Trying to follow the Main Street of America

Route 66 followed the Interstate 40 from Holbrook to Albuquerque. We had 460 km to go to Santa Fe and we had full day. The plan was to stay off the Interstate as much as possible and follow the remaining stretches of the Mother Road. Occasionally Route 66 would run along the Interstate on the north side and occasionally on the south. This stretch was full of Americana and we stopped at the abandoned motels and neon signs for a photo shoot. Google maps helped us find the short stretches of Route 66 nearby the Interstate.

Painted Desert Indian Center right after leaving Holbrook, AZ

We crossed New Mexico border and there was no Historic Route 66 until we reached Gallup. After Gallup we crossed the Continental Divide and took the Historic Route 66 from Gallup to Milan.

Gallup, Milan and Grants had some nice old motels and signs.

At Laguna, make sure that you take the second exit (Old Rt 66 rd) from the roundabout near 66 Pitstop and Laguna Burger. This will take you to the Dead Man’s Curve. Excellent photo opportunity if you manage to be there at the same time as the freight train.

Dead Man’s Curve, Laguna, NM

We approached Albuquerque from the West but despite having binge watched the whole Breaking Bad series years after its original introduction we drove by to head for Santa Fe. But at Bernalillo LP Southwest USA’s Best Trips told us to take the scenic route. This led us to Jemez Springs and Los Alamos, the home of the Manhattan Project.

Try to spot the Adopt-A-Highway sign by ONE OF THEM LOS ALAMOS LIBERALS from the video.

5-minute video of Highway 4 from Jemez Springs to Los Alamos

Massive failure in getting us abducted

Next stop Holbrook. One of the most famous Route 66 locations with its Wigwam Motel and neon lights. But before that, we wanted to follow Travis Walton’s footsteps and possibly get us both abducted. Travis Walton was working in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in 1975 and was abucted by the aliens. They examnined him thoroughly and returned him 5 days later. It was actually quite difficult to find the place where he was abducted or returned. Later I found some additional information about the phone booth where he was returned to. Apparently it is next to a Mexican restaurant. If I had known this, I would have certainly taken a picture. Now I just have a picture of the dead end close to the place he was abducted. There is a silver lining to the fact of not being abducted: we were not probed either.

The closest we could get to Travis Walton’s abduction site

If we had more time we certainly would have examined Mogollon Rim more carefully. The whole area with pine woods, cliffs and lakes deserves a second visit.

Holbrook, AZ is a fabulous example of the small towns along the old Mother Road, Route 66. It also hosts Petrified Forest National Park. We stayed in an airbnb called Bunkhouse which had been a bunkhouse for cowboys in the 40’s and 50’s. It was located in the backyard of the owners’ house and it was nicely decorated in the wild west style. It was one of the best accommodations we had on this trip.

Petrified Forest National Park was surprisingly diverse with Painted Desert including Painted Desert Inn (location of the movie starring Bette Davis), Historic Route 66 with its 1932 Studebaker, Blue Mesa and finally the petrified trees. It is quite amazing that the trees which are now petrified in Arizona were originally at the equator 225 million years ago.

Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park

Welcome to Miami… AZ

Visiting Saguaro in the morning and driving from Tucson to Pinetop-Lakeside near Show Low in the afternoon didn’t leave too much time for sightseeing. We had a reservation in Nine Pines Motel, Not Your Ordinary Motel in Pinetop Lakeside and unfortunately knew that we wouldn’t have time to visit Show Low. I would have liked to see the place which was named after a sentence uttered in the middle of a poker game: ”If you can show low, you win.”.

This was copper country. Mine after mine. Our route planning was based on Lonely Planet Southwest USA’s Best Trips guide book. We checked which routes from this book overlapped partly with ours and tried to follow Lonely Planet’s recommendation. This was the reason we turned left from Winkelman. This way we would take the scenic route from Superior to Pinetop-Lakeside. So by accident we happened to see this guy moving gravel from the bottom of the hole to the top.

Ray Mine, AZ

This route took us through Superior, via Top-of-the-World, to Miami. Wait, Miami? I thought Minna had done the biggest navigation mistake ever. How is it possible to drive north from Tucson and end up in Miami? Well, that’s exactly what we did. Miami, AZ is a mining town and we briefly visited the roadside shrine dedicated to victims of the Korean War. Conveniently in the same location we saw the leaderboard of the Arizona State 1995 Mining Championships.

At sunset we arrived at Globe and saw a photo opportunity at the worn Motel Villa pylon.

Then it became dark. We missed a scenic spot at Salt River Canyon but saw something strange. There was a man walking up the road in total darkness. There was no house, nor vehicle, nearby.

The motel reception had just closed when we arrived. We called the owner and he came to give us the keys. It was not only the motel which was closed, also all the dining establishments had closed and we had to drive around to find us burgers. Pinetop-Lakeside is a ski resort during winter and the season had just ended. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore the town but we felt that it would deserve a second visit. In the morning we had perfect breakfast at Darbi’s Cafe.

Roadkill near Show Low, AZ

Draw a cactus

If I asked you to draw a cactus you would draw a saguaro. Saguaro National Park is split into two separate areas: east and west. We didn’t have time for both so we picked west because that’s what you pick when you don’t have much time.

Saguaro National Park west entrance

To be honest we took quite a detour to spend half-a-day in Saguaro in the first place. It would have been much easier to take the old Route 66 from Kingman through Flagstaff to Petrified Forest National Park. But as this was one of the remaining National Parks of the southwest on our list, and there was the airplane boneyard on the way there, we couldn’t skip it.

Saguaro National Park panorama

So it is mostly about cacti. Lot’s of saguaros, which we hadn’t seen elsewhere, but also chollas and other types as well. The saguaro core looks very interesting. You can see a dried one in the bottom right corner of the following picture.

Saguaro cactus
Cholla cactus

We met a man with his elderly mother on the trail and they asked us if this was our first visit to the national park. They also asked where we were from. When they found out that we were from Finland the mother said that when she was young her best friend was Finnish. What a coincidence. We also found sign which had been modified by an amateur geologist.

Sign edited by amateur geologist

Saguaro was the third national park on this trip and quite simple to be honest. In the evening we took a 320 km drive to Pinetop-Lakeside. On the way there we stopped at the gate of Biosphere 2. The gate was closed already so we didn’t see the building itself. We were already a bit late so we had to hurry. At that time we didn’t know that we were about to enter a part of Arizona which would deserve more time for exploration.

Biosphere 2

Another airplane boneyard

A couple of years back we stumbled upon an airport with a lot of dead passenger planes in the middle of the Mojave desert. This time we wanted to see where the war planes go to die. Pima Air & Space Museum hosts an excellent collection of war planes but they also run bus tours in the neighboring Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. It is the home of 309TH Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) Facility. From the museum you can book your seat for a ”tour of the 4,000+ aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, Navy-Marine Corps, Army, Coast Guard, and several federal agencies including NASA in varying degrees of storage, being regenerated or recycled.” Book early because they will run a security clearance and the tours are very popular.

It is bookings like this which make our trip planning very difficult. You have to know months in advance where you will have to be on a certain date and make sure that your trip is not delayed before you end up in there. The security clearance was so secret that we didn’t even know if we had gotten it. Unfortunately we didn’t receive the email which confirmed our security clearance so we had to call them in advance to check if we are allowed on the tour. Zoom in here to see the vastness of the boneyard.

PIMA Air & Space Museum and Airplane Boneyard, Tucson, AZ

Both the museum and the tour of the airplane boneyard were excellent. The tour bus stopped at the entrance of the airbase, our passports were taken and we had to wait in a warehouse for them to be checked. It is really amazing how many different types of planes and helicopters have been deployed in the U.S. Air Force, Navy-Marine Corps, Army, Coast Guard and other federal agencies. Some of the planes even had complete production lines stored here so you could start building them again.

Minna had booked another historic landmark for us in Tucson. We stayed in Hotel Congress which is famous for its bar (Billy Gibbons’ favorite bar) and the fact that John Dillinger and the gang was arrested there. The room was very small and noisy. The hotel was right next to the railway station and there was a live music event downstairs: Bass Drum of Death at Hotel Congress. However, we had been warned.

Cactus Garden on the roof of Hotel Congress

Moth and the flame

I like blinking lights. It has been impossible for me to avoid Vegas on the last three trips to the west. What’s there to see then? Actually I don’t need to see anything more than the Strip or Fremont Street as they look awesome. I just want to follow how people look for eye candy or their fortune. There were still some must sees that we had to go to: The Volcano at Mirage and High Roller. High Roller was fun because we got the whole gondola for ourselves and once we were at the top the Fountains of Bellagio lit up.

The Volcano, Las Vegas

This time we stayed two nights in The Venetian in northern part of The Strip. Now we have covered Fremont Street (Main Street Station), south (MGM Grand), middle (Planet Hollywood) and north. Venetian offers free gambling lessons so we took a craps lesson. I only learned the pass line bet which I kind of new beforehand already. We had plans to go to Boulder Highway for cheaper table games but ran out of time.

The Venetian, Las Vegas

We also had dinner at Bacchanal but even seafood can be too much. Maybe next time we will spend the money for a real dinner. We spend the following two days driving to Tucson. 664 kilometers to go.

The lowest point of my life

It was particularly cool day for Death Valley. The temperature didn’t even reach 100˚F. We entered Death Valley National Park through Hell’s Gate.

View from Hell’s Gate, Death Valley

The next stop was Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells. Then we took a short and easy hike along Salt Creek where the small pupfish must swim upstream all their lives not to end up to the salt plains below.

Third stop was Zabrieskie Point which I remembered from the movie.

Zabriskie Point

Then we headed off to the most spectacular view of the valley: Dante’s View. They recommend to come here early in the morning but then you would need to stay overnight in the park.

Dante’s View

We drove back to the bottom of the valley and took Artist’s Drive loop. The first stop which looked a bit like the famous Artist’s Palette wasn’t really the right one. So we kept on driving and finally found the colourful formation which really looks like a palette. Possibly even more at sunset. We were there in the afternoon so I have used a lot of Photoshop here to emphasize the colours.

Artist’s Palette

The final stop of our Death Valley tour was Badwater Basin, the lowest point in USA: 86 meters below sea level. We had never been so deep before. If you turn your back to the valley you can see the sea level 86 meters above you on the rock wall. The hike to the place where the salt has created interesting figures in the bottom of the valley is about 1,6 km long.

Badwater Basin


Shady ladies and prostidudes

It is 421 kilometers from Ely to Beatty which was our Death Valley destination. After Tonopah we stopped in Goldfield. Goldfield was very eccentric. We had a chat with Mike at Goldfield Art Car Park Gallery. He talked about the history of the town. It had been once swept away by a flood which was hard to believe as the town was in the middle of the desert. Mike had some mildly decorated cars in the car park and some of them had even been to Burning Man.

Art Car Park Gallery, Goldfield

Our main reason to stop at Goldfield was The International Car Forest. It was similar to Cadillac Ranch in Texas but the arrangement of the cars was not as organized as in Texas.

The International Car Forest, Goldfield, Nevada

We still had time to visit Rhyolite which was one of the ghost towns nearby. It was right next to Beatty and it was hard to believe that once it had a population of 4000 people with 50 saloons and 16 restaurants. Now it was mainly rubble but worth a visit if you go to Death Valley.

Rhyolite, Nevada

Then it was time to turn back. We had already driven past the most exotic accommodation we had booked for this trip: The Shady Lady Ranch. Minna found it on Airbnb and it had excellent reviews. I’m glad we booked it on time as it has only 3 themed rooms. The rest of the rooms are regular rooms which had served as personal rooms of the employees. The themed rooms where the rooms where they worked. The picture of the Asian room at the website didn’t do it justice. It was nicely decorated and it we had our own bathroom.

Panoramic view of the Asian room

We checked in and had some pizza which we had bought from Beatty. It had been a long day but Jennifer, the lady of the house, was so social that we stayed up until 23:00 and discussed the differences of American baseball and Finnish pesäpallo with her and a couple from San Francisco. We gave Jennifer one of our precious cans of Lonkero. The ranch had 6 dogs and 24 peacocks.

Shady Lady Ranch, Beatty, Nevada