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.