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Archive for the ‘Arizona’ Category

My original plan was to leave L.A. at 6AM Monday morning, to cross the desert before the worst of the heat, to arrive in Ariz. mid-afternoon. But a combination of rain and a headache kept me home a few extra hours. I hit the road around 10:30 AM.

Full tank of gas, everything else packed – maps, snacks, camera stuff, laptop, etc.. I crossed over to Interstate 15 by taking Pearblossom Hwy out of Palmdale. Zipped up 15 to Barstow and caught Interstate 40 over to Arizona. With just one stop in Needles (so hot I could hardly breathe when I briefly emerged from the car,) I crossed the Colorado River and Arizona state line and passed through Kingman, Williams, and Flagstaff. Each of those towns reminded me of details from previous trips. Driving is like that for me, it evokes a flurry of memories.

With the exception of one horrific downpour of rain going through Seligman, through which I couldn’t see anything but two blurry red rear lights on a sixteen wheeler ahead of me, it was a peaceful, non-eventful drive.

I do love the scenery of No. Arizona, with its alternating rock formations, pine trees and flat expanses of land. And I always grin at some of the names along the way. Rattlesnake Wash, for example, and Holy Moses Wash.

Weary from driving and hungry for a good meal, I overshot my destination by ten miles. More specifically, I overshot it by a couple miles and then had to wait another eight miles or so for an offramp to turn around.

I pulled into Winslow, Arizona around 7:30PM and found my way to La Posada Hotel. I had visited this historic railroad hotel years ago, but had never had the opportunity to stay there. This trip I was determined to move it from my “wish list” to my “recommended lodging” list, which only happens after I spend a night as a guest.

You would never know there was a magnificent lodging establishment on this property if you were to just drive by. Unless the sheer size of the structure (72,000 square feet) grabbed your curiosity, you might only see a haphazard sign, with nothing but dirt and distant train tracks behind it. But if you had heard about it ahead of time, or caught a documentary or one of many feature articles about the hotel, you’d know it was worth a stop.

This Mary Jane Colter masterpiece, a Fred Harvey, Santa Fe Railway hotel, has been in continual stages of restoration for many years. Much remains to be done, but what has already been accomplished is amazing. Thirty-seven remodeled guest rooms are up and running, with another entire wing yet to be tackled. The lobby and common areas are awe-inspiring, filled with original hotel artifacts, unique contemporary artwork and historical photos. There are sitting areas everywhere, some with videos showing different aspects of the remodeling and restoration process, some with tables for writing and visiting, some just comfortable couches and chairs in friendly arrangements.

Off the hallway that connects the hotel lobby to the guest rooms, doors open to a classic mediterranean style garden. The Sunken Garden offers outdoor seating on an upper terrace level, next to a bubbling fountain. A few steps down, walkways run along each side of a narrow lawn. This garden is a peaceful oasis, surrounded on three sides by exterior hotel walls to keep the heat from building up . Guests are asked to keep voices down in the evening, as the noise drifts up to the rooms above.

For many years, La Posada Hotel was a popular destination for Hollywood stars and politicians. Each room is named after a famous guest. I was given the Dorothy Lamour room, #212, located upstairs in the middle section of the building, where passing trains (50+ per day, between freight and Amtrak) wouldn’t be too noisy. Still, I propped open my windows to allow some of the ambiance of rattling wheels on tracks to sink in. After all, this was a railroad hotel. No reason to pass up an authentic experience.

The room itself was spacious, with a private bath, small writing table and television (no phone.) It had an entry hall with a hanging tin star light and the walls were painted with Southwestern colors in peach and watermelon hues. Immaculate and comfortable. Rustic and artsy at the same time.

Famished from the long drive, I tossed my bags into my room and returned downstairs to the hotel’s restaurant, The Turquoise Room. Hospitality seems to be a priority here (the check-in process was easy and the desk clerk helpful.) I was seated in a very comfortable booth, a real treat after a long day on the road.

I decided to order the “Killer Vegetable Platter,” which was excellent. This was not a typical stir-fry concoction, but a feast of mini-portions, including sweet corn tamale, cheese-stuffed chili pepper, mushroom flan, grilled tofu, black beans, grilled corn on the cob and a few other items, all presented on a piping hot platter. A salad was included, as well as a basket of assorted breads. It was a feast.

Some post-dinner wandering gave me time to take in some of the artwork and to sit in the Sunken Garden for awhile. But nine hours of driving caught up with me quickly. I turned in for the night, knowing fresh coffee would be waiting in the main hallway in the morning.

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The sun was low on the horizon as I turned and drove south on Arizona State Route 80. Twenty-three miles off the interstate, I wasn’t quite sure what prompted me to detour so late in the day. But curiosity and intrigue lured me, in spite of the hour.

I arrived just as the sun was setting, passing Boothill Graveyard and entering the famous mining town. Named “Tombstone” by prospector Ed Shieffelin in 1877, he had been told he would find only his tombstone in this remote area, rather than the silver he was searching for. He proved them wrong, as the town became not only a legendary part of the west, but produced millions of dollars of silver and gold over a seven year period of time.

With only a few turns of the steering wheel, I found myself on Allen Street, the center of the historical district, and pulled over and parked my car. I grabbed my camera and keys and jumped out, determined to latch onto the last of the sunlight.
Instead I simply stood still, an odd sensation suddenly running through me.

And it instantly didn’t matter to me whether I caught the glow of the sun on the O.K. Corral, site of the Earp-Clanton gunfight of Oct. 26, 1881, though it stood directly across the street. I was frozen, standing next to my car, unable to move or place my thoughts. Everything felt very surreal.

Even with a few lingering shopkeepers locking their doors and walking away, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard such quiet. Where tourists had most likely crowded together earlier in the day, instead was an empty, silent street.

The wind took me by surprise. I hadn’t remembered any wind back in Tucson, which I had passed just earlier that afternoon. But the gusts that swept past me and through me were strong and heavy, carrying both force and sound within. They whisked unexpectedly by like a train roaring through, then just as quickly faded into complete stillness.
I had the intense feeling that I had traveled much, much farther than I thought I had…not a hundred miles, but perhaps a hundred years, or a little more…

Slowly I walked across the street, looking over my shoulder out of habit for non-existent oncoming cars. A white gazebo to the left of the legendary O.K. Corral was draped in red, white and blue streamers, blowing in the wind. A flag snapped with the intermittent breeze.

I continued slowly down the deserted walkway, passing storefronts and reading historical markers. Inside the shops were abundant tourist goods, but with the locked doors I was left with the old western architecture, signs, fences, walls…and the alternating wind and quiet.

I stopped to take a picture in a window and jumped at a creaking sound. Thinking someone was behind me, I turned quickly, but found only a wooden sign, swinging above on metal hinges.

And then silence. And empty space. It nearly took my breath away.
Down Allen Street I continued, passing a few locals hanging out in front of a saloon, bikes parked in front. Big Nose Kate’s, the sign read, one of a number of saloons along the main street. I passed The Crystal Palace, reputed to be one of the most luxurious saloons in the west. The door was open and I peeked inside. Velvet booths, gold fixtures, dark lighting, dark carved wood…and no one…only silence…

With the sun down, light was fading quickly, but I kept walking, entranced in the past. Signposts marked sites of gun battles. The Bird Cage Theatre, built in 1881, stood quietly on the corner of 6th St. Everywhere was a sense of the past…churches, the old courthouse, houses…

Dark continued to fall, though the clouds still held a soft glow. I rounded back to the car, absorbing the unusual sensation of displacement. Before returning to the road, I stopped at Boothill Graveyard and peered over the fence at the small tombstones, surrounded by cactus and rocks.

One last shopkeeper latched the door to the trading post across the street from the graveyard, glancing at me with some surprise. I’m sure he wondered what a California girl was doing past sundown, on tiptoes, peering over the graveyard fence. Just to catch one last glimpse of the wild, wild west. He must have thought I’d arrived too late in the day, after the bustle of tourists and shopping and gunfight reenactments were long gone.

But I know the truth. I visited at exactly the right time.

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Tucson, AZ

I drove farther than I thought I would the first day, sliding into Tucson after dark. It felt good to cover some mileage, since I know I’ll have other days when I linger over unexpected discoveries. I checked my options for historic hotels and inns (I keep a ring binder in the car with accumulated pages – sort of a “wish list” and road encyclopedia) and decided to head downtown and check out the Hotel Congress. I figured if it was good enough for John Dillinger in the 30’s, it was good enough for me.

It wasn’t difficult to find, even at night. On the corner of 4th Ave. and East Congress, it was exactly where most of these old hotels are – right in the middle of the historic downtown area. Parking was easy, in spite of a long line for the Rialto movie theatre across the street and an active tavern on the ground floor of the hotel. I entered the lobby with the usual sensation of stepping back in time, finding tiled floors, period furnishings, a high ceiling and colorful painted designs on the walls. The front desk was intricate and wooden, with an old switchboard behind it.

I took a look at a room, which was very cool. However, I decided not to stay this time, for a number of reasons, none being any dissatisfaction. The room was great, typically small but very authentic, right down to the hard-wired rotary dial phone line. No way to plug in the laptop. They have a computer in the second floor lobby for Internet access, but it was temporarily down. I probably could have gotten by without checking email until the next night, but it was my first night on the road and I try to pre-plan nights of non-access. In addition, some sort of DJ-run activity was shaping up in the lobby and it promised to be noisy. My last excuse was that, as opposed to winter discounts in most places at this time of year, Tucson considers this prime time to visit, so the room price was higher than it would be if I caught it at another time of year.

So I decided to do the discount motel thing down the road, but I wasn’t leaving yet. I hadn’t yet had dinner and Hotel Congress has a very cool restaurant/cafe, The Cup Cafe, affectionately known as “The Cup”. I grabbed a table and looked over the menu. This was a very good move. Surrounded by fun neon signs and eclectic music, I narrowed my choices down and finally ordered a salad of mixed greens with raspberry vinaigrette and samosas, served with cranberry chutney. It was fabulous.

The atmosphere was fun and festive, yet still had the relaxing feel of a dark coffee house. A painted glass vase on the table held fresh flowers. Red tile floors and rich woodwork added to the historical feel. It was funky and classy at the same time.

The menu was wonderful. Some of the choices were Poached Pear and Spinach Salad, Chicken Satay, Salmon Teriyaki and a wide range of steaks. A fun appetizer listed was called “Two Thompson Automatics”, which was described as “shredded chicken in Frank’s Original Red Hot Sauce…in an egg roll with blue cheese dressing and deep fried…served with jicama cole slaw”. “Katmandu” was another, described as “a seasonal mix of vegetables in a rich banana curry sauce served with coconut rice and garnished with tamarind-roasted peanuts”.

This was a great first night, a fun meal and good distance to start off the trip.

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Kingman, AZ

Shortly after crossing Holy Moses Wash, Interstate 40 veered toward the left and began to climb, passing through rock formations on both sides of the road, a dramatic change from the flat, dry Mojave desert. I caught my breath and took a look at the Arizona landscape before me.

Three hundred twenty-five miles from Los Angeles, I pulled into Kingman, AZ, and followed signs into the historic district. Train tracks paralleled the road on my right and with them came the sound of an approaching train. It was late afternoon and the sun cast a golden glow from the west. Yet instead of the silhouettes of joshua trees from earlier in the day, long shadows fell from monuments of the early 1900’s, for I’d now entered Route 66 territory. With just one easy turn off the Interstate, I’d jumped back in time many decades.

The Hotel Brunswick was easy to find, just across from the Kingston Depot, where a long string of boxcars rattled by, the clattering of wheels against the tracks mixing with a loud, repetitive whistle. I parked my car, giving it a pat on the roof for its reliable performance on the first day of my cross-country trip. Hoisting my overnight bag, camera and laptop over my shoulder, I headed inside, where I was greeted at the front desk by the owner of the historic 1909 lodging.

Gerard Guedon adjusted his glasses and checked the computer screen, then gave me the run down on room availability, his native French accent betraying the fact that he is not originally from the Wild, Wild West. I knew I was in for an adventure when he informed me that the hotel’s larger rooms and suites were booked, but that one of the small “Cowboy” (or “Cowgirl”) rooms was available. Having read about these bargain rooms online, I jumped at the chance and, taking a quick look at the room before commiting, gladly booked it for the night. It was a deal I was happy to make. What I gave up in space, I gained in savings. My quaint second-floor room had a small bed, chair, writing table, air-conditioning and direct-dial phone, with a bathroom as large as the room just a few feet down the hall. The cost? Exactly twenty-five dollars. File this under great budget finds.

After getting settled into my room, I strolled downstairs for something to drink. The lobby, restaurant and bar areas were all spacious and soaked with the ambiance of the early 1900’s. I watched others assemble for cocktails or dinner, tall ivory walls and green, pressed tin ceilings as background. Gerard leaned against the antique bar, sporting a white apron and greeting customers who were arriving for Saturday night dinner. No newcomer to hotel management, he has 35 years of experience in the hospitality business and had a friendly welcome waiting for each guest. Listening to conversation, I heard many hometown areas represented – Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, and New England among them.

The hotel restaurant serves a wonderful prime rib buffet, but I was in search of a smaller meal. I took a walk down the street to El Palacio Mexican Restaurant, housed in another historic building and decorated with brightly painted chairs and flowers, strands of chili and an assortment of pottery on the walls. Here I ordered an absolutely perfect green salad, crispy and fresh. Any worries I might have had about not eating enough were quickly extinguished, as a basket of chips landed on the table, accompanied by two types of salsa and a bowl of hot bean dip. Add this to my budget finds of the day, as my bill totaled a mere two dollars and ninety-seven cents, delivered with a complimentary dessert, a warm, cinnamon-coated pastry, dipped in whipped cream.

I settled in for a sound night’s sleep and barely made it to the breakfast buffet in the morning, sliding in just after 9AM. Though other guests had already eaten, Gerard had been kind enough to hold the buffet open for my late arrival. I chose from the selection of bagels, muffins, hard-boiled eggs, cereal, juice and coffee, then grabbed my camera and took off to explore.

As it was Sunday, many regular stores were closed, but the Powerhouse Route 66 Museum and Visitor Center was open, which gave me a chance to get an inside view of the road many call America’s most historic. Upstairs, inside this 90-year old building, I found a great exhibit on the life and photography of Carlos Elmer, whose stunning photographs of Arizona’s beautiful land and scenery have been featured in Arizona Highways. A glass cabinet held a camera, notes and other personal items that belonged to this artist, who captured the atmosphere of the area to the point that viewing his photographs nearly took my breath away.

I made one more stop before leaving, to take a look at Locomotive Park, where steam engine #3759 is displayed, along with a colorful red caboose. This impressive engine made regular trips between Chicago and Los Angeles, stopping regularly at the depot just across from the Hotel Brunswick. In 1957 it was the last steam engine to make the journey to Kingman, at which time the Santa Fe Railroad made a gift of it to the city.

This was a good stop for my first night on the road, with historic accommodations at a bargain price and a glimpse into life along Route 66.

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