Sunday, August 27, 2017

Ghosts of Arizona Route 66 and the Santa Fe Transcon - Part 2

In my last installment, I briefly introduced you to Route 66 and my first real encounter with the famed highway.  In this part, we will cover the stretch between Kingman and Seligman, Arizona.

On August 19, 2014, we woke up from our room at the Hilltop Motel in Kingman, AZ to embark on the next piece of Route 66.  The Hilltop is typical of motels of the 1950s and 60s and really speaks to the essence of what travel was like before the advent of the interstate highway. 
The main sign at the HillTop Motel.  The motel is the very essence of post-
World War II highway travel, simply constructed, minimally appointed but
most importantly, easily accessible.
Here we see part of the motel itself.  That is my white Expedition in the corner
since that is where our rooms were.
Ours was the room on the left, while my dad's was on the right.  Yes, there
was a door between rooms on the inside as that was popular during the 1950s
for travelers who took extended family along for the trip.  One could visit
between rooms without having to go outside during bad weather.
 Leaving the motel, our first stop was at the Power House Visitors Center and Route 66 Museum.  The building began life as, you guessed it, a power plant.  Built by Desert Power and Water Company in two phases between 1907 and 1911, it supplied power to a fledgling Kingman as well as a number of local mines and was powered by coal.  There was a spur from the Santa Fe main on the north side of the building that ran to the south side of the building as seen in this photo inside the museum.
Early photo of the Kingman Power House when it was still in service.  It was
closed in the late 1930s when the Hoover Dam was completed since hydro-
electric power was so much cheaper to produce.
It also provided power to the Boulder Dam project (most know it today as Hoover Dam).  Upon completion of the dam, it was determined that the electricity from the dam was cheaper to produce so the Kingman power plant was deemed surplus and closed.  The building was renovated and reopened as the museum/visitors center it is today in 2001 and is a must stop for anyone with a passing interest in Route 66 and Kingman. 
That's a lotta threes!  As indicated by the sign, the bolt it points to has a curious
claim to fame.
Continuing on from Kingman, we don't have far to go before we stumble on our next roadside attraction, Giganticus Headicus, which was created in 2003 and 2004.  Located at the old Kozy Corner Trailer Park, it has been a favorite of travelers who frequently stop to take pictures at this oddity in the Arizona desert.
Me and my family at Giganticus Headicus.
We continue east headed for the old town of Hackberry.  Just a couple of miles before the town, I spotted one of the old stone culverts that the Santa Fe built when they were laying the first rails through this area, with what I believe is the milepost location written on the arch.
Stone culvert dating from the original construction of the route through here.
As we come into Hackberry proper, there really isn't much aside from the General Store which thrives as a rest stop and photo op for tourists.  There is an eclectic mix of stuff around the property that makes for many an interesting photo.
Hackberry General Store
Across the road from the store, the old Santa Fe water tank still proudly displays it's heritage for all who care to notice while at the bottom of the hill from the store and just to the west sits a bridge over a wide dry wash also letting visitors know who put it here.

Santa Fe water tank across the road from the Hackberry General Store.
I wandered down a dirt road to explore the railroad a little and found this
bridge.  Luckily, I wouldn't have to wait long to see a train as there was a
westbound train coming just as I stopped to check things out.  Here we see
the tail end passing by.
Better view of the bridge over the wash.  Look at the pier and you can see the
difference in the construction materials.  I forget when this line had a second
track built, but it is obvious that it was the closer one that was built later.
After the train went by, it was time for us to move on as well.  As we headed east, we came upon the near ghost town of Valentine.  There was a two-story brick building here that was build as a school for the local Indian population.  The school was opened in 1901 and only operated until 1937.
Hualapai Indian Boarding School, Valentine, AZ
Traces of the Santa Fe can be found here as well.
Just in case you thought that dirt road was the interstate.
BNSF eastbound train waiting for a signal to proceed.

Delivered to BNSF in Santa Fe Warbonnet dress, this was among the
locomotives waiting to power their train east.
This westbound train was waiting for a new crew to finish taking the train to
its destination.
The railroad through Valentine follows the road pretty closely, but not for very long.  Valentine, at least for the railroad, marks the western end of Crozier Canyon and it is only a couple of miles east of Valentine that the road and the railroad split.  The old highway takes to the high ground into Truxton and Peach Springs, the headquarters of the Hualapai Indian Tribe.  Here, the tracks and the highway briefly rejoin before splitting up again at the east end of town.  Named for the abundance of peach trees surrounding the spring providing water for the locomotives, Peach Springs was established  in 1883 as a division point on the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad (later absorbed by the Santa Fe Railway).  By 1887, a post office was established and the town began to grow.  By 1907, the Santa Fe moved the division point to Seligman and the town began to fade.  That is until the push for better roads started in earnest around 1910.  The town began to prosper once again and by 1926, the National Old Trails Road was incorporated into Route 66.  The town enjoyed moderate prosperity until Interstate 40 bypassed this portion of the highway.  While the town isn't totally abandoned today, the effects of the interstate can clearly be seen in the condition of many of the old buildings.  There is somewhat of a third life for the town, however, as Peach Springs is now the gateway to the west rim of the Grand Canyon and as mentioned before, the operating center of the Hualapai Tribe.
The westbound signals in Peach Springs, AZ.
After Peach Springs, the last major attraction before reaching Seligman is Grand Canyon Caverns.  Anyone traveling old Route 66 really must stop here and tour the caverns.  Outside, there is an old gas station and motel with several old vehicles on display.  Go a little deeper into the property and you find yourself at the restaurant and gift shop.  It is here that you can acess the caverns, but not without a ticket and tour guide.  As for the caverns themselves, they are the largest dry caverns in the US and extend up to 300 feet below ground.  The conditions in the caverns are so perfect, the US government stored emergency supplies here during the Cold War and remain unspoiled to this day.  The temperature remains a constant 56 degrees and remains at 0% humidity year round.  There is a mummified bobcat that is believed to have died around 1860 and the skeletal remains of a prehistoric giant ground sloth were found in the caverns.  The sloth had apparently fallen in and tried to get out, but was unsuccessful.  There are claw marks on the cavern walls and there is a life-sized replica of the sloth as it would have appeared at the spot it was discovered.  There was even a piece of the sloth's claw found embedded in the cavern wall!
Herbie lives at Grand Canyon Caverns!
Thermometer showing the constant, year round temperature
in the caverns.
Perfectly preserved in the location it was found.  It is believed that the animal
suffered a number of broken bones after falling into the cavern and that is why
it died here.
Replica of the giant sloth based on the skeleton that was found at this spot.
Look above the sloth to see the claw marks on the wall from the claws of this
Just outside the restaurant/gift shop at Grand Canyon Caverns.
Leaving the caverns, our next stop would be Seligman.  Seligman was a division point on the Santa Fe beginning in 1907 and once featured a depot and a Harvey House.  Harvey Houses were famous for their world class meals and accommodations.  The Harvey House no longer exists, nor does the depot, but Route 66 runs through the town roughly two blocks from the tracks.  Near the east end of town is a small eatery known as the Snow Cap Drive In.  It is NOT your typical burger joint.  You walk into the breezeway at the front of the building and the first thing you see is the walls and ceiling covered in business cards, credit cards, money, and all sorts of personal notes from those who have stopped.  There is a window where you place your order and the staff are super friendly and are always looking to show you a good time.  You have to visit to see for yourself the many antics and the all around good time.  The food is pretty good and the menu is simple.  After you walk out of the breezeway, you step out onto a covered patio where you wait for your order.  While we waited, we checked out the grounds surrounding the place.  There is a wide assortment of items that make you want to explore more.  Also on the property are a number of vehicles that you would swear you've seen before.  If you have ever watched Disney's Cars, then you'd be dead on.  This was one of many places along Route 66 that inspired the movie.
Our first view of the Snow Cap when we pulled up and got out of the car.
Sheriff, I need directions please.
Order up!
While eating lunch, a brief rainstorm blew through that made the temperature drop quite a bit and quite fast, but was soon over.  What a fitting end to a wonderful trip.  Stay tuned for the third and final part of my Route 66 journey along the Santa Fe Transcon.

Until next time!
-Matt Liverani

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