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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tintic Gold Miners B&B was in Eureka Utah. It was a very small town with a bit of a run down center. But we didn’t mind because it was just what we had come here for. There were only a couple of places to get some food from and we picked B’s Hangout because it had good reviews in Google. I had a burger which had fried cheese, melted cheese and meat in it. Minna’s Western burger didn’t have so much cheese.
We had good night sleep although the room was a bit hot. In the morning we had good American breakfast with the owners. They told us about the ghost towns in the area and with their instructions we managed to find Silver City cemetery. Apparently there was nothing left of the ”city” except the cemetery. The cemetery had a lot of children’s graves as there had been some epidemic in the beginning of 1900. I think the tombstones were not the original ones. It looked like some of them had been replaced with newer ones.
We continued driving US Route 6 to southwest and drove past Delta towards Great Basin National Park just across Nevada border. The scenery was quite dull but suddenly Minna noticed something which she said looked like a sheep which had gotten stuck to a barb wire fence. We turned back and yes, there really was an animal hanging in the fence. But it wasn’t a sheep. I’d never seen a coyote but I think this was bigger than a coyote. It looked more like a dog or a wolf to me. There are not too many wolves in Utah so I’m not 100% sure if it was a wolf.
This section of our trip was part of the Loneliest Road U.S 50. Eventually we crossed the border between Utah and Nevada, adjusted our clocks to Pacific time zone, and arrived at Baker which was home to our first national park on this trip: Great Basin National Park. It was still off-season so there was no cafeteria open in the park. In the US it is not possible to get a portion of food which is too small. Usually everything is too big. We never order any starters because they are so big that there would not be room for the main course if you had one. We thought that we had to get something for luch so we went to a local restaurant and bought one sandwich to go. This time one sandwich was a mistake because it was the smallest sandwich in the whole country.
The park has two main attractions: Lehman Cave and Wheeler Peak. Wheeler Peak was inaccessible because there was still a lot of snow on the road. Lehman Cave is open for guided tours only. Minna had pre-booked a tour for us which was necessary because even in off-season the tour was full.
When we left the park I saw blinking red and blue lights behind me. I pulled over and I was sure I’d been speeding because it was all downhill from the park and there was a 25-mile-per-hour speed limit. But I was innocent. The police had thought he had seen me without a seat belt but because I had a black shirt, the seat belt wasn’t too visible. Anyway, I forgave him and we left for Ely, Nevada.
The new side of the town looked a bit boring but the old side had some nice neon signs and small casinos. We stayed in Hotel Nevada and Gambling Hall. I had mixed feelings about the hotel at first. Minna had upgraded our room by cancelling the first reservation and then booked a new one. On arrival we learned that we had two rooms booked. I told that we don’t need two rooms this early on the trip, maybe later. The reception staff was very helpful and we got the keys and vouchers for complimentary margaritas. The hotel had been built in 1929 and it showed on the outside. Also there was a lot of cigarrette smoke in the reception because downstairs was a Gambling Hall. I didn’t have high expectations about the room. But I was wrong. The room had been renovated, except for the bathroom, and it looked like some LA boutique hotel room. Clean carpet and everything. What a nice surprise. Somehow there was an old western feel to the hotel. This was the venue where Wayne Newton started his career.
We had dinner in an old jailhouse across the street. It was one of the best rib-eye steaks I have ever eaten.
Although we had missed our flights, there was no delay in our program. Originally we had planned to stay at SLC for the first night but now we just stayed at SFO. The actual trip would begin the next morning anyway. I expected to have Ford Edge waiting for me at Avis counter at SLC, instead there was GMC Yukon Denali. Fair enough, it has higher clearance and 4*4 so it was acceptable.
Minna had been an exchange student here in 1985 so we took a quick tour around city center and drove off to Park City, the home of 2002 Winter Olympics and Sundance film festival. Very cosy ski resort but I cannot even imagine how much would a ski holiday cost here. Drunken Chicken sandwich in The Spur and then towards Eureka and our second night accommodation in Tintic Gold Miners B&B.
Guess where we are: Water costs more than a soda here. We decided to come back because we didn’t even visit all national parks of the southwest a year ago.
Finnair has direct flights to LA and San Francisco. We booked return flights to SFO with 500€+90€ for the luggage. Apparently some people travel to USA without luggage as Finnair basic economy tickets do not have luggage anymore. I hate the way they charge you nowadays. In US there are airlines which charge extra for the overhead bins. However we didn’t want to start driving from San Francisco so we also bought tickets from United from SFO to Salt Lake City with 2-hour transfer. What were we thinking? Needless to say we missed our flight from SFO to Salt Lake City because half of the passengers of Finnair got SSSS on their boarding passes, including myself. So half of the passengers had extra screening at the gate and most of the people had not noticed that boarding will start 1.5 hours before departure. So the plane left from Helsinki 30 minutes late. If it had left on time, we would have made it to Salt Lake City. We had given up hope and thought that our non-transferable cheap-ass tickets would be worthless but then a miracle happened: The agent at the United counter changed our tickets for the following morning without extra charge.
So we had to stay at SFO for the night and fly to SLC the next morning. We booked the cheapest hotel we could find which had airport shuttle service. With 92€ we got a room from Travelodge which had received 97 Excellent reviews in Tripadvisor. It seemed to be very popular among Mexican construction workers. I wouldn’t like to fly the airline which sent his pilot there though. There was a pilot in the shuttle who also jumped off at our hotel.
The room was actually cleaner than we had expected and the beds were comfy as well.