Split Top Picture of the Week

Split Top--An unnamed cinder cone in the San Francisco Lava Field that looks like a scored loaf of bread when viewed from space.
Split Top–An unnamed cinder cone in the San Francisco Lava Field looks like a scored loaf of bread when viewed from space.

When I was half my current age, and between wives, I didn’t need anyone’s permission to take a road trip. I’d close the blinds, lock the front door, and disappear for a couple of days whenever I had the urge—and an extra $20 for a tank of gas. Like the time, my friend Russ (of ‘Russ-Bus’ fame) and I drove to Lee’s Ferry for a weekend of fishing.

I don’t recall why we got a late start, but it was probably because he had to work on Friday and close up his shop. I guaranteed our room and told the innkeeper that we’d arrive late. She said she would leave a key for us, so there wasn’t a pressure to get there at a specific time. After he showed up at my apartment, we loaded his equipment into one of my $500 wonder wagons and headed north to Flagstaff, where we stopped for gas and a burger.

It was dark and cold when we piled back in the car. Still, at least the car heater worked, so we were cozy as we continued north on U.S. 89. As we started down the long grade north of town, we chattered like a couple of school girls about family, customers, fishing, and photography—the usual guy stuff. About halfway down the hill, I began to have trouble seeing the road, so I asked Russ if the headlights seemed dim.

“Well, we could always drive without them,” he quipped.

“Have you ever done that?” As I asked the question, I reached down and switched the lights off and counted—one thousand one, one thousand two. In that short amount of time, everything outside went topsy-turvy. The countless stars gave the sky a milky white glow, and everything below the horizon was a black hole. We couldn’t see the highway lines, much less the pavement.

Russ screamed and shouted, “DON’T DO THAT,” so I turned the lights back on.

As we drove on, I realized we were running on the battery, and it was getting critically low. The headlights were dim, but no idiot lights glowed on the dash. I wondered if we could make the gas station at Cameron twenty miles away. We swapped ideas and decided to try coasting as much as we could. There was no other traffic, and if we could keep up a minimum speed, maybe we could reach help. I let the Chevy roll to a crawl, fire it up for speed, and coast again. We got through three cycles before the battery was drained completely. Ahead, I saw a single light on at Hank’s Trading Post, so I coasted into the lot and stopped beneath it.

We popped the hood and wiggled a couple of things, poked at something else, looked under a lid, and kicked one of the front tires—all of the things men do when they’re stuck. I slammed the hood and looked around. All we had was the empty highway and an old telephone booth. Both options seemed useless since neither of us had any change in our pockets.

With no other choices, I tried a Hail-Mary pass. I went to the booth, pushed the door open, stepped inside, lifted the handset, and pushed the ‘O’ button. An angel’s voice said, “Operator.”

“Hello. I’m stranded on the highway, and I need to call a tow truck and charge the call to my home phone.”

She politely explained why she couldn’t do that but offered to stay on the line and get help for us. She dialed a few numbers without success, but on the third try, a man answered, “Cecil’s garage.” I think I forced our predicament out of my mouth with one breath.

“I’ll be there shortly,” he reassured.

I started to hang up, but the operator’s voice interrupted, “Don’t hang up. I’ll stay on the line until he arrives.” I thought it could take an hour, but Cecile pulled up ten minutes later. I thanked our operator about a thousand times before saying goodbye.

Cecil only took moments to determine that we needed to drag the old Bel Air wagon back to his shop. Once there, he put a charger on the battery and poked around in the engine compartment. “This is the wrong alternator belt,” he said, pointing to the culprit. I don’t remember if it wasn’t the right length or width, but it wasn’t making complete contact with the pulleys. He quickly took the old one off and held it against the row of dust-covered belts lining the upper wall. After finding one he liked, he pulled it down and muttered, “This one should work.”

After Cecil installed the new belt, I started the car, and it ran like a champ. Even the headlights were bright again. “You should be good to go. It’s charging, so the hour drive to Marble Canyon will fully charge the battery,” with that, he handed me a shocking bill. Before he could change his mind, I wrote him a check for the $15.00 he charged us for the belt.

That’s my most memorable U.S. 89 story, and it explains why I wave and give Cecil a shout-out each time I drive past his shop. You’re asking how does this story relate to this month’s project? Well, you turn onto S.P. Mountain Road—the road out to the lava fields— on the south side of  Hank’s Trading Post. “It’s a small world after all . . .” (Stop. There’ll be no singing dolls in my post).

I took this week’s picture just a short jaunt down S.P. Mountain Road; it’s the first cinder cone along the dirt road. In my search, I didn’t find a name for this peak, but when I viewed it on Google Earth, it looked like a rustic bread loaf where the baker scores the top before putting it into the oven. That’s why I called this week’s picture Split Top.

You can see a larger version of Split Top on its Webpage by clicking here. Come back next week when we continue on the dirt road to another volcanic cone that does have a name and an amusing story. We’ll see you then.

Till next time


Over the past couple of weeks, I built and published a page to make it easier for new people to subscribe to my journal—a subscription page. I think it came out terrific. To protect new subscribers, the system sends an email to confirm that they want to sign up, so you can’t just willy-nilly add strangers to the list. So, if you know someone that would enjoy seeing new pictures and reading my musings, don’t be stingy and share me with your friends and family. Who knows, they may be just as crazy as we are.

Motel Downtowner Picture of the Week

Motel Downtowner - The 1930's sign was built on a tower to lure tourists off of Route 66.
Motel Downtowner – Nackard built the 1930’s sign on a tower to lure tourists off Route 66.

Tourism is Flagstaff’s biggest money maker. According to one ASU study that I found, tourism accounts for 84% of the town’s employment. Some of our non-Zonie friends may wonder what’s the attraction; after all, most out-of-state people don’t know much about our state and can only name two Arizona cities. Every season has a reason to visit the town at the bottom of the mountains. As I said at the beginning of this project, its 6,909-foot elevation (1,600 feet higher than Denver), mild weather is an excuse we valley lowlifes to visit and escape the heat. Fall ushers in colorful aspen trees that the annual fires haven’t burnt—both of them. Then in winter, some people like to strap planks to their feet and slide down the big hill outback of town. Finally, everybody goes to Flagstaff to toast marshmallows during the spring fires.

In the above list, I didn’t mention the daily traffic on Beal’s Road—Route 66—now Interstate 40. It’s an excellent place to stop for a meal or to get some sleep. And—oh yeah, I forgot—it’s how you get to the Grand Canyon.

It’s no wonder overnight lodging shaped and dominated Flagstaff architecture—from abandoned stone ruins to tacky Route 66 motels to today’s boring corporate three-story shoeboxes lining I-40. I think it’s understandable but sad that, as highways evolve, the old buildings and signs are disappearing. I get a big grin when I see one standing and add it to my collection. It must be the same thrill a hunter gets when shooting a Moose, Elk, or Kiwanis.

Apartment House - I shot this down the street from the Downtowner sign. I'm positive that if my wife ever set foot in this building, it would rip a hole in the space-time continuum.
Apartment House – I shot this down the street from the Downtowner sign. I’m positive that if my wife ever set foot in this building, it would rip a hole in the space-time continuum.

Last week, I wrote about Du Beau’s novelty concept—lodging catering to the motor car traveler. His motel was the second of its kind in the country—the first was in San Louis Obispo, California (that one burnt down, which makes Du Beau’s the oldest survivor). The buildings in this week’s image are ten years older but were initially used for other purposes. According to one account, it was a brothel. How scandalous. There were whore houses in the west—who knew? It wasn’t until the 1930s that K. J. Nackard bought the place and turned it into a motel. At the time of its opening, the main road through town was on the south side of the tracks. Later, the highway department realigned Route 66 to the north side. That’s when the sign wars began.

If you’re fishing for customers and they drive by your door, you can hook customers on a bamboo pole, but when the traffic is on the far side of the train station, it’s time to break out the surfcasting tackle. Both motels began building bigger and brighter signs to lure travelers to the Bohemian side of Flagstaff. These signs make today’s city planners shudder.

I took this week’s photo that I call Motel Downtowner with the rising sun. I had been walking around town in the twilight, and the tower was one of the last places I shot. It was after 7:00 by then, and I needed a cup of coffee (Macy’s European Coffeehouse—he’s also a fellow photographer). I have tried to get a shot of this tower for years, but I’ve never been happy with my results.

Ford GT40 - Evidently, not all residents at the Motel Downtowner are lowlifes. I found this car parked in the motel's portico, and is rare, even for Route 66.
Ford GT40 – Evidently, not all residents at the Motel Downtowner are lowlifes. I found this car parked at the motel’s entrance ten years ago, and it is rare, even for Route 66.

You’ll notice that the characters are angled so that they’re readable while driving the Mother Road, and that angle points to Route 66. The motel is no longer open. Another type of business has taken over the buildings, but the sign remains; somebody in Flagstaff appreciates good kitsch and history as much as I do.

You can view my Motel Downtowner web version on its page by clicking here. Next week, we have another historic Flagstaff hotel sign to show, so be sure to join us then.

Till next time


Oh, you’re still here even though the show is over. You must read to the article’s end. Good on you, mate. You’re probably wondering what’s down here in the basement. This is my new ongoing section with announcements, follow-ups, answers, etc. I intend it to be a paragraph long (my fingers are numb) so I don’t have to clutter your inbox with extra mailings. I hope you find it helpful.

Motel Du Beau Picture of the Week

Motel Du Beau - This 1929 establishment was one of the first to cater to tourists driving those new-fangled motor carriages.
Motel Du Beau – This 1929 establishment was one of the first to cater to tourists driving those new-fangled motor carriages.

When Queen Anne and I spent a week in Flagstaff last month, our primary goal was heat relief, but I was confident that I could snap a few shots of historic buildings and signs to add to my Route 66 collection. In this journal, I’ve written several times about my experiences traveling the Mother Road as a kid, so I’ll spare you from repeating them. Instead, I must say that I was disappointed at how hard it was to find kitschy motel and dinner signs along the main street. More profitable strip malls and professional offices are rapidly replacing them. Interstate 40 travelers prefer the newer hotels on Butler Street, where the Little America Hotel is. Nobody drives 66 anymore—too many lights and too much traffic.

John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath, the depressing story of dust bowl migrants, searching for survival, didn’t make Route 66 famous. Nor did that fame come from my father’s generation, who—like the Joad family—moved en masse to California after World War II. It came when Angel Delgadillo—the Seligman barber—pitched a historic highway idea to the State of Arizona. When that designation came through, tons of beer-guts had a play-pen to gather and drive their car toys. We’re dying off now, and like the coals in your Webber Grill, that passion is dying with us.

Master photographers Ansel Adam and Minor White influenced how I photograph the world. Still, in 1975, the George Eastman House showed a photo exhibition called The New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape. The show still floats between museums today. It was a collection of ten photographs made by ten photographers that were opposite the landscapes I embraced. It was heresy. The photos are stark images of industrial buildings and houses devoid of people. I didn’t even think some of the artists printed very well. But I did kind of like the ones John Schott did. His pictures were of Route 66 motels. You can see where this led.

Flagstaff Train Depot - Either this is new or I've been blind, but the coolest Route 66 sign that I saw was the train station's address.
Flagstaff Train Depot – Either this is new, or I’ve been blind, but the coolest Route 66 sign I saw was the train station’s address.

I’ve considered compiling a book of my Route 66 photos. I have several, but most are from Arizona, with a couple from California and New Mexico, but nothing east of Texas. If this horse hadn’t been flogged to death, I still could work on my own Mother Road project. Now that I’m retired, I have time. I figure a month on the road should do it. To do it properly, I’d have to drive a classic car—something from the ’50s or ’60s. However, it needs air-conditioning, cruise control, and a good stereo (I won’t put up with AM radio stations dropping out under bridges). My ultimate ride would be a red ’62 Corvette—like the one Buzz and Todd drove—but hold the whitewalls. I could haul my camera equipment behind it in a small aluminum trailer like the autocross guys lug their race tires. October is a perfect month for a road trip, so if anyone out there wants to be my Angel investor, let me know. You’d get all the bills, half of the proceed, and a free book out of the deal.

This week’s featured image is of a prominent Flagstaff landmark. It’s called Motel du Beau, and the subject is the sign. It’s one of three hotel signs towering above the city (can you guess what this month’s project is). With the Lowell Observatory on top of the hill, Flagstaff has adopted a dark-sky policy, so the zoning people would never allow these enormous signs in town. If they weren’t historical landmarks, the city would tear them down.

In the late 1920s, Albert Eugene Du Beau vacationed in northern Arizona and envisioned a new way to make money. Instead of building a multi-story building for railroad and train travelers to stay, why not create a place for people traveling in these new-fangled motor cars? So, he designed and built a single-story motor-hotel (later shortened to motel) to be convenient to unload and load their vehicles in 1929. His design featured a U-shaped layout with steam-heated garages (they burned down in a 1970s fire) and indoor toilets. He built his motor court adjacent to downtown’s main street, which was brilliant because, in time, the busy highway became Route 66. The Motel Du Beau was one of the pioneering businesses to use neon signs and elevate them on towers.

In today’s modern world, the Motel Du Beau still looks like a nice place to stay, with rooms starting at $75—a far cry from the original price of $2.50 per night. Their website shows various room types, and they have a lovely little wine lounge called Nomads. I’d certainly be willing to try it after they reopen the bar.

I hope you enjoy seeing a part of Flagstaff’s history. You can view my Motel Du Beau web version on its page by clicking here. Next week, we’ll look at another historic Flagstaff motel sign, so be sure to join us then.

Till next time

Bumble Snake Picture of the Week

This week’s image is the last in our Route 66 Car Show series, and coincidentally, it’s also a significant motorsports TV holiday. Much like how fans spend Thanksgiving and New Years vegging out on the couch watching football—today is wall to wall car races.

Bumble Snake
Bumble Snake – An unidentified yellow car that was on display at the Route 66 car show in Kingman, Arizona.

The day starts in Monaco and the Formula One Grand Prix. It’s not the fastest F1 race, but all of the glitz and glamour surrounding it makes it the year’s biggest spectacle. Although I love watching the cars parade through the streets, I’d die to attend a progressive dinner that stopped for new courses on each of the yachts moored in the harbor. Next on the schedule is the Indianapolis 500. It’s the World’s Greatest Race according to the promoters. I suppose it is, much in the same way that McDonald’s is the World’s Greatest Hamburger. Then after a couple of ribs off the bar-b, the evening show is the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.  Although it’s not NASCAR’s premier race, it is the longest of their season as it transitions from day to night.

TV races are the bastard red-head step child of sports, and die-hard fans always had to work to see them. When I was a teenager, we bought tickets to see the ‘500 on closed circuit at the Grauman’s Chinese theatre. We’d pay 10 or 15 bucks to see a low-res TV image blown up to movie screen size. You couldn’t tell one car from another, so what we experienced was paying money to listen to the radio broadcast while watching a bad Nintendo game. At least it was live. ABC sometimes showed Monaco a week later on its Wild World of Sports, but it was a heavily edited highlight reel that shared airtime with the Bocce Ball finals. As for Charlotte, nobody showed hillbilly racing on TV, except maybe Daytona. Racing wasn’t crucial to broadcasters until they found out that motorsports draw more viewers than any other sport except for horse racing.

Watching the shows is so much better now. First, it’s live on the network channels with some timing overlaps. Having a TIVO takes care of time conflicts. More importantly, by recording them, you can turn 16-18 day of binging into a 6 hour evening by zipping through the commercials. If I start around 2:00 pm, I usually catch up to the live broadcast with 20 laps to go.

In all seriousness, Memorial Day is really about remembering the men and women that fought and died to defend our freedom. We can do that on Monday, which is Memorial Day proper. But, it has to be done in the morning, because we need to get home in time to catch the sportscar race at Lime Rock.

This week’s featured image—oh yeah. It was one of the cars on display at the Route 66 car show in Kingman. It didn’t have any name badges on it, so I couldn’t tell who manufactured it. It looks British, so maybe it’s an MGB. If you look closely on the front, the owner didn’t bother to wipe off the squashed insects it collected on the drive from Seligman, so maybe it’s a bug-eyed Sprite. I called this image Bumble Snake because of the bright paint scheme. You can see a larger version of Bumble Snake on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week begins a new month, and we’ll show off some images from another Arizona place.

Until next time — jw


Bel Air Picture of the Week

Kingman Club neon sign.
Kingman Club – What could be a better sign to hang over a brand new micro-brew.

You’ll have to bear with me this morning; I’ll be a bit out of sorts because for the next few days because I’m on my own. Queen Anne’s girlfriends left for Newport Beach to pick up sailors, and Anne begged to go along. I know she’s only going to spoil their fun because she’s the only one that has a husband at home. Her trip has disrupted my morning routines. I had to make coffee for myself, no one warmed my socks in the microwave, I had to go outside and fetch the paper, and I made breakfast for myself. Isn’t that awful? I’m going to get even by driving down to the Sun City West Library and flirt with hot chicks. But before I go, I want to tell you about this week’s picture.


OK Used Cars antique sign.
OK Used Cars – There is a dealer on Kingman’s section of Route 66 that sells restored cars. They use this classic car dealer sign to advertise.

The third image of our May series of Cars as Graphic Art comes from our Kingman visit at the beginning of the month. The model for this shot was a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door hardtop, and you can quickly tell that from the unique chrome strips and pattern of colors. This year was a milestone for hot rod Chevys because this was the car that started the trend of performance family sedans. 1955 was the first year (since 1918) that a V8 was a Chevy option, and it came in three flavors, including the Super Power Pack rated at 190 hp. I like this year because it was before American Car Manufactures overdosed on tail fins and chrome, so it’s style is more sedated.

1955 Cheverolet Bel Air
Bel Air – A 1955 Chevy Bel Air two-door hardtop. 1955 was the first year since 1918 that Chevrolet offered a V8 in a family sedan.

I picked this week’s picture for several reasons. Firstly, the composition gives the viewer all of the information needed to identify the car, and it fits neatly within the art world’s Rule of Thirds. Next, although the white section seems flat, the subtle gradation shows the fender’s top curve. Finally, I like how the white on the body is not the same as in the chrome insert; that’s the way it came from the factory. You can see a larger version of Bel Air on its Web Page by clicking here.

OK, now that I’ve finished my Sunday chores, I’m ready to paint the town. I still got it ya’know. All I have to do is flash a big smile, raise an eyebrow, and confidently say, “so, how you doin’?” It gets them every time. Now I need to find where Anne hid my false tooth. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and please come back next week when we’ll show the final image in May’s Kingman series.

Until next time — jw

Caddy ’58 Picture of the Week

Today is mother’s day, and I thought about writing something snarky about the holiday because during my morning routine of The Online Photographer I read about Anna Jarvis—the woman that worked tirelessly to get the second Sunday in May set aside for all families to honor their mothers. The twist in Anna’s story is that she spent the rest of her life trying to get Mother’s Day abolished because it had become too commercialized.

Evelyn Moore Witkowski
Evelyn Moore Witkowski – She was a middle child of six and a mother of four. Happy Mother’s Day mom.

I did think about my mom today because Queen Anne and I would drive to Kingman—if they were in town—to take them out for lunch or dinner. Father’s Day was much easier because dad’s birthday, mom’s birthday, and my grandmother’s birthday were only days apart. We’d get a three-fer on that visit, but there was only one honored guest on our Mother’s Day visits.

I got my mom a can of rubbing compound this time. Since she’s gone now, she doesn’t need any more gifts, and I need to touch up Archie’s Arizona-Pin-Stripes. I’ll do that while Anne is at lunch with her friends. They found a restaurant that’s giving away meals for moms today. We don’t have any kids, but Anne will do anything for a hamburger.

I need to spiff up the cars because I feel guilty after looking at all of the show cars in Kingman last weekend. (See how I did that: Mother’s day-Kingman-car show?) I really shouldn’t go to automotive events. For weeks afterward, I fantasize how it would be nice to have a project car. This week I even spent time Googling prices, and what I found out is that they’re expensive.

Fortunately, at my age, moments of clarity set in before a used car salesman grabs my wallet. To be honest, I don’t have the skills or tools to do a full restoration myself. I would have to hire someone or spend lots of time and money at Harbor Freight (then wait until that peculiar odor dissipates). Besides, when I change the oil on our cars, I have to take Anne’s cell phone, so I can summon her to get me off the ground. But, wouldn’t it be nice to drive a ’53 Buick Skylark ragtop down Main Street on a warm Saturday night with my best girl smacking gum in my right ear?

Tail fin of a 1958 Caddilac
Caddy ’58 – Although they’re not as tall as those on the 1959 version, there’s still plenty of space on this canvas to reflect the yellow hot-rod next door.

I’ll resign my self to being a car show spectator and taking artistic pictures of them—like this week’s featured image called Caddy ’58. The 1958 Cadillac isn’t prized like the ’59 version, with its two-story tail fins and bullet brake lights. Although these fins aren’t as tall, they still provide a large enough canvas to reflect the yellow hot-rod parked in the next stall. I thought about having a contest and give a print to the first person that identified the car’s make and year, but I remembered that I already gave away the answer in the image’s name and title of this post. So instead, riddle me this, what make and the year is the yellow car reflected in the caddy’s fin?

You can see a larger version of Caddy ‘58 on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and next week; we’ll show another image from our Kingman visit.

Until next time — jw

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