Day Trippin’

Over the course of the winter, I made a couple of long day trips, leaving early in the morning and returning late in the day.

In January, my travels took me to Abraham Lake in central Alberta. Stretching 33 km along the David Thompson Highway in Clearwater County, the lake is actually a reservoir formed by the Big Horn Dam on the North Saskatchewan River. In the winter it is a well known destination to view ice bubbles. The bubbles are formed by methane gas, escaping from trees and vegetation that were covered when the area originally flooded with the construction of the dam. The bubbles get trapped in the ice as the lake freezes in early winter. Frequent strong winds keep the lake relatively clear of snow and make the bubbles visible for most of the winter.

I left home in the wee hours of the morning, hoping to get a decent sunrise shot at the lake. Unfortunately, the morning was heavily overcast with the tops of the mountains somewhat obscured by cloud. Still, I did manage to get a few decent photos, so the day was certainly not lost.

My second “big” day trip was to Jasper National Park in February. It turned out to be a beautiful, sunny winter’s day. I stopped along the highway to take an early morning shot of the mountains. Then it was off to various locations within the Park, including Pyramid Lake, Athabasca River, Medicine Lake and along the Maligne River. Late in the day, as I left the Park, I again stopped along the highway to shoot the mountains in the late-afternoon light.

As these trips show, particularly my day at Abraham Lake, you can never guarantee in advance what conditions you will have on any particular day. What you can do, though, is make the best of the conditions that present themselves.

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Early Winter 2020

With November came the first snowfalls, of any amount, to Northern Alberta. There is something magical about taking photos right after a fresh snowfall. Here’s a selection of some that I took in November and December.

And speaking of magical, what could be more so than a great Christmas Lights display. Every year the Provincial Legislature grounds become adorned with Christmas lights and decorations. Here’s one of the shots I took this year.

Christmas tree with Alberta Legislature dome in background
Christmas at the Legislature

I’ll finish off this post, the last for 2020, with a shot of the Edmonton skyline.

Edmonton skyline
Moon Over Downtown

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Fall 2020

2020 will be a memorable year in so many respects: not all of it in a good way. But this Fall did offer some nice opportunities to get out to do some photography. For various reasons I didn’t venture out as often as I might have liked, but still, I did manage to capture some images that I liked.

One of the classic signs of Fall is the sight of Canada Geese flying south (oh how we wished we were joining them this year!). Click on any of the images in this post to open a larger version.

Canada Geese

On one of my trips to Lois Hole Provincial Park I captured this image showing off some Fall colors.

Fall Pathways

This year I have not spent a lot of time photographing wildlife. However, on one of my few excursions, I did capture a Pileated Woodpecker. I have seen these in the woods around St. Albert a number of times over the years but have never managed to photograph one, so this was a treat.

Pileated Woodpecker

Fall is the time for harvesting our gardens. As a celebration of the harvest I captured this image of a tomato ripening on the vine in our garden.

Ripening Tomato

Throughout the Fall, I made several trips into Edmonton to photograph the downtown skyline as well as the Walterdale Bridge.

In the following image, the old Rossdale Power Plant framed by one of the supports for the Walterdale Bridge. The power plant was the only electricity generating plant in Edmonton until 1970 and at the time generated a quarter of the power in Alberta. It was closed in 2008.

Rossdale Power Plant

The Walterdale Bridge opened to traffic in September 2017. It replace an old steel bridge. When construction was announced, many Edmontonians felt that the old bridge should be kept for it’s historic value, perhaps converted to a walkway with shops. Others felt strongly that it should be demolished once the new bridge opened. Fortunately better judgement prevailed. While its hard to argue its historic value, the old bridge would have been a terrible eyesore next to what is truly a beautiful bridge.

To me, the photo below portrays strength and majesty.

Walterdale Bridge

This image of the bridge was taken just as the sky was ablaze with color from the rising sun. It shows off the grace and beauty of the bridge. The Rossdale Power Plant can be seen beyond the bridge.

Walterdale Bridge at Dawn

The black and white panoramic view of the bridge below was taken from the opposite side of the above image. It is actually a combination of 19 images. A series of images, each capturing only a piece of the bridge, were taken with the camera moving slightly to the right with each exposure. Then the camera was tilted up a bit and the process repeated. The result was two rows of images that were then “stitched” together using software to create what looks like a single photograph.

Walterdale Bridge Panorama

Fall colors in the Saskatchewan River Valley are in full display in this photo of some high rise apartment buildings to the east of the downtown area.

Fall Colors in Edmonton

Several mornings I made pre-dawn trips into Edmonton to photograph the downtown skyline. Following are three versions taken on different days. Let me know in the comments which one you like best.

Edmonton Skyline
Edmonton at Dawn
Edmonton Skyline – B&W

I will close off with a classic Fall scene. I loved how the clouds interacted with this round bale.

Round Bale

Winter has definitely arrived in Alberta. In my next post I will share some of the images I have been taking lately in the snow.

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Summer in the City

As I watch the first few flakes of snow accumulate on the ground, it is a good time to reflect on my summer’s photographic excursions. For the most part I continued my pattern from the Spring of staying close to home.

I made several visits to the St. Albert Botanical Park throughout the summer. Each visit yielded a change in scenery as different flowers came into bloom.

This image was created through a technique known as focus-stacking. In this case, 13 separate photos were taken, with the focus in each photo moving slightly further into the image. The 13 photos were then blended using software to select the sharpest parts of each image. The result is a flower that looks tack sharp all the way through.

This is another focus-stacked image of a lily.

Here’s another couple of images showing the beauty of lilies.

A foggy morning led to some beautiful shots at the Botanical Park.

One of my most popular photos over the summer was this one of a bee.

Over the course of the summer I checked out a couple of old buildings. On the northeast end of Edmonton is Horsehill Hall, an old community hall.

Just north of the downtown area of St. Albert is the Little White School. This two-room school house dates back to 1948 and is now a historic site.

West of Edmonton is the University of Alberta Botanical Garden, perhaps better known as the Devonian Gardens. It has been a number of years since I last visited so it was high time to check out the gardens again. They are beautiful, especially the Japanese Garden. I will definitely have to try to get back for a few more visits next summer.

As summer started to wane I made another trip to the St. Albert Botanical Park.

With the leaves starting to change colors with the approach of Fall, I made a return visit to River Lot 56 early one morning.

In my next post I will continue with some of the photos I took this Fall.

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Exploring Locally

With travel being somewhat restricted due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I have taken the opportunity to explore several local areas that offer somewhat different photographic experiences. With all of the areas being within a 10-minute drive it is easy to go out shooting for a couple of hours first thing in the morning and still have most of the day available when I get home.

St. Albert Botanic Park has a wide variety of trees and flowers in a somewhat formal setting. With the flowers in bloom constantly changing, is a great area to “play” with closeup and macro photography. With no entry fee and open from dawn to dusk, it is indeed a little gem in St. Albert.

Here is a selection of photos I have taken at the Botanic Park. Click on any photo in this post to enlarge.

River Lot 56 is a nature preserve on the edge of St. Albert. During the early days of settlement in the area, land was subdivided for farms in strips of land stretching back from the river, allowing each farmer access to the water source. River Lot 56 was one such farm which was transferred to the Province in 1965 to be preserved as a natural area. It offers a range of opportunities for close-up photography as well as landscapes. Every time I go there I see something different.

Lois Hole Provincial Park is largely a wetlands area which is a great place to photograph birds.

In addition to these outings, I also did a little close-up photography in my basement using a tabletop “studio”. In this controlled environment I could adjust my scene and lighting until I got the shot I wanted. The image below is actually made up of 34 separate photos, with the camera focus changing slightly with each photo to produce a final image that is sharp throughout the areas I want to be in focus. This technique is known as focus stacking.

I am sure that I will return to these three areas in and around St. Albert many times over the Summer and Fall.

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Planning Helps

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.

Both of these images are displayed in the Landscape Gallery of neilmillerphotography.com.

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Death Valley 2020

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.

If you haven’t already done so, please visit my gallery website, neilmillerphotography.com. While there, please sign up for my free newsletter to be notified as I change images in the galleries.

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My Big Announcement!

My new website is now live at neilmillerphotography.com

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.

Switching between the two sites is easy. To go to neilmillerphotography.com from this site at any time, simply click on “Photo Gallery” in the menu bar.

To get to this blog from neilmillerphotography.com simply click on “Blog” in the menu bar of that site.

I hope you enjoy my new gallery site. As new photos will be added from time to time, remember to subscribe to my newsletter when you are visiting neilmillerphotography.com. And of course, I love receiving your comments from either site!

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Route 66 – Williams to Amboy

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.

Frontier Motel and Cafe, Truxton, AZ

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.

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Route 66 – Winslow to Williams

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.

Standing on the Corner in Winslow Arizona

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!

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