The sat nav said take the road to the right. Does that look a good idea to you.
Marigold Says she’s too hot and bothered to write anything so you’re stuck with me again.
Palm Springs to Grand Canyon, by way of Route 66. Phew, it's hot.
Article from ‘The Guardian’ today. See below:
‘Meteorologists in Phoenix said Tuesday evening the temperature topped out at 119F, which has only been matched or surpassed four other times.
The forecast called for a high of 120F – (nearly 49C) – in Phoenix, which the city hasn’t seen in more than two decades. Death Valley, California, reached 125F and Palm Springs hit 121F, still a degree lower than the same day last year.
Las Vegas also was baking. Out-of-town visitors tried to stay inside air-conditioned casinos as much as possible, and some tourists lugged packs of bottled water around the Strip.’
It’s been hot ever since our plane landed in San Francisco; it was 106 degrees there which locals told us was practically unique. (When I say ‘our plane,’ strictly speaking it was one of Richard Branson’s planes, but you know what I mean? Wouldn’t wish to mislead you into thinking we kept our own jet on call).
Now we’re in the desert, it’s seriously hot. We’ve lived in places where 40 degree centigrade summer temperatures were the norm, so we’re well used to being ‘baked,’ but even so, it does restrict one’s choices. Easing back on the Ironman Triathlon training for a while.
Yeah, as if, as they say around here.
Marigold isn’t a great fan of intense heat – who is? – but in Palm Springs it was well over 100 degrees all night long and the AC in our room gave up at midnight. As did we! We’ll be in Death Valley and Vegas soon enough. Mad dogs and Englishmen comes to mind.
We don’t often go in for ‘planning ahead,’ but the convenient inclusion in our travels of my birthday was one of the raison d'être when a US road trip was first mooted. We thought, maybe waking up in Palm Springs and going to bed at the Grand Canyon sounded a good idea. So it was.
Yes, the two points are a fair distance apart – America is a mighty big place and there’s precious little but desert between the them – but our trusty route planner said not much over 400 miles, so that sounded okay, done that many a time, and anyway we were on the road by half seven in the morning.
The outside temperature was already 102 degrees and after the first hour it never dropped below 108 for the rest of the day. Getting out of the car meant ‘opening the oven door,’ especially at one point in a desert Services area where the outside shade temperature was showing 119 degrees and we both desperately needed a pee after guzzling water all night! Quickest call of nature ever.
We left early and we’re in Joshua Tree territory in next to no time, but as the traffic thinned out, then disappeared altogether, we hit a snag; the sudden closure of what appeared the only possible road. With a long way still to go, this happens, within the first 50 miles, no explanation, no alternative route suggested, just a barrier across the road saying ‘road closed.’ This was followed by a second road closure a few miles further on, so we saw large tracts of desert where we were the only living people for mile after mile after mile. Just over 400 miles turned out to be getting nearer to 500 by journey’s end.
Terrible plan, driving all that way, in searing heat, on my birthday? Not a bit of it. We had a blast. Saw some remarkable things, met a couple of wonderful people and enjoyed every minute.
After the road vanished for the second time, we sat and looked at each other. Sat nav doesn’t work very well and there was no signal anyway in a lunar landscape. We picked a right turn, on a dirt road as there was nothing else around and it led to a paved road soon enough, after no more than a couple of mile of trailing dust in our wake, that ran through the hills and then across a vast, featureless plain. Never saw another car in almost one and a half hours of threading our way through a very uneven road.
‘Are they vultures?’ Marigold asked. They certainly were, a dozen of them circling overhead, keeping a close eye on our progress. Did they know something about this road we didn’t?
Eventually, we came to a ‘proper’ road that turned out to be Route 66.
We stopped for petrol at Roy’s gas station and motel in Amboy. While a man I assumed to be ‘Roy’ but who probably just worked there, pumped our gas, wearing a thick shirt, sweater and jacket despite it being 105 degrees, I asked him about the road closure. ‘I heard about that,’ he said, ‘Sheriff blocked a couple of roads off. Can’t say no more, but the Sheriff is dealing with the matter, don’t you worry. Can’t say no more, wouldn’t be right.’
Oh, right. A mystery. I immediately thought back to the encircling vultures. Could that be the source of their interest. Whatever, Roy was evidently sworn to secrecy so we may never know.
I told him how we’d come to reach Amboy and he whistled. ‘Not many folk get to go that way no more,’ he said. ‘The folk who look after the salt mines and that’s about it.’
‘We didn’t see another car in over an hour and a half,’ Marigold said.
‘Be surprised if you saw one all day long through there. Where you headed?’
As we were now, by serendipitous means, on Route 66 I said ‘Hackbury’ as I know it is on the Route.
‘Never heard of it,’ Roy said. ‘Anywhere else?’
I mentioned Seligman, also a very well known stop along 66, but Roy had never heard of it either. I told him we were going to the Grand Canyon, eventually, and he brightened up a bit.
‘Oh, you’re okay for the Canyon. Hell of a long way though. Never been myself, never saw the point of looking at a hole in the ground.’
So, that’s us told.
The town of Amboy itself is deep in the Mojave desert. Roy's has become an icon for a lonely desert gas stop due to the multiple appearances of Roy's famous Road sign in so many films and TV adverts. If you want to show a picture encapsulating ‘the middle of nowhere’ that’s the sign they pick. Amboy has it all: airport, garage, cafe, school, church, graveyard, even a volcanic crater. Yet virtually none if it is operating anymore. There’s a Post Office, or was that a mirage, and Roy’s place. That’s it.
Bikers call here, lots of them. Route 66, sorry that’s the Legendary’ Route 66, isn’t the draw it once was, but bikers still come in their droves. Middle-aged men, usually fairly hefty chaps, astride Harley-Davidsons are all over the place. They keep to the speed limits, wave to one another and add colour to the highways.
I sold my last bike, long ago, the day after turning around to see why Marigold wasn’t replying to a question and saw she was fast asleep, but we both still like the look and sound of the big bikes. Do they sell one with a passenger seat that gives off a mild electric shock every ten seconds, I wonder?
Earlier, we’d driven through that vast plain with pools of brackish water lying on top of the red shale, pools which we had assumed to be a mirage and past vast hills of dirty white sand, which turned out to be salt, but not seen any evidence of it being collected or processed. ‘Roy’ said, ‘those guys only work when it suits them. Too damn hot today to mess with salt.’ He also told us the white tips on the hills, ‘over there a ways,’ were not salt (must have thought we were really dim) but limestone. ‘Pharmaceutical grade, mind, the really good stuff.’
I looked this up later after we drove past the white topped hills and finely ground top grade limestone, calcium carbonate, is indeed highly prized. Every time you take a paracetamol tablet, the base of it will be calcium carbonate. We also tracked down the missing salt mining workers, sat under a vast umbrella, playing cards. Looks like Roy was right. Too hot to work today. Hope their employers, National Chloride Co. Arizona, don’t get to read this blog.
Currently the town of Amboy is owned by Albert Okura, who also owns the Juan Pollo restaurant chain. Every time we see one of these, we say ‘Breaking Bad’ and nod to each other, knowingly.
Mister Okura is dedicated to preserving Amboy’s 1950's look and feel and and is hoping to preserve and restore the site. This is not his first project as a protector of vintage Americana. He also owns the very first McDonald's restaurant in San Bernardino and operates it as a museum.
Amboy is virtually a ghost town reminding tourists traveling Route 66 of what mining towns once used to be, yet it has its charms and the new motel area is pretty snazzy. Even so, having checked the price of ‘gas’ I realised Roy’s prices were about double what was available elsewhere. That’s monopoly trading in effect.
So, into Arizona on Route 66. Not writing that seemingly essential prefix ‘Legendary’ any more. Enough is enough.
Difficult to do justice to a road through what is essentially a desert. There’s the big sky, vast horizons common to deserts we’ve driven through in the past, yet here there’s so much to see along the way as we drove past jagged mountains, weirdly deformed yucca plants and cacti, random tumbleweed and chimneys of red rock.
A field full of brightly painted yellow and red DHL planes appeared in our right, lined up in formation ready for action, delivering parcels coast to coast. Aeroplanes of various vintages were a common sight, mostly standing in somber fashion in fields, never to fly again, baking under the remorseless sun. Arizona appears to be the last resting place of old planes.
Marigold amused herself by counting the rolling stock pulled along by at least four locomotives as the rail tracks ran alongside the road. Each train, we saw a fair number going both ways, resembling a mile long metal snake crawling slowly but unstoppable through the barren terrain. If I remember correctly, the most carriages we saw was 144, most of these being ‘double decker’ wagons with one metal container stacked on top of another. As a flatbed lorry usually rolls along with just one container, how much road traffic does each train save?
We stopped briefly at a service station near Needles, named for the rock formations just outside town. Needles is another town where time has moved on, leaving many shuttered and neglected gas stations, motels and restaurants behind, but we found a thriving place just off the road.
Outside, two red bearded men, obviously brothers, were checking the straps on their load. A pickup truck towing a long trailer with a dune buggy, boat and quad bike on the back. They resembled, and may even have been, a tag wrestling team. Seriously big men, broad in the beam with bright red hair, tied back, and flowing ginger beards.
‘Just checking the toys are safe,’ one called out to me as he saw the load had got my attention. ‘Summer’s over, back home to Vegas now.’ Their wives, both sisters, were following on in their respective RVs. These people don’t do anything in moderation. If you go on vacation, you take everything with you.
Inside, the rest rooms were clean and modern. I noted the hand dryers were Dyson Airblades, familiar enough back home but not so much here. One of the brothers wasn’t impressed. ‘Darn thing’ll strip the skin right off your hands,’ he said, removing a ham like paw from the dryer. His hand looked to me as if it could withstand a blow lamp let alone a puff or two of air.
He removed his waistcoat, all he wore above the waist, downed it in a sink of cold water, swilled it around and put it, dripping freely, back on again. ‘What a good idea,’ I thought, but was slightly wary of Marigold’s reaction if I turned up dripping cold water all over the front seats of the car. Better not risk it.
‘Some Canadian guy’s crazy idea, never catch on,’ his brother said, looking suspiciously at the hand dryers and wiping his hands on his, not very clean, overalls rather than risk possible injury. Somehow, I refrained from pointing out James Dyson was a Brit, not Canadian. Maybe this was not the time to claim common ancestry with a man whose product was deemed ‘a piece of crap.’
Leaving Needles behind, we crossed the mighty Colorado River. We’ll be renewing acquaintance again in a couple of hundred miles or so, but by then it will be out of sight at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
Eventually, we came across the Hackberry General Stores, another quirky relic from the heyday of Route 66.
We loved it’s sheer madness. Anything and everything that could be collected, no matter how useless or unlikely had been assembled in one place and just left here. I took photos, lots of them, as words alone cannot do justice to this place. It was busy enough, but most people stopped to marvel, to take a picture and move on. If they incorporated a restaurant, a diner packed with ephemera, the place would be packed all day long.
Many of the roads, even the motorways, aren’t in great shape – will never complain about the state of British roads again – actually, yes I probably will, and Route 66 is pretty indifferent in many places. We came across a road mending gang, laying new ‘blacktop.’ This involved waiting a while, quite a while, for a pilot vehicle to lead us at a stately pace along the single usable carriageway. Our leader took his job seriously. Travelling in convoy for just under three miles took twenty six minutes. Yes, we did make a note of it. Marigold insists we were overtaken at one stage by a tortoise.
A birthday lunch was called for and we stopped, at Marigold’s suggestion, at the Road Kill Café in Segleman, another town full of the weird and wonderful. We’ve been to Road Kill Cafés in Australia and Canada, so we’re well aware of how unlikely it is to find a real partly crushed wombat or whatever on the menu, but Marigold said, ‘this is it.’
I made an educated guess the road gang we'd just left laying down the black stuff had been recent customers when visiting the Rest Room when I saw the state of the floor. More tarmac had been spread in here than on the road surface!
Our server was a delightful woman named Missy who kept asking Marigold to ‘just say something else, honey, I just lurvve the way you talk.’ Hard working, all female, all middle aged servers kept the place spotless and running like a machine. We had some great laughs with Missy. She got a big tip for adding so much joy to my birthday. The food? Marigold had buffalo something, not a whole buffalo but pretty close and I had rack of raccoon. Supposedly. Missy added glass Mason jars of Coke to our order, plenty of ice and very welcome.
We went for a quick trip into Segleman which is packed with interest, took a few photos and decided we’d better get a move on if we wanted to reach the Grand Canyon, still some distance away, before night fell.
Running late as we were, we just about caught a sunset over the rim of the a grand Canyon before a welcome shower and kip in our hotel. Tomorrow will be Grand Canyon day. Just hope it will be a bit cooler.