The Final Take
To quickly recap the journey, I left my home in Utah and drove 1605.3 miles (2583.5 kilometers) through Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. The drive took 31 hours and 55 minutes. I shot 342 photographs on my Nikon D500, plus several on my Samsung Galaxy phone. Yes, I have been on much longer road trips. But consider this – 1605 miles and 5 national parks and monuments plus two private monuments in one trip!
This journey was so incredible! Even if I had not gotten so many cool photographs, the experience was amazing. To be able to see so much in such a short time was beyond my wildest expectations. Where do I begin?
I think one of the most exciting experiences was just the journey itself. After 16 months of mostly isolation with COVID, just being out on the road, staying in motels, even a not so great motel, was very emotionally freeing. Eating out at so many different places was a wonderful experience. Driving to a new place that I knew would not take be back home in a few hours was thrilling. The time and experiences I have had BEFORE COVID literally seem like they happened in a different era – almost as if the pre-COVID days are some kind of a dream. To be able to live almost like I did in 2019 and before was surreal.
Yet here we are again in Utah with COVID cases at about the same levels they were in January of 2020. My wife and I have only eaten out since mid-July maybe three times. I have not traveled outside of our local area at all since July other than to go to Oregon to pick up my new camping trailer.
In September when I drove to La Grande, Oregon to get my trailer, Idaho was literally rationing healthcare. The hospitals in the state were only treating those who had a high likelihood of survival. I just grabbed a “to go” at Subway in Twin Falls for lunch and ate in my truck. Luckily I had found a cool little restaurant in La Grande with outdoor seating, and it was nice enough to sit out on the patio that evening. But it was a quick trip – no sight seeing, no spending time visiting, just get the trailer and go home. I mean it was nice to get away, but it certainly didn’t count as a decent road trip.
Now, let’s get back to the Route 66 trip. I’ll recap the journey – The Places, The People and The Disappointments.
Obviously, the sights were incredible. I was so fortunate to have had great weather the entire trip. It wasn’t too hot, especially in Arizona, and it certainly could have been. It wasn’t too cold, but some days were a bit brisk. That made for nice hiking. It is going to be hard to pick my favorite place because almost everywhere was wonderful. Seeing Aztec National Monument in New Mexico was far better than I ever could have expected. Those ruins are just incredibly well preserved and so vast.
The volcanoes were breathtaking. The Bandera Volcano and ice caves were cooler than I expected. And Sunset Crater National Monument was otherworldly. I would really like to hike more in the Monument, especially to go take another trip out in the more remote areas of the monument.
Even though the Meteor Crater was a private enterprise, seeing it again was a real thrill. I have always been a space nerd, and getting right there into something that was literally blasted into our planet from outer space is just incredible. And thinking about the forces that the meteorite created when it impacted into what is now north central Arizona is mind blowing. The energy released when that meteorite slammed into the earth was 667 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb!
Cameron, Arizona is a wonderful little place, and I know that when we go to the Grand Canyon South Rim, that will be one of our destination camping/motel spots.
And the Vermilion Cliffs are so vast and really fascinating. That is a bucket list trip for some serious off road adventures. It makes me very anxious to book another adventure there. But due to the remoteness, I think that going with a friend in separate vehicles might be the wise choice.
After some serious thought, I would have to say that the Petrified Forest National Park was my favorite destination. The landscape is just unreal, so vast and so colorful. I had no idea that the park had so many different terrains and landscapes. I could see spending several days at that park, just really exploring the many zones – the Painted Desert, which I only really saw from observation points, the numerous trails through the petrified logs, and of course the badlands, which is where I took the featured image photo.
Almost everyone I encountered on the whole journey was very nice, very kind and helpful. I had zero complaints about the staff at any of the places I stayed, nor any of the restaurants where I ate. Much of my journey took me through native lands, and every one of those encounters was quite pleasant.
I only had one bad experience besides the closed restrooms in New Mexico and the seedy Route 66 Motel. After leaving the Bandera Volcano, I made a wrong turn out of the site. My GPS was being wonky; the road wasn’t well marked at all. My intent was to return to Grants Pass, New Mexico and then take I-40/US 66 west into Gallup, New Mexico. Well, by the time I figured out I was going the wrong way, I was more than half way to Gallup on a tiny, very infrequently traveled state road. Badly in need of a restroom I came into a very small town, and the only public building was a Dollar Store. I asked to use their restroom after making a purchase, and the store staff flatly refused. They were quite rude about it. Fortunately I found a dirt road turnoff and some big juniper bushes for cover.
I think that a lot of the fun in the restaurants was the friendly staff. Everyone seemed more than willing to really engage in good conversation. The most fun I had in a restaurant was probably the El Rancho Hotel restaurant in Gallup, New Mexico. The waitresses were just really happy, friendly and helpful. The food was fantastic! I didn’t realize how much I had missed really good Mexican food. Bienvenidos Restaurant in Holbrook, Arizona was another standout place. The waitresses were extra friendly and always on the spot with drink refills and asking if I needed anything. They just made me feel welcome.
Everyone at Cameron was wonderful – the motel staff, the security guards and the waitresses. They were all some of the nicest, warmest and friendliest folks I met on the whole trip. I had a really nice chat with one of the security guards about the COVID issues and the general conditions on the Navajo reservation. And my waitress for dinner spent some good time just talking; I learned quite a bit about what she had been through with the COVID shutdowns the last several months.
I know I sound like some ad campaign for a Route 66 Tour Bus, but yes, there were disappointments. The biggest letdown for me was just how little of Route 66 is left outside of city limits – almost nothing. And Interstate 40 (I-40) is in absolutely deplorable condition through much of New Mexico and Arizona. The pavement is battered and broken from the extra heavy semi trucks. Many of the states in the western US, including my home state of Utah, allow double and even triple-trailer semi trucks. In Australia these monstrosities are known as “road trains”. These rigs weigh well in excess of 100,000 to 130,000 pounds (45,000 to 59,000 kilos), and that weight combined with the high speeds just beats the roads to death.
The lanes are too narrow, the pavement is very worn and even very pot-holed and broken in many places in New Mexico. The semi trucks rule these highways. They follow too closely; they drive too fast for the conditions. Honestly, almost every minute on I-40 was white knuckle stress.
Many of the two-lane US and state highways were in equally awful condition. There was a stretch of highway (US 180) heading west out of the Petrified Forest National Park that was in such sad shape that the highway department had posted signs warning of the road dangers and advising lower speeds. There was no way to safely drive the posted speed limit of 65 miles per hour (105 kph).
Hopefully with the passage of President Biden’s infrastructure package some of this will get rectified because much of the great American infrastructure that made this country a 20th century super power is literally crumbling away. I traveled these very highways as a young teenager, and they were glorious – smooth, wide and enjoyable. They need to be that way again.
For 40 years our nation has embraced a culture of anti-government, anti-taxation. We have been programmed to think of taxes as evil – wasting our hard earned dollars. And well, we are now reaping the benefits of this fallacy – a crumbling national infrastructure. It’s not just the roadways. Our parks and monuments are critically understaffed. Many trails are closed due to lack of maintenance. This is a serious problem that our nation must address sooner rather than later.
The conditions on our native reservations are even worse. First, the fact that our native peoples were even forced to live on “reservations” is just beyond reason. I mentioned in my first and second installments in this series the horrible conditions on some of these reservations. Coming into the greater Albuquerque metro area from the northwest on US 550 there are now suburban housing developments that abut the native pueblo people’s reservations. On the metro side are new homes, nice roads and nice sidewalks. On the reservation side, running water is rare.
How is this even possible in 2021 in the United States of America? COVID ravaged our native peoples, mainly due to the lack of proper sanitation and running water. How can we allow our aboriginal peoples to be treated this way today? I have no answers, but I know that we must do better. These folks man our military. They have fought and died for America in America’s foreign wars since the early 1900s. The Navajo Code Talkers kept US military communications secure during World War II, and yet we don’t make sure these folks have basic necessities.
As I write this I am recovering from prostate removal surgery – one of the joys of getting older. The surgery was much more involved than I had imagined. Total recovery is still a few months away, so I am not sure how much I will be traveling to get new material for a bit. I hope you can forgive me and be patient. (I do, however, have some ideas for new posts soon.)
The Mother Road was all I imagined and even more. I traversed a very short section of the old Route 66, and yet the trip was simply incredible. The scenery was beyond description. To be able to travel for just about a week, and take in so much varied and vast scenery is a testament to the American west. It was not just the Mother Road; it was the Mother of Journeys.
My surgery was planned and scheduled clear back in April, but my doctor told me it was OK to take the summer and go live life. So, for me this was a big last blowout adventure before the uncertainty of major surgery for cancer removal. The journey certainly allowed me to re-awaken my creative senses as well as being able to take in so much great food, wonderful people and unimaginable scenery.
If you get a chance to make a trip across the American Southwest, I highly suggest incorporating what’s left of old Route 66 into your plans. Just don’t expect hundreds of miles on a lonely two-lane road; that’s truly history. But go to take in the scenery, the wonders of nature, the fantastic people and some great food.
In case any of you have missed any installments of the Mother Road series, here are the links in chronological order.
The Mother Road – Part I Utah to Albuquerque, New Mexico
The Mother Road – Part II Route 66 History
The Mother Road – Part III Albuquerque to Gallup, New Mexico
The Mother Road – Part IV Petrified Forest National Monument
The Mother Road – Part V Meteor Crater, Arizona
The Mother Road – Part VI Sunset Crater National Monument
The Mother Road – Part VII Wupatki National Monument
The Mother Road – Part VIII Cameron, Arizona
The Mother Road – Part IX US 89-A The Vermilion Cliffs
Putting together this series about my Route 66 journey was one of the most fun and challenging blog experiences I have had. But I hope that it has brought you as much enjoyment as it has brought me. Keep blogging, keep up the journey, have fun and stay safe. And thank you so much for making my blog happen. Best wishes to you all, and stay tuned for more.