From one sublime to another, we stopped here early in the morning the day after the Grand Canyon. It was 8 degrees, frozen wind, they unlocked the door for us, the first visitors. We had it to ourselves to recapture our youth.
It’s been sold, and the day before we arrived they had begun moving the figures. Small surprise they started with Betty Rubble, Wilma, the giant Pebbles.
From Kingman we had a quick drive down to Santa Claus…once a colorful old-school developer’s dream, a cashing-in-on-Christmas-to-sell-Real-Estate that didn’t work at all, though it proved immensely popular while it was maintained — Jane Russell maybe threw a party here. Arizona Highways provides a short history here. Robert Heinlein wrote a story in which it featured (‘Cliff and the Calories‘), which is rather hilarious.
The sign read Santa Claus, Arizona. I blinked at it, thinking I was at last seeing a mirage. There was a gas station, all right, but that wasn’t all.
You know what most desert gas stations look like – put together out of odds and ends. Here was a beautiful fairytale cottage with wavy candy stripes in the shingles. It had a broad brick chimney – and Santa Claus was about to climb down the chimney!
Maureen, I said, you’ve overdone this starvation business; now you are out of your head.
Between the station and the cottage were two incredible little dolls’ houses. One was marked Cinderella’s House and Mistress Mary Quite Contrary was making the garden grow. The other one needed no sign; the Three Little Pigs, and Big Bad Wolf was stuck in its chimney.
“Kid stuff!” says Junior, and added, “Hey, Pop, do we eat here? Huh?”
“We just gas up,” answered Daddy. “Find a pebble to chew on. Your mother has declared a hunger strike.”
Mother did not answer and headed toward the cottage. We went inside, a bell bonged, and a sweet contralto voice boomed, “Come in! Dinner is ready!”
The inside was twice as big as the outside and was the prettiest dining room imaginable, fresh, new, and clean. Heavenly odors drifted out of the kitchen. The owner of the voice came out and smiled at us.
We knew who she was because her kitchen apron had “Mrs. Santa Claus” embroidered across it. She made me feel slender, but for her it was perfectly right.
Can you imagine Mrs. Santa Claus being skinny?
“How many are there?” she asked.
“Four,” said Mother, “but – ” Mrs. Santa Claus disappeared into the kitchen.
Mother sat down at a table and picked up a menu. I did likewise and started to drool – here is why:
Minted Fruit Cup Rouge Pot – au – feu a la Creole Chicken Velvet Soup Roast Veal with Fine Herbs Ham Soufflй Yankee Pot Roast Lamb Hawaii Potatoes Lyonnaise Riced Potatoes Sweet Potatoes Maryland Glazed Onions Asparagus Tips with Green Peas Chicory Salad with Roquefort Dressing Artichoke Hearts with Avocado Beets in Aspic Cheese Straws Miniature Cinnamon Rolls Hot Biscuits Sherry Almond Ice Cream Rum Pie Pкches Flambйes Royales Peppermint Cloud Cake Devil’s Food Cake Angel Berry Pie Coffee Tea Milk (Our water is trucked fifteen miles; please help us save it.)
Thank you. Mrs. Santa Claus
It made me dizzy, so I looked out the window. We were still in the middle of the grimmest desert in the world.
Now that almost everything has been stolen, it’s all grim apart from the desert. This trip had several of these moments where it felt like we were just in time.
From there we drove down Route 66. I wish we’d had time to stop in Oatman, in Hackberry, in Valentine — nothing more frustrating than a road trip on a time table, I can’t wait until we are retired. Anyway, we followed the train tracks across the landscape.
Passed Peach Tree Springs
Back down to the main highway to speed towards the Grand Canyon. There were great dark clouds with beams of light pouring down across the valley.
The Grand Canyon — words can’t describe it. It was Mark’s first time, Last I was here, we drove up to the rim, parked, hiked down the Bright Angel Trail. Despite the government shut down everything was open, but the parking lot was massive and full to overflowing and you have to take a shuttle and…
I felt old, wished for the good old days, wished for half the people and none of the cars. But still. It was wondrous in the snow and with the sun setting through the clouds.
A long drive from Tucson but a rather beautiful one, we came up via Gila Bend to bypass Phoenix and they finished the new divided highway — though I wish I had looked for the old road, the beautiful old bridge where you can almost always see pelicans along the river. This is from 2014.
Ah well, next time. We did stop at the space age lodge for lunch, where I always stop, because it’s got a home made flying saucer and you can’t do better than that.
Wickenberg did not disappoint with its jail tree, its strange figures, it’s old-town feel.
We drove up through the forest of Joshua trees that I never even knew were there, they were stunning and I wish we had had some time to stop. Past Nothing, AZ. Finally landed in Kingman, which I loved.
We stayed at El Trovatore, which was fabulous, not least because of the owners dispensing stories (and route 66 pins!) about the town — the tunnels constructed underneath so that the Chinese population could move about unhindered by curfews and racism (came in handy during prohibition, I was gutted they are not open to see), the marriage of Carole Lombard and Clark Gable (church pictured below), the speeding ticket given to Jean-Claude Van Dam and his two weeks of community service there, the DUI given to Pamela Anderson followed by the indecent exposure charge after her playboy shoot near the local church. D’z Diner, the way a diner should be (though service was agonizingly slow). The hotel itself is marvelous, the first to be built with en suite bathrooms so it’s had its share of famous folk. The fixtures were original, and I can’t believe I didn’t get pics of the incredible showers (black and white tiles, arched entrance into the shower room, with the taps on one wall and shower head on the other!) And of course Andy Devine grew up here in the Beale St Hotel — we watched The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence in his honor. He’s the reason we were here, to see the room dedicated to him in the local museum.
Just communities. Just cities. Just connections between country and city. Also, the weird and wonderful.