Hotels, Motels and a Wigwam

Anyone who has ever gone on any kind of trip away from home can tell you there is a little twinge of trepidation about where you will lay your head at night. Going home to see Mom and Dad? Will the bed of your youth be as comfortable as you remember? Headed off on a camping trip? Will the ground be as hard as a rock? Reservations at a swank, spa hotel? Will the bed be as comfortable as you expect?

No matter where you sleep, the goal is a good night’s rest. In every case, it’s the little things that make the difference.

When you’re on a road trip, spending the night in a different bed every night for two weeks, you are sure to face a night or two of questionable conditions.

One our Route 66 trip, we stayed in several classic motels along the Mother Road. We made reservations at three different chain hotels along the way, using points for one of the stays. We opted for a bed and breakfast at one stop and treated ourselves to a couple of upscale hotels, too. It was our way of mitigating the risk of having a bad night’s sleep every night.

It was a good thing to do. As expected, the upscale options were certainly the nicest accommodations. When it comes to comfy beds and soft sheets, you really do get what you pay for.

20170401_084202At Kimpton hotels in Beverly Hills and Chicago, the beds were just right, the pillows nestled our heads and the surroundings were clean, new and stylish. The mini bars were not just stocked, but offered incredible choices. The concierge from the Kimpton Palomar sent a note a week before our stay. The note said, “We want you to feel as comfortable as possible, so we invite you to send us one photo and we will have it framed and waiting in your room…“ It was a really nice, personal touch.

20170413_184208At the Kimpton Grey in Chicago, we were greeted by name by nearly every member of the staff we encountered. At one point, we even commented to each other that it everyone seemed incredibly friendly and helpful. The only problem with the Kimpton properties is there was no coffee in the room. Sure, you could go down in the lobby for free coffee in the morning, but in-room coffee options have become pretty standard across the hotel industry (and no one wants to see our just-out-of-bed hair-dos). Of course, the free mini-massages in the lobby during the free wine happy hour was a really nice perk.

From the LaFonda on the Plaza in Santa Fe, we received an actual package…in the mail!

IMG_7821 It included a welcome letter and a book about Santa Fe so we could plan our visit. When we arrived the parking and check-in were a breeze. Our room was incredible … it even had a working fireplace! The balcony afforded us a stunning view of the nearby cathedral. We watched the sunset colors reflected off the cathedral dome in a light breeze.

The chain hotels were, for the most part, just what you would expect. The rooms were clean. The amenities were simple. The beds were comfortable. It was a safe bet we would get what we expected and we did – three good nights’ sleep, three free breakfasts.

The real wild card was the classic motels. Frankly, I was excited about the adventure of it more than I was worried about what I would find.

20170402_182338First was the Route 66 Motel in Barstow, California. The room was small, the pillows were flat, but the place was clean. The coffee maker provided a steaming cup of Joe in the morning that offset the fact that the shower ran out of hot water before I was rinsed. Greg had showered first, so at least one of us got a hot shower. The owner was a great, fun, chatty guy full of stories and information.

On night three, we checked into the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. It is, by far, one of the most famous of the Route 66 motels simply because of its unique architecture. These teepee-shaped cabins were spacious and funky. The furnishings were highly-polished log furniture. It was fun even though Greg did have to get up in the middle of the night to fiddle with the heater to get it to turn on. The chair in the room was a bit saggy, but the bed wasn’t and the shower was surprisingly great. Hot coffee was available in the office.

IMG_7787The Sands Motel in Grants, New Mexico was a block off Route 66, but clearly still offered clean rooms at good prices judging by all the construction trucks in the parking lot. That’s a good sign, by the way. Workers who have to travel routinely often know the best options for a good night’s sleep on a budget. It was quiet, cozy and clean and the friendly dog in the office offered her belly for a scratch along with a welcoming tail wag as I checked in.

In Tucumcari, New Mexico. The Blue Swallow Motel is among Route 66’s most famous.  It’s neon lights brags of 100% refrigerated air for weary travelers who stop for the night. The original free-standing cabins were connected early-on in the motor court’s life with the addition of garages. Comfy chairs in front of each room offered the chance to enjoy the sunny late afternoon weather and chat with other motorists making their way along Route 66. Our two-room suite featured a clawfoot tub behind a screen, a very comfortable bed and a blissfully hot shower. The in-room fridge was a nice touch, but the working rotary dial phone was a stunning novelty. I called home just like I had done as a young girl.

IMG_8037The Route 66 Inn in Shamrock, Texas, wasn’t in any of the guidebooks we had read, but it got good marks on TripAdvisor and justifiably so. It offered clean rooms and hot showers, but the air conditioner was oddly placed high above the sink and required a chair to reach the controls.

The next stop was our B&B, The Rose Cottage in Baxter Springs, Kansas. We reserved a room in this historic midwestern, three-bedroom Victorian home in town. We were the only guests, so we had the whole house to ourselves. That was probably a good thing since every time we rolled over in bed, the old frame creaked and groaned. It was comfy, though, and our hostess, Jane, had left fresh, homemade cookies for a late-night snack and delicious apple-cinnamon muffins for breakfast.

In IMG_8141Lebanon, Missouri, we arrived at the Munger Moss Motel before dusk. The desk clerk was friendly, but clearly a heavy smoker as the office air was heavy with the odor of stale cigarettes. The room, however, was fresh and bright and lightly floral scented.
The furnishings were perfectly suited for a room in a Route 66 motel – mid-century modern. I remarked that they were either really good reproductions or must’ve been discovered tucked away in an unknown warehouse as they appeared new. IMG_8132

 

 

The bed was covered with a classic quilt and offered a delightfully restful night’s sleep. The only thing missing was the “Magic Fingers” box on the nightstand.

If you’re going to take a classic road trip, don’t cheat yourself out of the chance to stay in some of the historic motels that dot the roadways along your route. They are fun! The owners are usually in the office and always know the best places in town for dinner or breakfast. These little gems of Americana are a great way to remind yourself to slow down and enjoy the journey.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … but don’t forget, you have to sleep sometime, too.

Of Diners, Drive-Ins, and….Road Food*

I’m a car guy … have been since my youth. In my early 20s, I was obsessed with autocrossing … racing my car around a parking lot on a course defined by orange cones, racing against the clock. I rebuilt the engine of my ’73 Opel Manta from the ground up. There was grease underneath my fingernails nearly all the time; no weekend was complete without at least one skinned knuckle accompanied by a few choice swear words because of a slipped wrench.

Today, I let the mechanics do the dirty work and I’m quite a bit more laid back about my driving, but it should come as no surprise that road trips have a certain appeal to me as a “car guy.” If Route 66 is the Mother Road, then driving Route 66 today is the mother of all road trips.

To me, a big draw of road trips is food. Sure, Judy and I talked about staying close to our diets, eating lots of veggies and other healthy stuff, but let me ask you, did Ron Howard and Harrison Ford’s characters in “American Graffiti” go to Whole Foods in their souped-up Hot Rods? No, they went to Mel’s Drive-In for Burgers and Fries. In “Pulp Fiction,” when Uma Thurman and John Travolta went out to eat, the diner in which they danced was completely car-themed. Name one movie featuring Steve McQueen and a car that also had him eating sushi and hummus and I’ll become a Vegan … for a day.

But I digress … road trips are about eating road food, and Route 66 has plenty to offer. Our daily journals featured lots of paragraphs about food we ate along the way:

IMG_7409The Donut Man in Glendora, CA, had donuts made with FRESH strawberries. Yes, you read that right … fresh strawberries.

The Outpost Cafe at the north end of Cajon Pass had a pretty decent burger and a salad drenched in too much dressing, but it was a classic diner in every way.IMG_7443

 

Dinner was at Jenny’s Place in Barstow, reputed to have “something for everyone” by the owner of the Route 66 Motel. It turned out “something for everyone as long as it’s Mexican” but I had some delicious carnitas tacos and too many chips, rice and beans, completely sating my SoCal appetite for spicy south-of-the-border fare.

This was all on Day 1.

The rest of the trip would be remembered for similar culinary adventures.

In Kingman, Arizona, Floyd’s BBQ came highly recommended, but since it was Monday, it was closed. We went to the Diana’s Cellar Door, a combo brewery and wine bar next door instead and enjoyed a couple of glasses of red while chatting amiably with the patrons. But hunger prevailed and we dropped in to another recommended place, The Kingman Chophouse, where we shared a great Delmonico in a classic western setting.IMG_7583

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In Seligman, Arizona, we stopped at Delgadillo’s Sno-Cap Drive-in for lunch. The staff, reputed to be pranksters, didn’t disappoint. Rita was behind the counter and when I asked what a Choink Burger was, she gave me that look that only stupid tourists get (it’s a Bacon Cheese Burger, by the way. Duh.). I ordered the Choink and a Malt.

20170404_165452After “standing on a corner” in Winslow, Arizona (such a fine sight to see), we followed some local’s advice and made a reservation (reservation?!) at the Turquoise Room at the La Posada Hotel. Built in 1930 as a Harvey House, the hotel has been restored to much of its early glory and its restaurant draws raves worldwide.

Our window seat gave us magnificent views of the passing trains while the wide portico outside shaded us from the setting sun. We enjoyed Bison Taquitos, Elk in a Black Currant Sauce, Crispy Quail with Oaxaca Sauce, and a Braised Bison Tamale. Not exactly road food to be sure, but well worth the stop.

The Southwestern flavors of the road were a big highlight for me. At La Fonda on The Plaza in Santa Fe, we dove into local specialties offered with your choice of red sauce, green sauce or “Christmas.” Just thinking back on all that beef, cilantro, sauce, beans … makes me hungry.

In Shamrock, Texas, we ate at Big Vern’s Steakhouse – apparently, the only place in town worth eating at. Our waitress, Gail, was straight out of the Texas panhandle; pretty in a sun-beaten/leather-skinned sort of way, and most pleasant. She treated locals and tourists alike, but I am sure that if we had wanted steak sauce for our delicious ribeye, she would have chased us out the door with a hot branding iron.IMG_8051

And it continued…

In Arcadia, Oklahoma, Pop’s with it’s 50-foot Soda Pop neon sculpture out front, beckoned us in for burgers and fries, and a six-pack of sodas with the grossest names imaginable, culled from their 144 varieties; in Baxter Springs, Kansas, we were the only customers at The Smokehouse, which served some of the best barbecue we’ve ever had…the sauce was so good we bought a quart to bring home.

The next morning, we stopped at the Riverton Market for some of the best deli sandwiches you’ll ever eat before crossing the border into Missouri. In Springfield, Missouri, we ate those sandwiches in the parking lot of the original Steak and Shake, where we bought chocolate shakes, just because. IMG_8125We bought fudge packed in Uranus, Mo., where we couldn’t stop laughing over all the innuendos. Shelly’s Diner in Cuba, Missouri, is one of those places where everyone knows your name, but also treats tourists like regulars. We ordered a BLT and their special for the day – a Chicken Melt – and talked about the trip so far. It was blissful. Nearing Chicago, we longed for deep dish pizza; after check-in, the hotel clerk pointed us toward Gino’s East where we dined and laughed our butts off with the waitress (another Rita…I’m sensing a pattern here)…an evening worthy of a blog entry on its own.

The Road is like that…stopping along the way, trying new things, and meeting new people. That’s why we travel, and we hope you will too. There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored…go out and see it. And order me a malt while you’re there!

*Don’t want that “guy” to sue me!

Route 66 – By the Numbers

When our trip ended and we looked back on it, we were surprised to realize what we had accomplished. It was months in the planning and two full weeks on the road and, at least to us, an unqualified success.

Here’s what we managed to do – by the numbers:

2697 Total Miles Driven

We made a few diversions, added in a side trip or two, so we drove more than strictly Route 66

$262 Dollars in Gas

Yep, I kept track. We passed uncounted numbers of historic gas stations preserved for history, but I was curious to see how much we would spend on the one thing we couldn’t control (other than a few cents a gallon). You can stay in luxury hotels or pitch a tent. You can eat picnics, fast food or gourmet meals. But you must have gas. The most we paid was $2.91, the least was $2.09 a gallon.

28 Gift Shops20170411_145441.jpg

We probably drove past hundreds more, but stopped (and shopped) in more than two dozen. Some of these little shops are struggling to stay solvent and we wanted to do what we could to help. Bonus: we came away with some really cool and unique souvenirs of our trip.

9 Squished Pennies

I collect souvenir pennies…the kind you make in those machines that squash ‘em into a thin oval with an imprinted image. One day I plan to make a gigantic wind chime with all my pennies. One day.

8 States20170410_190836

California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois (plus Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Maryland when we bombed back home to Virginia via the Interstates.  Ugh.)

6 Classic MotelsIMG_7673

In some places, there just weren’t classic options. In others, we opted for something a little more modern…or luxurious. I’ll discuss our stays in a future blog. They included hotels, motels and even a bed and breakfast.

3 Wrong Turns

Yeah, only 3. We had a great guide book and managed to stay on track (almost) the whole way.

3 State Capitols

Route 66 only goes through three state capitols. We hit ‘em all. It was interesting to see the difference in state buildings in New Mexico, Oklahoma and Illinois.

2 Road Construction DetoursIMG_7479

April is early for a lot of road projects and we got lucky. One diversion was partly due to construction and partly to washed out bridges from heavy spring rains in the Arizona desert. The other was in the border town of Needles, California, and took us a mere three blocks out of the way.

1 Musical Road

You read that right. Just outside Tijeras, New Mexico, there is a short stretch of road that has been grooved in such a way that it plays “America, the Beautiful” if you drive over it at exactly 45 mph. It took us two tries, but once we got it right, it was very cool!

1 Operational Rotary Phone20170407_184856

One of my favorite stories from the road was the working rotary dial phone at The Blue Swallow Motel. We learned that the motel got a grant to find and refurbish the phones for each of its guest rooms and the phone company came in and ran the wiring and provided the technology to ensure the phones would work. We called our moms the old-fashioned way!

Countless Memories

The people we met. The conversations we had.  The vistas we saw.  The history we relived.  The local “delicacies” we enjoyed. The time we spent together. These are the things that make travel so exciting…and so difficult to quantify.  There’s a whole world (just one!) out there waiting to be explored.  Go see it!

Route 66: Sunsets and Optimism

For many people I know, missing the sunset on Santa Monica pier would have been a sad start to a vacation. I know people who are so attached to their plans, that a missed event throws their moods into a tail spin. I am NOT one of those people.

I find it easy to spot the silver lining in almost every situation. Yep, I’m an optimist.
Before we headed out on our Route 66 Adventure, I had spent months researching the route, choosing the perfect book with the best directions, deciding what sites were essential and which we could bypass if we ran out of time, and many more details. 20170430_142441

I had lists sorted by states and further sorted by our schedule. The EZ 66 Guide was safely packed in my suitcase before I even loaded my clothes. A folder I had created with day-by-day guides was also packed in a safe place.

We arrived in California, got everything done we needed to do to set off on our adventure and, horror of horrors – NO lists of sites to see. NO day-by-day tips! OH NO! I had taken out some of the information to add some last-minute updates and forgot to repack them.

IMG_7386.JPGI discovered this on the morning we were due to set out on our cross-country odyssey. The night before I had missed the sunset and now I was missing a whole slew of pages of stuff I had spent months researching. It’s enough to throw everything off kilter – or not. We still had the EZ 66 Guide. We still had additional maps.

We decided to make the most of it and make the whole trip more spontaneous. In fact, we could turn it around. We created a new plan as we drove east. We would try to catch some sunsets along the way to make up for missing the one off the California coast. We would ask people we encountered along the way for their favorite spots. We would be even more adventurous!

In the end, we spent two weeks having a blast. We stopped when we saw anything that caught our eye. We managed to take in sunsets in the rear view in Arizona, from our hotel room in New Mexico, across fields in Texas and Kansas. We met loads of new “friends” from the road.

Adventure demands flexibility and adaptation.  There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … join us as we share this little piece of it.

Route 66: Santa Monica Pier

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We travel to California several times a year to see family. The trips are usually too short and packed with visits, family meals and essential stops at food places for treats we can’t get on the East Coast.

I have been asking to see a California sunset for about three years, but there always seems to be something on the schedule that stops us from driving to a spot for a great view of the sun dipping below the horizon. Besides, we both reason, we’ll be back. There is always next time. It has actually become something of a joke each time we miss it.

20170401_215534As we finalized our plans for our Route 66 trip, we added a sunset stop at the Santa Monica pier to grab some shots of that end of the road. It’s the traditional “end” of the road since Route 66 was created to help people get from Chicago to the California coast. We wanted to take the time to sit and enjoy the sunset, so we made our way to the Saturday-evening-crowd-packed pier. We intended to hit the road early Sunday morning so we could take advantage of quiet time on the roads to get out of the busy Los Angeles area.

IMG_7364We actually had three things on the agenda for our visit to the pier:

  1. Catch the sunset
  2. Snap pics of the pier, the “end of the road” sign, and the neon arch over the pier’s entrance
  3. Pay a visit to the kiosk that sells Route 66 merchandise and visit with its owner

It was a good half hour before twilight when we walked onto the pier amid families, tourists and hand-holding couples. The mood was pleasant. The weather was Southern California perfect. Very near the entrance to the pier is the kiosk. It was easy to spot, located just steps from the “End of the Road” sign. Customers browsed the merchandise and made purchases as we stood back, waiting for a slow moment so we could introduce ourselves and chat.

While we waited, we kept our eyes on the sun, trying to time the sunset. We snapped a few pics.

20170401_223945A break in the action at the kiosk gave us an opening and we met Ian, the on-duty salesperson and friend of the kiosk’s owner. For a moment, I was saddened to learn the owner was not there, then, as we chatted with Ian, we learned he is a fixture on the Mother Road. In fact, there is a bit of a community of those who travel it regularly. They know each other, stay in contact, and are friends.

Ian was fascinating! He shared his personal photo album and gave us names of people to “say hi from me.” He pointed out some “must-see” locations and directed us around some construction spots. We told him our plans and he confirmed our choices. The conversation was exciting, information-packed and easy. Suddenly we looked up to notice it was dark. We had missed the sunset! We had been so wrapped up in the conversation, we had let the sky turn dark without even noticing. We laughed out loud and repeated our phrase, “there’s always next time.”20170401_230735
It was an upbeat, fun way to kick off our trip. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. We were about to set off on another great exploration.