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 knew we wouldn’t be able to find a place to camp.
Traveling in a tent is complicated business. It appears that every piece of land that you drive past is owned by someone. If it’s not owned by a person, it’s owned by a company. If it’s not owned by a person or a company, it’s owned by the government. This is why folks can charge you to put a tent on a piece of ground for a night; because it’s not all that common an opportunity. Now it’s possible that we could’ve jumped any fence and set up a tent for a night without anyone being the wiser, but what frightens me more about this kind of camping than the animals is the people.
It just takes one time of running afoul of a landowner with a shotgun and a shitty attitude… and we definitely didn’t want to risk the attention of the local police.
So when we rolled into Kingman, we were resigned to getting hotel rooms. After a little bit of shopping around, we settled on this weird little place just off the highway called the Route 66 Motel. It’s important to note that this is not an identifying characteristic; there are a lot of places in Kingman, Arizona and indeed in other places along that highway that are known as the Route 66 Motel.
This particular one was a draw because of its kitchy sign and its affordable rates. We parked, and walked around the small, empty, filthy pool and into the hotel office.
This hotel was run by a chinese woman of indeterminate old age who couldn’t have been more that four-foot-six. Standing next to her, I felt positively willowy. Her age was not a barrier to activity, though, and she bustled around the office. She spoke heavily accented english, and was very cheerful and polite.
Her office looked like a particularly low-rent singaporean gift shop. Every surface, horizontal and vertical, was covered. Laughing buddhas, lucky cats, and chinese wise men stared knowingly from every nook. Bonsai trees and tropical houseplants were everywhere, and the trinkets and talismans hanging from the ceiling made me duck in places. It seemed like everything was very small, even the counters felt low to the ground, so that I felt like a bit of a giant. I can only imagine how it felt for Phil, a full foot taller than me.
We got two rooms, adjacent to one another. The doors were sliding glass doors, which didn’t feel particularly secure. They did lock, at least, and had heavy curtains that could be drawn across them. The carpets were the sort of short, nubbly carpet that holds up to a lot of wear and is easy to keep clean, but that feels strange and plasticky on the feet. The televisions were tiny, squat, tube televisions, and if I recall correctly, they were secured to the dresser to prevent theft. An ashtray on the little table was an invitation.
Phil leaned over the railing of the walkway in front of our rooms and snapped this photo of the hotel sign in the fading daylight.
I think that the first thing I did after getting my bag up the stairs and on the bed was to take a shower. The walls of the hotel were made from cinderblocks and painted with bright white paint in a high gloss… I suppose to make cleaning easier. The floor of the bathroom wasn’t vinyl, but a solid sheet with a sort of rubbery feel, like the spray flooring that people have put down in their garages. The bathroom had one small high window that let in sunlight. It felt a bit like a gym shower. But the water was hot and the pressure was excellent.
I soaped up and rinsed, and soaped up and rinsed again, scrubbing my skin with the cheap white washcloths so common in hotel bathrooms. I got out of the shower and stood, dripping. The hot water had washed away the last of my starch and I felt so tired that I considered just sleeping in that bathroom. Instead, I reached for a towel and started drying, only to find the towel still coming away black with road grime.
It’s so strange; I couldn’t see that dirt when it was on my skin, but it rubbed right into the white pile of the towel. You cannot travel the desert like this without getting filthy.
I sighed and got back into the shower. I decided that any dirt that remained after the third washing could just become a part of me. The sun was down, and I was too tired to care all that much about it.