There is little of consequence that we miss in taking this detour and of course the Grand Canyon is a marvel, but the road back includes a more justifiable sidestep and that is Bedrock City, a family-oriented campground and theme park that is over-the-top in its recreation of the Flintstones milieu and is just a few miles off Route 66. Still in operation, but up for sale and worn around the edges to the point of bordering on abandon, we nevertheless sit in and stand in front of cement recreations of the show’s rendition of pre-historic automobiles and slab homes and strike different poses like a couple of Yabba-Dabba DILFs having a gay old time.
The towns along the route are becoming increasingly Wild West in their architecture and this is certainly true in Seligman and Williams, which are both worth a detour albeit complete polar opposites of each other. The novelty factory in Seligman is at high levels and includes two city blocks’ worth of perfectly preserved roadside treasures including Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In and souvenir shops Bone Daddy’s and The Rusty Bolt, which boast ornate and garish Wild West façades. Williams, meanwhile, presents itself as its chic counterpart, a tourist town of wine bars and B&Bs that no doubt enjoys robust tourism thanks to its proximity to the Grand Canyon. We stop for lunch at Kicks on Route 66 Bar and Grille, which is so shamelessly decorated with Coca-Cola merch we’re certain the company must’ve provided the decor at this kicky diner.
In Kingman, another town referenced in the famous song, we stay at the classic El Travatore Motel, which boasts the world’s longest map: a mural painted across one entire wing of the motel. Owner Sam offers us history of the city, including its storied past as the former site of a US military airfield, and also some restaurant recommendations before handing the baton to his wife Monica who explains the renovation of the property and gives us a tour of the grounds. The resident dog, Taco, is adorable, but Sam and Monica need to lay off giving him so many treats.
The convivial Black Bridge Brewery is located in the old down- town and although it doesn’t offer food, it is de regueur to have takeout delivered there. We order from nearby Bangkok Thai and are surprised when our delivery driver ends up sidling up to the bar and imbibing with the locals.
The romance of the road always lies in the myth of unfettered freedom, unlimited possibility, and the hope of what lies beyond the horizon. It allows us to keep searching for that which is unnamable, unknowable, and permanently out of reach. Perhaps it is because the California border, and thus the end of the journey, is before us, but I feel twinges of sad- ness as we shovel omelets and coffee at Mr. Dz’s Route 66 Diner and rev up Carol for our last full day on the road.
Our singular goal today is to visit ghost towns, two of them to be exact and both are equally touristy and ersatz in their recreation of the Wild West. Oatman conjures up the funniest moment of our entire trip thus far. It is a former mining town that rests in a tiny nook in the Black Mountains of Mojave County, Arizona just a stone’s throw from the California border. The facades still look authentic although they now functions as souvenir shops and “saloons.” One storefront reads “Glory Hole” and proves this trip is gayer than either of us imagined.
What is unique about Oatman is that back in the day miners used wild donkeys to help them haul gold to and from the mines, but the animals were abandoned when the town dried up and today roam freely. Although somewhat domesticated, we’re warned not to get too close, but are unable to resist opening our car doors to get a few choice pics of a pack of them heading are way on the outskirts of town. Unbeknownst to us they are expecting food and end up invading our Mustang with the two of us still in it. It seems we’re the ones who are asses.
The Mojave Desert is equal parts beautiful and punishing in its vast emptiness. There is little to draw the eye toward aside from endless sky and desert 360 degree expanse. The town of Needles provides motorists a modicum of goods, services, and human interaction before the desolate onward journey to Barstow. It is near here that Route 66 veers dozens of miles away from the interstate and although we follow it faithfully, it’s unsparing in its emptiness, and the towns we pass along the way have been completely obliterated by the construction of I-40. This is as lonely a stretch of the route as we’ve seen this entire trip.
Route 66 sidles up right next to the interstate as we approach Barstow and our final destination before sunset, the nearby ghost town of Calico. A tourist attraction if there ever was one and much bigger and flashier than Oatman; it is a fascinating detour. Because we are here off-season, we are spared having to sit through a gunfight reenactment or trying our hand at panning for gold, but because Calico was built among the sloping side of a mountain, it does provide breathtaking vistas and an intriguing glimpse of California at the turn of the century. In Barstow, we fall into a slumber at the basic Route 66 Motel, our last lodging for the trip.
We rise and shine the next morning and hit the road with the hesitation of two merry travelers reluctantly barreling toward the inevitable journey’s end. For our final leg, we ride with the top largely down, one last joyride out of Carol before we hand her back to her rightful owner. Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch delivers our last encounter with roadside weirdness. A sprawling folk art installation, the ranch consists of thousands of bottles stripped of their wrappers and artfully displayed. Don’t miss it.
The sprawling Inland Empire punches us right in the gut with its stinging heat and relentless suburbia. We visit the original pre-franchise McDonald’s in San Bernadino, but it’s an otherwise tortoise crawl to the finish line. To be certain, there are a few minor highlights along the way. Tons of midcentury buildings in California have survived the times and are even thriving. Some suburbs, like Rancho Cucamonga, have gone out of their way to install Route 66 markings, but mostly this is Southern California at its most monotonous.
Route 66 does pass through leafy Pasadena and flirts with the periphery of downtown Los Angeles, which is having a queer renaissance of sorts with the recent arrival of bars including Redline, Precinct, and Bar Mattachine. It also becomes Santa Monica Boulevard, which means that the Mother Road passes right through WeHo and the gayest mile in all of SoCal.
The endpoint of Route 66 is the Santa Monica Pier. The sign is as uninspiring as the one in Chicago, but on this perfectly sunny after- noon it means everything to us. We wait in line to take pictures, behind tourists who haven’t actually undertaken the journey, and proceed to a Route 66 kiosk to snatch a couple of commemorative souvenirs. Actually, we hardly know what to do with ourselves. This has been one of the best weeks of our lives, a fully rewarding journey through America’s Heartland and its Wild West, through its past and its present. It was as if we saw a USA from both center stage and behind the scenes. We hardly know what to do with ourselves. Speechless, we just stare at the ocean and smile and smile and smile.