travelog 5

Famous Route 66

Here we are again with our new Travel Note from the American "front line". This time out of northwestern Arizona, from the famous route 66.

The route 66, once THE road across the United States, on which someone had the possibility to drive from Chicago to Los Angeles. The route generates many nostalgic thoughts of James Dean or John Steinbeck...

We want to drive one of the last remaining pieces of that legendary road with our PocoLoco - and start in "Golden Shores", a sleepy dump with a dusty gas station, everything a little bit crooked, and with around 20 houses. As the road is maintained after a fashion (only the really necessary repairs are made), we rumble with our truck towards the northwest, heading for the Black Mountains. On a small gravelled parking lot beside the road a sign informs us about the further stretch of this "National Historic Route" and this "Scenic Byway".

A passing forest ranger takes the opportunity to admire our vehicle from all sides - he simply circles it with his car...

A car wreck, full of bullet holes like a sieve, reminds us on the dangers of the Wild West. But as we are tough people, we drive further on!

The mountains approach, the street is getting narrower and steeper. Again and again traffic signs tell you, that it is not allowed to drive this road with vehicles more than 30 feet long - but nevertheless giant American motorhomes pass us frequently (we call them "battle-ships" - they can be driven with the normal driver's license, impossible in Europe - and you can tow another vehicle, also impossible in Europe). The clever drivers uncoupled the towed vehicle and this time also the woman has to drive for a while. The majority of the battle-ships are certainly more than 30 feet long - but who cares in the country of the big roads?!

Billboards along the roadside announce the village OATMAN. It may be one of the best-kept villages of the old Wild West, kept in the original state from the last gold rush; you might enjoy rattlesnakes boiled, steamed or cooked to perfection on the b-b-q grill at "Cactus Joe". These and other signs with similar advertisement line the road. We park our vehicle at the entrance of the village on a parking lot for free (it's a chance, as we realize later on - because on all other lots there are people asking money for parking).

There is not much left from the times of the last gold rush. Except the greed for earning as much money as possible in as short a time as possible - today they raid the tourists. This is called "a tourist trap". You can buy carrots for the wild donkeys standing everywhere. There are the usual t-shirt-shops, painted glasses and ashtrays, Wild West cookbooks, many different Tabasco sauces, postcards and kitsch, kitsch, kitsch. After three shops we see the same old garbage again and again, so we search for a restaurant to eat something. We find one. It's a wild dive with furs on the wall, dark from smoke and with deer antlers on the balcony. At first you have to order something to drink, so we order a beer, and then you have to decide yourself which food you want to order. A clever way to earn money, we realize. Because everything you want to order is out. But you can order "all the other stuff". That means, that we could order hamburger and hot dogs... no, thank you very much! So we drink our beer and take flight, as the vocalist of the village wants to start to sing from old times. Finally we step in a - they are everywhere - Italian restaurant and have some onion rings. Better than nothing. Here a "real character" tinkles on his piano and for a few bucks more you can order your preferred song. But we are fascinated of all these bikers in their extraordinary outfit: leather trousers, letting only interesting details open for the view - the potency in front and a tight back in the rear - everything certainly packed in jeans. But this is new for us in America. Women in leather brassiere and with the matching cloth, preferrably an American flag, tied around the head like the pirates do.

But the absolute culmination of our visit is the final photo session. On Sundays (we have chosen the right day for our visit in Oatman), there are twice a day so called "gun shows". And so one of us takes pictures of the other driving with PocoLoco through Oatman - two minutes before the showdown! Of course the road is filled with a crowd of people - in old times they would have fled the scene. Slowly rolling through the photographing crowd forming a lane, we leave Oatman being sure to have done a lot for the income of certain film factories.

One mile after leaving Oatman in the direction of the mountain it gets calm, and we drive through splendid cactus gardens with millions of chollas (little yellow, spiny "trees"). They are splattered over the steep slopes. We pass a gold mine, where armed guards watch over the entrance of the mine. It doesn't look very inviting.

Shortly after that we reach Sitgreaves Pass on a very steep part of the Route 66 with sharp switchbacks. Here you have a gorgeous view to the east and to the west of this region of northern Arizona. We have to rest a little bit, not only to give our Unimog the opportunity to let the cooling water temperature decrease, but also to search for a plant, whose type is native to the locality of this pass. Of course we don't find it at a glance. So we decide to stay overnight on a little (but level!) terrace just beside Route 66, which meanders down on the eastern slopes of the Black Mountains. We park there and can be seen by everybody driving through. So this place has not only the advantage of the gorgeous view, it has also the disadvantage of the nosy people. Some of them, especially four-wheel freaks, think they have to drive around our vehicle with their cars (of course not to have this terrific view!). So the snooping continues in a moderate way. More disturbing are the wild bunches with their roaring bikes (the louder, the better - they are just proud of that noise!), which let the mountain slopes thunder comfortably. Most of them wear glasses, but the majority don't even wear a helmet. More than once we asked ourselves how they would look if they fell off their bikes...

As Martin has a wounded left foot (in convalescence), Julia is climbing a little bit through the steep, rocky slopes and discovers the famous plant we were searching for. This century plant is growing beneath bushes and little trees, hiding perfectly. Most of the older inflorescences - this is the only possibility to recognize an Agave from a certain distance - seem to have been eaten by the wild donkeys.

While climbing around Julia discovers a few interesting looking rocks. She takes them with her to show them to Martin. Together we decide to examine the slopes closely the next morning and to collect some specimens. They are chalcedony slabs, some of them with nice red bubbles (it's called here "fire agate"). We find some outstanding pieces (one mile down the street we pass a big panel saying that it is not allowed to rockhound, because it is private property - too late, too late - but we think the place where we found our specimens, was still BLM land!) and we regret not having the possibility to take more of them with us. That's why Martin has to wash and clean the pieces for choosing the best specimens, out of which we show two on a picture.

After a few switchbacks further on we pass Ed's Camp, a group of corrugated-iron huts - the yard littered with scrap metal. Then the Route 66 leads straight ahead through a wide, sheer endless plain to the Interstate.

"That's all folks!" from a nostalgic corner of Arizona...

April 1998

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen