Getting Nostalgic on Old Route 66 – Williams, AZ
I seem to be a tad nostalgic these days, but hopefully you’ll bear with me.
One of my dreams when I first moved to the US in the early 90’s was to own a 1965 Ford Mustang Convertible. Well very specifically I wanted to drive my classic car, top down along a beach with rollerblading men wearing skimpy red bathing shorts (yes, it’s a Baywatch thing for those old enough to remember), my blond hair flowing out behind me like a true California girl. This was my idea of America and, as you can see, I’ve always had a rich imagination and lofty aspirations.
My problem was that I only had ~$4500 to my name and my university (much to my disappointment since it seemed soooo close to the water when I’d looked it up in the library Atlas…no Google in those days), was actually nowhere near the rollerblading hunk-littered beach that I had dreamed of.
Not to be defeated I nonetheless took my life savings to a rather sleazy dealership and bought myself a red Ford Mustang convertible. It was an ugly boxy 70’s model, the condition of which was mostly pale pink (from excessive sun fade), the top of which was mostly off-white & not exactly water-tight (from years of neglect) and the engine of which was most definitely suspect. But it was within my budget and close enough for my youthfully optimistic 20’s mind. I drove that baby until the day she died, leaking both oil and coolant on the way to the her final demise. Oh yeah, I definitely lived my dream.
But I’ve never forgotten my original wish of a classic car. Over time my dream has switched to a swallow-tailed late 50’s baby blue Chevrolet (I tried, unsuccessfully to convince hubby to re-paint “the beast” in those colors several years ago) and every time I see one it still sends my heart-strings a flutter.
There’s something about that era that is so quintessentially American, at least to my European mind. It was that particular period right after the austere part of the 50’s and before the hippy free-lovin’ part of the 60’s. A time where an innocence permeated the country, a time of pouffy hair and pouffy skirts, chocolate milkshakes and undeniable style. The cars were cool, the young crown was hip and there was one road that encapsulated the whole spirit none other -> Route 66.
Back in the day Route 66 was the most well-known thoroughfare from East to West (Chicago, IL to Santa Monica, CA). One of the original highways in the US it was known as the “Mother Road” or “The Main Street Of America”. It actually dates back to well before the 60’s, but it didn’t really come into it’s prime until later. Over the years it took on an iconic status as the road of dreams becoming the inspiration for classics like “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” and “The Route 66” TV series. Once the main interstates developed it started losing traffic, and eventually much of it disappeared into modern roads. But the nostalgia remained and in the late 80’s the route saw a revival with the emergence of the Route 66 Organization, a preservation group with definite late 50’s/early 60’s twist. You can’t really drive “old Route 66” anymore, at least not in its entirety, but you can definitely find bits of it still alive and restored today, slices of original Americana that persist in the modern world.
The town of Williams AZ is one of those places.
Williams is a quaint little place that mainly serves as the gateway to the Grand Canyon (South Rim), but it also offers a lot more. It was one of the towns that boomed on Old Route 66 (and incidentally the last Route 66 community to be by-passed by I-40), and if you didn’t know that before you got here you definitely won’t miss it once you arrive. Route 66 is embraced everywhere here, on the roads, in shop names, even at the local Circle K. And in-between you’ll find old shops, diners, classic gas stations and (of course my fav) classically restored cars. It might seem overly kitschy, and parts of it definitely are, but the town manages to pull it off without going too far overboard especially if you move slightly outside the main tourist center.
We snagged a lake view site at lovely Kaibab Lake National Forest (review coming) and then spent a few days stocking up and exploring downtown. This place actually has a local brewery, but the reviews on Yelp were mixed so we opted instead for South Rims Wine & Beer Garage which ended up being an excellent choice. The atmosphere & decor was wonderful, the bar had a fabulous list of Arizona microbrews (we liked every single one we tried, which is a huge kudos to their beer man), and the food, albeit somewhat pricey, was very tasty. Plus their wonderful outdoor seating area is paw-friendly. Sadly we missed a bunch of local attractions due to rain (which has followed us ever since), but the town also offers a drive-thro’ wildlife park called Bearizona (interesting), and a train ride to the South Rim (which sounds like blast).
We would have loved to stay a few more days, but our campground was shutting down for the season and our reservations at the Grand Canyon (that we made back in April) were waiting. I still dream of owning a baby-blue Chevrolet (or painting “the beast” that color…wouldn’t it be cool?!) but for now admiring them from afar will have to do. See ya later Old Route 66, hello Grand Ditch.
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Rusty & Kelly Glen says
We LOVE Williams, its one of our favorite town’s in America.
We even recently considered buying land around Williams, the Canyon bar was fun we rocked that joint on Karaoke night, which I think was Wednesday, hey today is Wednesday. The local folks were really friendly and we had a wonderful visit, they invited us to another evening at a cool road house down the Hiway a bit the next night and we rocked that place too.
I think it had more to do with them finding out im a semi professional country entertainer and less to do with our interesting personality’s lol
Must go back there soon, in a pink 59 Cadillac
Rusty & Kell
We found the locals to be super friendly too. Plus the surrounding are has tons of grand nature. I completely understand your attraction to this place.
And yeah, pink 59 Cadillac….I would TOTALLY do that!
Paul Silver says
The photo of the store is of Circle K, not Kmart. Love your blog. Have retired early at 59. Hope to be in an RV traveling the country by next year.
Oooooops…indeed you are correct (just goes to show what I know about real Americana). I’ll update the post to correct.
Regarding other classic Americana stuff, would you believe I had my first Dairy Queen “Blizzard” here? Never been inside a DQ before, so that was a first for me too. I’m still learning, even at my “advanced” age LOL.
Lisa W says
I cannot believe it has taken you this long to go in a Dairy Queen. On Friday nights in high school silk the cool kids in my little town hung at the local Dairy Queen, alas I was never one of them.
I know right??! Paul said he used to go every week in College. Blizzard every time.
Shirlene (Huntington Beach, Ca) says
Hi Nina, you have been living my dash! I have been following you for about 4 years now, I do not comment very often, only when it really strikes my heart. Well this month, I bought myself a Class A motorhome and hope to find you guys out there somewhere, but the main reason for my commenting is…don’t hate me okay…..I live in Huntington Beach, about a mile from PCH…I like you have a soft spot for convertible cars..Well I have a Baby Blue Thunderbird convertible, and boy can I relate to driving down the coast with the top down every chance I get, usually every weekend…I am going to have to sell it as I cannot tow it behind my RV, it will be sadly missed…sigh. But you are a kindred spirit…See you on the road sometime I hope. Hi to Paul and scratches to the pets!
Oh DROOOOOOoooooooooooool. That car is AWEsome!! I do know a few RV folks who tow a trailer for their classic car, but I admit it’s quite an effort. Man, that’s going to be tough to sell.
Really enjoyed your nostalgic tour of this section of Route 66.
Can’t wait to see your posts about the Grand Canyon.. We love it there!
Got married on it’s North Rim, rafted down it’s glorious River, hiked it’s south rim.. Can’t get enough of its grandeur!
What wonderful memories! I hope my post can do it justice. It’s such an unreal and hard to capture place.
I drove my 20′ Rialta RV from Mercer Island WA to SoCal in August using my preferred blue roads which gave me the opportunity to enjoy parts of Route 66 in northern Arizona – loved seeing the white painted “66”s run under my wheels!! Brought back those 1950s dreams and memories……. I still have a 1955 Met convertible; it should be driven by a blonde on Route 66 and the PCH – you wanna buy it??? It’d be an awesome tow car behind the Beast — you could even paint it a baby blue!!! 🙂
Oh that would be TEMPTING. Does it flat-tow?
Sure does! Cute as a bug n Funnnnnnnn to drive!
What a blast from the past. Had a ’64 Mustang convertible that drove on a least a little of Old 66 west of Chicago. Williams is quaint. Bought a tire at the place that inspired “Luigis” in the animated movie “Cars.” Hope you’re having fun on the South Rim. I miss the canyon already.
The original “64 1/2” Mustang Wow!! That’s a dead classic and exactly the car I dreamed of. What a trip that must have been!
By the way I have a whole new appreciation for your Grand Canyon shots. Photographing this place is hard!
Lisa W says
I’ve down through the main road on my way to the canyon a number of times, now up have to go, stay, and explore. One more thing for my list, which is full of places you have been.
Awwww, very cool. I always wanted a convertible but went for the motorcycle instead. Williams is a great place
I haven’t been there for years, looks the same though.
I was always waaaay too chicken to own a motorcycle, altho’ I always liked them. Paul had one when I first met him which I admit did add to his appeal. Road-tripping on a motorcycle is pretty special.
Nina…The late 50’s and early 60’s were a wonderful time for me! Great memories of those days! That is something that you had your very first visit to a Dairy Queen. If you travel the state of Texas, there is a Dairy Queen everywhere, even in small towns of 600 people. In fact, Dairy Queen is referred to as the Texas Stop Sign! Safe travels for you!
All the best,
Paul was pretty surprised when I told him I’d never been to a DQ too! It was kind of fitting that my first time was in Williams on Old Route 66. I like that.
Jerry Ericsson says
Wow your writing is wonderful. Speaking of red Ford Convertibles, the car that I had when I married my good wife Judy, back in 1969 was a 1968 Mercury Monterey bright red with a white convertable top. Man that old car could go! We took her down to the Black Hills on our honey moon and toured the hills with the top down. Sunburn city but it was so worth it. Sadly I pushed her a bit to hard on the way home and screwed up the engine some how, she had no power so I took her to an auction. The day of the auction, I was ill and couldn’t make it to the sale, my dad took her up and stood by as it sold for $25.00. I had taken her$50.00 for the tires. Bet that would never happen today. My last convertable but it was wonderful. Much bigger then the Mustang but oh so nice a car, all leather power front seat, 3 speaker HiFi radio 3 on the tree with power brakes and steering, power windows and the works. Sure wish I still had her. At the same time my sister had a ’60 Ford Galaxy convertible. Ah those were the good old days.
Jerry Ericsson says
that got messed up, dang computers – I had taken her up and had the new tires replaced with skins and forgot to remove the new tires from the trunk, they went with the car but the buyer was nice when he saw what was in the trunk and gave an extra 50 bucks for the tires.
Toni Kaus says
Hang in there. The weather should be better tomorrow, and really nice by Friday. Will you be heading down through Prescott? If/when you get here, we would love to treat you to a pint (or two) at our local microbrewery.
Kim & Don Greene says
Ditto that, we’d love to see you along with Toni & Mary in Prescott too!
Yup, we’re headed to Prescott. Let’s make a meet at the brewery! I’ll send you both an e-mail right before we get there.
Small world! You know Toni Kaus, the best public library director ever!
Glad you’re coming to Prescott! It has several microbreweries, now.
Toni Kaus says
That’s great. Although Granite Mountain Brewing is our hangout, Black Hole has the dog-friendly patio.
Hi Toni! We have yet to visit Black Hole (been busy), and am thrilled to hear they’re paw friendly! Our neighbors say they also book great musicians. I briefly met you once, either at a Dogtoberfest, or other event on the Plaza. You were involved with an agility event. Our furry family member adopted us from YHS. 🙂
OK, I’ve hijacked this thread enough. Enjoy your visit, Nina and Paul.
Linda Sand says
We drove Historic Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica in 2008. We learned that much of it follows Business 66 though towns and along the I-40 frontage roads between towns but we did have to get even further off the beaten track to drive some of it. We sure enjoyed the museums and diners along the way. Unfortunately our blog starts with Day 7 of our trip because the first 6 days were on a blog the Internet ate.
What a great trip! One I’d definitely love to do one day.
How long ago did you reserve a spot at Kaibab Lake National Forest? It seems to me that the sites at most NF are so hard to come by anytime of the year.
We didn’t reserve there. We just walked in and got a site, but it was right at the end of their season (the campground was shutting down that same week-end) and all sites had switched to first-come-first-serve. So, it wasn’t a problem. In peak season however, which is listed May 6 – Sept 25, the campground is open to reservations and probably fills up very fast.
Gah, you’re killing us with your Williams and Route 66 trek! How we’d love to drive our ’67 Chevy Nova SS out there, but fear that might be a bit of a stretch for it, these days. Instead, we drove our 2007 Mustang fastback, modified to replicate Krash’s dream ’66 white with blue racing stripes fastback, on one of our two Route 66 treks about six years ago.
We can’t wait to get back out there! Through all of our travels, we still can’t get enough of Route 66. Thanks for ‘fueling’ our dream with your descriptive visuals!
A ’67 Chevy Nova….sweeeet ride! The 2007 Mustang is nice too, of course, but I have to admit the other one plucks at my heart strings just a bit more. And those racing stripes…exactly what I want to do on “the beast”. Baby Blue with racing stripes. I think she would look amazing.
Ed@Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets says
Mustangs. They have been in and out of my life since 1967. In 1967, I was just about to turn 20. I had been in the Marine Corps for 3 years of a 4 year enlistment. I was eligible for early reenlistment, and because my military occupation was viewed as “critical”, I was offered a $7000 cash bonus if I did. Can you imagine a 20 year old with $7000 back then?
I immediately went to the local Ford dealer, down near “the beach” in Orange County. But I did not just buy ANY Mustang. I bought a NEW 1966 Shelby GT350 right off the floor. True story. Sadly, three years later, it was totaled in New Jersey after driving it there from California to my next duty station.
Since then, I’ve had two other fastbacks and a convertible. Even now, we have a coupe sitting out in the garage. All 1966s. I also had a 1969 Mach I, fully restored in showroom condition. Sold it to start our business. Sadly, we will be selling the Coupe shortly to pursue our Great Escape. Ya, you could say I’m a Mustang fan.
As for Williams, we have been there many times. As recently as a month ago. And although we feel it is SO beautiful there and throughout the area, we have never felt the warmth that you have described. Maybe we’ll give it another try.
Oh those ’66 Mustangs are amazing. You’ve definitely had quite the history with them. Love it!
Bob Nuttmann says
Nina – The made in USA Fiesta Ware comes in mid 50’s baby blue. I bought a couple of place setting at Costco a few years back and every time I eat off one of the plates the image of a 57 Chevy comes into my mind.
Hmmm….may have to add that to the pantry. Maybe right after we re-paint “the beast” the same color.
As a NAZ local, it was very fun reading your excitement for the Williams area. We love taking day trips there. For Native American jewelry, visit Turquoise Tepee.
Box Canyon Mark says
I want to go there… not “Williams,” but to the 50’s, with the Bev, Wally, Lumpy, June and Ward. No internet, no terrorists, just the big red machine trying to Communize the world.
Box Canyon Mark
Ed@Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets says
You ARE “there”. The Big Red Machine is southern Utah. Nothing’s changed there since the 50’s, thank god. And just like the 50’s, you often have no internet there. Certainly no terrorists, except for those pesky school kids clogging the trails. And, there HAVE been reported sightings of Leave It to Beaver Geezers out there. Oh wait, that was you… and “The Gang”. 🙂
Wishing we were with you…there and the 50’s.
I could immerse myself back in the 50’s for a while too. Maybe not permanently (I’m way too much of a “modern woman” for that time-frame), but I’d love to visit. I think I’d look good in a pouffy skirt with high hair & a classic car. Yup, definitely stylin’
Wonderful memories, love that you shared them here. I never appreciated driving Dad’s ’56 Ford Pickup at the time, but wouldn’t I love to have it back now! Every time I see a restored one on the road I’m envious. Something about cars and trucks from that era…… Williams looks like it has really embraced it’s road history, we’ll definitely enjoy a stop there. With a DQ in every town along the Oregon and Washington coast you’ve had really good will power to wait so long for a Blizzard 🙂
Outside of Mustangs I’ve developed quite a “thing” for old pickups too. That ’56 Pickup would be a classic now, and not many of them on the road anymore. After my original Mustang “died” I actually bought a pick-up, although it was a modern one rather than a classic. Still I LOVED that truck!
As for the Blizzard it was good. Perhaps not as “mind-blowing” as I expected given how much Paul had hyped it up, but it was certainly tasty.
Vernon Britton says
One of your all time best posts. I am really ready to visit Williams now. We went through there many years ago and don’t remember it being so retro. Oops! It was 1970-71 so I guess it wasn’t retro then. It was “real time”.
True…not so much retro back then, but I wonder how much it’s really changed? Did Williams “amp up” the 50’s/60’s stuff over the last 20 years? Interesting thought.
Vivian van Dijk says
Many years ago when first I visited the Grand Canyon, I was so thrilled to be able to take pictures of the Canyon. I spent many cans of films on my pursuit, all in hopes of seeing all this again that coming winter. Well to make a long story short, I learned a very good lesson. No film (or chip now) could do the colors justice. The scale was too grand, and the colors too subtle but so vivid to the eye. I was supremely disappointed in my efforts. I’ve been back since, but the memory of the Grand Canyon is now carried with me in my brain, to recall at will. I’m looking forward to seeing your shots, which will of course be better than mine, but I’ll bet you’ll be saying they don’t do justice to what you’ve seen. Which is really nice, in a way.
You’ve pretty much described the opening paragraph of my first Grand Canyon post! Yup, everything you said is exactly right. The place is amazing, you take a ton of pics and NONE of them do justice.
Thanks for the tip on where to dine in Williams!! We will be arriving in the area tomorrow with plans to visit the Grand Canyon beginning on Sunday. So excited, I haven’t been there since I was 19 when I was in good enough shape to hike the Canyon down and back up in one day. These days, well, knees and feet would not take that abuse, but so looking forward to seeing it again and for hubby to see it for the first time.
How long are you staying in Trailer Village?
We’re leaving on Sunday so we’ll be going as your coming in. ENJOY the area (and Williams). You should get some great weather while you’re here.
Well, as plans are made in jello, ours changed again. Breakdown on I-40, ended up towed to Fort Mohave AZ and are waiting on parts (2-3 weeks). Bummer, looks like we’re going to miss out on a Grand Canyon visit this fall, by the time the parts are here and the repair is complete we’ll be needing to head to Phoenix to catch our flight out for Thanksgiving. We’re pretty bummed right now.
Do let us know if you pass through the area as you venture out from the Grand Canyon area.
Great post, Nina! Made me nostalgic also. My first “new” car was a ’67 Mustang. I put new in ” ” because it was first bought by my best friend’s brother in December ’66 and he got his draft notice in January so, rather than take his chances as a draftee, he immediately enlisted. His dad ate the down-payment and sold it to me. I just took over the payments.
That was probably the best summer of my life. But, I enlisted in the Army on Halloween Day the same year. It was short, but sweet. I think that it made it all the more memorable. My next muscle-car was a 1982 Camaro. My son is still driving that car!
BTW, I was in high school in the Oklahoma Panhandle which is close to Amarillo which is on Route 66. 😉
We have always loved Williams and visited often when we lived in AZ, sometimes on the Harleys. Loved this post as I learned a bit more about the lovely Dane. 🙂
Thought you’d appreciate this Route 66 TV series connection to Astoria.