Above Photo: Williams, Arizona
Day 13 Miles: 125
Meteor Crater (Winslow), Arizona to Grand Canyon, Arizona
CRATERS TO CANYONS
I’m not much of an outdoorsy girl. I preferred to view nature from the window of a cozy cabin or some mode of transportation, like a car, RV, helicopter, or train. But Day 13 on the Route 66 trail, while challenging at times, proved to be glorious and marvelous and … Grand, all because of the great outdoors.
I spent the morning at Meteor Crater, on a ranch outside Winslow, Arizona. It’s been a long time since I had to stop the car because of animals on the road. (And it happened twice in one day – here, and later at the Grand Canyon.) The San Francisco Peaks, covered with snow, rose in the distance over the ranch land.
Back in the old days, a trading post, filling station, liquor store, and rest stop at Meteor Crater were run by a man everyone called Rimmy Jim. He despised eastern snobbery. There were basic restroom facilities in the trading post (for paying customers), but those who put on airs were directed to the outhouse. While they did their business, Jimmy played a tape-recording from underneath, asking if they could please use the second hole, because he was not finished painting the underside of the first one yet. (Source: “Route 66 Traveler’s Guide and Roadside Companion” by Tom Snyder.)
Things have changed a little since then; the facility is well done, with an extensive gift shop, sparkling restrooms, no hijinks, and even a Subway sandwich store. I breezed through the exhibits and skipped the movie, because the true attraction is the crater itself.
The crater was formed almost 50,000 years ago by a meteor ending its 500 million-mile journey through space. It traveled at 26,000 miles per hour, which equates to 11 miles per second. It is estimated that the meteor was 150 feet across and weighed several hundred thousand tons. The impact caused an explosion greater than the ignition of 20,000,000 tons of TNT. The crater is 700 feet deep and 4,000 feet across; a 60-story building could rest on the crater floor and the top would just reach the rim.
The story of the man who spent his life time looking for the meteor made me a bit sad. In 1902, David Barringer was a Philadelphia mining engineer. He thought he might be able to mine iron from the site, and he filed mining claims with the federal government. This was before Arizona became a state, and suddenly Barringer owned Meteor Crater. He was correct in one regard; he believed the crater was caused by a meteor, and many pooh-poohed him for that. What he did not understand was that the meteor underwent total disintegration caused by vaporization, melting and fragmentation on impact. He spent 26 years trying to find a giant iron meteorite, drilling in different areas to depths of over 1300 feet before the rotary drill bit jammed completely.
The Barringer family and the Bar T Bar Ranch still own the site today. Imagine owning a meteor crater!
(DON’T) FORGET WINONA!
Now you go through Saint Louis
Joplin, Missouri, and Oklahoma City looks mighty pretty
You see Amarillo, Gallup, New Mexico, Flagstaff, Arizona
Don’t forget Winona, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino
— Bobby Troup, “Route 66”
I had to stop in Winona. All the tour books said don’t bother, but I had a vision of taking a photo at every town mentioned in the song, making a montage for my website.
Exiting the freeway, one sign said Winona was straight ahead. That was the last sign. I drove too far past that sign, and I knew it. I punched Winona into Lola, my RV GPS, and she said I had gone 6 miles beyond the berg. I made a precarious turnaround on the dirt entry of a ranch and made my way back.
Following Lola’s directions to a tee (and you may recall I think she is developmentally disabled), I ended up on the train tracks on a fire service road. I kid you not. I would have taken photos of this ordeal, except it was very stressful and I wasn’t thinking about the blog at that moment. Once again, I was able, just barely, to turn around and go back.
OK, I thought to myself, give up on Winona, but at least get the photo of the sign! The problem was, that sign was in the middle of the intersection of the ramps for the interstate in both directions. I crossed over the interstate, thinking I could pull over for a rather long walk back to the sign. That’s when I ended up on a dirt road, with no end in sight.
Fuck Bobby Troup, and fuck Winona. Hell, while we’re at it, fuck that girl in “Beetlejuice” who dated Johnny Depp and that country music chick. I am so over Winona.
This was the first time on my journey that I thought I would need to unhook the car to either back up or turn the RV around via a three-point (or more) turn. Up ahead I saw a small curve in the road, full of potholes and ruts. I reminded myself that the front tires were underneath me and not in front of me, and that the turning radius on a Class A is very good. I clinched my teeth and held my breath and turned left.
Nellie pitched and rolled left to right in holes and bumps. One of the cabinets flew open and glassware tumbled out. I could hear the utensils flying around in the drawer. I did not know where Boss Tweed and Olive were, but I could only hope they were hanging on.
We made it. And I mean barely. The wheel wells are full of mud now. Nellie needs a good scrubbing! And I won’t even mention the toad.
If I make a montage for the Route 66 song, you’ll understand why Winona is blank. Or maybe I’ll take a photo of myself flipping the bird.
I exited for Flagstaff way ahead of the town itself, to drive an historic stretch of Route 66. Hey, Flagstaff – if you post signs directing travelers to Historic Route 66, maybe you should repair the road. (After my Winona experience, I was not in good humor.)
After passing Home Depot and the mall, vintage motels began to spring up. Here’s a classic:
But most of the signage had been replaced, and I have a theory. Unlike many Route 66 towns, Flagstaff did not have all its eggs in the Mother Road basket. Flagstaff has four-season outdoor recreation, the university, museums, and a lot more to offer than just a pit stop. Those vintage motels remained in use over the years, and when the neon began to fail, it was simply replaced.
In the Route 66 ballroom, Flagstaff is the beautiful woman who does not need jewels or fancy clothes to be asked to dance. The small towns are the homely girls whose only claim to fame is The Mother Road; they are donning rhinestones and neon and bells and whistles to entice a spin around the dance floor.
Flagstaff has an historic and quaint downtown with vintage hotels and shops and coffee houses, but it was impossible to get there in the RV. I opted to stay on Route 66 and exit town without unhooking the toad to drive around for photographs. Someday I will have to return to Flagstaff to make up for the short shrift I gave it on this trip.
MY KIND OF TOWN, WILLIAMS IS
I’m not prejudiced just because the town and I share a name. There’s a lot to like about Williams. Williams was the last town bypassed by Interstate 40, in 1984:
prompting Charles Kuralt to channel Steinbeck by lamenting, “The interstate highway system is a wonderful thing. It makes it possible to go from coast to coast without seeing anything or meeting anybody. If the United States interests you, stay off the interstates.”
There are some great old bars in Williams:
including the infamous Canyon Club:
I was so excited to go there. I took photos on both sides of the building, entered, then promptly walked out the opposite door. What a rough crowd! I guess it was 11:00 a.m. on a Monday, and it was entirely populated by locals.
That is because Williams, Gateway to the Grand Canyon, is getting winterized. The Dairy Queen is shut down until spring. Last-minute work is being done on hotels. A spattering of tourists wander the streets. Restaurants are empty.
I would love to return to Williams at the height of the season, rent a hotel room there, and take the train to the Grand Canyon. There’s something very romantic about that.
HOLY CRAP, THE GRAND CANYON!
I pulled in to my campsite in Tusayan at 2:00 p.m., so there were still many daylight hours to enjoy the canyon. I unhooked the toad, and Olive and I went for a ride. $30 for a seven day pass at the gate, and we were in the park.
I never realized just how vast the park is. Hotels, campgrounds, marketplace, buses and shuttles, restaurants, visitor center – the South Rim is an entire community. The long stretches of road make it feel very rural, so the low speed limits are surprising to some. They were especially surprising to the asshat who tailgated me throughout the park in a big red pickup, even though I was going 5 miles over the posted limit. He had to slam on the brakes when we encountered a herd of elk in the road. Drivers in both direction stopped and took photos. The elks had barely cleared the roadway, but no one moved and everyone continued to take photographs. That’s when Asshat honked his horn. This is why I do not trust myself with a firearm.
I parked at the secondary lot to the overflow lot of the satellite lot of the Visitor Center and made my trek to Mather Point. I was adrift in a sea of Asian tourists and selfie sticks. If this is the low season, I don’t even want to know what the crowds are like in summer. Over 5 million people visit the park each year.
Seeing the canyon for the first time made me drop the burdens of the day like a pack off my back. The Grand Canyon overwhelms the senses. It is a unique combination of size, color, and form. 277 River miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. The sun was setting, creating beautiful shadowing and depth. Everyone is a photographer at the Grand Canyon, and I took far too many photos, but that’s what you do when you were in the presence of something so majestic.