks superb, inside and out. Moving on, more strange colour combinations cover the rocks until a mile or so from the Inn there is a 1932 Studebaker by the roadside. This marks the place where Rt 66 used to come through the Park for a while. That was why the Inn was built. As usual, route re-alignments later killed off the Inn’s trade.
Painted Desert panorama #1
Painted Desert panorama #2
The Petrified Forest
I enter the Petrified Forest and rock mounds and weird shapes start to scatter the landscape. Similar to the Badlands last year, these have stripes showing where different layers of deposits were laid in the past, as the land evolved 1000s of years ago. As per South Dakota last year, this could almost be an alien landscape.
Scattered on the floor of the park at various points are the petrified tree trunks that give the Park its name. Getting up close to one, you can see the quartz and other minerals that have turned from dead wood into stone. Remarkable.
I end up spending a lot longer in the Park than I’d originally expected but it was a surreal experience at times. It’s a truly astonishing example of the power of nature. Some of the rock formations, their colourings, shapes, are just amazing. Go see it – it really is worth it.
Exiting the Park’s South entrance, I take US-180 NW towards Holbrook. It’s a boring road and drive, but at least it’s fast with no traffic around. In Holbrook I’m back on Rt 66 and on the other side of the city I pass one of the last of the famous Wigwam Motel‘s still standing.
As a point of note, the Desert and Park detour meant I didn’t actually miss any of Old 66 today. The section from where I turned off I-40 W for the Park to get here in Holbrook was all Interstate. Which I’m directed back on to once out of Holbrook.
Just down the road there is a short diversion off I-40 into Joseph City to drive on Rt 66 through that city, but Rt 66 disappears again out of town so it’s back onto I-40 again. Sigh.
“Well I’m a-standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” *
A couple of miles outside of Winslow I get off I-40 and pick up true Rt 66 again to arrive in the town. It seems very quiet but it is late Sunday afternoon. I can’t find a gas station though. I cruise past the sports bar I intended going to for dinner tonight – to find it’s closed! On a Sunday, with wall-to-wall NFL. WTF? A sports bar is closed?!!
There is however another bar next door, the RelicRoad Brewing Company. This hadn’t come up on pre-trip searches but it’s very busy at 5.30 pm, with some folks sitting outside in the late afternoon sun. So I pull over and go inside to ask what time they are open to later. 10.30 pm says the lady I ask, who from her demeanour I guess to be the boss or owner. “Last food orders at 10 pm,” she adds. It looks a decent place. “I’ll be back”, I reply, channelling my inner Terminator.
Having parked up, I can see that at the end of the block is the aforementioned corner referenced in The Eagles song, Take It Easy, and now named Standin’ on the Corner Park. I walk up the street. Today there are statues of a life-sized man – who is nearly standing on the corner – with a guitar by his side and also one of the song’s co-author Glenn Frey. I have no idea why there’s no statue of his fellow co-author, Jackson Browne, especially considering it was Browne’s automobile that malfunctioned in Winslow, this being the genesis of the song. Apparently some folks think the original statue looks like Jackson Browne but there’s no definitive ‘statement’ that it was modelled on him. There’s also a mural on the wall behind and a giant Arizona US 66 road sign painted on the crossroads.
Photos taken, I drive a few hundred yards up the road to the La Posada Hotel. At reception for check-in we discuss how a sports bar can be closed on a Sunday – they don’t know – but I am told RelicRoad is a good place.
Winslow is another train town on the Santa Fe railroad that parallels much of Rt 66, and this hotel is another Rt 66 classic. It dates back to the heyday of the railroad as one of the ‘Harvey Houses’ that lined the railway. Originally built in 1930, it is now restored to its former glory. It’s old style architecture and charm is a real anachronism in modern Winslow. Well, it would be anywhere for that matter. Wonderfully old school, and from a bygone era, its décor and style are unique. It’s a step back in time to an age 80 years ago.
My room has air conditioning, hot water and electric lights [:-)], but you can tell it’s old. Yet generally it’s in good condition, albeit a bit frayed here and there, but there’s character in abundance. It’s good. I like it.
My preparation for tomorrow completed, I do a bit of diary before heading out to eat. But first, a reflection on the day: Painted Desert and Petrified Forest was great, but the drive, not so. A bit boring to be honest. There was little true Rt 66 today, it was almost all Interstate. There’s nothing can be done about that though. If the original Rt 66 road is gone, no-one is going to bring it back now. And there was not much character or interest roadside today. Without the Desert and Forest side-trip, it would have been a dead day on the road really.
The EZ-66 guide book says Arizona is one of the most interesting states for Rt 66. Today wasn’t. I hope the next two days, which are mostly side-trips off Rt 66, will be interesting and after that, that Rt 66 will re-assert itself as The Mother Road.
“You were workin’ as a waitress in a cocktail bar,
When I met you” **
I leave for RelicRoad around 8 pm. Now it’s not a cocktail bar, far from it, but… you’ll get the drift. The bar is a bit quieter than earlier but still busy. Grabbing a seat at the bar is swiftly followed by Jeremy the bar man giving me the beer and food menus. With 20 or so craft beers to consider it takes me ages to even decide on a couple to sample. I go with an IPA to start with, and then order a burger. Jeremy’s chatty when he can but is clearly very busy and I get no chat from the guys either side of me. So I eat, drink and watch the end of Sunday Night Football on TV. I make a few comments on the game out loud, but no-one bites. Stupid Brit, they probably think.
After finishing his beer the guy to my left got up and walked out at some point during the football, without saying a word to anyone. The rest of the bar is also emptying slowly. But when the football’s finished – quite unlike me, but what the hell – I say something to the guy to my right in the hope of starting a conversation.
Jimmy does reply though and we start chatting. And Jimmy is a train driver. He drives these mile-long monoliths I keep seeing on the trip. I have never seen so many trains on my road trips before, but that’s because Rt 66 often tracks the railroad route. Or the other way round, I don’t know. Jimmy tells me this railroad is the main route from California to the east. Hence why, yesterday and today, I’ve seen a train every few minutes. Each one is at least a mile long and Jimmy says some can be three miles long!
But Jimmy’s very pissed off at the company running the railroad. He says they are cost-cutting, annoying the workers, getting rid of jobs and increasing their hours. He is not a happy bunny. Jeremy’s got a few moments to spare every now and again, and listens in. At one point he says he’s heard similar complaints from other rail workers who’ve been in the bar over the past months.
Jimmy’s an interesting chap to talk to, and we also discuss sports, beer, whisky and other stuff. Time has moved on though and there are now just four of us left in the bar: me and Jimmy sitting at the bar, Jeremy, plus a lady waitress, or server, tidying up. Jeremy buys me and Jimmy a drink, which is nice of him, the latter has his favoured Bud Light, whilst I switch to whisky having had enough – albeit nice – beer. Jeremy recommends a local ‘bourbon’ called Grand Canyon. I try a bit, and it’s nice, so I get a full glass.
Train Kept A-Rollin’ ***
Soon after, Jimmy departs. He arrived on a train into Winslow this morning, which is a crew changeover point, and tomorrow he heads back east. He’s got to drive in the morning, so no more beer for him. Jeremy and I bid him farewell, and we’re down to three. The various cooks and waiting staff departed throughout the evening as customers left, and now we Three Amigos have the bar to ourselves.
I’d noticed this waitress in passing throughout the evening. There were a few waitresses working earlier when it was busy, but this one caught my attention at certain points for some reason. She didn’t serve me and we didn’t speak at all. We had no need to.
But there was something about her. I just kept picking up on snippets of what she was she doing in the background, I don’t know why. She was always busy, buzzing around, serving, picking up drinks at the bar, and bantering with Jeremy and the cooks. I’ve seen 100s of servers in over 30+ years of coming to the States, but this one seemed different. I knew not why. Or maybe I do now.
She also came to my attention because at various times during the evening, Jimmy had kept hitting on her. Or trying to, anyway. “When you gonna let me buy you that drink?” was one attempt. Later: “You still haven’t let me buy you a drink.” RelicRoad is obviously Jimmy’s local bar when he’s in town and he’s clearly taken a fancy to this particular waitress, and keeps trying his luck. Further attempts later also fell flat as she just completely ignored him. Smart lady.
So: the bar is now empty, apart from me, Jeremy and the waitress. RelicRoad has a long L-shaped bar with loads of seats, plus there are many tables and chairs in the rest of the place. There are now seats free everywhere. If you wanted to sit and keep to yourself, you could sit in a corner somewhere. Or the other side of the room. Or at the other end of the bar. Anywhere.
However, literally within seconds of Jimmy leaving the bar, the waitress appears on my left. Her clean-up chores apparently complete, she then goes to sit down next to me. In doing so, she moves her bar stool right up close next to mine.
I can feel her presence, really close to me. And frankly, I am a little taken aback. Americans, in my experience, value, nay, demand, their ‘personal space’. Get too close, and many have a problem. This lady is now sitting very close to me. However, for some reason, her proximity didn’t bother me at all.
As I mentioned, we hadn’t spoken before. But as she sat down she said “Hi. You’re Ian, right?” She must have overheard Jeremy ask me my name earlier. Smart lady #2.
I then turned to her, replied with a “Hi”, and asked her what her name is. “Shauna”, she replied, with a smile.
Now because she was always rushing around doing her job, I hadn’t really ‘looked’ at Shauna properly. There were just brief glimpses here and there as she moved about. I was also focused on my conversations with Jimmy and Jeremy. In other words, I hadn’t looked at her closely at all.
But now, she was sat right next to me. And when I turned to properly look at her face for the first time, I was struck by a thunderbolt – Shauna is stunningly beautiful. I mean, she is just drop-dead gorgeous. Where did this angel come from?
“Must be talking to an angel” ****
So Jeremy continues to go about his business closing up, and Shauna and I start chatting. Now I don’t remember every little snippet of conversation that happened over the next couple of hours, but, oh boy, what I do remember is that it was great fun!
Shauna and I talked. And talked. And talked. About this. About that. Anything. Life. The Universe. Anything.
Now you’ve got to remember that we are from very different cultures, of very different ages, with different backgrounds and lives. We’d never met before. Those differences are very real – yet none of that mattered that night. We just talked. It seemed like we’d known each other forever.
Whatever topic or subject we moved on to, we just seemed to ‘click’. It appeared to me that our outlook on life was similar, our philosophies and values also. Jeremy kept joining in with whatever we two were talking about at various times – we weren’t chatting ‘quietly’, that’s for sure – and he was part of the conversation when he could. I also remember that Shauna and I got real intense at times, but in a genuine, positive way.
Then, some time later, Jeremy made his Grand Statement: “You know, this night is why I do bartending. For nights like these. What a night! Thank you, Ian. A pleasure to meet you.” Wow. Me too, Jeremy. And then he walks off to do more chores, and Shauna and I just keep talking.
A little while later, after even more chat between us all, I then remembered that Shauna and Jeremy had jobs to do – that is, lock up the bar!!! I felt a bit bad that my ramblings had kept them late, especially Shauna from her kids. I was sure it was way past their normal closing time – I think it was around 11.30 pm. So I decided I should leave and let them actually close the bar. 🙁
So I announce I’m leaving. I get up from my stool and Jeremy comes around from behind the bar and shakes my hand. Shauna then stands and moves towards me, and we hug. It’s ‘goodbye’ all round, and then I open the door, and head off back to La Posada, leaving my new buddies to finally close up.
The next day, I couldn’t believe how Shauna and I just kept talking and talking, what with the two of us never having met before, and with us being so different. Maybe she really is an angel…
Shauna’s in her mid-30s and from some of what we talked about, I know her focus is on raising her young family. She’s rightly proud of what she’s achieved in her life so far. She has some life challenges ahead of her but I hope everything works out for her. She’s just so full of life. What an amazing, amazing woman. Shauna, it was my pleasure to meet you. I will never forget you.
Today, the drive on ‘Route 66’ was a disappointment, but the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest redeemed something ‘on the road’. Then Shauna, my angel, and Jeremy, my star barman, were my evening saviours.
What a brilliant end to the day. Probably my best night in an American bar. Ever.
* Take It Easy by The Eagles
** Don’t You Want Me by The Human League
*** Train Kept A-Rollin’ – Various Artists
**** There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart) by Eurythmics