Part 8 – Williams, AZ to Needles, CA

Saturday morning was once again sunny and cool, and we checked out of our motel and went downtown for a good breakfast at the Pinetree Diner.  From there we checked out the visitor center across the street, and discovered the Grand Canyon Railway, a train that goes out to the canyon every morning and returns late in the day.   If we were to do it again, we’d stay in Williams the night before, and take the train to the canyon.

From there it was off to Seligman, which was another great little town, with a mix of sad decline and gritty, hanging-in-there spirit.  Our two stops there were Angel’s barbershop, and an ice cream place called the Snow Cap Drive-In.    

Angel’s is a very cool old barbershop/gift shop.  The proprieter wasn’t there that day, but a nice woman (I think his daughter) was, and there were maybe 15 people who came in while we were there.  Angel is 93 – and before you ask, we reminded Darryll not to ask the woman at the counter how long he’s been dead! 

The place had an old-fashioned barber’s chair, and we each got our pictures taken in that chair.  That was another thing that took me back to my childhood; it’s been decades since I was in an old barber’s chair, but I instantly remember using the elaborate metal foot-stool part to boost myself up into a chair.

Oddly enough, Bob’s dad – my dad’s “Irish twin,” because dad was born in January and Uncle Bob was born in December of 1938 – was a barber for part of his life.  I got a lot of buzz cuts in chairs just like Angel’s!

The interior of the shop was covered with various police and firefighter patches from all over the country, and from what seemed like every country in Europe.  There were also framed newspaper articles and pictures of Angel in at least 4 languages that I saw in a quick survey. 

Right ahead of us, an Asian couple were buying a few souvenirs, and when the lady asked and found out that they were Japanese, she proudly led them over to a large, framed series of pictures of Angel being interviewed by a variety of Japanese celebrities.  She rattled off their names – maybe Admiral Yamamoto, Kristi Yamaguchi, Masahiro Tanaka, Asian reporter Trisha Takanawa from Family Guy?  (I’m not very familiar with Japanese celebrity journalists.)

But the celebrities must have been the real deal, because the Japanese tourists oohed and aahed their way through the recitation, and took A LOT of pictures.  (I know what you’re thinking, and zip it.)    

Then we went to the ice cream place, where there was a long line.  We entertained ourselves by reading all of the various patches, stickers and pins that covered every inch of wall.  Once again there were first responders from all over the world, plus social groups and motorcycle clubs.  I don’t know what it says about the appeal of ice cream in the middle of nowhere in Arizona, but I saw a “Devil’s Disciples” motorcycle club patch (another Devil on this trip!) side-by-side with a “Soldiers for Jesus” motorcycle club patch. 

When I finally got to the window, I asked if I could get an ice cream cone, and the wise-acre woman behind the counter said, “No, I’ll get it.”  When I said, “As long as I get to have it,” she pulled out a plastic squeeze bottle of mustard and said, “You can have this, too!” And she squeezed the bottle, sending a stream of mustard out and onto my chest.

Of course I leapt back, before realizing that it was a yellow string that had been inside the bottle.  Everyone in the line laughed, and Darryll laughed himself sick at me.  But then – oh beautiful karma! – as we were leaving, he grabbed the door knob and wrestled with it for half a minute, before realizing that it just spun in his hand.

Then he looked at the real doorknob, on the other side of the door, and all of us in the room got a good laugh at his expense.   The only thing that would have made that joke funnier would have been if he’d dropped his ice cream cone while wrestling with the fake door knob.

When we got outside, more people were looking at the car, and asked us about it and our trip.  Two guys in particular had a gorgeous, mostly gray Aussie in the front seat of their pickup, which made me miss Cassie the Wonder Dog even more.

Ice cream consumed, we headed back out into some more beautiful desert landscape.  Maybe half an hour down the road, we encountered a magical little moment. After several dozen miles moving through a wide-open landscape on a gentle ascent, the highway went through a pass in some foothills or small mountains, and a sere valley stretched out in front of and beneath us, with tiny Peach Springs AZ in the middle of it, and Tom Petty on the blue tooth speaker singing “Casadaga.” 

The only way it could have been better would have been if Petty had written a song about Peach Springs, AZ, and it had been playing at that moment.

Around 20 miles later, we were floating around another twist in the road at a nameless spot, maybe 5 miles west of Truxton, when we drove into another picturesque scene, with buttes topped with vertical rock columns rising on both sides of the road.  Railroad tracks also split the little valley – 66 was built mostly alongside the railroad tracks that crossed the continent earlier, and we were never far from some tracks on the whole trip – and we saw an old building with an equally old water tank on wooden supports, meant to water trains in the old days.  

We pulled over to get a pic of the scene, and as we did, a train came out of the rocky, narrow cut in the hills behind it.  The timing couldn’t have been better! 

Later on, we stopped at the Hackberry General Store, also in the middle of nowhere.  (There’s a lot of nowhere in that part of Arizona.) It was another old, weathered place with cactus and old cars out front, and tons of stuff for Bob and Darryll to look through inside. 

There was a flat roof extending out front that created a large, shaded area.  In the shade, a guy around our age was playing an electric guitar and singing a mellow, funky version of The Beatles’ “I Want You,” playing some of Billy Preston’s smooth keyboard line in that song, along with the guitar part.  I got the distinct feeling that “mellow” was this guy’s metier, considering that he was standing in some cool shade in an empty desert valley, playing a guitar for himself and whoever might stop by.  Was he barefoot, you might ask?

He was.  And though watching people walk around in public barefoot usually creeps me out a bit, I would have been disappointed if he’d been wearing shoes in this setting. 

I tossed a couple of bucks in his guitar case and talked to him for a few minutes.  His name was Richard, and he agreed that he was happy with his current gig.  I looked around the amazing scenery and told him I liked his work space, and he just grinned.    

Bob and Darryll got a few more Route 66 pins for their growing collection, and I had a 7-up for the first time in decades.   As we left, Richard was playing a pretty strong version of Heart’s “Crazy on You.” We drove away with the top still down and the sun high, and Petty singing “Even the Losers.”  Another perfect moment.

Next we got to a place that made Seligman, Peach Springs and Truxton look like downtown Manhattan.  This was the very coolly named Antares Point.  Which, it turns out, is apparently a tiny gas station and mostly empty gift shop, with – I kid you not – a giant, green Easter Island head standing outside.  As a lover of language, and appreciator of Latin suffixes in particular, I loved the name of this monstrosity: Giganticus Headicus.   

Of course you don’t stop there without getting a photographic portrait of Roberticus, Darryll-icus and Martacus in front of Giganticus Headicus. 

As we left, there was a wide open expanse to our left, and a lower, flat plane to our right, in front of a line of rocky ridges in the distance at maybe 2 o’clock on the compass.  It was a very clear day, and although I had a hard time judging distances in the desert, I would guess that that ridge was probably 5-7 miles away.  And in the valley plane in front of it, I saw my first dust devil, shortly joined by another one that formed while I was watching.

As a kid in Illinois I saw my share of tornado funnel clouds, but there was something alien and mesmerizing about the dust devils.  Over the next several hours we saw maybe 10 more as we drove along. 

We made a brief stop in Kingman for more souvenirs and passport stamps, and then took oldest variation of 66 to Cool Springs, which consisted of an old stone gas station/gift shop on the edge of really mountainous terrain.  Another guy asked us about the car, but I know that it was already on Darryll’s mind.  Because our next stop was going to be Oatman, which is an old mining town in the mountains, and between us and Oatman lay the Arizona Sidewinder.

Which sounds like either a breed of snake, a mixed martial arts move, or an innovative sexual maneuver – all three of which sound like they could land you in the hospital. 

In reality, the Sidewinder is an 8-mile stretch of road that has 191 hairpin turns on it.  That is not a numerical figure of speech – like, “Hunter Biden has done a metric ton of meth with 118 hookers” – but an actual, real-life statistic.  A sign on the road warned that no trucks over 40 feet long can take that road.

But the old Caddy is only half that long, right?  So what could go wrong: 45-year old car that normally gets 10 miles a gallon and has no heat gauge, going straight up hill for an hour on a road that you usually only see James Bond driving on, as he’s pursued by some bad guys with automatic weapons?  Piece of cake.

And it was!  The old girl came through like a champ.  Through some more amazing scenery and scary drop-offs – I had a few Grand Canyon height-related flash-backs – the Dorado glided up that hill like she knew the road, and carried us safely into Oatman.

Where we had to immediately stop for a donkey in the road.

Oatman is an old mining town consisting mostly of one main street (66).  When the mining stopped in the 40s, the miners left their donkeys behind.  The donkeys became semi-feral – if there is such a thing with a donkey – and wandered the surrounding hills.  Now they come in and take over the town every day, and smart entrepreneurs sell little bags of donkey food to tourists.  One especially old donkey is called, “the Mayor of Oatman.”

I’m not going to make the obvious joke about that donkey’s border and economic policies being better than that of another certain donkey I could mention.  But if the next time I heard “Hail to the Chief” being played, I saw the Mayor of Oatman ambling down the red carpet, I’d take that trade.  C’mon man!

We had lunch at the old Oatman Hotel, a funky place that had dollar bills stuck to every inch of the ceiling and walls.  What do three bad hombres who are west of the Pecos eat for lunch at the Oatman Hotel?   Buffalo burgers and mule ears (a kind of kettle chip, as it turns out), washed down with Sasparilla.  (Full disclosure: I had a Sasparilla, but chose a chicken Caesar salad for my entrée, to try to break the string of 20 meals in a row that left me feeling painfully over-full.  I was starting to look like the second trimester was coming along nicely, I reckon.)   

Before we left, we had one more little mishap.  During the whole trip, we’d asked various people to take our picture together, and they proved to be uniformly terrible at it.  One guy took our picture in front of the St. Louis arch, and used an odd angle that allowed him to totally miss… the freaking arch behind us!  Other shots cut off heads, were shot directly into solar flare, or were angled as if we were all in danger of sliding off the deck in heavy seas as we pursued the Red October.

So this time, Darryll asked Bob and I to take a few pics and video of him feeding one of the Oatman donkeys.  When we finished, he looked at both efforts, and found that we had both managed to center in on the donkey, but only catch Darryll’s hand full of donkey pellets in the picture.

I have two things to say in our defense:  1. It is impossible to see the screen of a cell phone in direct sunlight, as I may have mentioned earlier.  2. Darryll told us both to get a pic of the jackass… so he should have been more specific.

The road west out of Oatman was a lot straighter than the road in, and we made it to Needles, CA around suppertime.  For the first time in the entire trip, we missed having an air conditioner, as it was 96 degrees when we arrived in Needles.  It still wasn’t too bad with the top down and in motion, but we were not looking forward to the normally scorching part of the remaining trip –from Needles to Barstow – the next day.  

Next up: the final day on Route 66, from Needles to the Santa Monica pier