Sitting in our Monday morning driver’s meeting, listening to the Highway Patrol officer explained the day’s route to us, I thought I heard something that sounded like “sandbeach”. Figuring it was simply a combination of bad acoustics and my apparently not so great hearing, I assumed he was warning us away from a rogue sandwich vendor. A suggestion that didn’t seem like too difficult a prospect, especially in comparison to dealing with the weather we’d be encountering.
Weather which started as soon as we tried to leave the hotel. Pushing, because the wind was so strong, it was almost impossible to open the door. All around us, palm trees seemed on the verge of breaking instead of bending and for the first of many occasions that day, I thanked the Egg for being a coupe rather than convertible. Heading to the open road, cross winds were strong enough to make driving “interesting”, and within 10 minutes we found ourselves faced with a sandstorm. It seemed as if we’d stumbled into a Steinbeck novel, with limited visibility adding to the ominous look of this more rural environment.. Adding to the mood, my cousin started explaining what to do when lost in a sandstorm – an experience he’d had during the first Gulf War near enemy territory, after stepping out of, and subsequently being able to then re-find, an armored vehicle just as one of these things had kicked off.
Fortunately our route took a sharp left, at which point the sand was blowing with us, instead of across our path. The difference was instantaneous, opening up the view as we continued our route through the Mojave Valley. A small group of SUV’s had been in front of us, and turned in unison to join a car on the side of the road, sitting rather low to the ground. As we went past, I realized it was nose down into……sand, and the officer’s words drifted back to me. There was a verge, however we needed to avoid it like the plague as it was nothing more than deep, soft sand…like the beach.
Glad we’d worked that one out; it was time to focus on directions and our next hazard; tumbleweeds. These are not just a product of western films and depression era memories; they are alive and well, bouncing in the wind all through the more open parts of Arizona. Sizes range from football to VW Beetle, and there is no point trying to avoid them – sheer number and speed makes it impossible and you’ll end up in more trouble very quickly if you try. Running with the tumbleweeds eventually bought us to Oatman, an old mining town that relies on tourist traffic from Route 66 that runs through it, to keep what seems to be a rather tenuous life support system going. The main attraction of the place is free-roaming burros, that have been living for the past 70 years, since the last miners moved on. They are rather like sacred cows in India – you can’t move them, unless they want to be moved, and they have total free reign of the place.
It was strange to find ourselves on Route 66, once the primary road across the country and now suffering from neglect due to the arrival of interstate highways. The road was magnificent, but trying to imagine it as a viable route at night, with no lights and the endless curves and twists to contend with, was more than a little daunting.
After lunch, I had one of my magic Copperstate 2013 moments. Pulling out of the car park behind the GT40, they decided to head for petrol whilst we turned back to the afternoon route. Within 5 minutes the car appeared in my rearview mirror and for a couple of truly glorious miles, the combination of traffic and road conditions kept him there. Inevitably my luck would have to run out in this particular instance, and sure enough the beast roared past us as soon as an opening allowed. Happily we waved as the car disappeared into the distance, because even a few seconds in front is tale worth telling!
The rest of our day took us onwards to Sedona; and as the altitude increased, so did the weather. Our sandstorm had been replaced with glorious sunshine, only to then change again to rain and finally sleet & snow. Following a Cobra up through the mountains, we were grateful for the all weather tyres and weight of the rear engine. Although the Cobra was maintaining a reasonable speed, they couldn’t avoid an occasional slight fishtail, which looked more than a little intimidating from our vantage point.
Our route included another town called Jerome, which again owed its success to mining. In complete contrast to Oatman, this is a place that has continued to thrive and develop its identity despite the changes. Perched high on a mountainside, it resembles a European town in both architectural design of buildings as well as the road that takes one through it. Small, windy and steep, all it needed was three small Minis and Michael Caine to complete the experience….
From there, the route into Sedona was spectacular. Glorious curves, framed by the unmistakable red rocks. Although the light was a soft, wet grey it was impossible not to be mesmerized by these extraordinary formations. Geological time makes all other seem so inconsequential, and this area is a perfect example of the monumental changes that come with it. By the time we reached our final destination, the sleet had turned back to a lighter rain, and the shared stories of mountain climbs and descents became enjoyable memories over evening cocktails.
A great Copperstate day….and on to the next one!