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A visit to Enchanted Trails RV Park July 28, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, People, Preservation.
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KC Keefer with his ongoing “Genuine Route 66 Life” video series interviews Vickie Ashcraft at the Enchanted Trails RV Park west of Albuquerque.

The interview also serves as a brief tour of a couple of the vintage travel trailers that Ashcraft rents out to overnight guests. If you’d like to stay in one, go here.

Owner of El Rancho Hotel in Gallup dies July 26, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Motels, People, Preservation.
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Armand Ortega Sr., 86, savior of the historic El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico, when it faced the wrecking ball during the 1980s, died Wednesday.

An employee at the hotel said Ortega had been in failing health for about a year. His funeral was today at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Gallup, with burial at Sunset Cemetery.

Ortega Family Enterprises, based in Santa Fe, owns several concessions in national parks, Native American-themed gift shops and restaurants in the Southwest, as well as El Rancho.

But Ortega was especially fond of El Rancho, which was opened in 1937 by R.E. “Griff” Griffith, brother of the famed movie director D.W. Griffith. The Griffiths encouraged filmmakers to shoot movies in the Gallup area, and the hotel benefited by having a bevy of stars — including John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Errol Flynn, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck and Humphrey Bogart – stay at the hotel during productions up to the 1960s.

The hotel started to decline, especially when Interstate 40 bypassed Route 66 in 1980. But Ortega, who always dreamed of owning El Rancho, bought it in 1986 after it went into bankruptcy and was threatened with demolition. According to an Associated Press story in 1989, Ortega bought the property for $500,000 and spent another $500,000 restoring it. It was reopened in May 1988 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places that year.

Clair Gurley, a salesman who was the hotel’s first guest when it opened in 1937, was invited back to the hotel after it was renovated and charged the original $5-a-night price.

An obituary in the Gallup Independent newspaper (subscription only) said Ortega could be found almost daily in the hotel’s restaurant, drinking coffee while chatting with tourists or buying crafts from Native Americans who lived in the region.

According to an obituary supplied by Rollie Mortuary in Gallup:

Ortega got his start in business selling newspapers and leading a team of shoeshine boys at the age of 10. In his youth he worked for his father at Indian Trails Trading Post in Lupton, Arizona. He graduated from Holbrook High School in 1946, where he played basketball and the trumpet. In 1952, he opened his first store in Deming. He worked to promote Indian Jewelry throughout the U.S. and he was the first Indian Arts and Crafts dealer to market and distribute throughout the United States.

Ortega was born in Holbrook. He eventually opened a slew of businesses in New Mexico and Arizona, including the Indian Ruins Trading Post in Sanders, Arizona, and the Hopi House near Flagstaff.

(Images of El Rancho Hotel by el-toro and Larry Lamsa via Flickr)

Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program announces 2014 grants July 25, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Bridges, History, Motels, Signs.
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The Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program on Thursday announced five cost-share grants totaling $77,000 for 2014, including one for an endangered bridge in Oklahoma.

Here are the recipients:

Rock Creek Bridge, Sapulpa, Oklahoma ($5,013 National Park Service grant, $5,013 match by recipient)– The bridge carried traffic on Route 66 from 1926 until 1952. The bridge, on the National Register of Historic Places, has been closed to traffic in recent years. Ongoing repairs and interventions by the City of Sapulpa will help it meet recommendations by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation so the bridge can be reopened to vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

Skylark Motel neon tower rehabilitation, St. Clair, Missouri  ($22,300 NPS, $22,300 match) –The motel, which opened in 1952, is marked by a two-story, Art Deco tower that sported multicolored neon lights behind glass blocks. The VFW that now owns the property is working with the Route 66 Association of Missouri’s Neon Heritage Preservation Committee to restore the tower.

L Motel rehabilitation, Flagstaff, Arizona ($9,800 NPS, $46,063 match) – The grant will aid with the new owners’ ongoing rehabilitation of the motel, including heating and air conditioning systems. The L Motel has operated continuously along Route 66 since 1949.

American Indians and Route 66 materials, New Mexico ($24,900 NPS, $29,651 match) – The American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association will develop educational and travel materials for the public that will include information about the tribes along Route 66 and their cultural heritage; significant tribal sites along the route; historical impacts of Route 66 on tribes; and the impact of tribal culture on Route 66.

Route 66 oral history project, Springfield, Missouri ($15,000 NPS, $33,880 match) – The Missouri State University Libraries will undertake a project to save for posterity many under-told stories of the Ozarks, including African-American experiences of Route 66. It will collect at least 20 oral-history interviews, which will be digitized and made available online.

The cost-share grant program provides assistance for historic preservation, research, oral history, interpretative, and educational projects. Since 2001, 119 projects have awarded a total of $1.7 million, with $2.9 million in cost-share match, totaling $4.6 million in public and private investment for Route 66.

(Image of the Rock Creek Bridge by carterse via Flickr)

Will the Route 66 festival transform Kingman? July 23, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Motels, Museums, Restaurants, Towns.
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The Kingman Daily Miner newspaper posted an interesting article this week about Route 66′s growing economic influence and whether the upcoming International Route 66 Festival will transform the host town of Kingman, Arizona.

The article borrows heavily from the influential Route 66 Economic Impact Study and anecdotal evidence on how Route 66 affects other towns, including examples in Kingman itself.

The whole story is worth reading in full. But one angle that’s been overlooked is Kingman lacks a key Route 66 hub to attract significant crowds of tourists.

Here are several towns that thrive with Route 66 tourism because of a must-stop Route 66 hub, and a nearby town that often gets passed by because it doesn’t:

  • Stroud, Oklahoma, which has the Rock Cafe, vs. Bristow, Oklahoma.
  • Seligman, Arizona, which has Angel Delgadillo’s barbershop and the Snow Cap Drive-In, vs. Ash Fork, Arizona.
  • Pontiac, Illinois, which has the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum, vs. Chenoa, Illinois.
  • Arcadia, Oklahoma, which has Pops and the Round Barn, vs. Luther, Oklahoma.
  • Tucumcari, New Mexico, which has the Blue Swallow Motel, vs. Santa Rosa, New Mexico.

That’s not to say that Kingman isn’t trying to set up a Route 66 hub. The Powerhouse Museum and Mr. D’z diner are worthwhile stops, but neither yet has the cachet of becoming indisputable destinations for Route 66 travelers.

This doesn’t mean Kingman should quit trying, either. Tulsa, for example, lacks a big destination for Route 66 travelers, but that doesn’t mean still-new Woody Guthrie Center or the long-planned Route 66 museum won’t eventually become one. In the case of Kingman, perhaps something else — such in its historic downtown — will eventually develop into a big attraction.

The point of this post is folks in Kingman shouldn’t get too excited over the effect of one little festival. If Kingman becomes transformed, it will be because of its entrepreneurs or historic preservationists over a period of years, not because of a four-day event.

(Image of the Kingman Club sign in Kingman, Arizona, by Tom Roche via Flickr)

Fire destroys Tucumcari hotel July 17, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, Weather.
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A Hampton Inn hotel in the Route 66 town of Tucumcari, New Mexico, was destroyed after fire swept through its roof and top floors Wednesday, reported the Quay County Sun and other news outlets.

Nearly 30 overnight guests were evacuated with no injuries, reported the newspaper, and were moved to nearby hotels. It’s believed a lightning strike on the roof of the hotel’s southwest corner caused the blaze.

Meanwhile, volunteers helped the hotel’s guests find clothes, shoes and phones to contact family members.

Owner Nitin Bhakta, who said the hotel was a total loss, said the hotel’s fire-alarm system failed, even though it had been tested recently. It’s likely, however, the lightning strike fried the system’s electronics.

We’ve long advocated for Route 66 tourists to stay in mom-and-pop motels. However, Hampton Inns about a decade ago helped with a few restoration projects on Route 66 and sponsored a Route 66 Caravan in 2002. So, if you want a chain hotel on the Mother Road, that’s one that merits a look.

As for Tucumcari, I suspect what’s Hampton Inn’s loss is several independent motel owners’ gain. The Blue Swallow Motel, Motel Safari and Historic Route 66 Motel all get high marks from travelers and will do nicely for Hampton Inn guests who had booked reservations. And the Roadrunner Lodge will open any day now.

Film footage of two Route 66 landmarks during the 1980s July 7, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, History, Motels.
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The Facebook page of the Dutch Route 66 Association recently uncovered some footage from the 1980s of two Route 66 landmarks.

One is John’s Modern Cabins, which had been abandoned for about 15 years and was already declining when the footage was shot. It was located east of Arlington, Missouri.

We’d managed to uncover quite a bit of history — including a homicide — about John’s Modern Cabins, which was published in a story in the summer 2001 issue of Route 66 Magazine (back issues may be ordered here). A more concise history may be found here.

The second piece of 1980s footage is from Ella’s Frontier in Joseph City, Arizona, not long after it closed. According to the person who posted the video, Ella Blackwell owned the place until she died in 1984. More about Ella’s Frontier can be found in this history piece here.

Both videos came from the recordpickers account on YouTube. He or she has some other vintage footage you might find of interest.

(Image of John’s Modern Cabins sign by Larry Myhre via Flickr)

NBC Nightly News airs segment about Route 66 July 2, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Motels, People, Restaurants, Television.
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NBC Nightly News aired a two-minute segment about Route 66 on Tuesday night.

If you missed it, you can check it out below, or hit the above link if the embedding doesn’t work. It painted a very flattering picture of the old road.

The segment by correspondent Harry Smith features a stretch of Route 66 in western Arizona and California. You’ll see Cool Springs Camp, Topock 66 Resort and Spa, Roy’s and a few other places.

And Wigwam Motel operator Kumar Patel has turned out to be quite an ambassador for the Mother Road.

Here’s a bonus video, posted online:

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