Sunday, November 2, 2008

DAY SIXTEEN - or "A shooting star gone horribly, horribly wrong."

Saturday, 1 November 2008.

Well, the Needles Inn does NOT look any better in the daylight. The place has been in business since the road out front was still called Route 66 (which was actually kinda cool), and it seemed to still have the same bedding from that time. The Krylon that was unsuccessfully applied to the deteriorating porcelain in the bathtub didn't improve my opinion of the place, either. I got online to blog and check out the forums for a bit, but then hit the road almost immediately. It was only 8am and it was already nearing 80 degrees. This was going to be a great day for a ride.

I had looked up the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley on the internet while at Viking Manor. It turned out that the only way to access the lakebed was over 27 miles of unimproved washboard gravel road. No thanks. That was just too far to risk laying the bike down or bouncing into the ditch. So I decided, to my own chagrin, to skip Death Valley. Instead, my first goal this morning was Kingman, Arizona. From there I would turn north to visit the Skywalk over the Grand Canyon.

It was nearly noon when I pulled into Kingman, and I went straight to the local visitors' center to get my bearings and find out any suggestions for my trip north. The visitors' center was in a converted electric plant which was a huge old brick building with a lot of tall arched windows. It also housed a Route 66 museum and a large gift shop. Outside was a huge old locomotive and caboose that seemed to be well cared for. I went inside and talked to the nice lady at the counter and got some rather distressing information from her. Apparently the tribe that owns the skywalk has chosen to invest their considerable income from this venture (did I mention that it costs almost $80 per person between parking and entry fees?) in an airport rather than improving access roads. According to the lady at the visitors' center, the last seven miles approaching the skywalk area are unimproved gravel roads that are bad enough to keep the speeds down to about 15 mph and make you wonder if you'll ever get there when riding in a car. Her advice to me - "don't do it on a motorcycle; you'll hate it." She had been there herself and also told me that the floor of the skywalk is not actually clear acrylic that you can look through. You have to hang your head over the guardrail to get the desired effect and the views are not as spectacular as the "main" part of the canyon. Overall, this was another bust to my plans. I decided to listen to that inner voice telling me to just head home, but I was still pretty peeved to miss two of my major goals for this trip in as many days.

Back on the road, I started seeing remnants of old Route 66 and some abandoned reminders from the Mother Road's heyday. Small cafes and "trading posts" had been bypassed by the new highway, and without a nearby exit ramp many of these places were doomed. I recognized the Twin Arrows trading post from one of my books on Route 66 and was a little sad to see that it was out of business and giving way to vandals and Mother Nature. A sad little part of me thought about how cool it would be to put it all back together and get the neon working, just to save a little part of this country's past. Many miles on down the road I actually saw a rare sight - a trading post from the Route 66 era that was still open and doing business. It was still tough to tell where I should exit from the highway to visit the place, so I just pulled to the side of the highway to take a picture across the fence. That is actually old Route 66 running in front of the store. VERY cool.

About three in the afternoon, I saw a couple of billboards for Meteor Crater. When I saw the one that said the crater was only six miles off the highway, I decided "what the heck" and pulled off to check it out. You could see the crater rim from several miles away as you approached. This is another one of those features of the American west that just overpowers you with its sheer size. The little square spot on the side turned out to be the entire visitors' center complex. The crater itself is nearly a mile wide and nearly 600 feet deep,and the rim rises more than 150 feet above the surrounding desert floor. I paid my entry fee and went inside, checking out the museum before heading out back to the observation platforms. The upper platform was oddly similar to the one overlooking Mount Saint Helens, and gave a similar expansive view. I shot a set of five pictures that were then stitched together by a good friend to form this panorama (thanks Ken!). For a sense of scale, the black spot in the middle of the bottom of the crater is some left over mining equipment from the 1920s expedition to recover the meteor (before they knew that it had been obliterated on impact). It's about ten feet tall and fifteen or more feet long. For some really good background and a great aerial shot of the crater, go to After sightseeing, I went into the gift shop and bought walking stick badges and golf balls, and got my son a piece of the actual meteor as a souvenir. I'm pretty sure he'll like that. Then I headed out to hit the road again.

On my way out, I was fussed at by one of the locals - a crow the size of a small buzzard. The park "ranger" standing out front told me the crow was a bit of a jerk. Apparently he has figured out how to sit on the edge of a trash can and methodically pull up on the side of the bag until it has turned inside out and spilled the contents onto the ground. Then he goes rooting through it for chow. I got within about five feet of the guy and leaned on the handrail to take this picture. When he took off, the entire handrail shook. I can see how these things creeped out Edgar Allen Poe.

I finally got back on the road and started putting some miles under the bike again. I only stopped a little while before sundown to take this last picture and visit a "real" Native American trading post. It turns out that you can tell the "real" stuff by the outrageous price tags. The smallest hand-woven rugs (about 2' x 3') were on sale for 50% off their original price of $700! And all the jewelry started out around $120 and went up from there. Guess they're still a little ticked about the whole Manhattan-for-blankets trade thing, huh? After that, I was able to make it to Albuquerque, New Mexico not long after dark, resulting in 550 miles covered today. The total mileage for this trip is now up to 5490 and I'm starting to feel it a little. But at the same time, I'm feeling good about getting closer to home.

I also had another small epiphany today after leaving Meteor Crater. I had been pretty upset that I had been forced to skip two of my planned stops on this trip. What had really happened, though, is that I had forgotten my "mission" for this trip. I came out here to enjoy the ride and see what I could on the way. I had become so focused on making certain things happen during the trip that I was starting to forget that the trip itself was supposed to be the focus. The epiphany was that this same concept applied to my current situation "back in the world." I have been so focused on forcing certain things to happen a certain way in my personal life that I was forgetting to actually live my life. I don't know if I will be able to keep this mind set when I get home, but if I can I believe it will definitely help me to accept things better and to deal with troubles as they come instead of trying to force them to work out my way ahead of time.

Enough psychobabble for one day. I still have 1500 more miles to cover and it's time for bed.


Queen Ladybug said...

I'm still amazed that with your love for Route 66 that you haven't seen Cars yet. I know it's a kid's cartoon, but the mindset you had of fixing up Route 66 and getting all the neon working is such a big part of the story line in that movie. I really think you'd love it.

I'm sorry to hear that you had to miss out on Death Valley and the Skywalk, but your epiphany is so true. Just live. It's a tough lesson I think everyone should learn.

Tee said...

I can feel the bittersweet in this post as someone who has traveled that route many times in the back of a station wagon. I used to love stopping at all the trading posts and scenes of interest. It must feel sad to see that part of America slipping away. How grand that you got to see it before it disappears completely. My parents want to do the Route 66 trip one more time; they plan to in the spring, I think.

This mindset that you mention...all you have to do to keep it is make an effort to do so, but you may have to reaffirm the effort with every breath. That's how it works. And, like most everything else, it gets easier with practice. It's a part of the zone.