In 2015, I rented a car in Los Angeles and drove Route 66 from the Pacific Ocean to New Mexico and back. It was the first time I’d driven that westernmost section of the Mother Road; I hadn’t been that far west since.
“Hey, you should come out to the Kingman Fun Run!” suggested the head of Arizona’s Route 66 Association earlier this spring. That’s all it took. This year, I decided to return to Arizona and California but this time without the rental car.
The Fun Run (a Route 66 car cruise that covers Seligman to Kingman to Oatman to the Colorado River) was timed perfectly to match with what would’ve been my father’s 68th birthday in early May. He passed in 2011 and his 2005 Mustang has been my daily driver ever since. I’d driven it on Route 66 from Chicago to Albuquerque and now I could complete the remaining miles of the historic highway, all the way to the Pacific Ocean, in his car.
The trip west also brought another milestone, one that I couldn’t have planned if I’d tried. I left Tulsa early on the morning of Thursday, April 28th. As hopped onto the turnpike, I looked down and saw that the odometer was very close to rolling over 200,000 miles. I did some quick mental math and realized it would happen even before I reached Oklahoma City. I exited the super slab in Wellston and continued west, anxiously checking the digital readout every minute as the number ticked upwards. In an amazing coincidence, the mileage reached that celebratory number right as I entered Arcadia.
It was a cool, rainy morning – the Round Barn was the only other witness to this automotive achievement. But I took a few pictures so I could prove it later!
That first day was pretty much a straight drive west. I made a few short stops to visit with my Route 66 friends along the way in places like Weatherford, OK and Amarillo, TX. That night, I stayed at the Sunset Motel in Moriarty, NM. The Sunset is run by Mike and Debbie Pogue; Mike has been there since Day One; his father built the place in 1959. Mike would be told to go sweep outside in the evenings. In those days, everyone sat outside their rooms as the sun went down — Mike met the world as it went by, one day at a time, and formed a life-long attachment to Route 66.
The Pogues are big believers in the idea that hospitality is what sets a place apart, and they are correct. They are a part of the roadie culture in and of themselves and I loved getting to sit and visit with them a while after a long day on the road. They are part of my extended Route 66 family!
The next day was another long day of driving…but it was definitely worth it. Shortly after crossing the Arizona border, I took a dirt road detour to see another “old friend” – one I hadn’t seen since that trip in 2015.
The Painted Desert Trading Post has been something of a “holy grail” to the Route 66 roadie community for decades. This abandoned trading post (on an abandoned alignment of the road) was difficult, even dangerous, to access. It stood on private property near the border of the Petrified Forest National Park. In 2015, I’d come out to take part in a tour put on by the National Park Service that highlighted parts of original Highway 66 that had been absorbed into the park; that tour included a visit to the adjacent PDTP. As amazingly preserved as the building was, considering it had stood empty since the 1960s, it clearly didn’t have much time left.
Enter the Route 66 Co-Op. In 2018, a group of passionate Route 66 preservation advocates pooled their resources and bought the patch of property that contained the dilapidated building. Over the next several years, the roof was replaced, the foundation was shored up, the walls were straightened, the stucco was repaired, and more. In September 2021, the restoration work was completed.
Access to the site is controlled by the Co-Op to keep it as safe as possible. Once inside the gate, it’s a three-mile drive down a crumbling blacktop that once carried US Highway 66. The scenery isn’t much different today than it was back in the 1940s when the PDTP first opened. The white stucco building stands out as a desert refuge, surely a relief for the weary traveler. The replica road signs really help bring the entire visual experience together.
The building itself is nothing short of a miracle. Inside, there are a few displays of artifacts and interpretive panels that tell the story of Dotch Windsor and his family as well as the extensive preservation effort. I signed the guestbook, took some photos, and just took in the entire site. The wind was the only sound; I can only imagine what the stars look like out there at night. You can learn more about the trading post and the entire restoration effort here.
Satisfied with my visit, my drive west continued. When I arrived in Seligman, Arizona that afternoon many of my roadie friends were already there. I hadn’t seen many of them in years and the reunion was very welcome. Additionally, the last time I had been that far west I wasn’t yet involved with the Oklahoma Route 66 Association. I had other friends that I hadn’t yet met in person and I was finally getting to spend time with them. It was like drinking cold water on a hot day.
The night ended with a sunset cruise up and down Route 66 in town. I hadn’t intended to participate, but when I got ready to leave for Kingman (my home for the night) I got swept up in it. Oh well! It was fun to drive a few loops while the sky darkened and the neon lit up.
The next day would bring the first leg of the cruise as well as a big car show in Kingman. But we’ll get into that next time; Part 2 of my trip coming soon!