“…Flagstaff, Arizona…Don’t forget Winona…Kingman, Barstow, San Bernadino…”. So goes the famous song.
Except we had forgotten Winona.
In our excitement to take that massive detour to Monument Valley, we had missed a section of Route 66 that we had to loop back on.
As if the previous day hadn’t been busy enough (you can read about it here), we decided that a trip to Lowell Observatory was in order for our evening in Flagstaff, so after our marvellous Italian meal we set off in the dark to look at the stars. It was fab. And I touched an actual meteor (trust me, I was genuinely excited).
The following morning we set off East, headed towards Winslow. And how pleased we were that we had. We found a lovely, friendly little town, with small coffee shops and an ENORMOUS Route 66 shield on the road at the main intersection. True 66 magic. We chatted to a chap sat outside the (also enormous) gift shop for a while, took a few snaps and soaked up the peaceful atmosphere of this small town just minutes from the I-40.
We were back on track now…headed West on I-40 (which is now laid on top of the original Route 66 – so there is no choice but to use it). There was another stop just minutes up the road…one that predates Route 66 by, oh…around 50,000 years.
A meteor travelling at about 26,000 mph hit what is now Arizona, leaving a crater 1 mile wide and nearly 600ft deep. We had to see it. As with everything in the States, it has been ‘visitorified’ (that is a new word that I just made up). You pay to see it, and there is a gift shop and cafe. However, it is an awe-inspiring sight. The scale is almost impossible to fathom and it certainly reminded us once more of how small and relatively insignificant we are in the context of the entire universe.
Onwards and westwards. We left the Interstate again just before Winona (we mustn’t forget it!). There is very little to remember about tiny Winona though. I think it was included in the song for rhyming purposes rather than any memorable feature. It may have carried thousands of vehicles through towards Flagstaff in the long distant past, but those days are long gone. There are a few residential houses and an old bridge which is now inaccessible. And that is about it.
We cruised on around Flagstaff and onto Williams, the only place we had actually been before the previous year. We were keen to stop here as it was one of our favourite places from our honeymoon. We arrived in the evening in 2012, and little Williams came alive, with music coming from each of the many bars, classic diners and gift stores. It was warm and friendly and we were excited about stopping here again EXACTLY a year after we had left.
This time, we arrived in the afternoon, and there was a harder feel to the place. The sun was beating down on the tarmac, and people were hidden away inside to find shade. We found the lovely bar where we had whiled away a couple of happy hours 12 months before and sat down for a coffee. Unfortunately, we were practically ignored. No one took our order or said hi. We had to call for attention several times. We definitely felt disappointed.
We drank our coffee and re-created a couple of photos from the year before. And therein lay our problem. Our memory of the place came out of the fact that it was merely a stop off on our way to the Grand Canyon. We were expecting a bed for the night and instead we got a lively fun place on Historic Route 66 and a lovely evening filled with music and laughter. We anticipated it to feel the same in 2013…but it didn’t. I guess you always have to allow a place to be what it is, and not force it to be what you want it to be. Sometimes, memories are best left as just that.
All that said, Williams is still a lovely little place, and well worth a stop off. It claims to be the last place bypassed by the I-40 and clings very firmly to its Route 66 history. We really wanted a go on the steam train that leaves Williams once a day for the Grand Canyon, but time was against us.
After Williams, the Route 66 is synonymous with I-40, so off we went until we reached the huge arc of old road north of the interstate that leads to the town of Seligman. And this is where the modern story of Route 66 all began.
In 1987, Angel Delgadillo – who was born in Seligman in 1927 and witnessed of the rise and fall of Route 66 – set up the Historic Route 66 Association whose sole aim is to sign and preserve the Old Road. Since then, Associations have started in all 8 states along the route, and Angel has become something of a star in 66 circles. People flock to his barber shop in Seligman in the hope of meeting him. He is known as the ‘Guardian of Route 66’ and whilst he is now in his 80s, he still cuts hair in his salon.
We didn’t have the good fortune to meet him, but we had a good look around at his shop, full of artifacts and things he has collected over the years. Part of the reason that we like to travel is to ‘make memories’, and Angel understands how important it is to remember. Thanks in part to him, our trip was made a reality. Whilst Winona was less than memorable, and Williams didn’t live up to the place that is permanently etched in our minds, there was plenty more on this leg of the journey that will remain with us for many years to come.
By now, the sun was low in the sky and the air was noticeably cooler. Driving West as the sun sets isn’t easy so, rather reluctantly, we set off. We would have loved more time to spend in Seligman but a hot meal and a bed for the night was waiting for us in Kingman, our final stop in Arizona before crossing the mountains into California. We bid farewell to Angel’s place, grateful for his legacy and excited about what lay ahead.