Indian Country: Arizona Highways, Arizona Highlands

Route 66:The Mother Road

Route 66 in Winslow, Arizona:The Mother Road

Think of Arizona and you don’t usually think of mountains—more like deserts, or canyons at best—but there they are, topping out at 12,637ft/3852m near Flagstaff, and that’s not the only one. Flagstaff itself sits higher than half that, high and lonely, something that’s come as a surprise to more than one motorist stranded in a snowstorm there, and a boon to the hospitality industry. It’s better than being stranded there in jail—I hear.

Leave LA 9:45 a.m., gonna’ tow my rental car at 10 if I don’t, (only time I can find a parking place in LA is in the run-up to street cleaning), perfect timing, freeways clear by then, click on Google Drive and set co-ordinates to Flagstaff, no sweat, get the 101 to I-10 east past San Bernardino, then I-15 to Barstow, where it fades out, temporary no-man’s land until you stumble on to I-40 east, miss my last gasp for cheap gas there at Montara Road, make a note, shoulda’ known since I used to drive the route religiously back in my previous life as a itinerant salesman of trinkets and unrequited desires…


Williams. Arizona

Mostly empty desert, got enough gas to get me to Needles easily, but can’t risk Kingman, still an hour away, and nothing in between, unless they’ve put up something new in the last decade, so do something I rarely do, buy only $10 worth to get me there—two gallons—and proceed on, and sure enough, there are new stations at the Highway 95 exit, buck and a half cheaper, too, only fifteen miles and minutes away, major difference, but I continue on to Kingman, where it’s only three bucks and pennies at the Arco, cheapest in the state I reckon; what decade is this anyway?

From there it’s all uphill to Flagstaff, five thousand feet in less than a hundred miles, but the first stop is Williams, ‘gateway to the Grand Canyon’, all dressed up for the tourists now, mannequins beckoning passersby and bars beckoning the faithful, something for everybody, like Flagstaff without all the pesky locals, pure tourism, no natives no cry…

Gallup, New Mexico

Gallup, New Mexico

Flagstaff is only another half hour down the road, queen of the Arizona high country, recently remodeled, shabby exteriors now relegated to yellowed photographs, crinkled with age, then as now the best coffee between Albuquerque and Los Angeles, homebrew, too: beer, that is, and restaurants, one giant high-end food court occupying the city center where Navajo ladies in full turquoise and silver regalia once walked only a decade or two ago, before it became sanitized for public consumption, wine and cheese and all that jazz… so I get a room, and see an old friend, and reminisce on things I shoulda’ said, things I shoulda’ done, way back when I had the chance…

Gotta’ be in Albuquerque 2:30 p.m., 3 a.m. can’t sleep, no difference at 4, will call it quits at 5, fortunately learned early the first rule of insomnia: learn to live with it. Wake up at 6—oops—overslept, got a half hour to sh*t-shower-and shave, grab the lousy motel breakfast, head out at daybreak, nab a Wicked AZ drive-thru coffee, throw out the motel piss, head out east into the flattest country I’ve ever seen, 360 degrees of flatness, going down a couple thousand feet to…

Native arts and crafts in Albuquerque, NM

Native arts and crafts in Albuquerque, NM

Winslow, Arizona: Where’s my Lord? Where’s my Ford? Where’s my girl with the flat flat-bed? There ain’t much here, just history, a Harvey House and more unfulfilled expectations, but it could be worse, now gradually becoming the western border-town for the ‘rez’, what with the upgrade of Flagstaff, and the increasing difficulty of pawning your silver there. These Navajo ladies wear their bank accounts around their necks, but most banks don’t deal in raw silver and turquoise…

Holbrook’s no better, just voids and vacuums to suck up the dust and debris, detritus from another century, back when this route mattered, the shortest distance between two points, Chicago and Los Angeles, via St. Louis, and Independence, and especially Santa Fe, Santa Fe Trail the precursor to the Atchison/Topeka and Route 66, back before Albuquerque even counted. But that’s where I’m going now and this is on the way…

Miracle Mile in Holbrook, Arizona

Miracle Mile in Holbrook, Arizona

At the state line, almost by design, the geography becomes more choppy and dramatic, fetching and charismatic, the high plateau giving way to more truncated terrain, gasping for breath, over the Continental Divide, then downhill all the way, past Gallup the commercial capital of the Navajo ‘rez’ and Grants not much more than a place to fill up. By the time I get to Albuquerque, you can find gas at $2.95 a gallon, and I’ve got an hour to kill before my 2:30 appointment; not bad for government work. What decade is this, anyway? Stay tuned….