Gary Gardner (grgardner) wrote,
Gary Gardner

This old highway seems so lonesome when you're going where you've been...

Riding in all that heat and traffic through Phoenix really took it out of me I guess, as I slept later than I wanted to and got a slow start from Prescott this morning.  It was warm when I left, riding in a short-sleeve t-shirt.  I had my choice of routes to get up to Flagstaff – the original US-89, now AZ-89 which goes due north and hits up with I-40 at Williams (which in the old days was US-66/US-89), or I could take AZ-89A which goes up and over the mountains to Jerome and through Sedona before terminating in Flagstaff.  As is common these days the junction was a traffic circle – and I’d yet to make up my mind when I hit it – so I went around it TWICE before saying to myself, “take the scenic route.”  Since both were original alignments of US-89, I figured it was OK.  I was glad I did.  This was another of those roads that is a tribute to the early road builders – they hacked this path up and over the mountains, winding and twisting and looping all over the place – which is an ideal road for a motorcycle, and not so ideal for a Motorhome or RV.  They even signed it as "Historic 89A".
Fortunately I didn’t run into any on my way, but it was slow going.  Jerome was  quaint old mining town turned arts colony, and it is laid out like Park City Utah.  A bit further on was Sedona, the “New Age” capital of the world – lots of rich artsy type, with immaculate buildings that blend into the spectacular red-rock formations.  It’s a great getaway for Phonecians, with lots of spas and art dealers. I reached Flagstaff a little over two and a half hours after I left Prescott – 90 miles, so do the math.  I was happy though, and more or less recovered from the  heat yesterday, and kept myself well hydrated all day today.  I stopped there, along “historic Route 66” for a bit, and wished I had the time to take that road from Chicago to LA.  One day. 
I gassed up and had another bottle of water on the outskirts of Flagstaff before heading off to cross the giant Navajo reservation that takes up that corner of Arizona.  This was all familiar road.  I’d driven it many many times going to and from Salt Lake and Phoenix while living in Arizona going to graduate school and after.  The last time I drove it was in a U-Haul as I moved from Arizona to Seattle in 1989.  This stretch hadn’t changed much – still lots of poverty, lots of roadside stands selling Navajo jewelry and lots and lots of nothing surrounded by giant red cliffs.  I often felt like I was riding through an old Sunday Calivn and Hobbs Cartoon when they’d be off exploring some strange planet.  It was a very lonely road too – hardly any traffic at all, and you could see the road wind for miles. 
It is times like this that I felt very lost, alone, and almost an insignificant spek on the earth – and that I could simply disappear and no one would notice.  There was not even any cell service out there.   In my current mental state, this was not a pleasant thought, and truth be told, I felt so alone I started to cry.  I also remembered driving down this stretch of road in my father’s 1966 pick up truck, loaded with all my possessions, and with my best friend Dave (Ben’s Dad), driving me down to Tempe to go to Graduate School.  The old radio in the truck was an AM only and didn’t work well, especially out there in no-man’s land, so Dave and I entertained ourselves by reciting the dialogue from the movie “Auntie Mame”.  

After the trading post of “Gap”, I had another choice – between US-89 and US-89A.  My 1952 map only shows US-89, which is now 89A.  The current alignment of 89 was built when Glen Canyon Dam was constructed in the early 60s.  So I decided to stay true to the map, and took what is now 89A.  I crossed the Colorado River at Lees Ferry, and then wound across the desert and up onto the Kiabab Plateau.  The higher elevation, cool air, and scent of the pine trees was heaven to me.The road dropped down off the Plateau and into the border town of Fredonia, AZ, and Kanab, UT, where we met up with US-89 again.  Crossing into Utah I jumped up an hour in time since Utah observes Daylight Time.  I was getting hungry too, since I’d only had a Cliff Bar in Flagstaff for lunch.  I decided to stop and eat in Kanab, and found a nice little restaurant called  “Grandma Tina’s Café”.  I parked the bike in the shade and wandered in.  It turns out it was primarily Italian, and I had a wonderful cheese torilini with strawberry shortcake for desert.  It was still early, and I wanted to get closer to Salt Lake, so I looked at the map.  As I said, this stretch of road is very familiar, and I  knew that when Brigham Young colonized the area in the 1850s, he set up towns a day’s ride apart – roughly every 12-15 miles.  I figured I’d find something up road.  About that time I got a text from Tony who asked where I was, so I told him and asked him to look on line for a hotel in Panguitch.  He texted back that there was nothing in my stable of Choice Brand Hotels, or Holiday Inn Express, or Best Western.  Yikes!  There was a Best Western at Bryce Canyon, which was a few miles off of 89, and I figured would be a great place to stay.  I called, and they were booked.  I was starting to think I’d end up staying in Kanab when Tina herself said she knew of a good motel in Panguitch and gave me the number.

I called up to the “Color Country Motel” and found out they had a vacancy, and they had wireless Internet too!  So I told her I’d be there in a couple of hours and headed out up the highway.  I think this was my favorite part of the ride today.  The temperature was just right, and the sun was starting to go down, which makes the colors so vibrant and vivid.  The rocks were red, the trees green, and the sky a cloudless blue.  There was no one on the road except me, as I roared through the small towns between Kanab and Panguitch – each with a small Mormon chapel, and no more than a few houses.  This was the main road for years between Mormon settlements in this valley and down into Arizona, and it doesn’t look or feel like it’s changed in the 20 years since I last drove it.I pulled into Panguitch and found the “Color Country” – an old 1940s roadside joint, with an actual “key” not a key-card for entry into my “cabin”.  It’s small, I don’t expect Norman Bates to show up, but it’s of that genre.  I like it.  The office and my cabin are decorated with framed completed and mounted jigsaw puzzles covered in layers of varnish.  It’s very down home.  It lets me pretend it’s 1950 and I’m still at least a day’s drive from Salt Lake City.  I wonder if that Nash Metropolitan on the lot in Coos Bay is still for sale....

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