Road Trip 2017: Flagstaff, AZ

Driving nearly 120 miles into Arizona to get breakfast reminds you that America is pretty big. If you ever find yourself in this part of the country and looking for somewhere to eat, check your map for the nearest airport. They honesly have the best diners. Payson, Mohave and here in Kingman never fail to deliver. Kingman Airport has the best biscuits and gravy on Route 66, so a 2-hour drive to get breakie is a no-brainer.

Bellies full, gas tank full, and with a couple of hundred miles ahead of us, we’re back on Route 66 and heading east. We pull into Williams, AZ just after lunch to explore main street and the station area. Williams is home to the Grand Canyon Railway, and if it wasn’t, I think it would have died along with many of the other sad little towns on old Route 66. Thankfully, clinging on to life, main street is a cliche R66 novelty that is well preserved, harking back to what middle class white America views as the good ol’ days.

Whilst wandering around, trespassing in an open rail yard, a freight train rumbles towards town. I see it coming over the horizon and before the rail crossing alarms sound I shout to Emma that the train is coming… assuming she would be keen to film or photograph it. As the alarms sound and barriers come down to stop traffic, I was surprised to see nothing but panic on her face.

Shaking with fear and looking around in terror, “Am I ok here?!!!”, she screamed. I was confused at first; she was standing in the middle of a gravel car park. “Yes, I don’t think it can go off road!”, I replied.

“Ok!”, as she proceeded to point her phone at the passing locomotive for its duration. Growing up in England next to a railway, I’m always surprised at the lack of fence by the track in the US, even through the centre of towns, but it does allow a unique perspective to the size of these beasts.

We were soon back on the road, forced onto Interstate 40 for the remainder of today’s drive. The 297 miles from Las Vegas is still one of my faves as arriving in Flagstaff really feels like coming home. The high altitude city has a mountain retreat atmosphere and the preserved historic old town has a charm unlike any other.

With the temperature now a reasonable 20°C cooler than Las Vegas, we could wander to shops without the threat of heat exhaustion setting in as soon as we stepped out the door. We felt a few spots of rain whilst revelling in the milder temperature, so I told Emma to run into the nearest store. In summer, torrential rain storms are a big thing in Arizona. I remember watching them build on a weather app just before they blew into town causing havoc and destruction.

The ominous sky was indicative of something bad about to happen. With a flash of lightning, followed by a crack of thunder almost without delay, a super-cell unleashed hell from above. We made it to the car, but the rain beating down on the windshield made it impossible to drive; so, sat in my cowboy hat, feeling all wild west and in touch with nature, this was the perfect remedy to Las Vegas.

The lightning strikes (including one that killed the power to our hotel) and heavy rain continued once back in our room, deciding it’s probably safer to sit this storm out, we’ll explore the old town later.

The following day, we caught a bus into town, yeah, a bus! After driving yesterday, it was a nice break – also, parking in Flagstaff is a pain in the ass. Wandering around the thrift stores and hanging out in coffee shops like locals is basically the goal of most trips. I could happily live in or nearby Flagstaff, it’s like Frome, but considerably nicer and with big-ass trains running through the middle of it.

Oh and bowling, Frome doesn’t have bowling. So that evening we walked down the road and had a couple of games before popping next door to the Museum Club for a few drinks…

It’s dime beer night, beers are a 10 cents! “What are you having, Emma? …”Jack Daniels” … FFS. $$$!!!”

Things I didn’t know were a thing.. Legit line dancing in clubs, beer for 8p and looking so happy falling asleep against a chiller cabinet… oh and Emma hurting her ribs so every laugh looks sarcastic.

Needless to say, the night was a blur. I don’t remember changing my Facebook profile pic, I don’t remember falling asleep in a gas station; however, I do remember being surrounded by redneck-looking dudes who danced like chivalrous gents from a Jane Austin novel. A surreal, but brilliantly fun night out.

The morning? Well the hangover was not so brilliant. Not wishing to waste a second of this trip, we downed some coffee and headed out for a bit of a hike before it got too warm. Walnut Canyon is located on the outskirts of the city and a short drive from the hotel. The visitor centre is modern and the path around the canyon is mostly paved, so for a morning stroll, it’s perfect. Putting on a brave face, we wandered far enough to feel we’d experienced it, but as birds of prey had begun circling above, we made our way back before our sweaty corpses were picked clean by the local wildlife.

A chilled afternoon of mall shopping and storm avoiding followed. We were sad to be leaving Arizona, but have loved our time here as always.