Stops Along The Way

The Wigwam Motel on Route 66

The front entrance of the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona.

This is more of a stop ON the road...

It is known as the Will Rogers Highway, the Main Street of America, and of course, The Mother Road. Whatever you like to call it, no great American road trip could ever be fully realized without a stop on America's famed Route 66. It cannot be found on any common map and the original route between Chicago and L.A. no longer exists, though broken pieces of it can still be traveled.

This way to everywhere! Follow your dreams. 

This way to everywhere! Follow your dreams. 

The highway of dreams has enticed wanderers, travelers, explorers since 1926. During the golden age of American road travel—the 1950s—pushing westward from the industrial Midwest to sunny California was a prestigious endeavor, and Route 66 was the prestigious route to take to travel to and fro.  

We’ve found ourselves on it a couple of times this year, but at no point thus far have we had the opportunity to drink in all of the photogenic kitsch that comes along with this dose of Americana than in Holbrook, Arizona (just outside of Petrified Forest National Park) at the Wigwam Motel.

Vintage cars dress the parking lot at Holbrook's Wigwam Motel. 

As I understand it, the original Wigwam Village was designed by architect Frank Redford and built in Cave City, Kentucky (where nearby you can visit Mammoth Cave National Park) in 1937. While the design was to mimic native American teepees, Redford was not a fan of the word so he called them “Wigwams.” A developer passing through soon after it was built bought rights to the design and fashioned six additional Wigwam Villages, totaling seven.

This location is one of only three still in existence (one other in aforementioned Kentucky; and one in California.) Not surprisingly, location #7 is on the National Register of Historic Places ... and it looks every bit the part. Vintage cars parked in the lot outside are a nod to its vintage past, providing a backdrop that feels more like you are on a movie set than at an operating motel. But it is still in business—the rooms can be rented by the night and true to original form, there is no wifi, cable TV, or telephone service (a trait we are finding to be quite common while on the road this year.)

Two of America’s very different wonders just stones throw from one another… not bad, AZ.   

Can't really think of anything more iconic than Wally the Airstream driving down the "Main Street of America."

Can't really think of anything more iconic than Wally the Airstream driving down the "Main Street of America."

One is never too young to have some fun on the Mother Road. 

One is never too young to have some fun on the Mother Road. 

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, Arizona

We're sure this has happened to many travelers... You line up a side-stop at a landmark or popular attraction that you know nothing about and then it completely blows your mind. That's exactly what happened to us at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, en route to Saguaro National Park in Arizona.

Living in DC, we had the lion's share of top-tier museums that we patronized a lot. And this adventure is about parks, not so much about museums, so we were kind of in the casual "sure, let's check it out" mode when we went there. We left so happy that we went back again the following day because we wanted to explore it more... that says a lot considering the scarcity of free time we have this year.  

This isn't your typical museumit reminded us both a lot of the Smithsonian National Zoo, which was our outdoor haven while living in DC. It has 2 miles of outdoor walking paths that glide along 21 acres of natural habitat where desert wildlife thrives. Mountain lion, coyotes, javelina, grey fox, snakes, lizards, honey bees, and hummingbirdsall of which are naturally found in this biodiverse desert landscape in a slightly more concentrated area. 

A healthy looking roadrunner at the Desert Museum.

A healthy looking roadrunner at the Desert Museum.

From the museum website: …not a “museum” in the usual sense, it is an unparalleled composite of plant, animal, and geologic collections with the goal of making the Sonoran Desert accessible, understandable, and valued.

Goal achieved. In a short amount of time we easily visited, learned about, and appreciated at a higher level the natural makeup of this region. It is no wonder that this museum is consistently marked as one of the top ten best museums in the country and the top site to visit in Tucson (not to mention one of the stand out stops along our road trip this year.) Amazing!! 

Q', Hot Springs Style

It looks how it looks but it tastes like "Stop talking until I'm done eating." 

It looks how it looks but it tastes like "Stop talking until I'm done eating." 

Between the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Texas sits another heartland of American barbecue (Q')—Arkansas—and folks there have a strong opinion about who makes the best around. In fact, we asked every park ranger and volunteer ranger we met at Hot Springs National Park where to find mind blowing Q' and they all had a different favorite place to go. One man, insisted he made the best. McClard's is the most famous because it has the endorsement of Hot Springs' most famous home-towner: President Bill Clinton. We went to Ranger Lissa's favorite place: Smokin' In Style.

Now, I don't know if this is the best in town because we have no other establishment to compare it to, but we can ring our own endorsement that it was absolutely delicious, cheap, and the company was most excellent too—all important and comforting things while eating on the road. 

Americana: Shelton Fireworks

Jonny did the Sunday morning shopping in Robertsdale, Alabama. 

Jonny did the Sunday morning shopping in Robertsdale, Alabama. 

If you've ever been to a firework warehouse, you know that it's an intense experience. Cool, dark, quiet—you can feel that with the stroke of just one match, the entire place could go up in explosive, devastate-anything-in-its-path flames. That my friends, is an intense feeling. 

And there we were, somewhere between Virgin Islands National Park and Park #5 on a Sunday morning, walking up to a building adorned with BIG BOLD signs reading, 'NO SMOKING - NO SMOKING - NO SMOKING!!'

Inside Shelton Fireworks were two employees governing hundreds, maybe thousands, of boxes filled with childhood favorites of which we grabbed up handfuls of each. Smoke bombs, fountains, killer bees, snakes, flowers, sparklers, firecrackers ... all set! 

We stayed away from the half of the store where the mortars lived—we don't need to send flaming anything into the air anywhere near our National Parks.

The Airstream looked right at home in that desolate parking lot at Shelton's, didn't it? 

Mrs. Mac's Kitchen, Key Largo, Florida

One of the most exciting things about road tripping is finding gem's to explore along the route. Wanting some good local eats near Biscayne National Park, we were directed to Mrs. Mac's Kitchen in Key Largo. 

I'd say it lives up to the Key Largo hype. We were told that the original Mrs. Macs is far superior to Mrs. Mac's II just down the street, but the more newly established sister location had a nice big fat parking spot suitable for a full size vehicle and our Airstream so opted to eat there  our rationale was that, we didn't know the difference, it would either be to our liking or not. Delicious blackened Mahi sandwich, diner feel, "world famous" key lime pie... What's not to love?!

99336 Overseas HWY, Key Largo, FL 33037