Portrait of Arizona and a Stop at La Posada

As I mentioned in my last post, it’s probably not surprising that I did eat a lot of meat while in Arizona. Arizona is one of those places that you imagine to be one small, dusty town after another. In driving from Vegas to Flagstaff, we stopped at a shack along the road advertising their jerky. Jerky, I explained to Alyson, is one of those great American traditions, left over from the days without refrigerators. It’s salted and cured meat — think smoked salmon — but the meat version. And of course drier.

We bought ourselves some venison jerky (it was a toss up between that and elk) and as we waited to pay, we watched the woman at the counter have an intense phone conversation. She never stopped to say hello or tell the other person on the line she had costumers. We eventually paid and left, and I thought to myself, it must be a lonely life out here. Maybe it makes you mean. Or maybe, when one’s allowed to conceal and carry, it’s not surprising that there is a love of everything that goes along with guns. I wondered if I was going to end up in a Cormac McCarthy novel.

But the truth was that we were amid the land of people catering to tourists. In fact, a lot of the places we stopped at, whether on Route 66 or to and from our hotel in Winslow, existed solely because of tourists. It was the only industry that was left in these remote places.
In fact, Winslow had once been one of the great destinations of the Southern Pacific Railway. Its proximity to the painted desert made it an ideal stopping place and the hotel we stayed at, La Posada, had been one of the great creations of Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, who is most known for the buildings she designed at the Grand Canyon, and the Fred Harvey Company. It was done in a contemporary “Southwest” style, integrating the then modern deco style with local flavor. All of the furniture was specially designed for the hotel and the pieces that still remain, like the jackrabbit ashtrays that stood about the height of the sofas, conjure up the grand spot this was.
La Posada was to be a place of style for those who got off the train and wanted to go sight-seeing in the now easily accessible Southwest. Although it wasn’t completed until the Depression, this was conjured during the era of luxury train travel in which hotels like these were set up throughout the United States in order to encourage more leisure travel. However, these hotels also catered to the business travelers. It’s almost equivalent to a very nice airport hotel — it was right next to the train station, offered comfortable and picturesque rooms, and had a wide variety of dining options.
Front and Modern Entrance of La Posada

Of course, La Posada has only recently become a tourist destination once again. For years it languished as a Southern Pacific office (they “renovated” in the 1960s by destroying a lot of the architectural interest and adding cubicle and florescent lights to “modernize”) and then was empty, as no one could thing of buying the deserted monstrosity.

Enter some artists and entrepreneurs who have taken the hotel to a new level. While not all of the rooms are updated, the ones that are project a slice of some past. We stayed in the Amelia Earhart room, which although small, was picturesque. The only problem was that the train ran directly outside our window (a polite little note accompanying earplugs read “Many of our guests are trains enthusiasts, but if you are not, please use these”) and the second night I was there, I had many strange dreams about traveling and not having the right tickets.
And to our surprise, the hotel restaurant is one of the most acclaimed in the Southwest and uses local produce and meats to create an “authentic Southwest” menu. Judging by our dinner of corn and black bean soup and the “meat sampler” – buffalo short ribs, elk medallions, and quail breasts each covered in a berry sauce — we could agree. The food was excellent, but we were the youngest in the restaurant and our waiter, although perfectly agreeable, seemed highly unprepared for either people so young or two unaccompanied young ladies in the dining room.
As for Winslow, a bastion of Route 66 and such infamy as “Standin’ on the Corner”, it was a dusty beat up place. It reminded me of a sunnier, grittier Detroit in it’s decay, and to be fair, at least Detroit seems to have a hidden life. Here the dust would wipe away whatever was left — the buildings, the jobs, the people. The hotel, at least according to it’s little museum, has been to a boon to the area, creating a bunch of new jobs. In a place like this, it’s quite easy to see how needed that is.
Abandoned Diner
As for the hotel, it’s also nice to see people willing to invest in something because they believe in it and it’s uniqueness. Instead of opening some new, massive concrete tower, they went back. Although not every building can be restored (or should), it’s somehow refreshing to see in the middle of the desert an oasis that was once left behind.
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