Friday, April 30, 2010

The End of Route 66

Our RV Park was located near the center of Williams, AZ, a town that is strongly associated with Historic Route 66.

Named for legendary mountain man William “Old Bill” Williams, the town was first settled by sheepherders in 1874. Railroad workers followed in 1880 with the construction of the transcontinental railroad, later called the Santa Fe line.

With the line complete in 1882, Williams grew as a hub of ranching and lumber. Other profitable industries included saloons, opium dens, gambling parlors, and brothels, such as The Red Garter on Williams' historic Saloon Row. [The restored 1897 bordello is now The Red Garter B and B Inn (left)].

All catered to a growing population of cowboys, Chinese laborers, lumberjacks, and copper miners. A general atmosphere of lawlessness helped secure considerable notoriety for Williams and its role in the Wild West.

One of the remnants of the Old West was found in White Horse Trading. Ironically, these holsters also address a present-day need of some customers.

But it was this display of Route 66 memorabilia (below) that touched a notable chord in Williams' history.
Williams would go down in history as being the last town to have its section of Route 66 bypassed. The original plan was to have the last section of the famous highway bypassed somewhere in Texas, but lawsuits kept the last section of I-40 from being built around Williams. After settlements called for the state to build three exits for the town, the suits were dropped.

In 1984, I-40 was opened around the town and newspapers the next day reported the essential end of the famous US 66. The following year, Route 66 was decommissioned.

But, given the number of souvenirs available at different shops, we could understand the sign at this shop (above): "Addicted to 66 Deals."

Competing with Route 66 items is the American Indian-made jewelry and original art available in shops such as the Turquoise Tepee (above).

Cruiser's Cafe 66's setting and rooftop auto certainly raised our curiosity about the restaurant, but we had just finished breakfast and were not looking for eateries.

We passed the Grand Canyon Hotel, and below the "Vacancy" sign was another sign that read "$3.50--Up." We didn't learn when the price amount was added to the sign, but obviously sometime during the time between 1891 and the present day, this must have been a reasonable amount worth proclaiming.

Although claiming to be the oldest hotel in Arizona, the Grand Canyon Hotel closed in 1970 and sat empty for 35 years. Nevertheless, it is a classic that was reborn by the Fredricksons in 2005.

When we came upon The Red Raven Restaurant next door to the Hotel, we wished we had more time in Williams.

And then there is the World Famous Sultana Bar (its big claim to fame is that it holds the state's longest continuous liquor license) and the World Famous Sultana Theater.

But my memory of Williams (pop. 3000) will be the owner of the Chevron station who was devoted to customer service. I began to wash my windshield and found the owner on the other side of the truck working on the windshield. This unusual assistance led to a discussion of customer service that was refreshing--service reminiscent of the days when "The Mother Road" was THE highway.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Structural History at the Canyon

Before leaving the Grand Canyon, we wanted to stop by some of the famous structures.

The first was the Hopi House, opened in 1905. Designed by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, who was obsessive about materials and workmanship; once she made workers dismantle a wall to replace a single stone. Hopi House sells a variety of Native American arts and crafts--anything from jewelry, rugs, and pottery to books and postcards.

The El Tovar Hotel was built in 1905 on a dizzying perch just 20 feet from the edge of the Grand Canyon. Built by the Santa Fe Railroad to promote their transportation services, the Hotel was named after Spanish explorer Pedro de Tovar who led a 1540 expedition to this area. Ironically, Pedro de Tovar never actually saw the Grand Canyon.

Upon its completion, the El Tovar was one of the finest and grandest hotels in the West.

As the story goes, Paul McCartney stayed at the El Tovar Hotel in 2001, registering under a company name. One evening he began playing the piano on the mezzanine until some of the other guests, unaware the former Beatle was staying at the Hotel, complained to the front desk about the noise. Instructed not to reveal that McCartney was staying at the El Tovar, the staff had to ask that the famous musician stop playing.

The plan had been to have lunch at the famous El Tovar Lodge on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and then spend some time photographing the lodge’s famous lobby. But circumstances intervened. First, I read a scathing review of the restaurant—its food, its service, and its high prices. So the backup was to eat at the Bright Angel Lodge, just a quarter of a mile up the rim walk from El Tovar.

Bright Angel Lodge (front porch shown on the right), designed in 1935, has a natural, rustic character and is a Registered National Historic Landmark. Designed by famed architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, it has always been a popular place to stay and the center of South Rim activity.

Located just a few feet from the Canyon rim, Bright Angel Lodge is the check-in point for the world famous Grand Canyon Mule Rides. (Lobby shown in the photos above and below.)

The lodge offers three eating options: the Bright Angel Lodge restaurant is family-friendly and features Southwest-inspired meals; the Arizona Room is western-inspired and offers steaks, poultry, and seafood; and the Bright Angel Fountain is a fast food take-out place that offers hot dogs, sandwiches, ice cream beverages and snacks. We chose the Bright Angel Lodge Restaurant.

The restaurant was close to eighty percent full when we arrived just before 2:00 p.m., and we were seated in a small side dining room with nary a view of the canyon. A review of the menu confirmed that this is a corporate-run (Xanterra) dining facility that tries to be all things to all people. There was a long list of standard appetizers, salads, wraps, special sandwiches, and burgers. Since the lodge serves a clientele that includes all ages and all nationalities, you can’t really blame them for playing it safe.

From the list of hamburgers, Chuck chose the Battleship Burger, which was a half pound Angus burger with what the menu called wrangler’s chili, cheddar cheese, and guacamole. The sandwich was topped with two onion rings and was served on a toasted Kaiser roll. For his side (from the choice of cole slaw, fries, or onion rings), he opted for the fries. His sandwich illustrated that the kitchen has never heard that “less is more.” There was way too much chili which was seasoned with way too much chili seasoning. There was no way you were going to taste the hamburger under that lava flow of chili. The fries were decent--even if they came into the kitchen frozen.

I wasn’t really inspired by anything on the menu, but finally settled on (or settled for) what was called A Dip in the River, which was basically a French dip with the addition of sautéed mushrooms and onions and then topped with melted Swiss cheese. Take a good look at the photo. Do you see how neatly stacked the slices of admittedly thin sliced beef resemble a deck of cards? I could have picked up the stack and dealt the slices around the table. And the au jus would have been salty with half the salt. My accompanying slaw was decent, but not shredded as finely as I would have liked.

I haven’t had much good to say about our Grand Canyon lunch and can’t rate it any higher than 2.5 Addies.

And that is being generous.

On our walk back to the train depot, we came across this large fly, which offered us a momentary diversion from the walk.

As the train left the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for the 65-mile return trip to Williams (AZ), we caught this view of one of the San Francisco Peaks, which collectively represent six summits that circle the caldera of a now quiet volcano. The Peaks (the tallest of which is 12,633 feet) were named in honor of St. Francis of Assisi by the Spanish Friars that settled the area in the 1620's.

It was a short, but memorable, afternoon at the Grand Canyon.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

View from the South Rim

We left Camp Verde and traveled about 80 miles to Williams, AZ, which is about 65 miles south of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

We took the Grand Canyon Railway to be able to enjoy the scenery instead of watching traffic. We were also treated to information, music, and a train robbery.

Access to the South Rim from the train or car involves a short walk, mostly by stairs. The walk from the Bright Angel Lodge to the Yavapai Observation Station is about two miles and presents one magnificent view after another.

At Lookout Studio (left), the balcony provides a good spot from which to view the expanse of the Canyon and is reported to be the best spot from which to view the California Condors.

Standing at the South Rim, we found it difficult to fully appreciate that we were about a mile above the Canyon floor and that the Canyon was up to 18 miles wide at its widest.

Also, from this angle at this time of year and time of day, the dusty greens and reds had the effect of muting the impact of the Canyon's walls.

We kept commenting, "Oh, to be here in mid-summer and looking up at the walls from the Colorado River or from (what we think

is) Phantom Ranch (right)." But the choice comes down to (A) spring with fewer people vs. summer with the majority of the five million visitors to the Park each year and (B) viewing the Canyon from the South Rim vs. riding a mule or hiking to the floor where temperatures can reach 110 degrees.

So, given the alternative, we'll enjoy the muted colors of spring from a distance above the Canyon floor.

There were other beautiful scenes along the trail along the South Rim.

Seeing what appeared to be a cave entrance (center in the photo on the right) led to questions about access to the cave and the availability of food and water.

But more often it was a case of enjoying the views, whether it was a sweeping vista of a few miles,

a tree against the Canyon as the background,

or the design of a trail leading to the floor.

Several locations and formations have been given names. I believe this formation with the whitish peak is called Isis Temple.

Quite often, we found ourselves just staring in awe at the scenes before us.

But throughout the hike, we wondered about the brilliance of the Canyon if we were on the floor looking up at the massive walls.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night . . .

Well, it was really noon.

And, well, the weather was quite nice.

But, it was very dark inside the Tavern Grille.

[Chuck has asked that you visualize a very dark crowded room in which a flash would be inappropriate and in which only hand-held time exposures were (barely) possible.] Therefore, you will find a dearth of photos inside this Cottonwood, AZ restaurant.

“The Tavern Grille opened in December of 2005 in the old Rialto Theatre in Old Town Cottonwood. The charred walls of The Tavern Grille building tell a story of Old Town Cottonwood's history of fires and the fire of December 8th, 1998, when this building, which hosted the Old Town Palace Theatre, burned. (The Rialto had been re-built, destroyed a second time by fire, and re-built as the Palace.) Fires were a predominant hazard in Old Town Cottonwood, especially during the early part of the 20th century.

In 2004, Eric and Michelle Jurisin purchased the building and began renovation, placing The Tavern Grille downstairs and their living quarters above.”

The bare concrete and brick walls show evidence of the building’s previous use. Rather than art work, the owners have decorated these walls with twelve plasma TV’s. During our recent lunch, four each were showing ESPN, the Golf Channel, and CNN.

The center of the room was dominated by a large horseshoe bar that also doubled as dining space that noon.

I had earlier done a web search looking for an on-line menu and was immediately intrigued by an appetizer simply named Lavash. Now, lavash, or cracker bread, is a soft, thin flatbread of Armenian origin made with flour, water, and salt and is the most widespread type of bread in Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The lavash was brushed with garlic olive oil and topped with havarti cheese. Then you get to choose four toppings from a list that included artichoke hearts, caramelized onions, baked ham, tomatoes, mushrooms, green chilies, shrimp, bell peppers, olives, bacon, grilled chicken, pineapple, shredded beef, and pico de gallo.

Having never seen what I describe as Armenian bread prepared in the style of an Italian pizza before, we knew we had to try this. And to recall a Southwestern crisp (served on a large flour tortilla), we chose green chilies, shredded beef, caramelized onions, and pico de gallo as the toppings. What arrived at our table was a giant appetizer (yes, they call this an appetizer) piled high with the various toppings and covered with a layer of cheese.

With the lavash, we ordered the Santa Fe Spring Rolls which were rolled tortillas stuffed with smoked chicken, black beans, corn and pepper Jack cheese with cilantro rolled and served with an ancho cilantro ranch dipping sauce. I am usually leery of fusion egg rolls (in fact, I am usually leery of Chinese egg rolls, having been served too many inferior ones), but these worked. The filling was generously seasoned with cumin and the dipping sauce was the perfect compliment.

Judging by the number of diners that noon, the Tavern Grille is a popular lunch spot for Cottonwood and earns a 4.0 Addie rating from us.

We walked past the outside seating area of the Tavern Grille and down the sidewalks of Historic Old Town Cottonwood.

Cottonwood, founded in 1879, and the Verde River Valley had been known for farming and hunting rabbits and quail. So successful were these endeavors that by March of 1917 the town began booming.

Cottonwood had appealed to the more venturesome--those who wanted their own home and business. There was a certain reputation for lawlessness. Some who settled in Cottonwood were run out of the nearby company towns. Heavy bootlegging was rampant.

By the 1920’s, there is not another town in the US that could boast of so many business houses for a population of about 1000. As a result, Cottonwood was called the "Biggest Little Town in Arizona."

Walking down the busy couple of blocks, we were struck by the sign (left): "Foxy Fashions--also Carpet, Vinyl and Remnants". In small town Cottonwood (pop. 6000), it pays merchants to be versatile.

Beneath the orange awnings, is The Orion Bread Co., and wheresoever there is a bread shop, there we are, also.

We were surprised to find as many choices of breads as there were, especially at mid-afternoon.

We left with a couple of loaves and an unsatisfied hunger for dessert. But just down the street . . . .

Crèma Coffee and Creamery is an independent, locally-owned-and-operated cafe with coffee bar and Italian-style creamery that specializes in small-batch artisan gelato and sorbets made right in the store. The short menu includes homemade soups, sandwiches on freshly-baked bread, house greens, and rotating deli selections. Crèma uses local produce to make the gelatos and sorbets; they feature premium teas and coffees, roasted regionally; they use milk and cream from an Arizona dairy; and they make their own pastries and waffle cones.

I can spot the word gelato on a store window from 100 yards and honed in on Crèma Coffee and Creamery like a woman possessed. The gelato selection rotates with the seasons, and that day our gelato choices were salt caramel, Mayan chocolate, blood orange, strawberry, lavender honey, triple chocolate, and vanilla bean. The gelato case also contained two sorbets--prickly pear and champagne rosemary.
Chuck chose a gelato/sorbet combo with the prickly pear sorbet and strawberry gelato. I chose the Mayan chocolate and salt caramel gelatos. All four were delicious but the Mayan chocolate was outright wicked. And when paired with the salt caramel (so named for the small amount of salt added to the mixture), it reminded one of the most decadent chocolate covered caramels ever.

This was truly 5.0 Addie gelato.