I left you in Flagstaff, AZ. With only a few hundred miles left to reach my final destination of Los Angeles and with several days remaining on my Harley Davidson rental contract, I decided to take a detour to the Grand Canyon, about a 150m round trip from Flagstaff. I had twice been to Las Vegas but on neither occasion had I visited, so I felt I needed to rectify this situation.
The road up to the Grand Canyon National Park through northern Arizona is an experience in itself: it cuts through fragrant pine forests and winds its way into the mountains where, a few months from now, snow will settle and adrenaline-seekers will hit the slopes.
As I headed further North I couldn’t help but notice the “check engine” light had started to come on at intervals. By the time I arrived at the national park, it was glaring permanently at me and a call to the rental support team was necessary. They had no idea as to what the matter might be but suggested I take it in to the branch in Flagstaff to get it checked over. To my great chagrin, in order to get the bike looked at before closing time I would only be able to spend about an hour at the Grand Canyon. That said, and despite the brevity of my visit, I’m immensely glad I made the journey.
I was greeted in Flagstaff by a cheery, German fellow who ran the shop there. He told me that running diagnostics on the engine might take some time so, if I wanted to save time, he had a classic Indian (it’s a make of motorcycle) that I could swap onto. Despite its lack of storage space relative to the Harley Davidson, the machine was an absolute beauty and I happily took him up on the offer.
Saddled up on a new steed, I left Flagstaff and rode towards the California border. There were two towns of note en route to said border. The first of these was Seligman, notable only for its weirdness. It was really just a gallery of slightly odd-looking shops and cafes that had flocked together like the proverbial birds of a feather.
The next town of note was Oatman, and it was to be far more impressive. After Seligman, Route 66 leaves the interstate far behind and cuts deep into the desert towards a mountainous ridge in the west that heralds the borders with both Nevada and California. Twisting and turning its way to the top of this ridge lay a driver’s/biker’s dream road: long sweeping corners, tight hairpins and phenomenal views over sheer drops.
Nestled in the lea of the mountain, just past the ridge, lay Oatman, a dusty, one-street town whose focal point was a quirky old hotel which, in days of former glory, had hosted Clark Gable and Carole Lombard on their honeymoon. I parked my bike and walked in to investigate. The bar was something special. The walls and ceiling were plastered in hundreds and hundreds of $1 bills, most of which had been signed by their donors. Fellow bikers in leather jackets sat on the barstools, illuminated by the neon of the Coors sign.
I shall skip quickly over the next 24 hours, as it contains no amusing anecdotes: found motel, went into Nevada a few miles down road, lost $100 on blackjack, played golf in morning, crossed into California, stayed at Barstow.
As I left Barstow, several miles outside the town my eye was caught by something corruscating in the morning sunshine. As I drew closer, my intrigue grew. There by the side of the road, were thousands of glass bottles, arranged on spikes welded to large metal poles, like leaves on metallic fir trees.
A sign at the open gate invited visitors to come in. I needed no second invitation. Upon closer inspection, the strange collection was not limited to bottles but included wheels, typewriters, cash registers, even an old bomb!!
The “exhibition” space was about 30 square yards, behind which lay a bungalow. In the knowledge that the creator of this labyrinth was probably at home, I hollered to announce myself. There was an answering call and out, to my great surprise, walked Gandalf the Grey!
Gandalf informed me that his real name was Elmer and that he had started this labour of love in 1952, using his father’s bottle collection. He had quickly exhausted that source and had gone around the county, finding more material for his sculptures. I told him, very sincerely, how impressed I was with his creations. Very sadly, whilst he had been away on a trip, a couple had broken in and stolen his tip box and some expensive tools but, rather than bemoan his loss, he had put up a hidden camera and caught them red-handed when they returned. Good guys 1 – Bad guys 0. Heartened by this story, I thanked him for his time and bid him farewell.
En route to my last night’s accommodation – another wigwam motel, this time in San Bernardino – I had the great fortune to pass Emma Jean’s Holland Burger Cafe in Victorville, a favourite haunt for truckers and and locals alike. It has strange opening hours, so do check before visiting but it is well worth a trip – the food, cholesterol-heavy or nay, is unforgettably good.
After the wigwam-that-is-really-a-teepee experience, I rolled into Los Angeles, glowing with a sense of achievement, and took my final photograph down at Santa Monica pier. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!