Sunday, June 14, 2009

Relaxing at the Arizona Biltmore

Friday, June 12 - It's hard to believe it's the last full day of the trip. After sleeping in and going for a run, we toured the grounds of the Biltmore a bit. To explain how much I was loving being here, I gave Sandy some perspective: This is my Disney World. For those who don't know, Sandy loves the happiest place on earth, and just signed up for the Disney marathon for the 3rd year in a row.

The history and architecture here is so interesting. The hotel opened in 1929, and has been a hot spot from the beginning. Every president since Herbert Hoover has come here, Irving Berlin wrote "White Christmas" here, and Marilyn Monroe called the pool here her favorite pool. I also wanted to see if we could take a look at the inside of one of the original cottages behind the main building, so the front desk gave us a key to take a look at one. One of the documents we read said the Frank Lloyd Wright "almost certainly" designed the cottages. The architecture of the lobby definitely reflects FLW's influence, and the gold leaf ceiling is second in size only to the Taj Mahal. FLW also designed the illuminated stained glass panel just inside the front entrance.

Speaking of celebrities and pools, this place isn't all about just history and architecture. It is a pretty awesome resort and spa also. It has 8 pools with a pretty cool water slide. We spent several hours in the afteroon hanging at the pool, and I walked around to get a good picture of the slide, which is housed in a very interesting structure with four spires. As I walked around the pool, I saw someone who looked familar. It took me a second to place him, but I realized that it might be Mark Consuelos. As I walked to the other side of the pool, sure enough, I heard and saw Kelly Ripa talking to one of her kids. I never would have recognized her otherwise, because she had a big hat and big sunglasses on. Mark is actually in the picture of the water slide sitting on the edge of the pool in the middle of the picture, even though I didn't even realize it was him until after I took the picture.

We had our last dinner at True Food Kitchen. The restaurant was developed in partnership with Dr. Andrew Weil, so all of the food is both delicious and healthy. We found out about it because the husband of the cousin of our friend Jim (did you get that?) is the executive chef there. Unfortunately he had already left before we arrived. Sandy had a drink called the Medicine Man with lots of antioxidants. It was made with Olivello juice (which you can only get here), pomegranate and cranberry juice, black tea, soda water and muddled blueberries. She decided to counter all of those antioxidants with a shot of vodka in it.

All in all, this was a fantastic trip. We felt that we learned from last year, and tried to do a little less driving and spend more time at each place. We spent 2 nights in 3 places this year, whereas we only spent 2 nights in one place last year. We ended up logging a little more than 2000 miles on the car. Even at this slower pace, there was not enough time to see everything! The Southwest is amazing country, and we highly recommend a visit here.

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Arriving at the Biltmore

Thursday, June 11 - All we could say was, "This is a big upgrade from the Wigwam." The Arizona Biltmore is amazing. It was designed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright's students, who also had grown up in a house designed by him, and FLW was also a consulting architect on the project.

Once we got checked in, the restaurant was closed, but fortunately you can get room service delivered anywhere on the property. So, we found a seat on the patio in the back around one of the fire pit and ordered dinner. (No, those are not flames coming out of our drinks.) Sandy got a drink called "Wright Passion", and I got the Biltmore Original Tequila Sunrise. The drink was invented here. So great to be back in civilization.

Returning to Phoenix

Thursday, June 11 - It was hard to believe that the trip was coming full circle with our return to Phoenix. The landscape was pretty dramatic as we descended in altitude from Flagstaff to Phoenix. There were several miles of curvy 6% grades, which always makes Sandy's palms sweaty, even when she's not driving, as was the case here. Especially when there are big semis on the road. Unfortunately, we also passed what looked like an accident that had just happened. Cops were there, but no other emergency vehicles yet. The car was completely flipped over along the side of the road. Must have lost control on the curves.

It was also interesting to see that once we got down to 3000 ft, the vegetation changed, and we began to see the big, tall cacti.

Don't Forget Winona

Thursday, June 11 - As the Route 66 song says, we didn't want to forget it.

Trivia fact: Winona is the only town named in the song that is out of sequence. It was set to rhyme with "Flagstaff, Arizona."

Very big hole in the ground

Thursday, June 11 - In between Winslow and Flagstaff is probably the cheesiest tourist trap we hit: The Meteor Crater. However, we knew that we couldn't drive by and not stop. It is privately owned - it is not a national park or national monument - although all of the employees wear uniforms strikingly similar to parks employees. They also have a pseudo-NASA looking pin on their collars that says "Meteor Crater" in a lighting bolt shape. Sandy cozied up to the nice man at the entrance to get a picture with him and his uniform. The New York Times even published an article about it back in January entitled "Otherworldly Arizona." If it was good enough for the Times, it was certainly good enough for us.

The crater itself is actually quite impressive. It is 60 stories deep and almost a mile across. We didn't linger very long, but it definitely was a worthwhile stop. There were also some pretty amazing views looking out from the top of the crater rim.

They even had a Subway (our default place for lunch when there were no other options) in the gift shop, so we got lunch on the run. We were literally almost "on the run," because I accidentally walked out without paying... Pretty embarrassing when the Subway employee at the Meteor Crater comes running out of the gift shop saying, "Sir! You didn't pay!"

Friday, June 12, 2009

Standing on a Corner in Winslow, Arizona

Thursday, June 11 - It's true -- the only reason to stop in Winslow, Arizona is to pay homage to the classic Eagles song "Take it Easy"... and to check your tire pressure. Our low tire pressure warning light went on in Holbrook, so we needed to make a stop at a full service station, which can be a bit difficult to find in the land of self-service stations with mini-marts. However, we picked the right stop with Winslow, because there was a towing/service station right off the exit.

One guy was working there, so I went in to ask him for a tire pressure gauge. When I walked in, I couldn't believe what I heard -- the theme song for the Showtime show, Dexter. I asked him if he knew what the music was, and he said, "I'm watching Dexter on Netflix." What were the odds? I told him that I work for Showtime, and told me how he's watched all of Dexter online, including several other Showtime shows. Looks like we've got a friend in Winslow!
The building in the "standing on the corner" picture above isn't a building at all -- it's just a wall of an old building that is no longer there. However, they've done a good job reenacting the lyrics to the song, with a "reflection" of a "girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowin down to take a look at me." There's even an eagle in the top left window.

Waking up in a Wigwam

Thursday, June 11 - Sleeping in a wigwam was like sleeping in a bomb shelter. That thing is solid concrete. The very busy Santa Fe Railroad runs right behind the wigams (see photo at right), with several trains an hour even at night, and once we were asleep, we didn't hear a thing. Daylight allowed us to get the full effect of all the wigwams, and the rusty old vintage cars they have parked in the lot to give the place some more ambiance.

Also wanted to give you a feel for the interior. Classic 1970s carpet (obviously an upgrade from the original...), nice rustic homemade bedspreads (with matching curtains), and, most interestingly, the original bentwood furniture from the 50s. While we don't have a picture of the bathroom, the walls were slanted, and the shower was an ideal height for anyone 4'11" and shorter.

All in all, it was a great once-in-a-lifetime experience. We'd even do it again. But you wouldn't want to stay there two nights in a row...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It's Showtime Sleeping in a Wigwam

Wednesday, June 10 - We arrived at the Route 66 classic, the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, AZ, shortly after dark. Because I thought we might get there a little late, I called earlier in the evening to let her know that we were on our way. Since the motel office closes at 9pm, she said that if we arrived after that, we would be in Teepee #6, and she'll leave the key under the mat. How great is that? Fortunately, we got there a little after 8, so we properly checked in.

After we checked in at the Wigwam, we stopped in a diner called Joe and Aggie's Cafe, which we'd read about in the Road Food guidebook. We sat down in a booth, I looked up, and across the room by the cash register was a "Showtime Free Weekend" sign on the wall. I about fell out of the booth. I asked the owner about it, and he said that many years ago Showtime shot some stuff here to promote one of our free preview weekends!

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Petrified Forest

Wednesday, June 10 - Just a few miles after re-entering Arizona, we made a quick visit to our 7th national park of the trip: Petrified Forest National Park. We got there only a half hour before closing, so we had just enough time to drive the scenic road through the park which takes you through the Painted Desert, past some rock formations called the Teepees, and though the desert strewn with big pieces of logs that have been turned into stone, which date back 225 million years. While our visit was brief, the evening light as the sun was setting cast some really great light on the rocks.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Route 66

Wednesday, June 10 - After leaving Santa Fe today, our route on the interstate traced the path of the old Route 66. So, we had some fun tracking down some of the kitsch along the way.

The first stop was The Frontier Restaurant in Albuquerque, across the street from the University of New Mexico. At the top of their menu they claim that they are the "Home of the Latest in Broiled Food and The Frontier Sweetroll." We sampled a couple of their popular items, the Frontier Burrito and the Fiesta Burger. We also felt *obligated* to also give the Fronter Sweetroll a try. Sandy asked the college kid taking our order if it was better to get the sweetroll with or without the topping, since you can get it both ways. He said definitely with the topping. Sandy inquired, "What is in it?" His reply, "Butter and cocaine." Well, then. Sounds like we need a Frontier Sweetroll.

Back on the road, we come up behind a man and his wife riding motorcycles, with Route 66 flags flying on the back of their bikes. The only thing that would have made this picture better was if you could see the Route 66 sign on his flag. Gotta love the open road, huh?

Next, we crossed the Continental Divide, elevation 7295 ft. Gotta love American ingenuity - taking a geological feature and making it into a tourist trap.

Gallup, NM was next up. It's main claim to fame in pop culture is that it is mentioned in the lyrics of "Get your kicks on Route 66." However, every guidebook we read mentioned that you have to see or eat at the El Rancho Hotel and Motel, which was a favorite of movie stars in its heyday, with black and white glossy photos of stars like Ronald Reagan, Spencer Tracey and Jack Benny. Several of the sandwiches in the restaurant are named after stars, including the Mae West, which is described as "stacked beef or ham." The Hotel, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, proudly displays the motto, "The Charm of Yesterday, The Convenience of Tomorrow."

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