Unfolding the Map
We cross an interstate and consider Holbrook, Arizona - the only town, I'm sure, with a street called "Bucket of Blood." Are there interesting attractions to be seen on the interstate? Or do we need to get off the beaten path? Pull off the road, get a room at the Wigwam, and think about it. Click on the map thumbnail at right to see where Holbrook sits.
"Holbrook used to be a tough town where boys from the Hash Knife cattle outfit cut loose. Now, astride I-44 (once route 66), Holbrook was a tourist stop for women with Instamatics and men with metal detectors; no longer was the big business cattle, but rather rocks and gems."
Blue Highways: Part 5, Chapter 2
First, a little bit of a correction. LHM in his quote above says that Holbrook sits astride I-44. In actuality, Holbrook is on I-40. I-44 is an interstate that runs from St. Louis to Wichita Falls, Texas. He may have changed this in later editions of the book, but I'm not sure.
Now that we have our interstates straight, what can we say about Holbrook. Though I've traveled past it, I've never stopped. However, I know that it has a great old 50s motel that kind of defies LHM's wistfulness about the loss of hotels to motels. One may never say that they have gotten the chance to stay at a "grand" motel, but they may get the chance to say that they stayed in a unique motel. The wigwams that make up the Wigwam Motel are pretty fun and eyecatching as you drive by them.
This makes up part of a familiar theme that I've come back to time and again. The interstates, in many ways, really took the adventurousness out driving. Now we drive fast to get places. But back in the 50s, before the interstates were pushed through towns and cities, people drove on trips down two-lane highways like Route 66 which, as the famous song points out, "winds down from Chicago to L.A.," to see interesting things while they were driving. The car was mass-produced like never before and more people were driving places that they had never been. Entrepreneurs, eager to cash in on the number of people doing leisure driving, put up fun and interesting roadside attractions, eateries and places to stay that were supposed to catch people's attention. In the West they played on Western themes like cowboys and Indians, prospectors and mines, and other Western things. Only a few of those types of attractions, like the Wigwam Motel, still exist.
Occasionally, you can still find these roadside attractions, though I think they are probably a mass-consumer version of what they once were. The famous Wall Drug signs all over the country that advertise and converge on a roadside stop in South Dakota are replicated in smaller versions in the rest of the country. During my frequent drives between Lubbock, Texas and Albuquerque when I taught at Texas Tech, I passed miles of billboards advertising the Flying J Ranch and the rest stop at Clines Corners. The signs advertised gems, pottery, beads, moccasins, fireworks, ice cream, food ("eat here and get gas" the Flying J's signs proclaimed), and other automotive, digestive, and vanity concerns. Going into them, however, put me in just another kitsch shop, with silly and cheap souvenirs, fudge and country music selections. The effect was the same as visiting the Mars Cheese Castle in southern Wisconsin - same kitsch, different state.
I guess that's what LHM was getting at when he speaks of the "rocks and gems" that seem to be the attraction of the day. How many people, passing through on the interstate and making a quick stop at a rock shop with all kinds of tchochkes, would note that Holbrook has a street called "Bucket of Blood" street. How many would be curious enough to wonder where that name came from? Hint: it had to do with the cattle wars of the late 1800s and Holbrook's former reputation as a rough place due to the Hashknife gang that LHM mentions frequented the place.
I suppose it's the reason why LHM takes blue highways. I try when I get a chance. By doing so, one can try to find something left of an America that is rapidly disappearing as people become more homogenous in their preferences. I hope that somewhere pockets of America still exist that are different enough to be interesting. I felt I found that type of different-ness in New Orleans, but somewhere out on the highways I know more such places must exist, perhaps around a turn past the McDonalds or in some geologic depression just out of sight of the interstate. It doesn't have to be a Shangri La, just something different than what's become...normal.
One of the best road songs ever written - an ode to a road that's gone. The Nat King Cole Trio did one of the first and one of the best versions of the song Route 66, in my humble opinion. Listen and "get your kicks!"
If you want to know more about Holbrook
Next up: Polacca, Hopi Reservation