Friday, 14 September 2012

Day 16 - Batshit Arizona

They say that when you look back on your life you don't remember the nights you got plenty of sleep. With that in mind, we got up this morning for the literal crack of dawn to watch the sunrise. Neither of us are morning people so this was a new experience, and as ways to start the day go, I have to say I've had worse.

The sun is going the wrong direction

And there I was thinking sunrise was something that only happened when you stay up a really long time

Not the worst view in the world

The amazing thing about sunrise over the Grand Canyon is how dramatically the landscape changes as the light shifts and paints the scenery in different ways. I'm sure we could have quite happily stayed there and watched all day, but the road was calling.

We headed back to the hotel for breakfast, and both had utterly out-of-character joy at the amount of fruit available. Yes, even I get tired of carbs after a while. The Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn scores massive points on that front, and even more because when I lamented the lack of tea, one of the chefs went and dug some out of the only-just-arrived truck for me. In the tea provision stakes, that puts this hotel only just behind the Blue Swallow, although it was about three times the price (but then they all are up there).

After breakfast I took advantage of the fact that this was the first time we had reasonable (though not great) wifi without having a massively heavy day of driving ahead and did some work for a couple of hours. Obviously I'm only mentioning this because I learned today that people back in Durham are actually reading this (*waves*), but also it did allow for a nice guilt-free jaunt through Arizona.

We rejoined Route 66 in Williams, which calls itself the Gateway to the Grand Canyon. This is where you can take a steam train up to the Grand Canyon, so a lot of Route 66 travellers - including many that we've met on this trip - leave their cars and bikes here and head up by train. We didn't do that, but I still insisted on visiting the choo-choo anyway, on account of being a geek and all.

Arizona's signage has been hit and miss, but when they decide to go for it they really go for it

A town whose two major attractions are methods of leaving it 
They cunningly make you loop around one-way streets, thus forcing you to take in more than the usual one street per town we've seen elsewhere

The only thing cooler than a steam train is a steam train that has the Grand Canyon at the end of it

Williams turned out to be a very pretty town in its own right; it's clearly been looked after, and they've gone to a lot of effort to promote their Route 66 heritage. The only downside was the rather surly staff in the visitor's centre; then again, perhaps we were out of line going into a shop and expecting to exchange slips of green paper for goods and services.

Someone just left this lying outside a diner, so I traded in the SUV again.
Surely Fi won't have a problem with this one? It has wheels and everything.

Williams was the last town to be bypassed by the Interstate back in 1984, but hosting an incredibly cool method of getting to a pretty major tourist attraction has obviously helped it not to suffer too badly. By contrast, our next stop in Ash Fork had clearly seen better days.

Would my landlord object if I painted my house these colours?

To be fair, being bypassed was rough on a lot of places, and when your claim to fame is that you're "the Flagstone Capital of the World," you have an extra uphill climb.

The drive through Arizona today was especially pleasant, as instead of following alongside the Interstate we swept out into lonely countryside. Much greener than we had expected Arizona to be, but then we are still at pretty high altitude.

It's nice to be reassured that we're still on the right road

If we follow this lorry will we end up back home?

While on the road, we sang the Buffy musical all the way through at 5700 feet. Because why not?

In the afternoon, we stopped in the small town of Seligman, on which the town of Radiator Springs in Cars was based; apparently Seligman local Angel Delgadillo described to John Lasseter how the opening of the Interstate almost instantaneously stopped traffic through the town. Alas, Seligman does not have a brand new racing team headquarters to lift its fortunes, so instead it waves a massive red flag at every passing Route 66 tourist. There are more tacky tourist shops on this one street that I think we've seen in whole towns. And they're not just replicas of the other tourist shops, either; each one goes out of its way in a different way to lure in the tourists, with the result that each store is wackier than the last.

How to sell stuff in Batshit Central

We started off with Angel's store itself (though he wasn't in), which had a large range of sparkly t-shirts (disclaimer: any future photographs of me in tacky sparkly t-shirts are pure coincidence). We then made our way next door to his late brother's Snow Cap restaurant.

I am pretty sure that if you look up the definition of "batshit" in the dictionary, you will find a picture of Delgadillo's Snow Cap in Seligman, AZ. There is no other word to describe this place.

Reassuring, I suppose?

And to think London tourists think photographing plain red phone boxes is cool

Do you think Fi will let me have one of these?

The lizard gets to bask in brightly-coloured chairs

Since we'd photographed all the batshittery, we decided to be polite and order drinks. That side of the restaurant business ought to be fairly mundane and straightforward, right? Not in Seligman. From squirting me with fake mustard to offering a bundle of straw (as in, the stuff that comes from a field) to go with our drinks, this is a place everyone should see once.

The hilariously over-wrought tourist-trapping clearly works; considering this is a small town with a population of less than 500, in the short time we were there at least four coach-loads of tourists turned up. In one shop at the other end of the street, they even had a US coin cheat-sheet taped to the counter, which suggests a significant number of overseas visitors. These people know what they're doing.

Clearly a motel with no particular target audience in mind 
You think this is extreme? Try touching my car...

It's nice to learn a bit of history

Once you've found it, the question becomes "What the hell is Seligman?"

Unfortunately-named motel would definitely not be on our list of places to stay

By the time we finally dragged ourselves out of Seligman, we were thoroughly bemused but very effectively relieved of cash. The last stretches of the road are going to have to throw up a massive surprise to beat this place for weirdness.

Our final major stop of the day made a valiant effort to take that crown. Having enjoyed Meramec Caverns so much, we simply had to stop at the Grand Canyon Caverns. Also the giant dinosaur may have had something to do with luring us in.

Honestly, you survive being impaled by giant arrows only to be devoured by a dinosaur. This is not my week.

The Grand Canyon Caverns used to be known as Dinosaur Caverns, because some old bones were found there that were assumed to have been from dinosaurs. Turns out the bones actually belonged to a giant sloth that fell in during the last ice age. Had I been in charge I would have retained the name and filled the caverns with dinosaurs, but I guess changing the name is the boring option for boring people.

These caverns are very different to the ones at Meramec, as they're completely dry. This means no stalactites and stalagmites, and obviously no water, so the scenery isn't as pretty. They do have a similar business model for improving on nature, though.

According to my experience from this trip, the world underground is full of brightly coloured lights

We were told by our guide that when these caverns were first discovered in 1927 by Walter Peck, he thought he had discovered gold. It turned out to be rust; easy mistake to make, apparently.

We also learned that Mr Peck was a complete dick as well as an idiot. When he realised he wasn't going to get rich using this place as a mine, he opened it up as a tourist attraction. One of the "sights" tourists could see was actual human remains dressed up as cavemen. As if that isn't creepy enough in its own right, these guys had only been dead ten years, and he refused requests by their relatives to return the bones.

This whole thing could have been sold as a horror tour. One of the still-remaining exhibits is the remains of an actual bobcat who fell into the caverns, broke his hip and then died slowly of dehydration (the dryness means things are preserved to a creepy degree). And the giant sloth whose bones I mentioned before? They have a magnificent life size replica of her (the original bones were given to a university) just to make you like her, and then tell you that when she fell into the caverns she broke her back. There are even still visible marks in the cavern walls where she spent goodness-knows-how-long trying to claw her way out with a broken back before dying. And the reason they know those marks came from her? There were still claws embedded in the walls.

If you're now picturing that scene from Silence of the Lambs with the nail in the wall, you'll know why I'm going to have nightmares tonight.

On the plus side, if you're willing to shell out $700 you can have those nightmares in a really cool place.

I assume that if you want a lie-in you get gawked at by the morning tours

This is the underground hotel room featured on Billy Connolly's Route 66 programme, but I can't say we were tempted.

The tour finished with a light show, which got us all excited as we anticipated a repeat of Meramec's God Bless America fiasco. This one was quite different, though; the lights were just laser points on the ceiling, there was no audible light switch flicking, and the music started with the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme and segued into other space and SF-related music before finishing with Bobby Troup's Route 66. So, points for choice of music but the light show itself was nowhere near good enough to be classed 'good' and not horrendously awful enough to be as hilarious as Meramec's. Overall, a resounding "meh."

As we were making our way back up to the surface, our tour guide redeemed herself for the questionable light show by warning us of an upcoming heavily-policed speed trap on the road. Now that's the kind of useful information you want from a tour.

From there we had a fairly straightforward run through twisty-turny roads all the way to Kingman, nicely aided by a useful signpost.

They forgot Winona

Our stop for the night is in Kingman, Arizona, at the Hill Top Motel, which funnily enough is right on top of a hill. How they come up with these names I'll never know. The motel's owner recommended a local eatery where I got to cross off fried catfish from the must-eats that Tonya provided us with back in Missouri. And tomorrow, we head out into the desert!

This sign had better not be teasing us

1 comment:

  1. Ah, you've finally reached the small bit of Route 66 I've been to! What I recall of Kingman is the Route 66 museum (rather less bonkers than a lot of the stuff you seem to have seen) and Mr D's Route 66 Diner opposite.

    There will indeed be desert ahead :-)