The inspiration for my south-western Route 66 road trip came almost exclusively from the movie Easy Rider. Basically, in my heart of hearts, all I have ever wanted is to be a more lighthearted version of Peter Fonda’s character, Captain America- complete with Hippie communes, a chopped up Harley, and an overnight jail stay in hickville for parading without a permit.
Never mind the murderers, rednecks, prostitutes and drug smuggling though. I’m not that much fun.
Yet, as I’ve been told, life isn’t all like the movies, and I just didn’t have enough time on this venture to make it as far as New Orleans. Nevertheless, I fully intended to keep the spirit of Easy Rider alive, so when my family and I (aka the Griswold’s) set off on our road trip in our brand new, black Dodge Challenger, we had not a whole lot of plans for what lie ahead. All I knew is that we were going to see The Grand Canyon, and to get there, take Route 66.
When I came up with the idea, I admit I was naive enough to think that Route 66 would have been a completely nondescript road – that only those who were really made a point of finding it actually would. I was so wrong.
Before setting out, I spent four days in Los Angeles, Saturday to Tuesday, and It was my very first day of being there when I spotted my first Route 66 sign at the Santa Monica Pier. The end of the trail, what a perfect place to start. From there, our road trip started bright and early on a Wednesday morning and lasted the next 4 days.
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Road Trip! We Got Our Kicks On Route 66: Los Angeles to Flagstaff
Los Angeles to Las Vegas
Day one took us from Los Angeles through Barstow and a slight detour to eventually land in Las Vegas. Barstow was a fun stop in the spirit of Hunter S. Thompson. “We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.”
A spirited, zeitgeist enhancing stop if you will.
Now, normally if you were going to do a full Route 66 trip, you would keep on the 40 (what it has been renamed to), and if you were to do that, you would see a helluva lot of desert. The reasons for a Vegas side trip were abundant.
After a whirlwind 20 hours in Las Vegas, which will be a separate post altogether, we drove the hour or so to Boulder City to check out the Hoover Dam. The temperature at the dam – which is on the Colorado River and acts as the border between Nevada and Arizona – was freakin’ scorching so instead of a guided tour, we opted to give ourselves our own personal tour with highly necessary ice cream breaks whenever we wanted.
The Hoover Dam is just as incredible as you’ve always heard. Red Rocks tour over the river as you gaze upon one of the greatest engineering feats of our time.
Kingman to Seligman
From the Hoover Dam, we took Highway 93 to Kingman, and from there skipped back onto 66. From this point, the only goal was to find food. I foolishly and naively figured that there would be plenty of towns on the way, so a diner wouldn’t be too hard to find.
Hackberry – This is a real town?
Valentine – Was there an Arizona version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
Truxton – I expect I could find food on Mars without as much of a struggle.
A side note: Unless you’re on roadkill only diet (of which there are restaurants), eat before you get onto this particular stretch of 66.
Finally, after what felt like a lifetime, we got to Peach Springs where we saw a sign for “Gas & Grub,” for which we made a tire-squealing beeline. The stop turned out to be nothing more than a gas pump and a little shack and was so unpromising my mom wouldn’t even get out of the car to see what they had to offer.
I went inside, and the lady at the register said if we wanted real food, we have to go another seven miles down the road to where we’d find a hotel – and they had a restaurant. Hallelujah.
A few minutes later, with our shaken souls entirely weathered, we arrived at the Diamond Creek restaurant at the Hualapai Lodge and learned we were right in the midst of Hualapai Native American country. The menu, along with regular diner food, was chock-full of classic Hualapai recipes. I opted for the homemade stew with a side of fried bread, which was delicious.
The lobby of the hotel enveloped us with Hualapai culture – original artwork donned the walls, much of it for sale.
We struck up a conversation with our waitress and told her of our plan to reach the Grand Canyon, and she warned us that although we were only an hour away she was sure that the gates would be closed by the time we reached there. She told us of a small town, Williams, just at the junction where we’d turn North to the Canyon.
We decided that Williams would be our resting place for the night.
Williams was a time warp.
Nestled in the midst of the serene Kaibob National Forest, the main strip is like a 1950’s carnival. Flashing neon lights are everywhere, old cars line the same streets that horses trot up and down, hippie ladies work behind the registers at Native American art shops, and motels scatter the scenery. The entire place is buzzing.
The whole town obviously caters to people heading to the grand canyon while capitalizing on Route 66. It was such a throwback that for once I didn’t mind that I was in an oddly hidden yet flashy tourist mecca.
Personality oozed out of this town, it made me feel like a 50’s teenager and a cowgirl all at the same time.
The Grand Canyon
Although we had all the time in the world to move on from Williams, we had our hearts set on a good couple hours at the Grand Canyon, so after a small souvenir hunt – during which I scored an Arizona patch for my jean jacket, score! – we set off North through the Kaibab National Forest on the 64/180 to Grand Canyon Village.
A few short thoughts I had while at the Grand Canyon:
“Holy $%&*, this is huge.”
“Why will nobody hike with me down this meter-wide mule-ridden ledge with the drop-off?”
“Is that a snake? No, wait, no no it isn’t. SNAKE. Just a gopher.”
Flagstaff is a smaller city, clocking in a population around 70 000, and it is very spread out, so finding the famed Galaxy Diner was a bit of a to-do. But when we got there, it was just as expected. A classic overdone 50’s diner with oversized portions and whipped cream seemingly on everything, it aided to the feeling that we were in a major time warp.
After Galaxy, we headed on to Needles, California for the night. Living that motel life.
Final Route 66 thoughts: Kitschy, touristy without the tourists, desolate, desert. It has a little bit of everything, and once you find it, including the best food in Arizona.
Have you ever driven a section of Route 66? Let me know in the comments!