Tuesday, August 6, 2002... Greetings from Needles, California, perennial winner of the Hottest Place in America contest. When I checked into the motel tonight, the motel clerk wondered aloud why I had chosen to stay here in midsummer. Because it's the only town of any size along a 200-mile stretch of Route 66 from Kingman to Barstow, that's why...

Started the day with the most scenic 100 miles of 66 in New Mexico, the portion extending from east of Grants to the Arizona line. When away from the Interstate, 66 passes the Acoma Pueblo, America's longest continuously occupied homestead; jet black volcanic rocks left over from a prehistoric eruption; the majestic cliffs which parallel the route near the Continental Divide; and finally the hills from which 66 overloks the railroad and the Interstate as they all approach the border.

The Continental Divide used to be a major point of interest for tourists, although few took advantage of the opportunity to spill water onto adjacent slopes and imagine one puddle flowing to the Pacific, the other to the Atlantic. Three of the five souvenir shops at the Divide have closed -- and even the official state historical marker is now a dull brown rather than the bright yellow depicted on old postcards.

Strangest oldie of the day: Jan and Dean's follow-up to 'The Little Old Lady from Pasadena," called "The Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review, and Timing Association." In an attempt to set the world record for Most Words in Two Consecutive Song Titles, the DJ followed it with Brian Hyland's "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini." I was hoping he'd continue with something like The Mamas and the Papas' "Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)," or a total change of pace like Bread's "If," but the show quickly reverted to disappointing normality.

When I flipped to another station, a local chiropractor soon broke the monotony by announcing that house pets, too, would benefit from chiropractic. For a fee, she's willing to manipulate the spine of anything up to and including a horse. So if your Fido or Fluffy seems to be walking strangely, pack him/her off to Gallup for a quick adjustment.

Approaching the Arizona line on Route 66, New Mexico

The first 20 miles of Arizona, starting just feet across the New Mexico line, contain close to a dozen Indian-themed souvenir stores. Several more lie in ruins along bypassed stretches of old 66. All the way to Flagstaff, halfway across the state, the traveler is never more than 10 miles from the next source of pottery and moccasins -- not to mention cheap cigarettes and phone cards, the current mainstays of the local economy.

I had planned to visit the Petrified Forest National Park, but changed my minds after seeing the ominous message near the entrance gate: "Park Road Open During Repaving." Knowing this meant at least an hour's delay somewhere along the way, I returned to the Interstate. Ten minutes later my attention was diverted by a dinosaur looming over the shoulder of the road.

Segnosaur, petrified wood and painted desert hills

Now I know a tourist come-on when I see one, and I had some time to kill. Moments later I was cruising into the parking lot of the awkwardly titled "Museum of the Americas/International Petrified Forest/Dinosaur Park." The Museum of the Americas displayed hundred of years of Hopi, Zuni, Aztec and Maya pottery and other decorative arts, while the International Petrified Forest was a lower-rent version of the nearby national park. The dinosaurs -- human-sized statues for a change, with menacing teeth and claws -- were almost an afterthought.

Swung through Holbrook, waving at my old friend the Wigwam Motel as I passed, then stopped at one of the last surviving old-fashioned souvenir stores, the Jack Rabbit Trading Post. The Jack Rabbit had the largest selection of 66 memorabilia I had seen to date, including matching his and hers white cotton briefs with the Jack Rabbit logo -- a silhouetted rabbit next to the words "Here It Is!". Sorry, folks, but if anyone needs a logo to let people know "where it is," they've got some serious problems.

Winslow has an Old Trails Museum that's supposed to be good, but I've never come through town when it was open. Today was no exception. Half a block away, though, a statue is "standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona," in the words of the Jackson Browne/Eagles composition. A store across the street displayed the sign, "Eagles - Thank You for 30 Years of Hit Tunes" -- I was tempted to walk in and complain that the sign was missing an S.

Continued stopping to photograph open (Meteor City) and closed (Two Guns, Twin Arrows) all the way to Flagstaff, eastern gateway to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The western gateway is Williams, about 30 miles down the road. Williams is also the home of Route 66 Magazine, a four-color glossy quarterly with a well-stocked gift shop. Another well-stocked gift shop less than a block away has roused the owners' ire: it's run by several of their former employees, taking advantage of the ccnnections they made at work.

66 soon swings well to the north of the Interstate, providing an hour of pure, relaxing two-lane blacktop, rarely marred by even an intersection. Had planned to stay on 66 all the way to the border, but by the time I reached Kingman the sun was already in my eyes. I hopped on the Interstate and headed for Needles.

Tomorrow: at the halfway mark of the trip, I finish 66 and head north to prepare for the drive back to Chicago, Later...

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