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.
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