Illuminated, colorful signs for iconic businesses tell Route 66 story best
Editor’s note: Explore Arizona contributor Roger Naylor and photographer Larry Lindahl traveled the length of Historic Route 66 in Arizona to document it in their 2012 book, “Arizona Kicks on Route 66.” In seeking to excerpt the book, we might have settled on the small-town history, the people or the kitschy-cool vibe. But the bright neon photos leaped off the pages. Here’s an armchair tour.
One of my favorite parts of writing “Arizona Kicks on Route 66” was discovering the kaleidoscope blaze of neon that still slices through small-town twilight. From Holbrook to Kingman, from Winslow to Williams, neon-sign language is the lingo of Route 66.
Route 66 neon signs
Neon shimmers and glimmers, it reinvents the dusk and changes the direction of color. Neon is the nightlight of angels and drunkards. Keep your starry, starry skies; give me one twinkling with rainbow hues. If I ever enter politics, the first law I’ll champion will be a tax break for every business that erects a neon sign.
Neon — both old and new — is still in evidence along Arizona’s portion of Route 66. That wavy ribbon of two-lane pavement carves out the journey of a lifetime. Grand adventures mingled with intimate moments unfold, while conjuring images of simpler times. In places where diners are still run by sassy waitresses who call everybody “Hon,” and motel rooms are shaped like tepees, neon signs paint the night softly.
Here are photographer Larry Lindahl’s images of Route 66 neon.
This dollop of vintage neon blends in perfectly in Holbrook, where the skyline includes cafes, a historic courthouse, hulking dinosaurs guarding rock shops and motel rooms shaped like wigwams. Not to mention the only Route 66 movie theater left in Arizona. Now, who wants ice cream?
Joe and Aggie’s Café
Sitting at the booth under the “Open” sign at Joe and Aggie’s on a summer evening, it’s easy to lose track of the decades. Folks stroll past on the sidewalk, cars glide through downtown Holbrook, and it’s all bathed in a neon glow. You’re just a snap-brim fedora and a few swooping Chevy fins from 1957.
If the term roadhouse didn’t exist, it would be coined for the Museum Club, a Flagstaff icon. The giant log cabin once housed a taxidermist, then a museum, before becoming a legendary music venue. It’s said to be haunted by the former owners, both of whom died in the club.
Photos and memorabilia line the walls of the Galaxy Diner in Flagstaff. The aroma of chopped-steak burgers wafts through the joint, and banana splits are piled high. Every weekend brings live bands, swing-dancing lessons and car-club meetings.
Western Hills Motel
Neon and Route 66 will be forever linked. Garish, gaudy signs like this beauty in Flagstaff cut through the cacophony of roadside advertising to snag passing motorists. The motel may be a little down at the heels, but is still in operation.
Sierra Vista Motel
The Sierra Vista is a remnant of another era. A cluster of hotels and boarding houses once huddled along a pre-1935 alignment of Route 66 just south of downtown Flagstaff. Now, businesses such as Mother Road Brewing Co. and Pizzicletta restaurant are springing up along this stretch.
Cruiser’s Route 66 Cafe
Cruiser’s Cafe is the unofficial patio of Route 66, right on the Mother Road in downtown Williams. Ribs are almost always sizzling on the grill, and a guy with a guitar plays the soundtrack of a rambling youth. Traffic flows past, and it’s hard to resist ordering one more beer under those circumstances.
Rod’s Steak House
If you build it, they will come. If you build it and put a neon cow on the roof, they’ll stop for a meal. That bovine beacon has been luring hungry travelers to Rod’s Steak House in Williams since 1946.
The Snow Cap in Seligman is beloved for its tasty grub and the wacky gags of the late Juan Delgadillo. Juan’s legacy lives on as his kids continue delivering his zingers along with juicy burgers. A visit to the Snow Cap is a reminder that life is delicious and should never be taken too seriously.
Classic neon signs define the Seligman skyline, like the one at the Supai Motel. Pull into town at dusk with those lights beckoning and the seductive promise of New Color TVs, and it’s almost impossible not to stop for the night.
Historic Route 66 Motel
Route 66 pilgrims from all over the world visit Seligman because this is where the preservation movement began. They explore the small town with wide-eyed wonder during the day, then settle in at the Historic Route 66 Motel for the night.
Hill Top Motel
The sign lets you know you’re in for a classic Route 66 experience. The Hill Top in Kingman is an excellent example of the midcentury motor courts that are synonymous with the Mother Road. Enjoy a restful night on a high perch, away from the rumble of trains.
Route 66 facts
Arizona contains the longest unbroken stretch of Route 66 still in existence, 158 miles from west of Ash Fork to the California state line.
Arizona is the birthplace of Historic Route 66. Through the work of a handful of Seligman residents, Arizona became the first state to dedicate a stretch of U.S. 66 as Historic Route 66, thus beginning the preservation efforts that soon encompassed the entire road.
The only national park that Route 66 passes through is Petrified Forest National Park.
In 2009, Historic Route 66 in Arizona was designated an All-American Road under the Federal Highways National Scenic Byways Program. Only 31 roads in the nation have that distinction, and it is the only portion of Route 66 to hold it.
Details: www.arizonakicks66.com, Facebook.com/Route66Arizona, @Rt66Arizona on Twitter.
by Roger Naylor – The Republic