Descent from Flagstaff

Temperatures only dropped to the low 40s last night, and the van was 55 inside when I woke up. We got away with it. Today we’d begin our descent, before even colder temperatures, rain, and who knows what else came along up in the mountains. We did laundry, and I multitasked at getting some work done. Then we were on a mission to put down some miles toward lower altitudes.

Our highest recorded altitude this trip is right here, 7,328 feet, on our way out of Flagstaff. The wind was CRAZY today, which is why I’m going 59 in a 75 zone. It was strong, gusty, and random. I couldn’t go any faster and be sure I could stay in my own lane. That was bad enough, but then add having to drive with one eye on my mirrors to make sure I wasn’t going to get creamed from behind, and it made for some extremely stressful driving. This is why we prefer to stay on the back roads. There simply aren’t any here.

It wasn’t all work and no exploration. We welcomed opportunities to exit the interstate and poke along Historic 66 at our own pace, which we did through Williams. It pained me to turn left to continue down 66 instead of right to go to the Grand Canyon. It’s a bucket list item for me. But we skipped it, recognizing our need to get out of the mountains before we ran into trouble. I will go back and take care of this unfinished business after the weather warms up (and is hopefully less windy than today).

Sadie, the dog, had to make an emergency pit stop, so we pulled off the innocent sounding Welch Road exit. What we found was a dispersed camping paradise. I would’ve gladly parked right here for days if the weather wasn’t turning for the worse. But it was, so I made a note of this place, and continued on.

Another interstate detour took us through Ash Fork, which had a few cool places like this. Once again, since we were on a mission, we didn’t stick around long. We didn’t appreciate Ash Fork labeling a section of road Historic Route 66, only for it to be a side street leading to a museum at a dead end.

Soon after, though, the real Route 66 resumed, and we finally escaped being a moving roadblock on the interstate. This promptly brought us into Seligman, which is one of the few Arizona towns that enthusiastically embraces its Route 66 history the way we saw many places back east do it.

Unfortunately, the kiddie ride didn’t work, just like our second day on the road back in Illinois. Route 66 must be cursed.

As we’ve noticed, Route 66 was all but forgotten in Arizona until the town of Seligman started to revive it. They got the state to designate the main drag through town Arizona Highway 66, which continues along the original route — not I-40 — all the way to Kingman. You can guess which way we took.

The only question was when. It was about 2:30 pm when we pulled into Seligman, and while we enjoyed the town, there really wasn’t anywhere to park for the night. We were down to about 5,000 feet elevation, but it was only another hour and a half to Kingman at 3,000 feet. We’d catch up to warmer weather and our race through the mountains to escape the cold would be over. We decided to go for it.

The landscape became a different kind of desert than we’d seen, with stunning mountains in the distance. Ironically, we went about as fast on 66 as we did on I-40, except with no traffic and a lower speed limit (65), we did just fine. We even paced a long freight train for many, many miles.

We passed through the Hualapai reservation without incident, despite a speed trap just waiting to catch travelers like us coming into town a bit too fast. Then our descent began in earnest. We left the desert and twisted through valleys between seriously rocky hills and mountains. Before we knew it, we were below 4,000 feet, and the temperature warmed up. The wind was still relentless, though, especially after we entered the Mojave Desert on the other side.

We had to stop and visit the Giganticus Headicus. (Cousin of Monty Python’s Biggus Dickus, perhaps?) They also had Herbie the Love Bug, and a boat, of all things, in the middle of the desert.

I also got a great view of the dust storm forming that completely obscured our view of the distant mountains. Considering the wind we were wrestling with all day, I’m not surprised it had this effect across the desert. As usual, pictures don’t do this justice.

And then suddenly we were in Kingman, and found a place to spend the night. Even now, as I type this, the wind continues to blow the van around, despite being parked, while it’s pouring rain. I suppose I might just get rocked to sleep tonight. While this wasn’t a great day, it’s one I’ll probably look back on as a series of challenges that we successfully overcame. And at least we didn’t have to drive in the rain as well as the wind.

Tomorrow will also be my last day on the road with Birgit and Tom. It’s only 60 miles to Needles, California, where they intend to turn south toward Quartzite, Arizona instead. Most likely I’ll meet them down there at some point, but for now I’ll be exploring California alone, because I want to finish this journey that I’ve started. While I found the overall task of crossing the country on my own daunting, after this experience I’m fine with doing the last leg myself. It’s just 315 miles from Needles to the Santa Monica pier, and I won’t even be taking the van the whole way. I can do that. But that’s a story for another day.

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