Arizona/Nevada & California

Monday 17th January 2020 – Martin Luther King Day.
Another day trip out of Flagstaff takes us a few hours north to the Grand Canyon.
It’s a great drive through forested snowy highways right up to the edge of the canyon. We are off season and so the traffic is light and there are no queues anywhere. Neither of us know what to expect really, and it’s only as we approach that I realise I have been looking at the contours in reverse on the maps, I thought there were big mountains either side of the canyon, but the steep tight contours on the map are of the steep valley down to the Colorado river. Of course we are both stunned by the enormity of the canyon when we get to the edge.

It’s a little cold up there.
This is not a time to trip up.

We stay until sunset and catch the shadows move across the valley. Quite stunning.

Tuesday 18th Jan
Time to check out of Flagstaff, but first a few words on the car, it’s a fancy BMW series 530 I believe, I don’t normally have much time for cars, in my mind if they get you from a to b, job done. But it was £800 for 30 days for a basic compact car, and £900 for this beast, so just a few pounds more each day. Car hire prices are crazy in the USA and Europe right now, I believe in part due to the semiconductor shortage.
The car is great, but way too fancy for me, I spent half an hour working out what the dozen or so controls did, and that was just to adjust the seat. Every time I adjusted one of the knobs or buttons, my body was contorted in a way I wasn’t too keen on, then the steering wheel goes up down, in out, and jumps out of the way when the car is parked. It also doesn’t like me wandering off the road, and steers me back, which was very disconcerting the first time it happened. When reversing I can see on the widescreen 4K TV who I have run over in perfect high resolution.

Outside Flagstaff Motel and Car

We leave for Williams, just an hour or so to the west, but we are now in serious Route 66 territory with one of the longest working stretches of the road still in use. We take this road, but before we reach it we find an abandoned stretch where a scene from Easy Rider was filmed.

Kathy is very keen to find the exact spot where Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda are refused a bed in a motel. Thanks to Mr Google we find it quite easily. The vacancies sign has been relocated to a motorbike dealer down the road.

Kathy at the Easy Rider film location

Williams runs special trains north to the Grand Canyon, Its main street is Route 66, and it’s possible to buy souvenirs here as well!

Guns Welcome
They do like their meat here
Old style filling station

For not the first time we find ourselves getting a hearty meal in a Mexican restaurant in Williams.

Wed 19th Jan.
is a bear zoo in Williams, but in fact it has many other animals there. You drive through in your car with the windows closed and aren’t allowed to stop. A bit like a safari park, something I am not keen on as I don’t approve of caging animals for public entertainment/profit. However the animals here are mostly ones who have been rescued or for other reasons could not survive in the wild, so have a chance here. The enclosures are quite large and the animals looked cared for. Quite what they make of a steady procession of cars though their habitat we will never know.
The park also has a huge restaurant and gift shop, alongside a more traditional zoo area where you can walk around. Most of the animals here also need to be protected for various reasons.

A church in Williams
Next to the Motel

Thurs 20th
We leave Williams for Vegas taking in the Route 66 towns of Kingman & Seligman.

The Santa Fe railroad stays with us for most of this section
Same day delivery?

After the pretty & quirky small towns we head to Las Vegas taking in the Hoover Dam and bridge on the way.

Seems quite a long way below the waterline on the cliffs
Looks like 8 turbines

I’m very pleased to be here, I had always wanted to see this marvel of engineering. Of course climate change may have a big impact on the dam in coming years. Of course the damming of the Colorado river has had severe consequences for those downstream who rely on the river for their food and drinking source, especially at the Mexican end where the river meets the Sea of Cortez.

4 turbines each side
Lots of pylons

After an hour or so marvelling at one massive concrete pour, we head to another massive concrete creation, Las Vegas. Driving over the surrounding hills and seeing the normal arid desert landscape replaced by a huge shining city is quite a shock. Vegas is nothing like the other cities around this region, and as we turn onto the freeway that takes us right down to the main strip, Kathy scares me by shrieking as an aeroplane almost hits us as it comes in to land at the airport, or at least it felt that close. The first of many assaults on the senses. Getting to the hotel is crazy as we are just off the main strip, 6 lanes to navigate then at the hotel a myriad of choices and Valet parking to negotiate. Valet parking is new to us. The only time scousers normally hand their car keys over to a stranger is when a pointy knife is involved. On top of this we have a porter waiting to take our suitcases, however we have managed to accumulate several carrier bags of vital possessions along the way. The ever helpful concierge organises a big bucket for us to chuck our belongings in before the car is whisked away to some secret cave.

The Vdara hotel provides us with a suite with kitchen and dining room, for not much more than a standard motel room. It’s very luxurious

So instead of rushing off to make our fortunes on the zillions of casinos, Kathy does a fry up of eggs and vegan sausages. Once refreshed we venture out for the first of many visual onslaughts.

Paris and Venice ahead
Hotel Foyer

We watch the fountains at Bellagio and walk back through the casinos that occupy the ground floor of the hotels. It seems like you could walk many miles through casinos without seeing daylight.

Fri 21st
The next day we pass Caesar’s Palace en route for Venice. I wanted to see the Gondolas, expecting them to be awful, I’m not disappointed.
Kathy and I agree that Vegas is not for us. We don’t gamble, I’m not a drinker, the shows are all a bit mainstream, everything looks incredibly tacky.
When the Eiffel tower was constructed in Paris I believe it was considered a tacky cheap monstrosity, but it grew on the Parisians over the years, much like the London Eye, which was only ever meant to be temporary. The Vegas tower is a cheap tacky version in itself, and I expect won’t get any better.
We couldn’t work out if the cheap tacky feel was deliberate or not. Caesars Palace is an affront to anyone who knows the basics of classical Greek and Roman Architecture, I’m sure the designers did, so these gross proportions used must have been done on purpose to give it a comic appeal.
Still at the end of the day everyone seemed to be having a great time and were enjoying the party atmosphere, and that must be worth something. For us it was great to see, but we won’t be back.

Fake sky as you might expect in Vegas
Batman a well known visitors to St Mark’s Square
Pleased to see it out on its own in a bit of a dusty cut off part of downtown.

After exploring Venice we grabbed a cab to the Mob Museum, which gives the history of mobsters in the USA going right back to the early gangs of New York, right up to current narcos in Mexico, Triads & Russian oligarchs. Spread over three floors in a building that housed the courtroom where many mobsters from the Al Capone days testified, it provided an excellent history of events. Many primary source exhibits such as the bullet shells from the Valentine’s day massacre, and the actual wall with bullet holes are on display. Kathy has the best photos and will no doubt post them when she writes her blog.

After a few hours in the museum we headed up to Freemont St where a covered walkway is illuminated. It looked impressive, but also a bit sad. There were plenty of beggars and an eatery (I’m reluctant to call it a restaurant) where people who are morbidly obese (>350lb) are able to fill themselves with fatty burger type food for free. Customers have a protective bib to wear and waitresses scantily dressed as nurses provide a constant stream of fatty food and alcohol.

Perhaps the owners are big on Darwin’s theories

Amazingly we can’t find anything to eat, we don’t fancy queueing for one of the hotel restaurants, and everywhere else seems very meat orientated so we head back to the hotel and cook some vegan burritos up in the apartment.

The next day we check out and are glad to be back on the road heading south to Havasu Lake City

Leaving Vegas heading south along the banks of the Colorado river.

Sat 22nd
We head south from Las Vegas trying to stay as close to the Colorado River as possible. Our destination is Lake Havasu City, a tourist resort on the banks of a lake created by damming the Colorado at Parker, another great engineering feat. This dam, although narrower than the Hoover dam, is deeper, in fact the deepest in the world.
On route we stop for another Huevos Rancheros in a Wendy style restaurant.
I’m extremely pleased to be visiting this city as it has London Bridge connecting a small island to the main city. I distinctly remember as a child of 9 years old hearing that an American had bought London Bridge and was moving it to America. Like many people I didn’t realise that London Bridge wasn’t just another name for Tower Bridge, and there was a rumour that the buyer thought he was getting Tower Bridge and ended up with the considerably more boring London Bridge. I was always fascinated by the story and so was glad to see it for real. I must say it looked splendiferous in its new home.
Once we checked into our hotel we walked along the shore to the bridge.

Sun 23rd
There’s a 3 day balloon festival on this weekend but it’s too windy today. We check out the Walmart just outside town. It’s huge.

We drive around the island and end the day in a lovely Italian restaurant called Angelina’s.

Lake Havasu

Kathy poses in front of one of some 75 lighthouses built around the resort, I hadn’t realised at the time, but they are replicas of real lighthouses around the USA and the great lakes.

I’m lost for a comment

Me on London Bridge AZ

We are nearing the end of our trip now, but we still have a few days we can spend in the Sedona area.

Paul Collister.

Kicks on 66

Monday 10th Jan
Kathy and I spent the week before our trip keeping our heads down, we had to take a covid test 24hr before our departure, if we failed it, we would be looking at more lost flights, hotel bookings, car hire etc. After the fiasco of Christmas and France/Switzerland we didn’t want to take any risks, we had hoped to hook up with lots of friends over Christmas, but that will have to wait.

A plane to take us to Phoenix

So with an early start (6am) and a quick taxi ride to Manchester airport for our flight to Phoenix Arizona, with a few hours at Heathrow on the way. Arriving in Phoenix Sky Harbour, we picked up a very snazzy BMW 5 car and hit the freeway to our Sonder room downtown. Sonder do a serviced apartment where you basically have a studio flat with a very decent kitchen/dishwasher/clothes washer etc. The plan was to use that as a base for the first 4 days while we get over any Jet lag.
Arriving at a huge complex of apartments around 8pm, we located our room only to find another couple in it. A double booking? Not a good start, it was 3am our time, so I was not mad at the idea of chasing around for a bed. However a phone call to Sonder revealed they had changed our room and the email notification hadn’t reached me yet (It finally arrived just as we were leaving 4 days later). It was a great apartment and very relaxing

Tuesday 11th
In the morning we drove to Cave Creek, an old frontier town just outside the built up part of Phoenix. It seems to just be a tourist spot now, lots of shops selling lovely trinkets and clothes. I think most of the original town has gone and what we saw were recreations. We had a lovely lunch there before returning to our base.

Wed 12th
A lazy start then a 15 minute walk to the downtown centre of Phoenix. There’s a heritage square with some of the original buildings that have been restored and house a visitor centre and museum. Frankly it was a tad disappointing, the square was small and mostly closed for winter. The buildings were old, but not as old as most of the houses I have lived in back in the UK. Outside of the square comprised of soulless high rise offices, hotels and apartment blocks. We looked for a shopping area as Kathy and I both had a few things we needed to buy that we had forgotten. We could only find a few artisan or high end designer stores. We wandered back to the apartment disappointed, but did come across a funky bar area a little way from the centre and stopped for drinks.

Thursday 13th
We decided that Scottsdale was the place for shopping and it also had a pretty old town. The town is more like a village that has been amalgamated into Phoenix, but sits away from downtown on the banks of a canal.

We stumbled on a lovely little Mexican restaurant for lunch, I had a very tasty Huevos Rancheros (Ranch Eggs) and Kathy went for Salsa and chips.

We wandered around the artisan shops and the old town, which was totally visitor orientated.

Friday 14th
Time to check out of our Sonder and drive to Flagstaff. Flagstaff is an interesting town, and central for several excursions we plan in the area. It’s just a few hours drive north from Phoenix and we break the journey up by stopping in the lovely town of Sedona. The scenery in the area is stunning. Vast aresa of flat desert then rocks jumping out of nowhere

As we travelled north we gained altitude towards 6000 ft, the temperature plunged quickly from a very warm Phoenix to a cold and snowy situation.

The view from Flagstaff.
In flagstaff we checked into one of the zillions of motels that exist along the side of the highways here. They are very basic, and quite small, but cheap and cheerful, and do the job. We have the room for 4 nights, and it works out just fine. The motel is on a very special road here. It’s got a new number (I40) the I is for interstate, but it is also called ‘Historic route 66’ Most of this historic route has long gone, but bits remain, and for reasons I struggle to understand, it has taken on a great mythic status. From here on in, it will be impossible to avoid Route 66 memorabilia. Kathy, like most people is very thrilled we are travelling this famous stretch of road, I’m enjoying trying to understand what has happened and if I could make Meols Drive just as famous back home. I think getting your road named in a few big albums helps.

We head to downtown Flagstaff and wander the streets getting coffee at one of the trendy cafes here. It has a lovely laid back feel and we pop into a thrift shop to buy some cutlery to eat with when bringing back food to the motel.
Something we had stupidly overlooked was how cold it is up here in the winter. There is snow piled up everywhere we go. I was just thinking La Paz Weather all the time.
From the town we drive north to the Northern Arizona state museum. I’m keen to know about the area before these towns were built, before the railway and route 66 arrived. The museum is fantastic, well worth the $15 admission fee (It reminds me how lucky we are to be able to go into museums and art galleries for free back home). I learn a lot about how the lands were occupied by various groups of peoples over time, more recently the well known tribes of the Hopi Navajo and Apache people. The Apache being two separate distinct groups bundled together into one tribe for convenience by the European settlers. To exist in the harsh lands here, the tribes initially were nomadic and relied on a great understanding of weather, crops, animal migrations etc in order to find areas with food at any particular time in the year. Learning about the First Nations in Canada and the pre-hispanic peoples in Mexico has opened my eyes to the indigenous people across the whole of this continent. Later I try to visit a Hopi settlement.

After the museum we head into a national park to look at a volcano rim that has spewed lava in a massive river which has set. It’s quite a sight.

From the lava fields we head to see some ruins at Wupatki National Monument. The website states:

People gathered here during the 1100s, about 100 years after the eruption of Sunset Crater Volcano, gradually building this 100-room pueblo with a community room and ballcourt. By 1182, perhaps 85 to 100 people lived at Wupatki Pueblo, the largest building for at least fifty miles. Within a day’s walk, a population of several thousand surrounded Wupatki.
Although it is no longer physically occupied, Hopi believe the people who lived and died here remain as spiritual guardians. Stories of Wupatki are passed on among Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, and perhaps other tribes. Members of the Hopi Bear, Sand, Lizard, Rattlesnake, Water, Snow, and Katsina Clans return periodically to enrich their personal understanding of their clan history. Wupatki is remembered and cared for, not abandoned.

The area around here is called the painted desert and is quite stunning. The vastness of the prairies contrasting with the eroded rocks that rise up with big flat tables on top (Mesas).

On the way back we call into a pizza place and order a takeaway. an experience in itself. The smallest pizza we could get was way too big for the two of us, also the same price as a night out in Liverpool.

We head off in the morning to Meteor Crater, this is a huge hole in the ground. It’s quite amazing to stand on the rim and look down.

It’s hard to appreciate the size, it’s over a kilometre across (.75 mile) and 170 metres deep (560. feet). There’s an astronaut fully decked out in space suit standing at the bottom. Something to do with NASA training them here (or where they filming something ?). The onsite museum had a lot of interesting information on meteorites.

We accidently ended up taking a wrong turn on the way here and ended up on a bit of abandoned route 66.

Route 66

So next we head to Winslow so Kathy can stand on a corner. I think that’s actually the whole reason we are in Arizona for three weeks. The Eagles have a song with the lines:

“Well, I’m a standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
Such a fine sight to see
It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flat-bed Ford
Slowin’ down to take a look at me”

We are not the only people there wanting a piece of that corner, we have to queue for our pics, but it’s a laid back atmosphere and probably a lot busier in season. there’s only a few shops open as it’s a Sunday, but thankfully they have a lot of ‘standing on the corner’ merch for Kathy to sweep up.

I’m much more interested in an antenna just behind the corner. I presume it’s a microwave dish, but I can’t remember ever seeing anything this shape before.

On the way back we are mostly following the Santa Fe railway which brought much prosperity to the area when first built. It runs from the east coast to the west coast, and takes in our motel front garden. The nuisance is offset by the Casey Jones hooter you hear every now and then, and the clanging bell. You have visions of the old railroad transporting cattle or pigs to the big cities. The reality is more of hundreds and hundreds of 40ft Shipping containers full of Asian goods heading east from the east. These trains usually have three locomotives at the front and sometimes two or three in the middle as well.

On the way back from Winslow we take a diversion to visit a Hopi tribe settlement and ruins, however it’s too late and the park rangers have closed the access road. I have often wondered about the Hopi since I first saw the film Koyaanisqatsi as a young man. It had a massive effect on me then, as did the soundtrack by Philip Glass.

We have such action packed days that I’m going to do a blog post very week, otherwise I will be overwhelmed with photos of places my failing memory won’t be able to recall.
Next stop the Grand Canyon, tomorrow on Martin Luther King day, nothing to do with the fact that National parks are free on MLK day.

Paul Collister