Thursday, March 25, 2021

New York's COVID Lockdown - One Year Later

42nd street - March 2020


On March 17, 2020, I had an appointment in mid-town New York. It was the second full day of the COVID lockdown, so I took my camera with me to document the effects on the city. One year later I returned and walked the same path to see how things had changed.

Lexington Ave March 2020

Lexington Ave March 2021

One thing that was immediately obvious was that there was a lot more traffic on the streets. The streets had been a ghost town in 2020. Now you would never know that there was still a pandemic going on. Same thing for Fifth Ave and 42nd Street.

42nd street, March 2021

My first stop was at Grand Central Terminal. In 2020 I had the place almost to myself. This year there were certainly many more people around, although it was not back to its full capacity.

Grand Central Entrance  - March 2020

Grand Central Entrance - March 2021

Grand Central Lobby - March 2020

Grand Central Lobby - March 2021

Bryant Park has also seen some return, although neither day was particularly conducive to sitting outside for lunch.

Bryant Park - March 2020

Bryant Park - March 2021

Bryant Park - March 2020

Bryant Park - March 2021

The places where I found the largest changes were the open spaces of Times Square and Herald Square. It was in these spaces that people had returned, enjoying the seats and tables to have a snack or take a rest.

Father Duffy Square - March 2020

Father Duffy Square - 2021

Herald Square - March 2020

Herald Square - March 2021

New York is not "back to normal." But, as the number of vaccinated people continues to increase, and as businesses begin to bring back people to their offices, life is slowly returning to midtown.


Thursday, March 18, 2021

Exploring the Roadside Attractions of Route 66 - part 3

Route 66 memorabilia in Seligman AZ

Over my last two blogs I have explored some of the sights along Route 66 while traveling through California. Today we cross the Colorado River into Arizona. The Mother Road jumps onto the interstate for a brief span when entering The Copper State, but it quickly heads north, following AZ-10, through the desert toward The Black Mountains. I was lucky enough to pass through shortly after a rare July rainstorm, and I had the chance to see some of the local cacti in bloom.

Oatman AZ


As I entered The Black Mountains of Arizona I arrived at the town of Oatman. Founded in 1863, Oatman was a small gold mining town. In 1915, tow prospectors struck a large vein, a Oatman became a boom town, swelling to over 3000 residents. Commercial mining companies came in. By 1924 the main employer n town, United Eastern Mines, shut down as returns diminished, and by 1941 all gold mining had ended. In total, over $40 million worth of gold ($202 million in 2019 dollars) had been taken from the ground. During the 1940’s traffic along Route 66 kept the town going, but in 1953, a new route was built east of the mountains, which the interstate follows today. Oatman quickly became a ghost town. 

Today, nostalgia has offered a lifeline to Oatman. People visit the town to step back one hundred years to the early mining town. There are casinos, restaurants, and plenty of souvenir shops, all of which play on the town’s history. One of the biggest draws is the herd of wild donkeys that visit the town every day. They are the descendants of work animals bought my miners. When the mines closed, the donkeys were released into the hills, where this population has lived ever since. Every morning they walk into Oatman, where tourists feed them the donkey pellets and carrots that are for sale throughout the town.


Sitgreaves Pass

Leaving Oatman, Route 66 (AZ-10) turns east and passes through the Black Mountains at Sitgreaves Pass. The two-lane highway winds its way up to an altitude of 3586 ft (1093 m). And wind it does, with frequent switchbacks and some steep climbs and descents. There are many places to pull off the road to take pictures of the expansive view of the valleys below. It is a road that demands concentration and respect from the driver, I LOVED IT!


Seligman AZ

An AT&SF steam engine in Kingman AZ

From the Black Mountains, Route 66 continued east, passing through Kingman AZ and Hualapai Indian Reservation, which you can find many popular hikes into the western end of the Grand Canyon. About two hours east of Sitgreaves Passes the town of Seligman AZ. Seligman was founded in 1882 as a junction and stop on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad line.The stop even rated its own Harvey House (see last weeks blog) which opens in 1905 and was in operation until 1954.

Sitting about halfway between the cities of Kingman and Flagstaff, Seligman became an important stop along Route 66. Its commercial strip flourished over the years, with more than a dozen businesses and hotels, many of which are still open today. I stopped at the Sno-Cap Drive-In for an excellent Chocolate malted. I enjoyed the drink while walking along the main drag, stopping into the several stores that celebrate its history and that of The Mother Road.

From Seligman, Route 66 has been mostly replaced by I-40, an unfortunate fact through much of Arizona. My goal this day was to finish in Flagstaff which I reached fairly quickly, delayed only by a massive thunder storm, which forced me to make a pit stop in the town of Williams, which has become a major staging area for visitors to The Grand Canyon. 



Thursday, March 11, 2021

Exploring the Roadside Attractions of Route 66 - Part 2


In 2014, I took a trip along Route 66, starting in Pasadena CA, driving east. The western end of this famous road is a study in rapidly changing landscapes. From the urban Los Angeles/Pasadena corridor to the suburban passage through the San Bernardino Valley, Route 66 has changed tremendously from its origins. However, nothing prepared me for the sudden shift in scenery upon leaving the town on San Bernardino. Here, Route 66 jumps onto the interstate and climbs up over the Cajon Summit, gaining 4000 feet in altitude in just under 20 miles. But more striking, is that as soon as you leave the city limits, you have left the Southland behind, and entered the rural desert. This change in landscape brings about a change in the style and type of roadside attraction that I encountered over the next part of my journey.

The High Desert

California Route 66 Museum - Victorville CA


Victorville sits past the Cajon Summit, and is the first city of major size that I reached coming up over the mountain. It was founded in 1860, as a way station for stage coaches and then trains as they headed into and out of the Mojave Desert. It still serves that roll today, giving drivers a chance to rest a regroup before traveling on.

In 1926, Route 66 was surveyed through the town, following the railroad right-of-way through what is now Old Town. Today, in the middle of Old Town is the California Route-66 Museum. There are many “Route 66 Museums” along the route, and this one is pretty good. It opens in 1995, as a project of  Old Town Victorville Heritage Inc., in a building that had been a cafe for many years. Its 5000 square feet are filled, wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling with artifacts and memorabilia. It is a feast for the eyes and what it lacks in organization it makes up for in quantity. Among my favorite items are the larger that life Hula Girl and Cowboy from local businesses and a mini-camper with a kitchen and table hidden in the rear. There are also classic cars road-side advertisements.


Elmer Long’s Bottle Tree Ranch - Oro Grande CA


Drive twelve miles north (east) along Route 66 and you will find one of those typical United States one-of-a-king roadside attractions - Elmer Long’s Bottle Tree Ranch. Elmer Long (1946-2019) moved to the high desert in 1970 to raise his family. He was a trained welder and cement worker, but his true passion was creating “outsider art”, using found materials to create sculptures. When his father died, he received a large collection of bottles, and he put his skills to use in an imaginative way.

He took cast iron pipes and welded small branches to them. He then attached the bottles to the branches. Then he planted his trees in the yard of his house. Today, there over 200 bottle trees on his property. They are placed fairly close together, when I walked among them, the light was constantly shifting, being picked up, reflected and refracted by the different colored bottles. It is a wonderful place to wander around and definitely an Instagram magnet. 

Casa Del Desierto - Barstow’s Harvey House - Barstow CA

Barstow started back in the 1830’s as a supply town for miners in the high desert. During the 1870’s, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railway came through and made Barstow a major junction and refueling spot. With the AT&SF came a new innovation. 

Fred Harvey

At the time, trains did not have dining cars. Passengers bought food from vendors at stations along the way, nd often the food was expensive and not good, I mean, no customers were going to return and demand a refund. But Fred Harvey (1835-1901) had an idea. He had built several eating establishments near smaller railways in his home state of Kansas, and he saw this new national railway as a grand opportunity.

Harvey entered an agreement with the AT&SF to have exclusive rights to open a chain of restaurants called Harvey Houses, along their route. He placed them at the refueling stations, where trains would have to lay-by for and hour or so. He brought in fresh meat and vegetables and had his service down to a science, bringing out full hot meals in under and hour at a reasonable price, sending the passengers away with full stomachs and smiles on their faces. Harvey hired women from around the country and housed them at the restaurants. The Harvey Girls, as they were known, were given strict rules for behavior and dress, to maintain both the company’s and their reputations.

Harvey and his sons built 84 restaurants, but the development of diesel trains, whose stronger engines didn’t need to stop as often, and could pull extra cars, including dining cars, brought an end to them by the late 1940’s. Today 12 of the building remain, most of which are serving as hotels, restaurants and museums. The Casa del Desierto in Barstow is a museum and event space.

This short stretch (under 100 miles) offers a lot to see. It is a great example of what is still out there along the roadside in small towns and off the interstate.



Thursday, March 4, 2021

Exploring the Roadside Attractions of Route 66 - Part 1


When I travel, I love driving on the two land highways of the United States. I find it much more relaxing then speeding from place to place on the expressways. This also affords the chance to explore some of the quirky and historic roadside attractions that have been built over the past 100 years. There is no better place to explore these sights than on the old Route-66, which I did back in 2014.

Fork in the Road - Pasadena CA

The Fork in the Road

My trip took several days, driving from Pasadena, CA to Albuquerque, NM. It was in Pasadena that I found my first roadside attraction, A Fork in the Road. In 2009, Bob Stone woke up a couple of days after his 75th birthday. He walked outside, and on crossing a usually unimpressive train island near his house he found an unusual sight, an 18-foot tall fork had been planted into the ground. The fork was a “gift,” created by his friend, artist Ken Marshall, based on a conversation they had had years earlier, when Stone had described the traffic island a typical “fork in the road.” Marshall and a helper worked overnight, disguised as Caltrans employees, to install the statue.

The Fork remained in place until the spring of 2010, when the city of Pasadena took it down, as there had been no permits dispensed for its construction. By that time it had become a popular sight for locals and tourists, and there was a call for its reinstallation, and in Oct. 2011, the Fork was returned to the island, its position adjusted to give more room for visitors to safely take pictures.

While not actually on Route-66, The Fork in the Road struck me as an apt metaphor for  beginning my journey.
The Fork in the Road is at the junction of Pasadena and St. Johns Aves.

Madonna of the Trail - Upland CA


Driving through the San Bernardino Valley, following Route-66, Foothills Blvd is a four-lane suburban thoroughfare. It is lined with strip malls, fast food restaurants and small office building. You have to look closely to find the gems that are still present from long ago. In the town of Upland, CA, there is a small park that is easy to miss if you are not looking for it. But there, in this small green divider in the middle of Euclid Ave., is a monument to the women who help blaze the trail of European settlement of the United States.

The Madonna of the Trail is one of twelve identical statues commissioned by the Daughters of the American Revolution. The statue depicts a pioneer mother and child. They were installed between 1929, one in each state along the National Old Trails Highway, which follows US-40 and US-66 from Baltimore MD to Los Angeles CA. The statues were designed by August Leimbach (1882-1965), a German-American sculptor who is best known for producing much of the decorative statuary for the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.

The Madonna of the Trail is located at the juction of Euclid Ave and Foothill Blvd.

Wigwam Motel - San Bernardino CA


San Bernardino is the last town I passed through before heading to the high desert. On an industrial stretch of the Foothills Ave, just west of Interstate 5 is the Wigwam Motel. In 1933 Frank Redford, from Kentucky, but the first Wigwam Motel, inspired by a restaurant he visited in Long Beach California during a childhood visit. His idea was to create a “village” of individual units set up around a Museum/Gift Shop. He built it near the newly opened Mammoth Caves National Park. Over time, seven similar motels were built along, all along Route 66. It was a great way to separate oneself from the other motels and traveler’s camps along the road.

While the rooms are actually in the shape of teepees, not wigwams, a distinction that Redford probably cared little about, the units are built on a concrete base, and have wood and stucco walls. The San Bernardino motel, built in 1949, has 39 units built around a swimming pool. The office has a gift shop. It is one of three of the original Wigwam motels left today.

Shunpiking, staying off the the interstates, is a great way to explore the country. It slows down travel and gives insight into the history and quirks of the road.

Next week - Through the Mojave Desert