This past summer, I took a road trip out west to experience Route 66 through California, Arizona, and New Mexico. It was a delightful experience, spending a week among the mesas and scrub brush of the American West. I wrote about those travels as I took them, though there were a few places that I skipped or glossed over that I’ve found myself returning to as time goes by. This is one of those stories.
My stop in Truxton, Arizona had been more enlightening than I had anticipated. I stopped in the ghost town to get a shot of the only sign of commerce had ever existed in that place: a literal sign for the closed Frontier Motel and Cafe. While I was snapping my photos, I met the people that were fixing the place up for a hopeful re-open some time in the future. Much to my surprise, they already knew me from the Facebook groups I’d been sharing my travel photos in. They were more than happy to give me a brief tour of the inside progress before I continued east. As we parted, it was recommended that I stop at Crookton Pass on the other side of Seligman; there was a bypassed bridge there that I might be interested in.
I love bridges. They’re one of my favorite things to photograph! Although I’m mostly drawn to old steel truss style bridges, I like historic bridges of any kind. So, when I was told that there was an old bridge nearby with a fantastic view, on Route 66 no less, I was very excited. I stopped for lunch in Seligman, admired the unique heritage of that town, and continued east (which I wrote about here.) I wound around the curves of the old highway through rural Arizona, grinning widely in anticipation.
When I finally came to Crookton Overpass, I was initially underwhelmed. Alongside the current road, an overgrown pair of lanes emerged from the brush. They were covered in graffiti and barely recognizable as roadway. Beyond a small ‘Road Closed’ barrier sat a concrete stringer-style bridge, slowly crumbling in the desert. When you’re used to the tall, metal enclosures that wrap the back roads of Oklahoma, a flat concrete span doesn’t quite jump out and grab you. Still, it had been recommended to me by a fellow Mother Road enthusiast…so I looked for a place to stop. I found a little spot on the other side of the current bridge and pulled off. I grabbed my camera, got out of the car, and was immediately struck with silence.
Many stretches of Route 66, especially out west, exist in a barren landscape. It’s changed so little that it’s easy to look around and imagine the sight in the 1950s. Giant American steel gliding down the lanes, filled with families on vacation and looking for their next roadside oddity or diner. That day, I was alone in the southwest sun with a Hyundai rental car. There wasn’t another person in sight as I walked out onto the concrete bridge. Beneath me, a pair of railroad tracks stretched to the horizon. The railroad, too, had changed. At first a harbinger of westward expansion and the path to opportunity for many turn-of-the-century travelers, it now catered less on passengers and more on expanses of freight cargo.
I stood there for a while, now admiring the old concrete crossing. It was built sometime in the 1930s and had a style to it, though it was bypassed as obsolete decades ago. Standing there, looking at the mesas on the horizon and the shadows the clouds made on the distant earth, I began to understand. The low sides allowed me to really take in the view without obstruction. The rural location removed distraction. And the vantage point was high enough to give me quite a distant gaze. As I looked east, I saw a light in the daytime; a train was coming!
I counted myself lucky. I had no idea how often trains passed by this area, let alone westbound trains that would give me a great vantage point to capture them from this old bridge. I waited patiently as the BNSF locomotive approached, pulling a seemingly endless amount of cargo cars behind it. I waved as it passed beneath me, happy to share my moment with a fellow traveler…even if he was on the clock and I was not. The train horn sounded briefly in return.
As soon as the entire train had passed (which took a little while) I returned to my car and continued east, towards Ash Fork. I saw a great many more things that day, but I keep returning to the quiet moment at Crookton Pass and the meeting of that train. I will return to that spot again someday; perhaps we will meet again.