Route 66 Day 12 – Cottonwood to Winslow

May 5, 2015

You see “Winslow” in the post title, right? Yeah, there will be train pictures – but more than that, I promise.

We didn’t do much blog-worthy on Monday May 4; basically hung out with my Uncle Jake and Aunt Sally at their Cottonwood home. We did go up to Jerome and had lunch at the Asylum – an old hospital now repurposed as a hotel and restaurant. If you were born in this hospital, you can stay the night free at the hotel. Since the hospital closed many, many years ago there are few takers on this offer; nevertheless, my uncle and aunt have a friend who qualifies.

As I reported on our last day at the Grand Canyon a storm was moving in; it affected Cottonwood as well; plenty of wind and a bit of rain. I think Cottonwood gets a bad rap; it is thirty miles from Sedona, the pretty sister; but Cottonwood has plenty of beautiful vistas as it sits up on the side of Mingus Mountain – down the hill a bit from Jerome. Carla and I took a walk up Quail Run RD each morning and to take advantage of the views.

Cactus and fog on the slopes of Mingus Mountain.
Cactus and fog on the slopes of Mingus Mountain.

The first and last thing we do at Jake and Sally’s  is laundry. I swore that we’d stay with them even if they didn’t have a washing machine. Sally responded that they are going to put laundromat quarter slots in and make some money on our stays.  After doing a last load of laundry that will have to last for a while we headed up to Flagstaff and down to Winslow.

We’d been raving about the barbecue we had at Satchmo’s in Flagstaff so we stopped there to show them what all the hubbub was, bub.

Pulled pork with red beans and rice at Satchmo's in Flagstaff, Arizona
Pulled pork with red beans and rice at Satchmo’s in Flagstaff, Arizona

Then down to train heaven – La Posada hotel in Winslow, Arizona. It was opened in about 1930 as a combination hotel and restaurant to serve the travelers on the Santa Fe railroad between Los Angeles and Chicago. Back in the day there were no dining or sleeping cars so rail travelers got off the train periodically to eat and sleep. Fred Harvey (of Harvey Girl fame) contracted with the Santa Fe railroad to build restaurants and hotels. He in turn hired Mary Colter to design the hotels.

You’ll find her work in Gallup, New Mexico and Barstow, California and other spots throughout the southwest but she considered La Posada her masterpiece. She also designed Hermit’s Rest, the Bright Angel Lodge, the Hopi House, and the Desert View Watchtower at the Grand Canyon. She was detail oriented, designing the Navajo-inspired china in the restaurant as well as the flatware. We ate off replicas of that china at the El Tovar hotel at the Grand Canyon. Read the link on her name for a fuller account of the significance of her work.

La Posada Hotel exterior

Front, street, view of La Posada Hotel exterior

She laid it out with wide hallways and a large vent at the top to get the most airflow to cool it in the hot Arizona summers. She designed the hotel to echo the estate of a Spanish aristocrat who would entertain large groups; there are multiple open spaces for relaxing and visiting.

La Posada Hotel interior
La Posada Hotel interior

The rooms in the hotel now sport the names of prominent travelers who stayed there: James Cagney, Harry Truman, Jimmy Stewart to name just a few. We stayed in room 101, the FDR room. It is closest to the tracks and boasts a door to a private porch where one can watch the action protected from the wind and sun.

Back around the war years (WWII) Winslow’s motto was “The most prosperous town in northern Arizona.” Not only did the Santa Fe serve rail travelers, it was a crew change point, a maintenance shop, and a division headquarters. My uncle, my mom, and my aunts remember this to be a bustling place. Not so much anymore. The division headquarters and the associated maintenance work moved to Barstow, California in the late 70’s or early 80’s.

Then in 1996 the millionaire couple Allen Affeldt and Tina Mion stepped in to buy La Posada and convert the building from its ramshackle remains as a deserted railroad division headquarters back to its glory as a stunning hotel. Tina Mion is a renowned artist and has many of her works on display. She has a series of presidents and their wives where each couple is represented by a playing card. The grand room features an enormous canvas of celebrities who have committed suicide gathered at a party. Each of the subjects is wearing something related to their death. For example, Sylvia Plath is wearing oven mitts. Liberace is in the foreground; he didn’t commit suicide but Tina figures he always liked a good party. Needless to say, her work is “different”.

After a delicious dinner in the Turquoise Room, we went upstairs to the grand room and played a game of dominos. I should have known Carla and I were in for it; Sally’s grandmother was the Texas domino champion back in the day. Jake has obviously absorbed that knowledge of the years of their marriage because he was the big winner.

After the game I went out to watch trains in the night then went to bed. It’s not as noisy as you might think; westbound trains quietly sneak past the hotel; you will hear the eastbound trains powering up but no horns.

I woke up early grabbed some coffee and headed trackside to join my fellow foamers. The light was good and there was plenty of action. There were about half a dozen rail fans out the evening before and this morning; everyone was quite convivial and we swapped stories about our trips. It turns out there is another retired couple from Portland (Cedar Mill area) traveling Route 66 this month. They just dropped in for a quick look the night before before going to Holbrook for the night, so they are ahead of us.

Enough of all that; let’s see some trains. When I got out, the tracks were empty; but within minutes an eastbound mixed freight rolled by around 7:00 AM.

BNSF at La Posada
BNSF at La Posada

This train was evidently low priority it pulled up to the signal about 1/2 a mile to the east and stopped. Things were waking up and we soon had company. The tank car on the back track is part of that low priority train. It was stuck there until 11:30 as other, higher priority, trains pushed by – both east and west.

You can see BNSF leases lots of other power to get their trains across the country; we saw Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, CSX and Southern power among others.

BNSF at La Posada
BNSF at La Posada

The next photo shows how busy things can get. With three trains stopped waiting for clearance, this higher priority job lead by BNSF 7430 accelerates past.

BNSF at La Posada

Four trains across  at La Posada

All this action is a rail fan’s dream. Carla came out and caught me catching trains.

Howard checking on a westbound BNSF freight at La Posada
Howard checking on a westbound BNSF freight at La Posada
Howard photographing a BNSF freight at La Posada
Howard photographing a BNSF freight at La Posada

We checked out of our room at the last possible minute and headed out on our shortest travel day of the trip – a mere 34 miles to Holbrook where we would sleep in a Wigwam.

3 thoughts on “Route 66 Day 12 – Cottonwood to Winslow

  1. The old Santa Fe (ATSF) route through Arizona has some beautiful scenery along it. The old Warbonnet locomotives were great, too. Thanks for sharing these images.

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