The road was straight, but worn, and traffic was virtually nonexistent as we rolled along through northwestern Arizona on the longest intact stretch of fabled Route 66. My wife, Lisa, tuned in XM Radio’s ’40s station and, as the crooners crooned, we rode America’s first diagonal transcontinental highway.
The stretch of pavement that for more than 50 years had been the main artery between Chicago and Los Angeles now retired. There are no more transport trucks or wannabe starlets headed for the Hollywood hills. Just local commerce, Harley-Davidson weekend warriors and folks like Lisa and I running this 90-mile stretch of solitude between Seligman and Kingman, Ariz.
We stop at Truxton to fuel our Malibu Hybrid, a rare occurrence on this trip. Chuck, who looks like a member of Texas rock band ZZ Top, fills our tank and washes the windshield. His sidekick Charlie rummages under the hood of a pickup truck at the next pump.
As we pull away I hear him yell to the driver, “Pops, yer radiator’s junk.”
Lisa and I have escaped Las Vegas and are on a three-day junket to check out the Grand Canyon from four sides. Route 66, an option between the south and west rims of the geographical spectacle, is the last road I expected to encounter on this venture.
Two days earlier on the five-hour drive between Las Vegas and the North Rim, I worried about having oversold the Grand Canyon to Lisa. I had been there before and wanted her to wallow in the same awe I had staring down into that barren expanse of wonder for the first time.
At a vantage point 8,803 feet above sea level, the North Rim, open from mid-May until mid-October, overlooks the Painted Desert and the eastern end of the Grand Canyon. We take a short hike out to Bright Angle Point and feast on riveting splendor.
The Grand Canyon Lodge was full so we passed on a mule ride for a night at Lee’s Ferry Lodge, an hour and a half away at the east end of the canyon where the road crosses the Colorado River.
Next to the word “rustic” in the dictionary there’s probably a photo of Lee’s Ferry Lodge. The food is delicious, like something your mother would make with dripping ribs, baked potato and steamed veggies. None of this fancy stuff like you would find in Vegas. Heck, this is real food.
We couldn’t help eavesdropping on a group of rugged, middle-aged men who had just finished a rafting expedition through the canyon. I didn’t feel like telling them we had driven all the way from Las Vegas.
Sleep comes fast and easy. The silence is deafening.
The next morning we crossed the bridge at Marble Canyon and began the long climb up through Navajo country toward the South Rim. We stopped at a roadside Navajo craft kiosk where Lisa laid down $15 for her first piece of turquoise jewelry, a delicate bracelet the artist insisted was made from stone “just over there” as she pointed across the road.
After an evening at the South Rim we found our kicks on Route 66 en route to the latest in canyon viewing; a chance to walk the walk, the Skywalk at Grand Canyon West. Yep, just swagger out onto a glass floored runway protruding 70 feet from the canyon wall and have a look.
Before allowed on the structure we get a locker for our goods. Camera’s, purses, anything that might drop on the glass floor was stored. Lisa hangs on to the turquoise bracelet though.
Out on the Skywalk, the brain, the will and the legs are in a quandary for a while. The logic of walking where you see hawks and ravens circling between your feet and the floor of the canyon 2,000-4,000 feet below is, well, illogical. Well worth the admission, though.
We make it back to Las Vegas that night and check into one of the big-dollar hotels on the Strip. Our real world of canyons and gorges have given way to a world of engineering marvel and illusion, a place where Mother Nature lets humanity do the painting.
The next morning, while Lisa waits for me in the lobby, she can’t resist checking out a jewelry store. The welcoming clerk insists she try on a diamond bracelet. It’s only $70,000.
In the process Lisa’s $15 turquoise stone Navajo bracelet unhinges and falls to the floor.
“No thanks. I’ll keep the one I have.” She’s obviously wallowing in the romance of our Grand Canyon drive. And that’s a good thing.
Garry Sowerby, author of “Sowerby’s Road: Adventures of a Driven Mind,” is a four-time Guinness World Record holder for long-distance driving. His exploits, good, bad and just plain harrowing, are the subject of World Odyssey, produced in conjunction with Wheelbase Communications. Wheelbase is a worldwide provider of automotive news and features stories.