(Part one is available here.)
On the morning of Monday, September 30th my mother and I woke and had breakfast at the Globetrotter Lodge in Holbrook, Arizona. Peter Hoeller, the owner, is an excellent host. The small dining room attached to the lobby was full of travelers; each group had a place setting ready for them when they arrived, complete with a small flag to identify their home. I saw several nationalities represented when we sat down.
We immediately struck up a conversation with the couple sitting next to us. She was from Vancouver, he was from New York – though he was originally from Scandinavia. They were taking a long road trip west to their new home in San Francisco. That morning, they were headed to the Painted Desert before continuing west. When I mentioned my involvement with Route 66, they asked if I had any advice. “If you do nothing else on Route 66, stop in Seligman to visit with Angel Delgadillo. Hear his story. And then take the Oatman Highway west of Kingman. It’s the most scenic segment of 66 on the entire stretch,” I said. They sounded excited and we parted in good cheer.
Our journey that day wasn’t nearly as long as our previous days, but we still got rounded up and headed out early. For the most part, we headed directly to the Grand Canyon…but I couldn’t resist driving through Williams, AZ to show off their vibrant downtown. We drove Highway 64 north from there, passing the Grand Canyon Railway train as it headed towards the same destination. Seeing the train brought back strong memories of my time aboard the same train with Samantha in 2016.
When we passed by Bedrock City, a Flintstones-themed amusement park, I noticed a moving truck and people packing up the last of the closed attraction’s gift shop after 47 years. I wasn’t surprised, as I’d heard this would be their last year…but Mom was sad. She had fond memories of watching the Flintstones as a youngster, during their prime-time days. Alas, nothing lasts forever. It will soon be a new attraction called Raptor Ranch.
The park ranger that welcomed us to Grand Canyon National Park couldn’t have been nicer. He saw Mom’s drivers license and mentioned that his girlfriend was from Broken Arrow. When he saw the handicapped tag in the car, he gave us a sheet of paper that allowed us to drive in restricted areas so that Mom didn’t have to struggle on-and-off the shuttle buses with her walker. It was a kindness that made a huge difference in our day.
Finally, we had arrived. We parked and took a short walk out to Mather Point, the first overlook from the gate. At the moment the grandeur of the canyon came into view, I could hear Mom quietly say, “Oh…wow.” I remembered that overwhelming feeling the first time I saw the Canyon; it brought me great joy to help Mom have the same experience. We stayed there for a while, standing silently and taking it all in. I could tell the walk had taken a lot out of Mom, and recommended we go back to the car and see how the drive was thanks to our special access pass.
Although I’ve been to the Grand Canyon several times now, I hadn’t really explored the full South Rim. On this day, Mom and I were both able to experience views for the first time. All told, it was a magnificent experience. Several of the turnouts allowed us to pull up right to the rock wall, where Mom could look out into the canyon unobstructed without leaving the car. One of the overlooks was so lovely that we returned to it that evening for a sunset viewing. I will forever be grateful to the park ranger for providing that experience.
Overnight, we stayed at the Red Feather Lodge in Tusayan (the town just south of the park entrance.) I chose it because they had a distinctive neon sign out front, just like the old days, though I first viewed it digitally from many miles away. During our stay, I learned that the hotel’s founder had quite a history. R.P. “Bob” Thurston moved to Williams in 1927, one year after Route 66 was established. He became a well-known businessman in town, eventually becoming mayor before buying a ranch near the Grand Canyon. Bob persuaded the state to pave the road from Williams, after which time he built the first service businesses for tourists and established the community of Tusayan itself. Red Feather Lodge was built in the mid-1960s, making it the first lodging available outside of the National Park boundary. What a story!
We rested comfortably that night, knowing that the next day we would start our journey back east. But we had a lot of sights to see yet, including my favorite place on the planet: Monument Valley.
(Part 3 is available here.)