In late April or early May, I had a couple of concepts for photos I wanted to take near the downtown area of St. Albert, Alberta. One was to line up the Sturgeon River, Children’s Bridge, and the rising sun. The other was to have a full moon setting over the train trestle. For one shot I would be on one side of the river facing one direction, for the other I would be on the other side of the river facing the opposite direction.
With these concepts in mind, I needed to find out if they were even possible. For the one shot, the sun had to be rising in the right location; and for the other, the moon needed to be setting in the right spot. One option would have been to go out every morning at sunrise for, potentially weeks or months, to see if these conditions were met. The thought of this wasn’t all that palatable. A much better option was to use the planning tool within an app I frequently refer to in my photography. The app, Photopills, provides numerous tools to assist a photographer.
For the sunrise shot, I basically used the map within the tool to line up a position on the river bank, the bridge, and where I wanted the sun to be rising. I then used the search function to determine if that alignment would ever happen and, if so, on what dates would it occur. I was able to confirm that indeed on certain dates that alignment would occur and was able to pick a specific morning to go out and take the shot.
Similarly, for the moon over the trestle photo, I needed to know if there would ever be a date when the full moon would be coming down above the trestle as it set in the early morning and, if so, on what dates would that occur. Again I was able to confirm dates when those conditions would be met and picked the nearest date to try my shot.
Obviously, in both cases the weather needed to co-operate. Heavy cloud would obliterate either shot. For sunrise, a scattering of clouds, as long as none are covering the sun, adds to the scene. For the setting moon, a cloudless sky or at least a clear sky around the moon would be ideal.
For the sunrise photo I set up well in advance of sunrise. Conditions were great with a few clouds in the sky but none on the horizon. On cue the sun rose right where I wanted it to be.
For the moon over the trestle shoot, I really lucked out. The sky was virtually clear and there was a little bit of fog on the river to catch the moonlight. Again, the setting moon was right where I wanted it and I was able to get several shots with it above the trestle and behind the trestle before it disappeared below the horizon. My favourite image is below.
A photographer’s life is certainly made easier when you are able to plan in advance and determine, with some accuracy, the likelihood of the sun or moon being in a particular position at the location you want to shoot and on the date you want to shoot.
Early in March, along with a group of my camera club friends, I visited Death Valley National Park. Rather than give a detailed account of our trip, I thought I would share a few of my favorite photos along with some comments on each one.
We had hoped for a sunrise that would light up the distant hills in this photo taken along 20 Mule Team Road. The conditions we hoped for didn’t materialize but I still like the S-curve in the road leading into the image.
What caught my eye in this scene was how the wooden sidewalk leads through the textured foreground towards the light-colored hills which in turn contrast with the darker mountains in the distance.
We arrived at Dante’s View just before sunrise on a cold, blustery morning. One side of the parking lot faced towards the rising sun. Just at sunrise the sky burst into an incredible blaze of red. Unfortunately I couldn’t quickly find a composition that would include an interesting foreground against the red sky, and a photo of just a red sky isn’t all that interesting. So I turned my attention to the opposite direction overlooking Badwater Basin. As the sun started to light up the mountain tops, I found a composition that I liked. While the sun continued to rise in the sky I was captivated by the way it was lighting up a patch at the far end of Badwater Basin. The patch of light continued to grow more intense before it started to fade again. In this image I hoped to convey the cold of the morning with the warmth of the sun spotlighting parts of the Basin.
Well before sunrise our group was plodding through the soft sand of the Mesquite Dunes. Wind overnight has obliterated all the footprints and left the dunes in pristine condition. As the sun started to rise it created gorgeous patches of light on the dunes as well as emphasizing the texture in the ripples in the sand. I love shooting images of sand dunes; unfortunately I don’t often get the chance to do so.
Late afternoon found us at Zabriskie Point. Although the setting sun was heavily covered over by cloud, it still managed to illuminate the cliffs along the right of this image. I absolutely love the rich reds and golds that came to life as the warm, late afternoon sun hit the rock.
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For sometime I have debated the merits of setting up a separate website to host a portfolio of my photos. While I can set up a gallery in WordPress (such as the one I have for my Tour du Canada photos) it is somewhat cumbersome and not all that flexible. At the same time, I enjoy writing my blog posts even though they have become more sporadic in the last year or two. As well, I have received very nice feedback from readers that they enjoy the content. In researching alternatives, though, it became clear that I couldn’t just copy all of my blog posts from the inception of windaturback.com into a new website. So the dilemma was, do I just start fresh with a new website and archive windaturback or do I maintain two websites? In the end I decided upon the latter choice with the two sites being linked together.
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For my final day of this Route 66 adventure I wanted to be in Amboy, CA just a bit before sunset so that I could photograph the new Roy’s sign during blue hour – but more on that later in this post.
After breakfast at Anna’s Place, downstairs from my room, I hit the road. My first stop was Ash Fork. As Route 66 follows the railway for much of its distance, it’s no surprise that most towns along the route originated as rail towns. And Ash Fork is no exception. In the 1880’s the town emerged as a railway hub and an important source of flagstone from nearby quarries. The flagstone was used to build bridges and other structures. Today Ash Fork calls itself the Flagstone Capital of the World. The image to the right shows a Route 66 motel in Ash Fork, complete with flagstone on the exterior walls.
At one time, Ash Fork was home to the Hotel Escalante, billed as the finest Harvey House Hotel west of Chicago. Built in 1907 it closed in the early ’50s and was demolished by the railway in 1968. It’s loss was just one factor that led to the decline of Ash Fork. In fact, one could apply the old saying that “if it weren’t for bad luck they would have had no luck at all” to this town. In 1958, only a few years after the Escanlante was closed, the railway, once the lifeblood of the town, moved its main line north of Ash Fork. In 1977 a fire destroyed most of the businesses along Route 66 and in 1979 Interstate 40 bypassed the town to the South. However, Ash Fork still survives and is home to several interesting places.
There is a museum in town that has a model replica of the Hotel Escalante that I would have loved to see. Unfortunately, as seemed to be my luck on this trip, the museum was closed when I was there.
A ’50’s vintage Texaco station was restored in 2001 as DeSoto’s Salon, a beauty parlor and barber shop complete with a DeSoto on the roof. Later it became a curio shop and apparently now it is an Air BnB. From the photos on the BnB listing it looks like it has been finished off very nicely inside.
Zettlers Route 66 Store originally opened as a bakery in 1929. After World War II it became Zettlers Market and more recently was converted into a crafts and collectibles shop. Only a few months after the most recent owners opened the shop in 2016 it was put up for sale. I assume that it never sold as, when I visited, the business was permanently closed.
Just west of Ash Ford starts the 159 mile stretch of unbroken Route 66, the longest such stretch along the Mother Road. It is also a stretch that features a lot of recreations of the famous Burma-Shave signs.
The Burma-Shave signs were an advertising campaign for a brushless shaving cream that ran from 1926 until 1963 when the company was sold to Phillips Morris. It featured a series of small signs with part of a message on each one. The signs were placed about 100 feet apart. The series to the left reads:
“If hugging on highways, Is your sport,Trade in your car, For a Davenport, Burma-Shave“
Seligman is an example of “a little town that could”. Once reliant on the traffic and tourism that came with Route 66 passing through town, Seligman, like so many other towns, suffered a serious setback in 1978 when I-40 bypassed it. But instead of fading into obscurity, the town fought back. Led by local barber and historian, Angel Delgadillo, the town convinced the State of Arizona to designate Route 66 as a historic highway earning itself the name “Birthplace of Historic Route 66”. Now, Seligman is a popular destination for tourists looking to savor a bit of Rt. 66 nostalgia.
In 1950 there were plans to build a dam in the lower Colorado River near the village of Truxton. Anticipating a growth in traffic, local entrepreneurs built a gas station, cafe and motel. The dam was never built but the businesses thrived with the Route 66 traffic until the town was bypassed by I-40.
A bit further down the road, in the community of Valentine, stands the Truxton Canyon Training School. This residential school, opened in 1903, was designed to assimilate Hualapai Indian children into a white society. Children were removed from their families and forced to endure hard labor, disease, culture shock and homesickness. The school closed in 1937 and the dormitories were torn down in 1960. Today, the boarded up two-story brick school house stands as a reminder of a very sad part of history.
Out on Route 66 is the Valentine Station. It apparently is now a gift/souvenir shop but appeared to be closed when I stopped by.
A little bit down the road is Hackberry which now is virtually a ghost town. Since its origins in 1974 it has been a silver mining town, a cattle town and a railway town. And of course it thrived during the Route 66 era. Pretty much all that is there now is the Hackberry General Store which is definitely worth a stop. The store is surrounded by an immense display of Route 66 artifacts. It is well worth the time to wander around this outdoor museum then visit the general store to check out their souvenirs. The owner is pretty interesting to talk to as well. I bought a great Route 66 shirt here – my only souvenir of the trip.
Not far from Hackberry is one of the weirder sites along this stretch of highway, the Giganticus Headicus at Antares Point. The green, tiki-statue-like sculpture was created in about 2003 by Greg Arnold, a local sculptor. The site also is home to a cafe, store and visitor center.
Just after checking out the Giganticus Headicus I entered Kingman. The city is located right in the middle of the longest contiguous section of Route 66, and the Mother Road runs right through the downtown. There is a lot to do and see in Kingman and I could definitely see spending a day or two exploring this thriving Route 66 community. Unfortunately I only had about an hour to spend strolling around the downtown area. It will definitely be worth a return trip at some point.
Shortly after leaving Kingman enroute to Oatman, you go through the Sitgreave Pass. The route can best described as an very scenic, narrow twisty turny road. It’s worth pulling off into the turnouts to enjoy the views!
During the gold rush, the town of Oatman was one of the two largest gold producing towns in Arizona. Today, descendants of the burros that the miners brought and subsequently turned loose, run wild in the town. During the day they mooch treats from tourists, at nights they head up into the hills.
Clark Gable and Carol Lombard honeymooned in the Oatman Hotel. The streets of the town are still lined with the original old buildings, now full of souvenir shops and cafes. Route 66, which is essentially the only road through town, is blocked twice daily for gunfights. If you get caught by the road closure as I did, you may as well relax, park your car, and go for lunch.
From Oatman I continued on to Needles, CA which was the starting point of my earlier California Route 66 adventure. You can read about those trips (I did California in several stages) in earlier blog post starting HERE.
While in Needles though, I stopped to photograph the old El Garces Hotel, the former Harvey House hotel. Opened in 1908 the building was designed to suggest a Greek temple. Originally it housed a hotel, freight depot and train station. The hotel was considered a gem of the Harvey House chain and was a popular work location for the Harvey Girls. The hotel closed in 1949 and the building was boarded up save for the freight depot. The building was saved from demolition after the railway moved out in 1988. The City of Needles purchased the station in 1999. Plans to redevelop the building as a hotel were ultimately abandoned. Today the site serves as a multi-purpose building with space available to lease.
My timing was perfect and I arrived at Amboy, CA just before sundown as planned. The iconic Roy’s Motel sign had been restored and lit up for the first time in over 30 years in November 2019, a few weeks before my visit. Naturally I wanted to get shots of the lit up sign in all of its earlier glory. It was a beautiful sight to see! And it was the perfect end to another Route 66 adventure.
I got up early to catch my hotel for the night, La Posada, in the early morning light. Built in 1929 as a Fred Harvey House, this is a beautiful railway hotel in Winslow, AZ. The hotel was designed by Mary Colter, one of the most important female architects of the early 20th Century. Bucking the trend, at the time, of using European designs, Colter designed the hotel in a Spanish Colonial style more suited to its location. A few years ago it was fully renovated to restore it to its original glory. At the time I visited, the hotel was decked out in Christmas decorations.
(Clicking any gallery will open full-sized images.)
Founded in 1882, Winslow was originally a railway hub in Northern Arizona. It continued to prosper with the coming of Route 66 but started into decline as I-40 bypassed the town and Route 66 was decommissioned. However, thanks to an Eagles song, tourists still flock to the town to take photos of the “Standing on a Corner in Winslow Arizona” corner. I shared photos of this corner in an earlier post – click here to view it.
After a hearty breakfast in theTurquoise Room Restaurant at the La Posada hotel, it was time to hit the road. Not far from Winslow is the Meteor City Trading Post. The site dates back to 1938. Originally a gas station, over the years it became a souvenir stop for tourist visiting the nearby Meteor Crater. The geodesic dome with the yellow Mohawk, originally built in 1979, burned down and was rebuilt in 1990. In 2012 the trading post closed for good. An online search provided information that the property was purchased in 2016 with the intent of restoring it and re-opening by 2018. When I visited in December 2019, the restoration had either been put on hold or abandoned completely.
A few miles further west, all that remains of the town of Two Guns are a crumbling zoo and an abandoned, graffiti-covered gas station. Remnants of animal cages, which apparently included Mountain Lions according to the sign, can be seen among the rubble down the hillside.
Just a few miles further west is the Twin Arrows Trading Post. Dating back to 1937 it was originally called the Padre Canyon Trading Post. In 1955 it was rebranded when two telephone poles, with arrow heads and feathers, were driven into the ground to look like two arrows had been fired into the earth. As time went on, a gas station, curio shop and a Valentine Diner were added. (Valentine Diners were prefabricated cafes built in Wichita, KS.) All are now abandoned. I did find a YouTube video of the property taken in 1993, a couple years before it closed for good in 1995. You can view the video here.
The pre-1947 alignment of Route 66 takes you past the Walnut Canyon Bridge, typical of bridges of its day, and ultimately into Flagstaff.
Flagstaff is the largest city along the Arizona section of Route 66. At 7000 feet it is also at the highest elevation along the Mother Road and is surrounded by the world’s largest Ponderosa Pine forest. It is also a city rich in Route 66 history, hotels and eateries.
A couple of the famous landmarks are the Museum Club and the Hotel Monte Vista. The Museum Club was originally built in 1931 by a taxidermist to house his collection of stuffed critters. rifles and Native American artifacts. It was billed as the largest log building in Arizona. Following his death, new owners of the building converted it to a roadhouse. The club was bought in 1963 by Don and Thorna Scott who turned it into a Country and Western Dance Club. During their time, stars such as Willie Nelson, Wynn Stewart and Wanda Jackson appeared on stage. Tanya Tucker is reputed to have made her first public appearance here at age 14. In 1973 tragedy struck when Thorna died after a fall down stairs. Two years later, a despondent Don took his own life in front of the fireplace in the club. Stories abound of the Museum Club being haunted by the ghosts of Don and Thorna. The club survived under new owners until it closed abruptly in 2017.
The Hotel Monte Vista has been around about as long as Route 66. According to the hotel website, in the mid-1920’s, with increasing tourism, the citizens of Flagstaff recognized the need for a first class hotel. Fundraising began in April 1926 and within a month townsfolk, assisted by a donation from writer Zane Grey, had raised $200,000. Ground breaking was in early June and the hotel opened on New Year’s Day 1927. During it’s history many Hollywood stars have stayed there while filming in the general area. The attached Monte Vista Cocktail Lounge was the first speakeasy in Flagstaff. During Prohibition it was a successful bootlegging operation until it was raided and shut down in 1931. After Prohibition ended a couple of years later it became a favorite drinking establishment for locals and celebrities. Humphrey Bogart, Carol Lombard, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Clark Gable all were said to have been patrons. Needless to say, the hotel also has its share of ghost stories.
My last stop of the day was also the last town to be bypassed by I-40 when Route 66 was decommissioned. Williams was founded in 1876 by a group of cattle and sheep ranchers. By 1882 the railway had arrived in town and Williams soon became a hub for ranching, lumber, mining and tourism to the Grand Canyon 60 miles to the north. With the cowboys, mining and rail workers came a booming industry in saloons, gambling halls and brothels. Many of these buildings still exist today. In fact, my accommodation for the night was at The Red Garter Inn, a former brothel facing the railway station.
Williams proudly wears its Route 66 heritage. Its route through downtown is lined with shops, motels and lots of neon signs. I arrived early enough in the afternoon to check out the town before catching the neon signs lighting up as it got dark. An added bonus was the Christmas lights and decorations.
Williams is also the southern hub of the Grand Canyon Railway which transports tourists from the town to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. During the winter months it also operates the Polar Express, a magical journey from Williams to “The North Pole” and a visit with Santa.
Williams was a perfect way to cap off a day on Route 66!
As I wait out my 14 days of self-isolation following my return to Canada from the US, I have an ideal opportunity to continue the tale of my Route 66 journey last December.
Just after leaving Albuquerque, NM one comes to the Rio Puerco Bridge. Built in 1933, it was designed to withstand the regular flooding of the river for which it is named. At 250 feet long, when it was built it was the longest bridge of its kind in New Mexico.
Back on the road I came upon some ruins of several old stone Native buildings before arriving at Budville, named after H. N. “Bud” Rice. Starting in 1928, Bud and Flossie Rice operated the Budville Gas Station, a combination service station and trading post. It was the only car repair garage between Albuquerque and Grants. In 1967, during a robbery of the station, Bud Rice was murdered. Flossie continued to run the business until 1979. Since then there were several attempts to resurrect and run the trading post but none proved successful and the property now sits vacant.
From Budville, Route 66 continues on to San Fidel. The San Fidel Trading Post was closed, although I’m not sure if it was seasonally or permanently. Another building in town is the now-abandoned Acoma Curio Shop which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Built by Lebanese immigrant Abdoo Fidel in 1916, it originally operated as a general store. When Route 66 came through town, Fidel started selling Native American Crafts and renamed his business the Acoma Curio Shop. Unlike most businesses along Route 66 selling Native American crafts, he only sold that which was made in the area.
A little further down the road, between San Fidel and McCartys, is the old, abandoned Whiting Brothers Gas Station which once included a motel. Only the partially burnt out gas station, liberally decorated with graffiti, is left: the motel apparently disappeared years ago.
On the hillside overlooking McCartys is an impressive looking stone church. Santa Maria de Acoma Church was built in 1933.
The drive into Grants passes by a number of old, abandoned Route 66 motels and other businesses. Interestingly, the City of Grants originated as a railway camp set up by three Canadian brothers; Angus, John and Lewis Grant. The brothers had been awarded a contract to build a section of the A&P Railway. Eventually this railway town grew into a successful farming community. In 1950, a Navajo rancher discovered what was to become one of the world’s largest uranium reserves in the hills about 10 miles from town. The resulting mining boom lasted until 1983 when recession closed the mines.
Like many towns along Route 66, the decommissioning of the Mother Road, no doubt coupled with the end of the mining boom, had an impact on the Grants. However, tourism seems to be driving an economic growth in the city. And like a good tourist, I decided to find a spot for lunch. I have to say that El Cafecito had the best Chilli Rellenos I have had in quite some time!
Further west, in Thoreau, a small cafe, Johnny’s Inn, was move from north of the tracks to sit alongside Route 66 sometime around 1947. Subsequently it was added on to and became the Red Mountain Market & Deli. The original building can be seen on the left hand side. It is the section with the single door and two windows. A faded Johnny’s Inn sign can be seen above the door.
After the 1937 realignment of Route 66, a Standard Oil operated gas station was moved from Grants west to the town of Thoreau. In 1950 Roy Herman bought the station and operated it with his sons. The old station, with its 3 white enamel gas pumps, sits in front of the current repair garage.
5 miles west of Thoreau is the Continental Divide, the highest point on Route 66. At one time, there were many Native American markets. A few still remain, with one being located near the Continental Divide.
One regret that I had on this trip was that I didn’t have enough time to explore some of the larger centers along the route. Gallup is certainly a town I would have liked to spend more time in to check out the Rex Museum and the El Morro Theater to name a couple of sites.
The Hotel El Rancho opened in the 1930’s and in its day was a premier hotel in the area. Movie stars such as Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, and Mae West stayed here while filming in the area. With the decommissioning of Route 66 and the declining interest in the old west, by the mid-60’s the hotel had declined substantially. Fortunately the property was purchased by Armand Ortega and restored to its early glory. Perhaps one day I will have a chance to return to explore Gallup more fully and stay at the Hotel El Rancho!
Crossing the border west of Gallup, you soon come to the Painted Desert. I made only a quick trip a short way into the National Park as I had driven through the park on a previous trip to the area. It was getting late in the day so I had a chance to at least capture a bit of color.
A short distance from The Pained Desert is Holbrook, home of one of the three remaining Wig Wam motels. Readers of my blog will recall that I spent a night in the Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino … link to earlier post
By the time I rolled into Winslow, AZ it was getting dark. I checked out a few neon signs then checked into La Posada Hotel for the night. And this is where I shall pick up my tale in my next post.
Santa Fe is a beautiful city rich in Spanish-style architecture. The shops and galleries in the region of the Santa Fe Plaza give testament to the extensive artistic community that calls this city home. A very enjoyable hour or two can be spent wandering the streets in the historic part of town. Santa Fe is definitely a city where one could easily spend a few days exploring its many museums, galleries and other attractions. Unfortunately my time was very limited.
The drive from Santa Fe to Albuquerque is quite scenic although, for the most part, lacks any sense that it was once part of Route 66. The odd road sign points out that this was the pre-1937 alignment. With only being part of Route 66 for about 10 years, and the realignment which eliminated this part of the Mother Road being over 80 years ago, it is little wonder that the highway left any lasting effects.
Perhaps one of the best areas in Albuquerque to experience its Spanish roots is in old town. Its many shops and restaurants made for a very pleasant afternoon visit.
The drive along Route 66 through Albuquerque shows signs linking the city to its historic past. Its particularly nice in early evening when the neon signs start to light up.
Back in December I continued the Route 66 exploration I started last year. On this trip I drove to Amarillo, TX in two days (stop-over in Albuquerque) then spent 5 days working my way back to Needles, CA. By the time I finished this trip I had covered half of Route 66 (including last year’s excursions in California).
As I drove from Albuquerque to Amarillo one day, then from Amarillo to Santa Fe on the next, the following is a compilation of photos taken over two days rather than in the actual order I took them (e.g. I visited Tucumcari one afternoon going one way then the next morning on the return trip).
My adventure “officially” started with an sunrise visit to Cadillac Ranch on the outskirts of Amarillo. This public art installation originally consisted of 10 Cadillacs with their noses buried in the ground. Created in 1974, when the city of Amarillo started to encroach on its original location, the installation was moved to its current location in a farmer’s field. A year or two ago one of the cars burned so now there are only 9 cars. The public are allowed (even encouraged) to bring cans of spray paint to add to the multiple colors (and very thick layers of paint).
Travelling west from Amarillo through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, for the most part Route 66 either parallels I-40 or has been replaced by I-40. A good guidebook is helpful to know where to get on or off the Interstate to drive on as much of Historic Route 66 as possible.
My first stop after leaving the Cadillac Ranch was the town of Vega. The town is one of many examples of communities that flourished in the heyday of Rt. 66 and were hit hard when the historic route was decommissioned.
Click on the galleries to see full-sized images.
The main claim to fame for Adrian, TX, the next town down the line, it that it is the midpoint of Route 66. Chicago is 1139 miles to the east and Santa Monica Pier is 1139 miles to the west. I had planned my morning to have breakfast at the Midpoint Cafe – unfortunately it was closed when I arrived.
On the Texas-New Mexico border sits the long-abandoned town of Glenrio.
Dilapidated service stations and faded signs give testament to a once-thriving Rt. 66 town of San Jon before it was by-passed by I-40.
After many miles of dead or dying towns along the Mother Road, Tucumcari showed many signs of surviving and capitalizing on it’s rich Route 66 history. True, the outskirts of town show plenty of evidence of better days.
However, the many murals, neon signs, and restored Route 66 landmarks show Tucumcari’s pride in its past. One such landmark, the Blue Swallow Motel is often pictured with an antique car parked in front. Unfortunately, it was closed for the season, so no car adorns my photo.
If you are hungry, I can definitely recommend Watson’s BBQ located in the Tucumcari Ranch Supply building, located a couple of blocks off of Rt. 66. I enjoyed a delicious lunch and interesting conversation with the owner.
Continuing west on Historic Route 66 takes you through two more virtual ghost towns, Newkirk and Cuervo.
Further west, the town of Santa Rosa is the home of another restaurant that I would highly recommend. Long gone are its days as a car hop drive-in, but the Comet II Drive-In and Restaurant lives on to serve great food after being in the same family for three generations. The Green Chile Stew was incredibly good!
Prior to 1937, Route 66 turned north to Santa Fe at Santa Rosa. In 1937 the realignment of the highway took it directly west to Albuquerque. The post-1937 alignment takes you through Cline Corners, Moriarity and into Albuquerque.
The pre-1937 route roughly followed what is now Hwy 84, then onto I-25. Eventually you exit I-25 onto the Old Pecos Trail which merges onto the Old Santa Fe Trail that takes you into the heart of Santa Fe. There is not a lot of evidence along this drive of it’s Route 66 heritage other than the odd road sign.
In my next post I will pick up my journey in Santa Fe.
I have to admit that I’m not an avid early-riser. However, if I have something specific planned, I really don’t have a problem getting up at 4:00 am, say, to drive out to Joshua Tree National Park for a sunrise shoot. And even on mornings when sunrise isn’t all that spectacular, it is still a beautiful way to start the day.
In that vein, here are a few early morning shots from Joshua Tree NP from the past couple of months.
There we were, hurtling down the canal at a breathtaking speed of … 2 miles per hour! At 69’ long and 6’9” wide, there is a reason our vessel is called a narrowboat.
Great Britain is criss-crossed with a network of canals that were originally built to transport freight on long, narrow barges. The barges were pulled by horses walking along the towpath that runs beside every canal. As steam-driven freight trains replaced the barges, the canals fell into disrepair. In recent years the canals have been restored to their former glory for recreational use. Today, travelling the canals in long, narrow boats has become a favourite holiday get-away.
This type of holiday adventure has been on our bucket list for many years, so we finally decided to give it a try. As a result, a sunny afternoon in early October found Susan and me, along with friends Rick and Linda, at the Festival Park Marina in Stoke-on-Trent, in northern England, going through an orientation aboard our floating home for the next 10 days. The boat had 3 bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with a shower), a galley and a dining area. There was plenty of room for storage. It would be plenty comfortable for four of us! After the briefing and stowing away of clothing and provisions, we set off for a short motor to our stop for the evening.
Our journey to Westport Lake on the Trent and Mersey Canal, where we tied up for the first night, provided a good “shakedown cruise”. After thirty plus years of sailing, I had a fair amount of experience steering boats with limited manoeuverability. However, steering the 69-foot-long, steel-hulled, vessel still took a little getting used to. It was slow to respond, so you had to anticipate course changes and start your turns early. As well, you had to get used to tiller steering where you push the tiller the opposite direction to the way you want to turn. Then, to keep things fun, you need to avoid running into other narrowboats traveling the opposite direction down a very narrow canal. All things considered though, it didn’t take too long to get used to the steering. Rick and I took turns handling the tiller at the rear of the boat.
On our first full day on the canals, we would encounter two features: a tunnel and a lock. And it wasn’t to be just any tunnel. At 2.5 km (1.5 mi) long, the Harecastle Tunnel is the longest in Britain. While the towpath through the tunnel was removed some years ago, the tunnel is still only slightly wider than a single boat. Consequently, the tunnel allows for one-way travel only. Alternating direction of traffic through the tunnel is controlled by tunnel-keepers at each end.
We set off early and arrived at the tunnel about 15 minutes later. After stopping for a safety briefing, we proceeded directly into the tunnel. The tunnel is pitch black inside and we had been told to turn every light in the boat as well as the headlight so we could see where we were going. In addition, I wore a headlamp which became essential as the ceiling of the tunnel got lower and lower. By the middle of the tunnel the headroom was so low that we had to crouch down with our heads barely above the top of the boat. Rick and I switched off on the helm part way through so that we could both experience steering through the tunnel. With only a couple of bumps against the side, after about an hour we emerged from the other end.
We continued along the Trent and Mersey Canal for a short distance further until we made a sharp left turn onto the Macclesfield Canal. The canal soon took a 90 degree turn to the right and passed over top of the Trent and Mersey Canal via an aqueduct. We soon came to our first lock. At only about a foot change in elevation, the lock was a fairly simple one to learn the routine.
Locks are amazingly simple devices for handling changes in elevation on a canal or river. Gates at each end of the lock control the flow of water into or out of the lock. With both gates closed, opening paddles on the “uphill” side of the lock allows water to flow in and fill the lock. With the “uphill” paddles closed and the “downhill” paddles opened, water flows out of the lock thereby emptying it. The lock stops filling or emptying when the water level in the lock matches the water level on the high side or the low side of the canal respectively. With a boat in the lock, filling the lock lifts it to the higher elevation if going upstream, or lowers it to the lower level if traveling downstream.
We quickly learned that the operation of the locks was quite simple although cranking up the paddles or opening the gates (by way of pushing a long beam attached to the gate) sometimes took a bit of oomph.
The following day our newfound “lock handling” skills were put to the test with the Bosley Locks, a series (or “flight”) of 12 locks. These are the only locks on the Macclesfield Canal and took about 2.5 to 3 hours to get through.
As we continued along the canal, a boater travelling in the opposite direction advised us that the canal would be closing for an indefinite period in a couple of days time at Bollington, a little way further north, in order to make repairs to the canal. Our plan had been to travel to the end of the Macclesfield Canal then turn onto the Peak Forrest Canal. Once we reached the end of the Peak Forest Canal, we would reverse direction and return to Stoke-on-Trent the same way. Naturally this news meant that our plans would have to change. In the end, our revised route took us a bit further on the Macclesfield before turning around and returning, through the Bosley Locks, to the Trent and Mersey Canal. After once more transiting the Harecastle Tunnel, we continued past Stoke-on-Trent.
We continued along the Trent and Mersey Canal through Barlaston, Meaford, Stone and Weston. Just past Weston we turned around and reversed our route back to Festival Park Marina.
The Trent and Mersey Canal had more sets of locks than the Macclesfield Canal so progress was a bit slower. But at a maximum allowable speed on the canals of 4 mph, you don’t get anywhere quickly. And we weren’t in any hurry. Our only deadline was the day we had to return our boat. So we were able to just sit back and enjoy the incredible scenery, the frequent rain, and the warm cozy pubs along the way.
In days gone by, pubs were an integral part of the canal system. They provided food, drink and lodging to the boatmen and their families as well as stabling for the horses that pulled the barges. Today the pubs alongside the canals provide great food and fine ales to boaters although the stabling of horses is no longer necessary. On most days we generally ate one meal in a pub with, typically breakfast and lunch eaten on board. And I have to say we enjoyed some wonderful pub fare on our trip!
Our 10-day narrowboating adventure was, in a word, fantastic! We would definitely do it again. You don’t see huge amounts of the country on such a trip, but it’s a great way to leisurely pass by beautiful countryside and historic villages. This trip involved a lot of doubling back. The distance from one extreme of our route to the other was about 40 miles so our total journey was only about 80 miles. Another time I would be inclined to do a more circular route involving several interconnecting canals.