Saturday, May 6th, 2006 – Distance Travelled – 638 miles

One of the few things I had actually pre-planned to do, apart from, obviously completing Route 66, was to sleep a night in the WigWam Motel that was to be found in the town of Holbrook, in Arizona. When I woke up, it was still very early and it was already another fine morning. It was my guess that I would not have to work too hard to cover the three hundred and fifty miles or so that then lay between me and that delight. I knew that there were also a couple of other “sights” of the Route between me and fun in a wigwam and I guessed that I would have ample time to take those in too.

I was still full up from the previous evening so I decided to forgo breakfast completely and contented myself, yet again, with just a couple of cups of the complimentary coffee. Then I checked out and set off towards Albuquerque in sunshine already so warm that I unzipped my jacket a little bit.

I mentioned in the part where I picked the Harley up that, although I did not know it then, a slight omission was made to my instructions. This omission now manifested itself. I had been given an ignition key, which in those days “unlocked” the “on/off/accessories” switch located on the tank and, on the same keyring, the key to the disc lock which I had been instructed to put in place every time I walked out of sight of the bike. I was, at the time, unfamiliar with Harleys and had neither realised, nor had I been told, that, once the ignition was unlocked, the key could be put in my pocket. I had ridden the entire distance from Chicago to Santa Rosa, some fourteen hundred miles, with the key IN the ignition switch. Somewhere, probably soon after I set off, the keys fell out. I did not notice them fall, of course and I was more than a third of the way to Albuquerque before I noticed they were gone. After turning the bike off and then on again whilst beside the road in the middle of nowhere (believe me, that is a nerve wracking experience) I realised that, at least, I did not need them to proceed. I rode slowly back to Santa Rosa, scanning the road for any sign of the missing keys and then slowly back to where I had noticed they were gone. I pulled up beside the road, realising I now had no way of securing the bike when I was not with it. I needed a new key, or a new disc lock and I needed them fast. It was, of course, a Saturday morning.

One thing I love about being a biker is the inherent camaraderie. Although, up to that point, I had not seen many bikers at all, I was roused from my reverie by the sudden arrival of another Harley. It was a big red Electra Glide with Arizona plates. The guy got off and walked over, issuing a polite enquiry as to whether all was well. I rather shamefacedly explained my predicament. Although the look in his eyes slightly betrayed his opinion of my obvious idiocy, he immediately pointed out that there was a good Harley-Davidson dealership in Santa Fe which would be open until 6 p.m. He added, as a bonus, that Santa Fe was actually on Route 66 until the late 1930 when it was bypassed due to some political dispute. What I should do, he said, was to ride back to Santa Rosa and take the road towards Las Vegas (not the more famous one in Nevada) and Pecos and that would bring me to Santa Fe the old way – and then I could head down to Amarillo, still on the “old” Route and resume my merry way west.

I rode back to Santa Rosa, still hopefully scanning for the keys and the turning to Las Vegas did, indeed, bear the Route 66 signs, so off I went. It was a bit of a climb and the road, in all honesty was straight out of the 1930s in places and if I had met a Model T Ford, I would not have been surprised. It was a pleasant ride in the sunshine and sharp, clear air at the higher elevation.

Santa Fe was actually a very pretty town and the modern-looking Harley-Davidson dealership (4360 Rodeo Rd, Santa Fe, NM 87507) looked a tiny bit out of place amongst the Spanish colonial architecture. It was thronged with many riders and had a good stock of goods. They could not help me with the ignition key, but I purchased a nice, solid looking disc lock. I still have it to this day and it is on the disc of my own FatBoy as I write this.

I set off back towards Albuquerque, still following the loop that was excised, according to the signs, in 1937. This was actually a very nice piece of road, down a long slope with the long, if not overtly spectacular, views that I had already learned that you so often get in the mid west. 

In the distance ahead, I noticed a small dot beside the road. This very slowly metamorphosed into a stationary motorcycle and, as I pulled up to it, I could see it was another Harley-Davidson and also one of some vintage. Judging from his worn clothing, its owner was obviously a hardcore biker and he sat smoking casually on a nearby rock. When I enquired, he thanked me for stopping but remarked that he had “only” run out of petrol. Of course, I was running low on petrol myself and neither of us had any means of transferring some anyway. No problem, he said, someone who could give him some would be along sooner or later. I rolled off down the slope thinking that he could well be in for a long wait because, despite its width and surface quality, that was a lonely road. About ten miles later, I came to a gas station. Whilst filling the FatBoy, I helped myself to an empty plastic bottle with a screw top that had once contained a quart of oil and which lay in the bin and I filled that too. I paid, popped the oil bottle into the pannier and set off back up the hill. Before long, I could see the biker, still sitting on the rock, still puffing away. He was totally unsurprised by my return and told me he had guessed I probably would. He took the petrol, popped it into the tank and, after a couple of kicks, his engine rattled into life. He gave me a “biker” handshake and an eyebrow grazing, one-finger salute before pulling on a battered helmet, whose faded painting showed him to be a veteran of the First Gulf War and chugging off up the hill towards Santa Fe. Having restored the cosmic balance, I turned around and headed down the long slope towards Albuquerque for the second time.

Sadly, all the delays had cost me quite a lot of time and I had set my heart on a night in a wigwam. This meant I had to ignore two brown signed opportunities to revert to the old route and I stayed on the I-40 all the way to Gallup which is, of course, in the song. The whole area through which I was passing was full of Native American Pueblos, at least that is what the signs said. Very little sign of habitation was to be seen, but as pueblos are constructed principally of mud bricks, they would have been hard to pick out anyway in the increasingly dry and dusty landscape.

On the last stretch into Gallup, I passed a “Continental Divide” marker. For information, there are any number of points scattered across the States marked in this way. When you arrive at one and face north, any rainfall or river that rises to your left will ultimately flow into the Pacific and any rainfall or river that rises to your right will empty itself into the seas to the east. In those seemingly parched lands, it was hard to imagine any rain falling at all.

Shortly after leaving Gallup, which frankly did not impress at all, I crossed yet another State Line and entered Arizona, the seventh State so far on that trip. It was only about eighty miles from Gallup to the entrance of the Petrified Forest National Park and it took about an hour and a half to make the trip on the I-40 which was, helpfully, now bearing Route 66 signs. I came to the entrance to the park and, rather weirdly, turned north onto a small road that looped around the top of a bluff and gave me a view of the Painted Desert (my final intended destination of the day), before heading in a southerly direction to where the forest had once stood.

The road was quite narrow and poorly surfaced and wound its way for around fifteen miles through an arid landscape. In prehistory, a lush forest had occupied this place and the dry ridges of ground were peppered with the remains of great trees that, over the ages had, quite literally, turned into stone. It was a very atmospheric area, a little eerie in the daylight that was slowly beginning to fade into evening.

At the end of the trail through the park, I came to Arizona Route 180 and, making a right, I headed the dozen or so miles into Holbrook. I crossed the Little Colorado River (presumably flowing west although I did not check this) as I entered the town. I still wanted to have a quick, proper, look at the Painted Desert, but, when I stopped at the second crossroads I came to, which was to cross Route 40, I could see the shapes of the wigwams off to my left. So I rode down to the WigWam Motel (811 W Hopi Dr, Holbrook, AZ 86025) and luckily, secured the very last available room.

Then, leaving my small bag in my disconcertingly circular accommodation, I quickly headed out of town in an easterly direction, on the I-40. I came to Arizona Route 77 which led into the desert and was, somewhat bizarrely, flanked at its entrance by a large shopping plaza that appeared to be owned by the Hopi tribe and featured a large, scary dinosaur of the T-Rex type in the car park. I say bizarrely because already that evening I had been on Apache Road and Navajo Boulevard. I had no idea all those tribes co-existed so closely and maybe, in reality, they did not. I rode up Route 77 about for about thirty miles before turning back just before the enigmatically named White Cone. I had heard that colour photography had originally been invented to capture the beauty of the Painted Desert, but do not know if that was true. Although the light was, by then, fading quite fast, the range of colours to be seen in the surrounding hills and gullies was still quite spectacular. Not for the first time I was looking at something which no photo can really encompass, particularly the ones I took.

As I headed back into Holbrook I realised I had not eaten anything at all that day. This omission was quickly rectified at the first restaurant I passed, Mr Maestas (502 Navajo Blvd, Holbrook, AZ 86025). Although I was in Arizona, this was a Tex-Mex establishment and the Beef and Bean Burrito, was as spicy as it was alliterative ! The beer which I permitted myself was cold but blandly American and may have wet my tongue but did very little else for me.

Back in my round room, the big comfortable bed, the ceiling which rose, cathedral like, to a point and the Native American style décor were unable to occupy my attention for more than a couple of minutes before I entered dreamland.