Day 3, Wednesday August 23
Las Vegas, Nevada to Flagstaff, Arizona
368 miles today, 1034 miles since Monterey
The True Desert Southwest is Found on Arizona’s Backroads
First thing in the morning, as the sun was rising to the east across the strip from Palace Station, our merry band pulled the cars out of the casino hotel garages around town and got ready for what we knew was going to be a long haul across Arizona and up to Flagstaff. The local Chevron station was the perfect place to gas up. With several dozen $25 gift cards in hand, we took over the nearest Chevron station to see what $25 of gas would do for as many MINIs as we could process in about 30 minutes. With Chevron graciously sponsoring MC2 and our subscribers, we had several hundred dollars worth to give out along the path. Chevron stickers were handed out, we checked all the vitals, hit the food mart for lunch and snack provisions and then Motored On!
Then it was off to Palace Station, the designated gathering place for the morning take-off. According to many MINI Motorists, Elvis is alive and well, and was out at Palace Station Casino with two showgirls on Wednesday to give the group a proper Las Vegas send-off. But the more than 200 cars in the parking lot were packed and ready to head out into the desert to experience the real southwest, so we waved good-bye to the king and headed out.
Everyone crossed the Hoover Dam as the first stop, but soon after the group split into three. The biggest group of Motorists were off to retrace historic Highway 66. I chose to take the challenge of following an intrepid trio from the Sin City Miniacs, seeking motoring enlightenment on lonely back roads between the cactus landscapes near Kingman and the red rock vortex of Sedona. An even hardier group chose to drive straight for Flagstaff and then north to see the closer rim of the Grand Canyon.
The Route 66 group, out to find the bypassed town of Radiator Springs on the old Mother Road, instead got hit by one of the summer rainstorms that can sweep across the desert, and had difficulty just weathering the deluge.
It was better south of the I40 superslab, as our group headed southeast on US Highway 93 from Kingman, which took us up into sajuaro cactus country and some of the best driving roads we had seen since, well, yesterday. Off in the desert, one of the members of the Sin City MINIacs from Las Vegas, Andrew "Agro" Ross, a transplanted Aussie who works for the Las Vegas School System as an IT specialist, and Steve and Dee Gardner, showed us some serious driving roads, sort of a scenery spectacular in three acts.
We started with the Bagdad Road, a spur off 93 up in the higher altitudes, which dipped and rolled as well as twisting and turning, before eventually taking us to Prescott. To catch our breath, we stopped briefly at a little crossroads where from our elevation we could see the storms sweepping across the north (picture 2).
From Prescott, we explored an area where mother nature had created a second act surpassing the first, on the Mingus Mountain Scenic Highway (“caution, mountain grades and curves, trucks over 40 feet not permitted”) known to local drivers as the "Twelve Miles of Terror."
Switchbacking up one side of Mingus Mountain to 6000 feet, the road crested the summit to show us the red cliffs behind Sedona across the desert floor of the Prescott Valley. This road certainly is at the top of our list as the best driving road in the country right now, taking into account both its challenging curves and elevation changes, and the spectacular scenery waiting around every curve.
The small town of Jerome itself is quite a sight, a former mining town that seems to have been nailed to the cliffside, hanging above the valley. Now it’s a retirement retreat and home for small boutiques, one of which produces a fudge that’s out of this world. Following the rest of the scenic highway down into the valley, we were soon in Sedona (picture 3), home of the legendary red rock hills that provide a starting backdrop to this charming small town.
Sedona, of course, is reputed to be one of the global vortices of cosmic forces.
Overhead on our walkie-talkies was this conversation between MINIs: “Does anyone feel a harmonic convergence? To which the reply was, “I can’t hear you, I have crystals in my ears.”
The final act of this three act spectacular scenery performance occurred as we wound our way back up out of the valley towards Flagstaff. One of the same storms that had hit north of I40 had just passed through the hills north of Sedona, as as we cruised through the forest in the late afternoon, the smell of the moisture on the foliage was the prettiest perfume anyone could imagine. As we reached the outskirts of Flagstaff, our odometers indicated 355 miles for the day.
But the long distance award for the day went to the group that drop up to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. By the time they got back, they had put over 400 miles under their wheels.
Nevertheless, by the early evening, everyone had found their way to Flagstaff, where the junior ROTC of Sinagua High School was ready to help us wash the desert dust off our cars as a fund-raising project. They had the answer to the question: If it takes one hour for one person to wash a car, how long does it take ten eager high school students? The answer, of course, was six minutes.
Tomorrow, with our cars clean again, we continue our eastward odyssey through Gallup to Albuquerque, New Mexico.