The newest colors of the painted desert, a Grand Adventure
By J. Adam Burch and Stacey Lane
You can decommission a road, but you can’t decommission its memories. The next trip you take could be “inside” the largest museum in the entire world, starting in Chicago, winding through Williams, and finally ending in sunny California. Although never the longest or most-traveled highway connecting big cities to rural areas, it is, nonetheless, famed in books, movies and song. The seed for “the great emigrant road,” also known as, the “Will Rogers Highway,” the “Mother Road,” and formally, Route 66, was planted in the 1850’s.
Yes, the Mother Road has a “past.” Before Route 66 there was a dirt path called the Beale Trail, started in 1857. The Beale Trail, in turn, led the way for the transcontinental railway; and Route 66 closely followed the railway alignment decades later. Our national desire to get places faster was the beginning of the end for Route 66. In 1962, the federal government commissioned a new member to the growing family of Interstates, and I-40, which paralleled the path of its predecessor, was begun. Faced with bypasses, the towns along “66” endured many hardships and lives were changed across eight states and three time zones.
The last town in America to hold out against the opening of I-40 was Williams, Arizona. Lawsuits over paving materials delayed the bypass for years. But finally, on a beautiful fall Saturday, October 13th, 1984—in Williams—America bid farewell to Rt. 66. The closing ceremonies took place on the overpass of I-40 where it crosses over Grand Canyon Boulevard on the north side of town. People from all over the country, even the world, were there to pay their respects to a road that had served the people of a continent since 1926. The Mayor gave a speech as did dignitaries from around the state. Bobby Troup, the man who wrote the song, “Get Your Kicks on Rt. 66,” was there, and he performed his song to the delight of everyone present.
A year later in 1985, a new marshal came to town: John Moore. That was the same year that Rt. 66 was officially decommissioned. After serving as the town’s chief of police for six years to the day, John put on a different badge and became, “Marshal John B. Goodmore” for the Grand Canyon Railway. “Watch out,” he says, “The ‘B” stands for ‘B’ good or ‘B’ gone!” He must have been a good marshal because the town elected him as mayor in 2006–a post he holds to this day. Now-a-days when he’s not at City Hall, you can find John at another “city” called, Old West Junction, that he owns on the east end of town.
“I am in the entertainment business,” he said, looking as though he just won a gunfight in Tombstone. “We’re trying to spread more business to the east end of town.” Combing tourism and living contemporary history is the newest move among many towns along the historic route. This town’s mayor is holding true to the heritage of the town and embracing the call of the road. All the rooms at the Junction are themed (Bordello, Trapper, Hacienda, etc) and the saloon and restaurants hold true to the Old West theme, as well.
The whole town of Williams reflects an earlier era. Known as “The Gateway to the Grand Canyon,” it was established by mountain men, cowboys, ranchers, and railroaders. Today, Williams is home to the Grand Canyon Railway, Bearizona, and nightly, Old West “shoot-outs” during the summer season. Slow down and just enjoy the ride through town. But if the residential speed is a little too slow and you’re looking for some adrenaline pumping fun, there’s a Zip Line right in the middle of town.
Williams is great for all ages and nationalities. Families from all over the globe experience the rebirth of historic Route 66, usually while on their way to the Grand Canyon. Some visitor information is printed in seven or more languages to accommodate the world visitors and their families.
Family stories, even Interstate families, can have happy endings. Some family stories begin at the Grand Canyon and some begin in nearby Williams or other Rt. 66 communities. The Mother Road provided life to the country that built her and took on a life of its own, refusing to be lost with time or dimming like headlights. As the travelers come and go, they take their stories with them, along with countless memories that are connected by a living road and can never be “decommissioned.”
To learn more visit; www.wildwestjunction.com
Ride the Adventure at the Wild West Junction call; (928) 635-4512 or (928) 635-4308 or e-mail at [email protected]
321 E. Route 66 – Williams, Arizona
While you are there; Bike the Grand Canyon – Bright Angel Bicycles – don’t miss a tour of one of the most scenic route of the Grand Canyon -a bike ride with wind in your hair and panoramic views of the South Rim Grand Canyon – To learn more visit www.bikegrandcanyon.com