Monsoon season in Northern Arizona, especially Flagstaff, means wacky unpredictable weather. One can expect wildly fluctuating temperatures, rain, hail, sudden torrential downpours followed by bursts of sun and warm weather. Such was our day.
As is my tradition in Flagstaff, I must have breakfast at Miz Zip’s on old Route 66. If you ever get out to Flagstaff, do yourself a favour and treat yourself to Miz Zip’s. It’s the best breakfast place in Flagstaff, period. Before dining, we took photos of another “roadside giant”. In this case it was a former Paul Bunyon statue that used to reside next to Granny’s Closet Restaurant. In recent years, it was moved away from the restaurant, outfitted with Northern Arizona University colours and setup beside an old tractor.
After breakfast, we headed out to Meteor Crater, about 43 miles east of Flagstaff. Along the way, we made a brief stop to photograph the iconic and now defunct Twin Arrows Trading Post. When I first visited Arizona in 2001, the trading post was open for business. Since then it has closed its doors and the facility is crumbling away, however, the arrows have been restored. During my previous visit in 2010, the tails were in a state of severe decay. I am glad to see the arrows are being maintained as they represent one of the best known roadside attractions on Route 66. It is no longer possible to get on the property and photos must be taken roadside on I-40.
About 50,000 years ago at 55 meter wide nickel-iron meteor crashed into Northern Arizona, it released the energy of several atomic bombs and excavated a crater 1,200 m (3,900 ft) across and and 170 m (570 ft) deep. Barringer’s Meteor Crater is claimed to be the best preserved meteor crater on Earth. It has been estimated the impact energy released was equivalent to a 10 megaton nuclear bomb. To put this in perspective, the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima had a yield of only 18 kilotons.
The land at Meteor Crater is privately owned by the Barringer family and remains outside of the National Parks system. In 1903, Theodore Roosevelt granted a 640 acre land patent to the Standard Iron Company owned by mining engineer and businessman Daniel Barringer. Since then it has been used for geological surveys, NASA moon simulations for the Apollo missions and tourism.
When it was first discovered in 1891, Grove Karl Gilbert, chief geologist of the US Geological Survey, concluded that the crater was formed by volcanic activity. After initial surveys, Barringer concluded that the crater was caused by a meteor impact. His claim was met by skepticism as most geologists downplayed the role of meteors in the formation of terrestrial geology and defended the volcanism theory. Barringer’s meteor hypothesis was confirmed in 1960 by planetary geologist Eugene Merle Shoemaker. The key discovery was the presence in the crater of the minerals coesite and stishovite, rare forms of silica found only where quartz-bearing rocks have been severely shocked by an instantaneous overpressure. Since volcanic activity cannot produce shocked silica, the meteor theory was finally proven.
After we had our fill of the crater, it was time to head west towards Seligman. Once again, the weather decided to put on a show. I snapped this photo of Humphrey’s Peak in Flagstaff, which is Arizona’s tallest mountain with a height of 3.852 m (12,637 ft) and is snow covered for most of the year.
By late afternoon, we arrived in Seligman, perhaps the most fun and irreverent town on Route 66. With Flagstaff some 80 miles behind us, the weather got a wee bit warmer, the clouds broke up and the sun came out.
Seligman has a rich cultural heritage in Route 66 folklore and it is home to Angel Delgadillo who has been called the “guardian angel” of the Mother Road. Delgadillo was born in 1927 in Seligman and in the 1950’s he opened a barbershop that still remains in business today and also incorporates a souvenir shop. Today, his barbershop is known as Angel and Vilma’s Route 66 Gift Shop and Visitor Center. A small section of the store preserves Delgadillo’s original barber chair and although he no longer cuts hair, people come from around the world to meet him and sit in this barber’s chair.
In 1985, Route 66 was officially delisted from the United States Highway System. This meant that Seligman was literally cutoff from I-40 since the Route 66 exit signs were removed. Delgadillo said that Seligman “would not go down without a fight”. He went on to form the Historic Route 66 Association of America and campaigned vigorously to establish “Historic Route 66” signs along the interstate. Since then, Route 66 associations have been formed in all eight Route 66 states, each with the goal of preserving the Mother Road and promoting Route 66 signage. This strategy has worked and Seligman is going strong.
I had the pleasure of meeting Angel Delgadillo back in 2002, he is warm, wonderful human being whose perpetual smile can light up any room. A casual conversation quickly revealed his passion for the Mother Road. I regret we did not meet him on this visit, however, as we plan to return next year, I hope to get one more encounter with this remarkable man.
Seligman is also home to the quirky and always hilarious Snow Cap Drive-In which was opened in 1953 by Angel’s brother, Juan Delgadillo. Sadly Juan passed away in 2004, however, I will never forget my visits to Snow Caps when he was still alive. A constant joker and prankster, Juan’s sense of humour made this little restaurant an experience you would never forget. Every square foot of Snow Cap’s reflects Juan’s comedic stance on life, from the reversed door knobs to signs advertising “Cheeseburger with Cheese” and “Dead Chicken”. So famous was Juan’s jestering, that Snow Cap’s has become a perennial favourite for travelers worldwide. Just step inside to order something and you will notice that every bit of wall space is filled with currency from around the world.
I am truly saddened that Juan is no longer with us. His sons now carry on his tradition of bantering with customers and playing his old tricks. Still, nothing is like the original.
Juan’s humour is also evident in “Juan’s Garden” situated behind the restaurant. There one finds an eclectic assortment of kitsch, vintage cars, roadside memorabilia, crazy signs and Arizona’s most unique restrooms.
Another staple of Snow Cap’s is Juan’s 1936 Chevrolet. Delgadillo chopped off the roof, painted and decorated it and stuffed the trunk with an artificial Christmas tree. Still road worthy, he used it for parades and other town events. It remains on permanent display in front of the restaurant.
It seems that Juan Delgadillo’s brand of humour has spread beyond Snow Cap. Every few years, Seligman’s share of quirky kitsch increases and new roadside attractions greet return visitors. Truly, it makes coming here every few years a fresh and fun experience.
We stayed in Seligman until sunset and it was time to make our way back to Flagstaff. Without the sun’s rays, the clouds returned and it was a chilly ride.
For a bit more history on this town and the Delgadillos check out this short video.