Friday, May 29, 2009

Go West, Young Man!

"With the completion of the Interstate Freeway System, it became possible to travel all the way across the country, from coast-to-coast, and never see a thing...." Charles Kuralt

Westwards from Flagstaff along Interstate 40 lie the cities of Williams, Ash Fork, and Seligman. Each has their own claim to fame, and I won't bore you with details (unless you really want to know why Ash Fork calls itself the "Flagstone Capital of the World"). What makes them interesting is their shared history as way points along the almost vanished Route 66, the original Mother Road. Though the towns were largely bypassed by the construction of Interstate 40, the local Main Streets preserve much of the flavor and appearance of this legendary road. Ash Fork is the gateway to one of the longer remaining stretches of 66, which continues to Kingman some 112 miles distant. I especially recommend Seligman, where quirky local businesses have emerged to capture the attention of the few folks who wander off the beaten path.

If getting your kicks on Route 66 is part of your travel plans, you might want to think outside the box. I'm referring to one of the most unusual side trips in the region - a drive to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. That's right, I said drive.

About an hour's drive west of Seligman on old Route 66 you'll reach Peach Springs, location of Tribal headquarters for the Hualapai Nation (the same people who built the much publicized Grand Canyon Skywalk). Here you'll find the only drivable access into Grand Canyon. Most folks call the road Diamond Creek for the stream that enters at the very end of the trail, others call it Peach Springs Road for the canyon it travels. Either way, it's a scenic 20 mile dirt road that descends through layers of geologic time to reach the Colorado River at the bottom (see image above). For most of the way the surface is graded dirt, but the last few miles require a high clearance vehicle.

Since the road is located on Tribal land, users need to pay a per person fee to access it. The road can wash out completely in the summer months due to afternoon thunderstorms, but the tribe uses it as a take out for Grand Canyon river trips, so they do their best to keep it open. Stop in at the relatively new and modern Hualapai Lodge in the center of town to inquire as to road conditions and pay the necessary fees.

Grand Canyon Caverns

To continue exploring off the beaten path, why not visit another relic of the glory days of old Route 66 - Grand Canyon Caverns. Once a thriving tourist stop for cross country travelers, the Caverns fell on hard times with the completion of the interstate. Today it is making a comeback thanks to nostalgia for the "good old days", and you can experience for yourself what it's like to travel over 250 below ground in a rare "dry" cave. As an added bonus, the restaurant serves pretty decent home style cooking. The caverns are located approximately 25 miles west of Seligman on old Route 66.

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