USA: Route 66 Texas to California RV Trip (Part 2)Forty five miles south of Route 66, Fort Sumner had little to distinguish it other than winds blowing sagebrush across the uneven road and into the cemetery where ‘Billy the Kid’ is buried. Made famous in early western novels and immortalized in numerous western movies, ‘Billy the Kid’ is still today known as one of the most notorious killers of the Wild West era.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2014
On April 28th, 1881, William H. Bonney barely escaped the hangman’s noose in Lincoln, New Mexico by breaking out of jail during which he shot a guard and then killed another. Less than three months later he was tracked down and shot dead by sheriff Pat Garrett in the abandoned Fort Sumner, De Baca County – July 14, 1881. According to legend, Bonney, better known as ‘Billy the Kid,’ had killed 21 men by the time he was 21, but it is generally acknowledged it was more than likely it was only eight people he killed in gunfights.
Forty five miles south of Route 66, Fort Sumner had little to distinguish it other than winds blowing sagebrush across the uneven road and into the cemetery where ‘Billy the Kid’ is buried. Made famous in early western novels and immortalized in numerous western movies, ‘Billy the Kid’ is still today known as one of the most notorious killers of the Wild West era. He has certainly become more of a hero in death than he did in his short 21-year life span. Ironically, his gravestone has twice been stolen; originally in the 1950s it disappeared for 25 years, so today it’s locked in iron shackles to prevent further theft.
About 20 miles (32 km) northwest of the cemetery is Fort Sumner State Park Campground. It was a glorious day with the temperature topping out at about 85 degrees (29.5 C), sunbathing weather. We drove our El Monte RV into a site facing the lake and pulled out our rods and tackle and some cold beers for a few hours of bass fishing. Directly north the clouds drew darker suggesting we were in for a storm, yet the sunset ended up being spectacular. Without warning the winds turned south in what the locals call, “Holy Week.” They say in New Mexico that the week before Easter is always extremely windy and then the calm of post Easter returns.
From pulling fish out to white out! Our lakeside campsite was one of the best we’ve ever found but things changed very quickly during the night. At 7:00 am the next morning we found the true meaning of camping at this time of year – two centimetres of snow on the ground and a frozen windscreen We had been hit with a spring snowstorm.
Back on the ‘Mother Road,’ our first thought was to head to the comfort of Santa Fe, New Mexico. After a few hours we pulled our RV into the municipal parking lot a block from the town square and checked into La Fonda Hotel on the Plaza. This is a hotel that has been welcoming guests since 1922. It became known as the ‘Inn at the End of the Track’ when the old railroad’s last stop was Santa Fe. The town is over 400 years old and the main plaza is where the local Native Americans sell their jewelry, rugs and touristy temptations.
On our second night in Santa Fe we relocated to Bishop’s Lodge Ranch Resort situated in the Canoncito del Rio de Tesuque. In 1650 Francisco Vasques de Coronado led an expedition to this region from Mexico in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola that were said to be made of gold but all he found for his troubles were adobe Indian villages along the Rio Grande and more still in the mountain regions. The resort has 91 rooms and a number of large exclusive private suites where the likes of movie stars such as Johnny Depp have stayed.
On the western edge of New Mexico, about two hours from Santa Fe, we visited the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States. Acoma Pueblo, often referred to as, 'Sky City' is the physical and spiritual homeland for the Acoma people, sits 370 feet high (112 m) above the desert floor on top of a mesa. The history of the Acoma people and the pueblo dates back to as early as 100 A.D. Roughly 100 people, made up of 13 families inhabit the rough adobe structures, with no running water, electricity or internal bathroom facilities. For an authentic look at their pueblo and mission built in the 1600s take a guided tour but expect a few locals selling pottery to be awaiting your arrival.
Next we crossed the state line into Arizona, driving Interstate 40 with a stop at Petrified Forest National Park before pulling into the town of Winslow, Arizona where a statue now stands on a famous corner of Route 66, that the ‘Eagles’ made famous. By mid-afternoon we had arrived in Flagstaff, Arizona. Here we wandered their downtown historic Route 66 district before checking into Black Bart’s Campground and Steak House. This is a campground with a Wild West style musical revue, where the waiters and cashiers, even the bartenders all sing for the customers. Each member of staff has a songbook and in turn sing what they choose every night. It’s what I’d class as a good food, fun and a frolicking western-style night out.
In the last 10 years Arizona’s Grand Canyon West has greatly evolved. Part of the Hualapai Indian Reservation, the facility offers Colorado river rafting, pontoon river tours, sightseeing helicopter flights, horse riding from the Grand Canyon West Lodge as well as Sky Walk – a half-circular glass walkway that juts out over the canyon. If you’re looking for an alternative to Grand Canyon South and its five million visitors a year then this is it. The Hualapai Reservation is to the west and on the outside of Grand Canyon National Park and to get there involves travelling 100 miles (160 km) on one of the best stretches of old Route 66.
The following morning we were on the Colorado River having driven the 22 miles (35 km) from Peach Springs by a graded dirt road. At 9.30 am we were pushing off in a Hualapai River Runners outboard-powered raft along with three other rafts full of adventure seekers. Their tours run from the middle of March to the end of October every year on half-day long river rafting trips. The rapids are graded 4-6 and when the river is running high provide some great white-water sections below spectacular panoramic vermillion coloured cliffs, buttes and steep canyons, where if you’re lucky, you’ll see California condors gliding on thermals.
On our way to Kingman the next day we stopped in the one ‘general store town’ of Hackberry where Route 66 merchandise has been taken to another level. We thought this was definitely worth a photo stop, as did 40 odd Harley Davidson motorbike riders who also invaded the memento-laden shack and service station.
About seven miles (11 km) out of Kingman, where there are more Route 66 knickknacks, signs, museums and even an old steam train right in town, you’ll start travelling the switchbacks and hairpin bends that offer some of the best scenic viewpoints anywhere on Route 66 before reaching the old gold mining town of Oatman, Arizona. This road is a great relic from America’s story of travelling west, giving a true glimpse of what roadies endured to get to the promised lands of California.
The Wild West town of Oatman was almost completely abandoned when Route 66 was bypassed except for the odd ‘leave me alone’ character that lived in solitude, but in the last couple of decades it has become a Route 66 ‘must see’ town. It’s famed for its wild burros that roam the streets. The burros are descended from pack animals used by prospectors in the mines and are protected by the US Department of the Interior. Envisage a lot of Route 66 kitsch, signs and souvenirs as this town thrives on its heritage.
Crossing the high deserts of California we skirted the Mojave National Preserve, from where more sections of Route 66 disappeared into the desert. Close to 275 miles (442 km) later we pulled over by Palisades Park near the Santa Monica Pier – this was where Route 66, The Mother Road, finally ended. The original route covered 2,448 miles (3,938 km), our speedometer had clocked 2,527 miles (4,065 km) – we’d finally made it to the end of Main Street America.
On the road tips:
Before leaving every morning it’s worth remembering a few RV rules that will help in retaining your damage waiver bond:
* Always wind down your roof airlock covers
* Lock all external storage bins as they are apt to snap open at high speeds.
* Set your mirrors and watch for any low campground poles that have a nasty habit of jumping out on your rear end when you are cornering
* Turn off your water heater too as you won’t be needing it until your next campsite
* Always have somebody watch you reverse and even better advice is to try and drive through a campsite or parking lot.
* In buffeting winds pull over into a rest area especially if it’s a side on crosswind as this can damage your awnings!
State and City Websites
P: +1 866 275 5835
New Mexico Tourism
P: +1 505-827-7400
P: +1 806 374 1497
Santa Fe, New Mexico
P: +1 505 955 6200
P: +1 928 213 2951
Billy The Kid and Fort Sumner
P: +1 575 355 7705
La Fonda Hotel, Santa Fe, New Mexico
P: +1 505 982 5511
Bishop’s Ranch & Spa, New Mexico
P: +1 505 819 4002
Acoma Pueblo (Sky City)
P: 1 800 747 0181
Black Bart’s Campground and Steak House, Flagstaff
P: +1 928 779 3142
Grand Canyon West
P: +1 888 868 9378
El Monte RV is privately owned offering RV rentals from different city locations across the United States. They feature the largest number of RV models in the motorhome industry. El Monte RV can be contacted at www.elmonterv.com
Shane Boocock flew courtesy of award winning Air Tahiti Nui, the international flag-carrier of Tahiti and her islands in the latest-generation Airbus A340-300 aircraft direct from Auckland to Tahiti and on to Los Angeles: W: www.airtahitinui.co.nz
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