kingman, barstow, san bernadino

When I lived in Amarillo, TX, I was surprised to find Route 66 still running through it. My home there was a few blocks from I-40, but old 66 ran through downtown. In fact, my user icon for this entry is from West Texas, not far from Amarillo, from one of the places where Route 66 underlays one of the newer roads. (66 is now I-40 most of the way from OKC to L.A.)

So it was with much sentiment that I greeted Route 66 last night, when I first re-encountered it, in patches and strips along I-40. After all, there are two roads that have shaped the Western United States: Route 66 and the Oregon Trail, and I, in my Tolkeinesque fascination with roads, am always interested in learning about both.

I spent the night in Kingman at the Hotel Brunswick, which dates to the early 20th century. It was recommended by Lonely Planet’s Guide to Arizona, and I loved it. I stayed in a “cowgirl room” – a tiny room, with a twin bed, lamp, and wool hooked rug on the painted floor, a door away from a shared bathroom. $30, including breakfast. I pretended I was back in the 1910s for a few minutes, staring at the ceiling, before booting up my laptop and watching Simpsons: Season 4 on DVD with commentary.

This morning, I got up and wandered Kingman for an hour. I climbed the ridge outside town, and took photos of a landscape unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Rocks and scrub and desolation always maks me wonder – how do people end up in places like this? Why are these towns here?

I got answers to that at the Route 66 Museum (I highly recommend viewing the link) outside Kingman, which traced the history of 66 from Native American trading paths to the roadtrip culture of the 50s. I actually learned something fairly major about America today. I learned that the first coast-to-coast road was the National Trails Highway, a series of dirt roads that were designated for car use between 1913 and 1926. These were, of course, roads that either a) dated to wagon trails or b) followed the railways. Old 66 is actually the old National Trails Highway. Descriptive surveys and writings from the late teens and 20s describe the sections of road throughout Arizona, and efforts made to keep them in good shape, in those days before paving.

I also learned that Route 66 was paved by 1938, as a Depression-era project. I always think of it as being a post-war vacation road, so that pre-dated my image. Granted, much of what I associate with Route 66 – Burma-Shave signs, Philips 66 stations, dozens of motels and hotels and car courts – dates to the 50s, to Postwar America, but knowing that people were using it as early as the 20s and 30s changed my perception of the history of roadtrip culture in Western America a bit.

It’s also strange to think of people driving the National Trails Highway, going between the East and West, through Arizona and New Mexico when those states had only been states for less than twenty years. History doesn’t seem so distant when you look at it like that.

You’ll see Amarillo, Gallup, New Mexico, Flagstaff, Arizona… I’ve had the Depeche Mode remix of Route 66 in my head for two days now. I love this country for the hope that builds roads like that, and it is a bit like coming home to return to a part of the country touched by Route 66. I almost got misty-eyed at a Philips 66 gas station sign – I haven’t seen one of those since, well, Amarillo, and part of my heart will forever be in West Texas.

I’m in Las Vegas as I write this, on a borrowed computer at D’s aunt’s house in Henderson, where we’re staying. D has been trapped at LAX for seven hours now, and will be there for two more before she finally flies out. She could have DRIVEN to Vegas faster than that, even with the Crazy New Year’s Eve Traffic. Literally hundreds of thousands of people are pouring into Vegas, mostly from SoCal, for tonight. D got caught in that – her plane was delayed for “unscheduled maintenance” and there was no other flight for her to take with space. So I’m visiting her family instead. Fortunately, they’re amazingly nice folk from Milwaukee, who have adopted me for the weekend, so I’m actually enjoying myself.

(My mother and sister in Vegas somewhere too, but where, I have no idea. I suspect the shopping area at Caesar’s Palace.)

Photos to go up as soon as I get to a WiFi connection. I have photos ranging from Kingman to the Hoover Dam, which I drove over this morning enroute from Arizona to Nevada. Today, I got to see a part of America I hadn’t seen before. And that always makes me happy.

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