This is one in a series of entries recounting the 2009 trip that Phil Rose and I took to the desert. We are hoping to fund another such trip; for more details or to help out, please check out our Kickstarter. The beautiful photography present in these posts is courtesy of my friend, the very talented Phil Rose.
We were at loose ends after leaving the Grand Canyon, and touring Bedrock City. We had to get back to Las Vegas, but we didn’t want to go back the way we’d come and just see more of the same. We were sure that there was more to be seen. So instead of going back east, we headed out west. In fact, we scorned the interstate headed out west on Route 66.
Route 66 was part of the original Federal Highway System and originally ran from Missouri to California. It was replaced by the Interstate System and most of it fell into disrepair. Arizona is one of the states that has maintained pieces of the old historic highway.
We spent a long day on Route 66. There were sections where the maintained highway ran alongside the original road, now mostly grown over and disintegrated and about the width of a sidewalk in many places. We passed the empty miles by reading aloud the reproduction Burma-Shave signs along the side of the road.
Not all of the miles were empty, though. Occasionally we would see small houses or trailers dotting the hillsides, and take a turn-off. When the interstate rendered Route 66 obsolete, entire communities dried up and blew away. We went through a few tourist towns, with biker bars and classic cars, even stopped for lunch in one of these. But most of the communities here are dead, and all that’s left are the bones.
We saw what was left of an old highway town; with just the 76 station and a boarded up motel remaining. We found a house that someone had started to build, but had never finished. It was tiny, only a couple of rooms, and ringed by a patio built from native stone. Inside, the drywall had been hung but never painted, and an old sofa, torn to ribbons, sat rotting in the middle of the room. Notes were scrawled on the bare walls, a recipe for coleslaw and this, which I will remember reading until the day I die:
“It may be that I shall have to conclude that those on the same wavelength as me are not to be trusted!”
The house had been abandoned for some time based on the look of it. Across the way was the other empty house pictured above, The plywood walls, and the old cisterns are visible in the photo, but as we walked around it, it appeared that an entire family had lived there, and had left without a good many of their possessions. Clothing, children’s toys, and tools, all hopelessly damaged by their exposure to the elements, littered the area around the house. Even a couple of mattresses sat outside in the sun. The inside was so cluttered with debris that it was difficult to get inside. Back outside, the sun beat down, and the quail and doves sang from the bushes like ghosts.
It’s strange to see places like this abandoned. What happened to make these people leave? Moreover, what happened to make these people come out to the desert and build little handmade houses for themselves, with cisterns to save the scarce rain? Was it an inability to tolerate the company of others? Or the failure of the great American system to provide for all its citizens?
There’s no way to know for sure. The only thing I really know is that life out there must be hard; doubly so if you’re alone.
The sun was starting to grow long and distant in the sky, and we headed through Peach Springs, Arizona, on the Hualapai reservation. We stopped at a huge resort-style hotel and went inside. We asked the clerk if she knew if we could camp anywhere near here. She said, “well, you have to pay,” but could give no other information, like who we would pay or how much or where we could set up a tent, so we pressed on. I couldn’t blame them. None of the tribes owe us a damn thing. But I felt a little nostalgic for the Navajo.
We ended up pressing on until the sun was below the horizon, and we rolled the car, exhausted, into Kingman, Arizona.