Thinking back, I’m not quite sure when the idea hatched. If I really dig around in the dark corners of my memory, I think it might have been a vague suggestion by one of us to drive to the Grand Canyon as part of our Vegas adventures. After all, we had some time to kill between Britney and Burning Man. But somewhere between a “why not” and a “what’s a plug in campsite?,” regular travel companion Zoe and I devised a detailed plan for a five-day road trip that would take us from Nevada to Arizona up through Utah and back to Nevada again.
Our ride? The boldly colored JUCY camper van, a New Zealand staple that’s recently launched in three US cities — Los Angeles, San Francisco and yes, Las Vegas. This was my inaugural trip traveling in any kind of RV situation, and it was a big first for me. I have a post coming with the low down on our lean green driving machine, so stay tuned if you’re intrigued (pretty much everyone we encountered on the road was — I can’t tell you how many tours we gave!)
Our trip started bright and early on Monday morning in August. We had aimed to arrive at JUCY, about a twenty minute drive south of The Strip, the moment they opened at 9am, but because of who I am as a person got there closer to 10am. The friendly staff allowed us to store our excess bags — this would be key to maximizing the space in our compact home for the next five days — gave us the lowdown on our ride, and wished us well on our way.
An hour after leaving Vegas, we crossed the border out of Nevada and into Arizona at the Hoover Dam. The fact that it was already noon combined with the overwhelming heat left us in agreement that we’d have to save a more comprehensive dam tour for another trip, and this would be just a photo op stop.
Our final destination for the evening? The Grand Canyon, which we hoped to reach in time to catch sunset at the rim. While a straight shot drive from Vegas is just about five and a half hours, we’d agreed long ago to take the rambling route, turning off Interstate 40 to instead enjoy a well-preserved stretch of Route 66.
Once one of the USA’s major thoroughfares, some stretches of Route 66 still stand for those willing to shift out of the fast lane. For our adventure, we turned off the Interstate at Kingman and met back up with it again right outside Seligman. In between, we passed through Hualapai, Hackberry, and Peach Springs — mostly blink-and-you’ll-miss-em towns that seemed frozen in forever time.
The biggest attraction along this breakaway route was Hackberry General Store. Our stop here was our first taste of something we’d discover over and over again throughout our mini American Southwest roadtrip — there just weren’t that many Americans on it.
Visiting this teeny tiny town in the middle-of-nowhere-USA was like dropping in on a United Nations meeting, and we made a game of guessing the accents of our fellow travelers. By the time we reached Utah, a friendly septuagenarian RV Park attendant greeted us with, “Well hey! A couple of local girls!” When we politely explained that actually we were from New York, he practically snorted at us.
“Ladies, that’s local around here.”
Wandering through the time machine/pop culture museum/nostalgia bomb that was Hackberry, I could see why travelers would come from far and wide to confirm for themselves that places like this do in fact exist outside movie sets.
Already on our first day, we established a regular pattern in which Zoe drove and I navigated. We both had total stopping power at any time, though — no matter how recently we’d last stopped, no matter how much the other person wanted to keep going, we could call a pull over.
We were in total giddy agreement, however, over stopping again around the outskirts of Seligman, when the facade of an old Western town caught our eyes — well, that, and the signs for Roadkill Cafe (we just had to know what was on that menu.)
As two avid design geeks, we couldn’t get enough of the neon signs plying Route 66.
While I’m not sure I’d actually want to stay in any of the desolate motels along this stretch — my after dark anxiety would surely have protested such an idea — I was totally enamored with them in broad daylight. Though to be fair, my irrational fear of being alone in the dark was causing all kinds of mental mayhem on this particular trip, a fact Zoe found pretty entertaining when she borrowed my iPhone and found some rather morbid recent searches. (Travel tip: maybe don’t google campground murders when you’re hours away from sleeping in a campground for the first time.)
We spent the most time in Seligman, which stole the show as far as the tiny stretch of Route 66 we saw was concerned. The charming town was a leading inspiration for Disney Pixar’s hit movie Cars, set in the fictional town of Radiator Springs.
Yet to our amazement, we still more or less had the place to ourselves. The lack of fellow tourists — or residents, for that matter — added to the surreal vibes of this quirky and colorful town.
Our JUCY camper fit right in.
I probably could have spent a whole day in Seligman. As with almost every hamlet we’d passed through that day, Zoe and I marveled over what it would be like to grow up and live there, and I wished we’d had more time to interact with the locals and get a sense of it.
We might not have had time for a drink in the local watering hole or an in-depth discussion on the ramifications of the dwindling drive-by traffic on a small town dependent on roadside tourism. But we did have time for photoshoots. Always time for photoshoots.
All day we’d been looking for the perfect spot to grab a bite. Our road trip snack pack (you know I had a road trip snack pack) had kept us sated for a while, but we couldn’t resist the charms of a late lunch at Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive In.
The creators of Cars had interviewed one of the Delgadillo brothers, a Seligman barber and Route 66 historian named Angel. Angel told the poignant tale of a once vibrant town who’s traffic virtually disappeared on the day that Interstate 40 opened, a plotline that later became a large part of the movie.
Reluctantly turning off Route 66, we took one look at the time and realized our dreams of watching sunset over the Grand Canyon were simply not going to happen. After all, we still had one last stop in Williams to fuel up and buy supplies for the the trip.
In retrospect, we wish we’d had an extra day to split this part of the journey into two — in a perfect world, we would have spent the night in the buzzy-but-still-endearing town of Williams and spent the next day slowly getting ourselves over to the Grand Canyon (there were a few more silly roadside attractions we would have loved to have stopped at, and we wouldn’t have minded more time in the National Park, either.)
But while we might have missed sunset over the Grand Canyon itself, we were treated to a pretty special one on the road. As daylight turned to dusk, we were transfixed by the colorful show taking place through the windshield. And that’s when we saw it — a flash of muscle, the flick of a sinewy tail. A mountain lion ran right in front of our camper! (Full disclosure: this may have been as we were still struggling to locate the headlights.) I couldn’t believe our luck. We hadn’t even entered Grand Canyon National yet and already, the wildlife was coming to us.
Stay tuned for day two — The Grand Canyon! Have you ever driven part of Route 66?
Many thanks to JUCY for our sweet ride! As always, you receive my honest thoughts, full opinions and poorly written jokes regardless of who is footing the bill.