Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Take It Easy in Winslow, Arizona

Uncanny how song lyrics submerged beneath decades of disuse will bob to the surface when certain words fit the situation. 

Well, I'm running down the road… 
headed from Albuquerque, NM to Flagstaff, AZ when barricades, flashing signs and men wearing orange vests diverted traffic off I40 at 2:30 in the afternoon.

Well, unlike the Eagles' song, I'm [not] standing on a corner, but I am in Winslow, Arizona, and I think to myself, of all places to get stuck.

Semis crossed the overpass and simply got back on I40 heading east … don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.

What did truckers know that we didn't?

"We can't turn around," I said to my husband, "we just came from that direction."

From the overpass facing west, seeing no cars or trucks on the Interstate appeared like a scene from The Twilight Zone. Eerie. 

Ignoring our GPS, which showed that if we turned right, the road dead-ended. We felt sure we could find a way past this roadblock. Instead we found ourselves in the middle of the prairie, forced to turn around. This really was the Twilight Zone

Merging into the line of cars and trucks funneled to the onramp, my husband rolled down his window to ask, "What's going on?"

The man who leaned into the 50+ mph winds said, "Dirt storm closed the Interstate."

Cheeze, Louise. We lived in the Texas Panhandle east of Amarillo for 25 years and only blizzards closed I40. No blizzards in late April.

Lighten up while you still can
Don't even try to understand
Just find a place to make your stand
And take it easy.

The iPhone to the rescue, first to check the Arizona Department of Safety to see how long we should expect to wait and then, because the recording said the road would remain closed until 8:00 p.m., to find a place to spend the night. We got the last room at a hotel we would never have looked for but which turned out to be a marvel. 

La Posada, a Fred Harvey Hotel built along the Santa Fe railroad, opened in 1930. The entrance pictured here faces the old Route 66. Closed to the public in 1957 when the railroad turned the building into offices, La Posada reopened when the current owners began renovations in 1998. 

The new owner's vision for restoration reveals a labor of personal commitment. 

"I believe we save great buildings in the same way we save families, cities, nations: one day at a time, with constant investment and courage, undaunted by naysayers. I believe in the sacredness of place, and in the power of great architecture to inspire creativity, kindness and civic responsibility." Allan Affeldt, taken from the Souvenir Guide and Map for a Walking Tour of La Posada

A desert treasure, the hotel has a 5-star restaurant, a gift shop and art gallery. Designed by architect, Mary Jane Colter who also designed Bright Angel Lodge as well as lodges and cabins at Phantom Ranch located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, everything about this old hotel says grand. 

A list of well-known guests, which included Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bob Hope, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Mary Pickford, Will Rogers, Carol Lombard, Albert Einstein, John Wayne, to name a few, as well as pictures of celebrities from the 1930's–1950's line hallways, and each guest room gets its name from one of the hotel's famous visitors. 

My husband and I stayed in the Jane Russell room, where a picture hangs of the actress in the Howard Hughes movie, The Outlaw. Above the picture was a quote by Bob Hope, "Here's the 2 and only, Jane Russell." In California, I went to school with her niece, Jaye Russell.

Vintage black and white photos displayed throughout the hotel recall a time when passenger trains criss-crossed the country as the best and fastest means of transportation, for soldier, civilian and celebrity alike. Once upon a time, trains were mighty giants, but then Atlas Shrugged

Charles and Anne Lindbergh spent part of their honeymoon at La Posada, and later stayed there when they designed the airport at Winslow. In the early days of aviation, Winslow, AZ was a TWA stop and Howard Hughes owned the airline. 

I love taking pictures of pictures. I took this one of Howard Hughes because my mother had a job interview with him in Las Vegas.

My husband and I had dinner in the Turquoise Room, a meal that ranks in our top 5, all-time best. Today the restaurant can seat 100, but during the 1930s and 1940s, it was not unusual for the kitchen to serve 1000 meals a day. The hotel's guidebook notes, "In addition to the main kitchen, there was a full bakery and butcher shop, a maze of store rooms and freezers, china and linen rooms, and a lead-lined walk-in humidor for cigars. They even refrigerated the kitchen trash to keep it from smelling!"

Pictures taken before we consumed every bite: salad with Blue Cheese dressing––the best ever––; grilled chicken resting on a green chile sauce with a corn tamale side––luscious; and a corn and bean soup with a red pepper sauce garnish. Fantastic creations by the "renowned Chef John Sharpe."

Only one of several remaining Fred Harvey hotels in operation, Who is Fred Harvey?, La Posada offers more than a place to sleep. Guests have access to bookcases filled with books in the guest rooms as well as in common areas, a garden, a ballroom and a reading room where all the "Arizona Highway" magazines since 1945 are bound by year. 

Judy Garland starred in the movie, The Harvey Girls , an MGM musical that won the 1946 Oscar for best song, Johnny Mercer's "On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe."

To read more about The Harvey Girls, check out this book, The Harvey Girls: Women Who Opened the West. 

At La Posada, guests get a glimpse of not-so-ancient American history highlighted by western architecture and artists' creativity. 

If you ever get to Winslow, AZ, dirt storm or no, stop at La Posada and Take It Easy. I'm glad we did.

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