Today was one of the big ones. We’d planned almost 10 hours of driving, close to 550 miles taking us from Arizona to California along the old Route 66 road, detouring to see a meteor crash site and Sedona. By ditching all of this and taking a more direct route to Palm Springs, sticking to the interstate and stopping only for fuel and breaks we would save over 100 miles but more importantly three or four hours in our limping, overly hot Porsche. It would have been the sensible thing to do, but sensible isn’t my thing this morning.
Meteor Crater, Arizona
Only 10 minutes from the hotel is the site of a huge crater where an asteroid hit earth thousands of years ago. The impact was comparable to a nuclear bomb, it is a mile wide and 500-and-something feet deep. Anything close to it would have been vaporised, and the blast so strong 600mph winds would have ripped up trees 15 miles away. It is a huge area and hard work walking from the viewpoints at the top, middle and bottom due to the altitude it sits at. It’s hot out there too, maybe not as hot as in the car, but you can really feel the sun burning down.
In the middle of the impact site is a pump once used to explore a theory the asteroid could be buried below, and to look for samples from outer space. There’s also a life size cut out of a spaceman which really hits home the scale. Nasa used this place as a training site for astronauts on the Apollo Program. It is proper geek out stuff and amazing to see. Even got a sticker for the car.
Many months have been spent planning this trip, and a lot of money. There is no way we are going to sit on an Interstate Highway eating Taco Bell today. We will either get there, or we won’t, but we are taking the long, scenic way to California as intended. Sedona rocks. Just look at it!
One small admission we did make, and it was more to do with a long lunch than fear of mechanical doom, was to return the way we came from Sedona along the 89A instead of looping down through Jerome before heading north again. The 89A is well worth driving twice.
It is hot in the car. Parked up in the centre of Sedona we did our best to block the sun from all the windows, a futile attempt at keeping it cool. It is something we will just have to put up with. Fuel smell remains a faint whiff, just enough to remind you there is an issue. Driving this car must be like living on a fault line in San Francisco – you know something’s up, but you go on somehow believing it won’t be today.
Historic Route 66
Some people think this is a must drive road, almost a rite of passage. Others say America’s Mother Road is long past its best, a poor driving road full of tatty tourist traps.
It stretches (or did) from Chicago in the East to Santa Monica on the west coast and is without doubt the most famous road in the US. Much of it has long gone, either disappeared or paved over by big Interstate Highways so it is impossible to follow the entire, original route. However, there are large sections where the road was bypassed which are still used by locals and tourists like us.
Our experience is a small sample, and it delivered both sides of the story. Along the way there are plenty of derelict petrol stations, motels, shops and then every so often a retro pit stop of some sort: a café, gas station or souvenir shop. People still managing to make a living out of a route once thriving for business. Much of it is arrow straight for miles on end, then occasionally you get surprised on bits that twist like an Alpine pass. I was fortunate along Route 66, the co-driver taking much of the straight road sections, one of them with a Highway Patrol car heading in the same direction. Swapping over we didn’t see another for hours. It didn’t go unnoticed: “How is it you get all the fast roads?” That’s just the way the dice roll. The flip side is co-drivers seem to take a lot of naps.
Sitgreaves Pass, Arizona
Between Kingman and Needles after the Mohave Valley lies Oatman. Of the fraction of America’s Mother Road we are taking, this is the part that makes driving the tourist trail worth it. More than worth it, this is a great drive. A pass through and over the Black Mountains of Arizona’s Mohave County. From the top at 3,500 feet you look out over Arizona, Nevada and California.
Approaching the mountains, the road has straight sections with huge undulations, it is like being at sea and the flash flood warning signs indicate it sometimes is. You need your wits about you as the car can unbalance all too easily and you’ll be off the tarmac. No one want’s to be stuck in a desert – there are snakes and scorpions out here.
As the altitude rises, so does the fun. The sun low, at times making the road ahead hard to see, drops off the edges are brutal. It is a road made for people who love fast cars. Windows down it feels cooler up here as the sun heads lower, the fuel leak is banished from my mind, engine and exhaust noises filling our ears as the 3.8 gets a proper work out. Including lunch and fuel stops we have been on the road 8 hours yet somehow, we are as awake as we were first thing this morning. If you get the chance to come here, go early or late when no one else is about and you won’t regret it. We did not see one other car on the way up, two from the top and barely another after on our way down.
Time to get the drone out. Confident that it survived Phantom Creek we now pushed it a little further and tried shooting while we were driving. All was going well despite it being out of sight, until the battery warning came on and it said it was returning to home! I thought this meant a rooftop terrace in London and started trying to override it, unsuccessfully as just as I could see it coming towards me it took off up the hill. I now know it remembers where it takes off from, as we drove back up the mountain pass we found it waiting where we started.
Donkey Town, Arizona
Actually it is called Oatman, an old mining town, it is touristy but done very well. Closed by the time we got there, we were left with a wild west movie set to ourselves and some donkeys who wanted in the car. Not sure what was funnier, a donkey licking the inside of the car or the anti-bacterial wipe down that followed.
Driving out in the direction of California we came flying around a corner to see blue and white lights flashing ahead. Surely not for us? Slamming on the brakes and bringing the car down to walking pace, the road was blocked with wild donkeys. There was no way through.
Getting out of the car, the local fire department woman and a park ranger were busy with these friendly animals, telling me their names and pointing out the different characters. I was having fun petting and talking to a couple of them when the woman in charge handed me the treat bag. This felt like one of my life’s most dangerous moments. A dozen big wild animals all wanted to be my best friend! They started working out the pecking order, bucking, kicking and braying. Logic goes out the window when you’re tired, it was life and death up there. Wherever I went they followed while still sorting out their individual herd issues. I was dishing out billiard ball sized treats as quick as I could while trying to make my way back to the fire officer and ranger to pass the treat bag back and scuttle to safety. Renée was already in the car, windows up, sunroof closed. Ranger was off. I will never know how I got out of there.
Pot of gold at the end of the rainbow
It was now dark. We were in the middle of nowhere and had three to four hours ahead. Tiredness was quickly setting in.
Just outside Palm Springs in California, our home for the next nine days, is a place called Thousand Palms. What makes Thousand Palms stand out is it has an In-N-Out Burger. Tired and hungry, the promise of their cheeseburgers, fries, and Neapolitan milk shakes somehow got me through one of the toughest drives I’ve experienced. Staying awake on dark roads with hours to go, I managed to stop my mind drifting into a dream state by clock watching a countdown to the world’s best burger. It was an animal style effort.
Pulling up at the drive through was almost emotional. It signified far more than a quality feed, it was a victory for man, woman and machine. We were unstoppable.