Exploring La Posada, More AZ Ruins & Wigwam Slumber

October 10, 2012 — Wednesday

La Posada and its Turquoise Room deserve all its accolades.  We started the day with a hearty Southwestern breakfast, scrambled eggs over polenta and huevos rancheros, both delish.  We struck up a conversation with an older couple at the next table just finishing breakfast who said their tummies were sublimely happy.  She wore a leg cast, the result of a stroke she said, but that wasn’t keeping them from vacation adventures.  When they left and wished us well on the rest of our 66 trip, we noticed that she walked with a pronounced limp and some facial droop, but he lent a strong shoulder and held her hand, even though he used a cane with his other hand.  I’m glad I’m doing this trip in my prime, and watching this couple re-affirmed for me that age and disability don’t have to stop my traveling the world.

We were ready to wander the glory of La Posada, considered the masterpiece of architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter.  If her name sounds familiar, it’s because she blazed a big trail in the early 1900’s–first as a woman in a field dominated by men at the time, and second, as one of the great Southwest architects.  Many know her for Hopi House, the gift shop at the Grand Canyon opposite El Tovar Lodge.  Her Hopi House work was admired by the El Tovar architect, and the famous Fred Harvey whose visionary string of hotels with restaurants at train stops brought travelers to the Southwest.

Harvey let Miss Colter loose with an unlimited budget for La Posada, and she ran with it, designing the hotel, furnishings, even the gardens, all inspired by Spanish/Southwestern haciendas with Mexican and native influences.  La Posada debuted in 1930 at the start of the Great Depression, declined steadily, closed in 1957, suffered gutting in 1961 for Santa Fe Railway offices, and hit the auction block in 1993.  Enter the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1994 which put the hotel on its endangered list, then Allan Affeldt and artist wife Tina Mion who purchased it in 1997 and lovingly restored it.

She’s a beauty, La Posada.  It’s like walking through a topnotch gallery, Southwestern museum and hotel rolled into one.  Everywhere you look there is something beautiful and singular…stained glass, native pots and baskets, massive paintings, murals, tile creations, copper, leather, to-lust-for rugs, crazy fun sculptures…a tasteful explosion of art and crafts in a hotel designed and restored to the tiniest detail.  It was fun to wander the halls and look at the names of the rooms–Hollywood stars, politicians, luminaries of the past.  A couple of the maids proudly showed me some just-cleaned rooms and whispered their favorites.  (I might be persuaded to share this info with a generous donation.)  Even the gardens are notable.  How marvelous it must have been for those 1930-50’s travelers to step off the train, walk across a rolling green lawn with shade niches, and relax in any of the three gardens after a great meal.  As I wandered through the sunken garden with its cascades of blooms and wildflowers, a group of locals traded insights and aspirations, a nice mix of present with past.

I could have stayed longer, much longer, and will another visit.  Meantime, Margaret had walked downtown Winslow and pronounced it tired out except for its “Standing on the Corner” park in honor of the Eagles’ song, “Take It Easy”, which goes like this:  Well, I’m standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, what a fine sight to see.  There’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford slowin’ down to take a look at me.  Take it easy…Winslow, hopefully, will find the same rebirth as La Posada.

Route 66 and native ruins were calling, so we answered.  Our first stop was  Walnut Canyon National Monument an hour west of Winslow.  Walnut Canyon preserves more than 300 dwellings built into ledges and caves in a 400-foot gorge. It’s a hefty 337 steps from the visitor center down, down and down the trail. past 25 of these cliff dwelling rooms, believed to have been inhabited by Sinaguans 1000-1200.  These hardy people farmed the canyon floor in good weather and retreated to the cliffs in bad weather or enemy invasion.  At 5’3″, I had to duck when I entered most of these cliff rooms, so these were short people and clearly fit.  My bionic knees did fine, but I needed several pauses to catch my breath on the climb back up, but it gave me a chance to watch the scores of shiny crows circling, landing the ledges, and circling again.  Margaret, in more Sinaguan shape, actually ran up the last sets of stairs…envy and admiration for her and those early native peoples.

As we left the parking lot, the “hayball” was still there.  When we drove in, there was a  car with a giant ball of hay and a sign: thehayball.com.  I Googled it later and read:  Hay Ball Wonderment Journey by artist Michael Shaugnessy…a project that melds public art, sculpture, performance, photography, video, social analysis and the art of roadside attraction…through a journey along back roads and communities across the USA.   My shoutout to Michael:  dude, your hay ball is super cool and a fun moment on my Rt. 66 Trip.

The Jackrabbit 66 icon was equally fun.  Back in the day, periodic signs counted down the remaining miles to the Jackrabbit Trading Post in Joseph City.  A billboard at the trading post announces:  HERE IT IS!  And indeed, like the 66 travelers of yesteryear, we stopped and snapped photos with the giant jackrabbit.  Silly, blatant commercialism, and worthwhile.

From silly to ancient, we entered Homolovi State Park, ruins of the Anasazi culture who tilled the area’s rich flood plain and sandy slopes before migrating north to join people already living on the mesas, people known today as the Hopi. The park encompasses 4,000 acres, and the Hopi still consider it part of their homeland.  A long, winding, uphill paved walkway–kudos on the handicap access and periodic rest benches–takes you right to the ruins and in places you are actually encouraged to dig in the sand and rock for ancient sherds of pottery and artifacts.  Like many before us, we looked, found a few sherds, and left them atop a big flat rock for archeologists to check.  Two young kids with Mom and Dad were having a ball digging and searching.

At dusk we drove into the Wigwam Village Motel in Holbrook.  Right, we spent the night in a concrete wigwam, one of seven tepee villages built across America 1930-1950.  Open any Rt. 66 book, and you’ll find a photo of the Holbrook wigwams.  We actually had to backtrack to stay here, because they were fully booked the night before by a biker group also 66-ing.  I really wanted to stay in a tepee, so what’s a few more miles?

The Wigwam’s white tepees are arranged around a big parking lot, interspersed with classic cars.   Big, no.  Fancy, not really.  They’re basic, clean, simply furnished.  TV, yes, wall mounted.  AC, check.  Heat, check, tucked under the TV.  Basic athroom, with small shower, smaller sink, and toilet.  The room held two double beds with Southwestern blankets and spreads, two tall night lamps in Western arts & craft style, one small desk and a chair.  Wifi, nope, but available in the lobby, where the lovely Leila takes your money, gives you a warm welcome, big smile, ice, directions, and dinner possibilities.  Leila, pronounced lee-luh, tells me she’s a hometown girl, who left and came back to Holbrook for “a bit”  and never dreamed a little while would turn into years.  She’s happy bringing up her daughter in the town where she was born, a town fading away then, but  alive today with hotels, eateries, shops, plenty of Route 66 spirit.  A potential new industry would bring 1,000 more jobs and growth, so cross your fingers for Holbrook.

Now I can say I have slept in a tepee.

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