Route 66 - Seligman & The Roadkill Cafe

I-40 between Williams and Seligman, AZ.
West of Williams, the land rather quickly goes from forested hills to flat and open with a low mountain range in the distance. Just past I-40's exit 139 begins 160 miles of Route 66, the longest single length of Route 66 still in use today. About 38 miles past Williams is Seligman, the town on which "Radiator Springs" from the movie Cars was based and probably the most fun and interesting community we came across during our whole Mother Road trip.

Town sign as you come into Seligman
Perhaps no other town on the route harks back to the glory days of Route 66, America's Main Street, more than Seligman. When the road came through in the late 1920's, tourist traffic, along with the railroad station in town, became the main source of income. On September 22, 1978 though, I-40 opened, bypassing Seligman and the town's roads became almost deserted over-night. In 1985, the railroad closed the station and the little community was on the verge of becoming a memory and just another ghost killed by the interstate.

I was sorry we had eaten lunch in Williams just before we
arrived here. We just had a coke this time.
Today though, Seligman is still alive and doing well on tourist business.  Coming into town is the famous Roadkill Cafe. Having already eaten lunch in Williams an hour earlier, Youngest-daughter and I didn't get to partake of what is consistently rated as really good steaks and hamburgers. Even though we were not hungry, the food sure smelled good. There are so many good places to eat along the route that you just can't eat at all of them in one trip! This place is definitely on our list for next time though. Who could resist a menu which lists Splatter Platter, Swirl of Squirrel, Big Bagged Stag, and Highway Hash?  Where the waitress may tempt you with, "It was real dark last night and all the animals are in heat and  crossing the road so we have a full menu today. Would you like something to drink while you wait for the Chef's Surprise?" Um, no thank you, not this time. Could we just get a coke? We'll catch it next time.

The Aztec Motel
If you need a good place to spend the night at a reasonable price, the Aztec Motel in the middle of town is strongly recommended. In addition to the friendly staff and comfortable rooms, the location can't be beat for spending the day walking around all of the shops and stores.

So after the interstate bypassed it and the railroad stopped stopping in town, how did this place manage to survive? The difference in Seligman and other towns who are now nothing more than ruins and memories is that Seligman had the Delgadillo brothers, Angel and Juan. Just down the road from the Roadkill Cafe is the internationally famous Snow Cap Drive-in, built by Juan in 1953, and the equally famous Angel & Vilma's Original Route 66 Gift Shop. Their stories are very interesting and worthy of a full blog entry all by themselves so that will be covered next week..

One of the murals excellently painted on the walls of
the Aztec Motel.

A mural depicting "Easy Rider" painted on the Aztec Motel

Route 66 through Seligman, AZ.

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state:

Route 66 - Red Garter and Twisters

After leaving Bellemont and the Pine Breeze Inn, we continued west on the I-40 frontage road for about 1 mile. This is actually the 1941 - 1963 alignment of Route 66. The original 1926 - 1941 alignment is a little further south. We were going to take the 1926 alignment for a few miles, but it is now just a dirt road in places and there were dark rain clouds on the horizon so when we got to the intersection with I-40 and had to decide on which of the alignments we would take, we decided to jump on the freeway. I-40 is actually the 1963 - 1979 Route 66 alignment so we were still technically driving the Mother Road.

The next time I drive this section, I hope to take the 1926 - 1941 alignment and take the Forest Service marked auto tour through Branning Park. Interestingly, mostly because of all the different alignments of Route 66 over the years, there are different opinions about the location of the highest point along the route. Some claim it is Forty-Nine Hill (which you can see on your left as you go through Branning Park) with an elevation of 7,415 feet. Others claim it is Glorieta Pass near Santa Fe (7,432') or the continental divide near Thoreau (7,263').  What is not in dispute however is that Forty-Nine Hill is the highest point on any of the Route 66 alignments in Arizona.

Driving west on I-40 for about 20 miles brought us to the exit for the beautiful town of Williams. If I had to live in Arizona, I would want to live in Williams. The whole town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It's almost like being magically transported back to the 1950's. Called "The Gateway To The Grand Canyon," this town of 3,000 people is located in the heart of the Kaibab National Forest at an elevation of 6,770 feet. Williams has the distinction of being the very last town on Route 66 to be bypassed by I-40. It wasn't until October 13, 1984 that I-40 opened a few miles from town, but an exit on the freeway, the beauty of the community, plenty of varied outdoor recreation opportunities, and a nice tourism industry have kept the town alive and thriving.
The Red Garter Bed and Bakery
Coming into town on Bill Williams Avenue (Route 66), we stopped at the Red Garter Bed & Bakery. A former saloon and bordello built in 1897,  this 2-story Victorian building is right across the street from the Grand Canyon Railway train which takes visitors to and from the Grand Canyon every day. After a nice cup of coffee and a cinnamon bun, it was fun to browse the t-shirts and books for sale. One colorful t-shirt in particular caught my eye ("Best little Whorehouse on Route 66 - The Red Garter, but unable to think of a single place I could wear it, I didn't buy it. The books were interesting - "Bad Girls of the American West," "The Bedside Book of Bad Girls," "Soiled Doves," and "High Spirited Ladies" were just some of the titles. OK, yes, I did glance through them, but I didn't buy any books either.  I did, however, manage to find out some interesting history.

Red Garter t-shirt - "Best Little Whorehouse
on Route 66"

Built in 1897, the building had a saloon on the first floor and 8 cribs (bedrooms) upstairs - one for the madam and 7 for the "working girls." There was also a small parlor for the girls to wait for a client on a slow night or for gentlemen clients who might have to wait their turn on a busy night. Catering to cowboys, miners, lumbermen and railroad workers, the girls, when not engaged in entertaining a customer, would hang out of the 2nd floor windows, giving the passing men below a little glimpse of what they had to offer and enticing them to come inside for a drink or two and then to spend a few minutes upstairs.

Arizona outlawed prostitution in 1907, but enforcement of that law was not vigorous. As a matter of fact, the saloon and bordello continued to do a booming business until the mid-1940's. Fighting in WWII took away most of the Red Garter's customers and then, some poor guy was murdered on the stairs in the building. The murder led to a crackdown on saloons and prostitution in Williams and with the lack of available customers anyway, the Red Garter shut its doors.  A general store and a rooming house did business in the old building until it was purchased by John Holst in 1979. He leased it out to a variety of businesses until he decided to completely refurbish the building and open the Bed & Bakery himself in 1994. The 8 small rooms and parlor upstairs have been converted into 4 larger rooms, each with its own bathroom. With names like "Best Gal's Room," "Big Bertha's Room," and "Madam's Room,"  they are available for about $125 - $160 per night. Showing a wry sense of humor, the establishment proclaims, "Celebrating over 100 years of personal service."

Interesting and humorous t-shirts and books in the Red Garter
With this building's history, you will probably not be surprised to learn there is also a resident ghost that visitors have persistently reported. Footsteps in the hallway when nobody is there, doors slamming in rooms that nobody is in, and even indention's in the beds, like someone sitting on the edge of the mattress, that appear and then disappear have all been repeatedly reported to Mr. Holst. A few people have even claimed to see the ghost - an Hispanic girl with long dark hair wearing a white nightgown and holding something in front of her (nobody has been able to tell what she is holding). Her name is Eve or Eva and if you ask Mr. Holst, he'll show you a very old photograph taken inside the Red Garter. In the photo are members of the Mora family who owned the saloon for many years and a suspiciously smiling, mysterious dark-haired Hispanic girl in the background standing in front of a mirror. The only thing off is the girl's reflection - it does not show up in the mirror. I just may have added to my Bucket List. One of these days, I would really like to come back here, stay for a few days at the Red Garter and take the train to the Grand Canyon. Now I just have to decide when and which lady's room my wife and I will stay in!

Twisters 50's Diner
Just around the corner from the Red Garter was our next stop - Twisters 50's Soda Fountain. This is one of the closest things to a true 1950's diner that you'll find. From the Cherry or Vanilla or Chocolate flavored Cokes to old-fashioned ice cream soda's to charbroiled burgers, hot dogs and chili dogs, to the 50's music that continuously plays, the food and the atmosphere are definitely rooted in the past. Well, except for the steaks and beers and wine they serve at dinner. I don't recall any diner I remember from way back when serving microbrewery beer! This place has consistently been voted one of the top 25 restaurants in Arizona. Sounds like a great place for dinner after returning from a day exploring Grand Canyon. Adding details to that Bucket List item!

After cruising around Williams for a while, we headed on down the road. Next stop - the Road Kill Cafe and the famous and quirky little town of Seligman.

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state:

Route 66 - Bellemont & Easy Rider

West about 10 miles or so from Flagstaff and the haunted Hotel Monte Vista, we came to the unincorporated community of Bellemont. This  place got it's beginning as a railroad stop in 1882 because natural springs in the area provided water for the steam engines. After a while, it became a lumber center with a sawmill  and by 1887 it was large enough to have a post office. When Route 66 came through, the small town got a welcome boost due to the services needed by the travelers. After WWII began, the army built the Navajo Army Depot  near the town to store ammunition and bombs and then ship them out as needed. Even so, the town never grew beyond a couple of stores and two gas stations.

The old Whiting Bros gas station and Pine Breeze Inn
on Route 66 in Bellemont.
One of those business' was a Whiting Bros gas station and motel, the Pine Breeze Inn. It did a decent amount of business, but eventually, I-40 bypassed Bellemont, most of the few business concerns in town closed and the little community became a near ghost. In 1968 though, a scene in the classic movie "Easy Rider" was shot at the old Pine Breeze Inn and the community's future changed.

Publicity photo from Easy Rider

In the scene, Wyatt (Peter Fonda's "Captain America" character) and Billy (played by Dennis Hopper) have ridden their motorcycles from Ballarat, California into the night almost to Flagstaff. They stop at the Pine Breeze Inn to get a room, but the proprietor, upon seeing their appearance and motorcycles, shuts the door on them and turns on the neon "NO VACANCY" sign. They are forced to get back on their cycles and head on down the road a bit to camp at some old ruined shacks. Hippies and outlaw bikers were definitely not welcomed in Bellemont!

Today, in a rather ironic twist, the town is still alive, mostly because it has become known as a biker friendly town with motorcycle riders on road trips comprising the majority of travelers who have not forgotten this lonely stretch of Route 66. Bellemont is now home to Grand Canyon Harley Davidson and the interesting Route 66 Roadhouse Bar and Grill which brings your food to you raw and you cook it yourself on an indoor grill. If you visit, stop in at the Roadhouse at least for a cold beverage and see the refurbished "NO VACANCY" sign from the movie which is hanging from the ceiling.

No bungalows for hippies or outlaw bikers at the
Pine Breeze Inn!
When we pulled up to the Pine Breeze Inn, Youngest-daughter, being just 13, had no idea of the history of this place or of the cultural significance of the Easy Rider movie or of the almost impact it had on me. I saw the movie when it first came out in the summer of 1969 and I immediately began dreaming and planning to buy a motorcycle and hitting the open road. The seed had already been planted in my brain years earlier from watching the classic TV series "Route 66" and what is now a little-remembered TV show titled "Then Came Bronson," a show much like "Route 66" except the main character was a guy traveling the back roads on a motorcycle. A short time later, after I had managed to save most of the funds needed for my chosen bike, I went to the dealership to try and talk the salesman down on price and to look again at my dream machine. I was almost ready to pay and ride it out, but for some reason I still can't explain, I backed out at the last moment.

I never did buy that motorcycle or chuck it all to cruise the roads of America. Who knows how my life would have been different. I've owned a couple of bikes in my life, but not now and I was never more than a weekend rider. I'm really glad things worked out the way they did because I'm very happy and satisfied with my life now - 3 fantastic children, a really great wife and some very close and dear friends. Still, there's that tiny little devil's voice that every now and then, when it's dark and I'm all alone, buzzes in my left ear, "You should have." Some dreams die hard.

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state:


Route 66 - Haunted Hotel Monte Vista

We stopped by the Hotel Monte Vista in downtown Flagstaff pretty early one morning so we didn't see any ghosts ourselves - everyone knows they only come out at night. Right? OK, so I've never actually seen a ghost, but it was still pretty cool walking around what is supposed to be one of the most haunted buildings in America.

The Hotel Monte Vista
Built in 1926 and opened for business on January 1, 1927 as the Community Hotel, it was the tallest building in Flagstaff for a number of years. Shortly after it opened, a contest was held to rename it since nobody liked the plain "Community Hotel" moniker. The contest was won by a 12-year-old girl with her suggestion of Monte Vista.

During the 1940's & '50's, over 100 major movies were filmed in and around Flagstaff. Since the Monte Vista was the best hotel around, many movie stars made it their home while working on location. Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Esther Williams, Barbara Stanwyk, Gary Cooper, Alan Ladd, Debbie Reynolds, Carol Lombard, Jayne Russel, John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Walter Brennan, Humphrey Bogart, Anthony Hopkins and many more stars have all stayed in the hotel's rooms. You can request to stay in the same room as one of these when you make your reservation. If your inclination is more musically inclined, you can request the same room stayed in by members of Air Supply, Jon Bon Jovi, or Freddy Mercury and Queen. I'm not so sure I would want to stay in the Robert Englund room though. He's the actor who played Freddy Kruger in Nightmare on Elm Street. He must have a sense of humor - on the door to his room (310) is a photo of him in full Freddy Kruger mode and he autographed it with his signature and the words, "Where the hell is room service?!!" I don't believe I would be delivering a cheeseburger to Freddy Kruger either!

For years now, the Monte Vista has become a legend for being haunted. Paranormal investigators and several TV shows like "Unexplained Mysteries" have all confirmed what many, many guests have reported - there's a lot of weird, unexplained stuff going on in this hotel!

For the best chance of a ghostly encounter, if you do not have a dog traveling with you, stay in room 305 (the Jon Bon Jovi Room). The hotel will not rent this room to anyone with a dog as they go crazy, barking and tearing the room up in their fear while trying to run away from something. In the late 1940's and early 1950's, an elderly woman lived in this room on a long-term basis. She would sit in a rocking chair for hours at a time, day after day, looking out of the window. Perhaps she was looking and waiting for a husband gone to war and never returned, nobody knows for sure. One day the cleaning lady found she had passed away, her cold body still sitting upright in the rocking chair, her eyes open staring out of the window. Since then, many guests have reported being startled by walking into their locked room and finding an old lady sitting in the room's rocking chair, slowly rocking back and forth. But when they speak to the lady, right before their eyes, she simply "goes away." Other guests have reported hearing a noise in the middle of the night which woke them. Looking around, they find the rocking chair moving back and forth all by itself. Hotel cleaning staff have stated that if they move the rocker to another part of the room, when they return the next day, the rocker will be right back by the window even if the room has been vacant. They also have said that while going about cleaning room 305, they have seen the rocker begin moving so often that they don't pay it any mind. When finished with their chore, they simply leave, locking the door behind them with the rocker still moving slowly back and forth as the old lady's vigil evidently continues.

Another persistent reporting is of a young boy wandering around the halls. Most of the time, guests report hearing the whispering voice of a little boy behind them. When they turn back to look, sometimes there is nothing there and sometimes they briefly see the transparent figure of a little boy which seems to evaporate.  Occasionally, the figure will reach out to take the guest's hand. A cold little hand on their fingers is briefly felt and then nothing. Everyone has said it was like the little boy is talking to his mother and reaching out to hold their hand as they walk the hallway. There is no record of a young boy dying in the hotel so nobody is sure where this ghost came from or what he is doing eternally roaming the halls with his unseen mother.

If you have the courage, you might want to stay in room 220. An odd little man lived in this room as a long-term border. He had the strange habit of hanging raw meat from the chandelier. In the early 1980's, he was found in his room dead. The coroner's report said he had passed away 3 days earlier. Guests have reported the TV to come on by itself with the volume on high and sheets on the bed to be rumpled even though nobody had been in the room since the bed was made in the morning. Perhaps more disturbing are the reports of guests waking up in the night hearing someone pacing back and forth in the room at the foot of their bed, a man coughing, and then smelling raw meat.

Even John Wayne encountered a ghostly apparition during one of his stays. He and a number of other guests have reported hearing a knock at their door and a soft voice announcing, "Room Service." Upon opening the door, nobody is there. Guests in room 210 however, have reported this more than any other room and when they open the door, there is often a ghostly bellboy who slowly vanishes in front of them. Mr. Wayne reported he thought the ghost was friendly, he didn't feel threatened and it wasn't a particularly scary event.

The poor "Working Girls" were thrown from the
3rd floor window.
In the 1940's, Flagstaff's Red Light district was just 2 blocks from the Monte Vista. Sometimes, male guests of the hotel would bring back a "date" they had met in the district to their room for a visit. One night, 2 of these working girls were brought back to room 306 (the Gary Cooper room). It is unclear exactly how or why, but during their visit, they were both killed and thrown out of the window to the street below and the renter of the room disappeared. Since then, many male guests have reported a feeling of having a hand over their mouth and throat and waking up because they can't breathe. After awakening, they cannot get back to sleep due to a strong anxious feeling and sensing they are being closely watched.

For about as long as anyone working at the hotel can remember, there have been problems in some rooms with what they are convinced are ghosts unscrewing light bulbs. Most of the time the bulbs are merely loosened, but sometimes, a guest will check into their room and find one of the light bulbs completely unscrewed and lying on the floor. The housekeeping staff ensures all light bulbs are fully screwed in before a new guest arrives, but if you find a light not working in your room, just screw it back in.

In addition to ghostly couples dancing in the lounge and music coming from the lobby when no band is playing in the hotel, front desk staff reports the lobby phone will often ring, but when answered, the only sound is static and an eerie, other-worldly voice saying, "Hello? Hello?"

There are many more ghostly stories surrounding this place, but I think you get the idea. Sleeping with ghosts is not on my bucket list, but if it is on yours...

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state: