At Exit 219, Twin Arrows loomed into view. In this case, the actual twin arrows were examples of ironic, super-realistic art. Not quite out of place, but outsized and iconic, the twin arrows affect all who see them. Utility poles, angled steeply into poured concrete provide an underlying structure for the twin arrows. As I looked to the north, I imagined ancient warriors of the Navajo or Hopi tribes standing seventy-five feet tall, framed against the horizon. Only a warrior of that height could launch such massive arrows from his bow.
Earlier known as the Canyon Padre Trading Post, the two giant arrows arrived on scene by the early 1950’s. Like the nearby Two Guns outpost before it, Twin Arrows looked like it was in the middle of nowhere. By the early 1950's, anything out there that looked substantial and offered travelers’ services was a welcome sight. With its 1950’s prefabricated diner and a poured concrete apron at the fuel pumps, the renamed Twin Arrows Trading Post later billed itself as, “The Best Little Stop on I-40”.
Although it was a generous-sized property for the 1950’s, when I-40 opened, Twin Arrows days were numbered. Higher speeds and more fuel-efficient autos meant fewer stops in the middle of nowhere. After a succession of owners, the service station and trading post closed for good in the late 1990s.
Although the Arizona State Land Department Trust owns the land, the Hopi Tribe owns the derelict buildings at Twin Arrows. Despite its picturesque, if crumbling facilities, I doubt that economic reality will allow the old Twin Arrows Trading Post to operate once again. Good news regarding this contemporary Indian ruin includes the 2009 all-volunteer restoration of the twin arrows. For the near future, at least, travelers on I-40 shall still enjoy the site-gag of two giant arrows that just missed landing on the Interstate.
To the north, on the far side of Exit 219 stands the new Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort. Unlike the old Twin Arrows Trading Post, the new Twin Arrows exists mainly to promote state-of-the-art Indian gaming. Ironically, there are no motorist services at the new Twin Arrows and no RV Park for the wandering traveler. Still in the “middle of nowhere”, the Twin Arrows business plan focuses on food, lodging and “responsible gaming”, better known as, "We win, you lose gambling".
Almost two years ago, I was thrilled to see what looked like a major medical center rising from the dusty plains of the Holbrook Basin. When I discovered that it was a new Mecca for gamblers, both native and non-native, I had to laugh. Twin Arrows Casino is the Navajo Nation’s first foray into major casino gaming.
Touted as a “job creator” for the Navajo people, I could not help noticing that the “free valet” signs sported a corporate logo, not a Native American one. With a purported cost of $200 million, Twin Arrows’ only nod to the health and welfare of tribal members is the allure of instant riches through “responsible gaming”.
As the photos accompanying this article atest, on the Mother Road, the old twin arrows penetrated to the very soul of Mother Earth. Then things changed. Some arrows pointed up toward the promise of free riches from the sky, while others pointed downward, toward the truth of the matter. Now, in our stock market and casino driven world, everything must point up, including the twin arrows on the façade of the new casino and resort.
Unless a visitor loses everything at the tables, he or she may still enjoy the proffered luxury accommodations. Still, at its heart, the Twin Arrows glorifies alcohol, food and gambling. As with the original Twin Arrows before it, the novelty of this new venue will attract sufficient business for near-term success.
In the future, what shall happen if I-40 travelers tire of stopping at one more kitschy roadside attraction? If the new Twin Arrows fails, the Navajo Nation can still repurpose it as a much-needed regional medical center. Only time will tell.
Beware of the "Double-Spoiler" Bandit on Interstate I-40 East of Flagstaff, Arizona
On Tuesday May 14, 2013 I departed Flagstaff, Arizona, heading east on Interstate I-40. About fifteen miles east of the city, I stopped at the Winona off-ramp, named for the nearby Winona Ranch. In order to stay off the roadway, I circled my rig around and parked it heading east, adjacent to some cedar trees that lined the southern extremity of the ranch road.
As I exited my vehicle, I surveyed the scene. Not far from my parking spot was an old car, parked along the eastern extension of Winona Road. There, a woman had many belongings out of her car, while she appeared to search for something inside. Parked diagonally from me on the tarmac was an older model “generic” Japanese sedan. In retrospect, I believe that it was a four-door Toyota, but it could have been another brand.
The driver of the dusty-gold sedan sat with his window open. He waited apprehensively for someone or something. He wore dark glasses, a construction worker’s safety vest and a few days growth of reddish-brown beard. Was he speaking to someone on a headset? Was he waiting for a compatriot to arrive? Either way, he seemed harmless, if a bit creepy.
As I walked toward the highway bridge, I stayed on my side of the road. It was then that I noticed a high-tech, double-winged, golden spoiler affixed to the sedan's rear deck. It was a fancy, filigreed affair, with slots and extra airfoils added to its sides. I remember thinking, “That spoiler must have cost a lot of money”. I proceeded to the Interstate I-40 Winona highway bridge. There, I took a few pictures toward Flagstaff and the San Francisco Peaks beyond.
From the middle of the highway bridge, I snapped my photos, and then returned to my truck. After driving another fifteen miles east on I-40, I realized that my small pack, along with my identification, credit cards and cash were missing. Lulled into a false sense of security at the Winona off-ramp, I had not locked my truck. As I reconstructed the scene in my mind, I realized that a team of highway robbers had taken me for the fool that I had been.
Unseen by me, a third accomplice was hiding behind the cedar trees to the right of my rig. As soon as the fake construction worker in the sedan saw that I was away from my truck, he signaled his accomplice to move in and steal my pack. By the time I returned to my truck and drove away, the whole crew of robbers was gone without a trace.
With no money or identification and only half a tank of fuel, I stopped long enough to call and cancel my credit cards. I needed a safe place to stay for the night, so I headed for Flagstaff. Having stayed at Kit Carson RV Park several times before, I felt it was my best chance to avoid another robbery in the woods at night.
When I arrived at Kit Carson RV Park, the caretaker was driving an elderly man off the property. I flagged them down and told them of my plight. The older man said, “If it were up to me, I would let you stay… but it isn’t”. The younger man took charge and helped me select a place for my rig. They treated me fairly and they trusted me to pay up the next morning. In the future, when I stop for the night in Flagstaff, there is only one RV Park I will consider staying at, and that is Kit Carson RV Park.
The following morning I began the process of rebuilding my identity. The local Bank of America was able to identify me through their signature cards. Soon I had enough cash to meet my expenses. Next, I returned to the Kit Carson RV Park and paid for my previous night’s stay. Then, I called the Coconino County Sheriff and reported the theft. With a complete lack of conviction, the woman at the sheriff’s call-desk told me to wait there and that a deputy would contact me for more information. Sadly, no one from the Coconino County Sheriff’s Department ever called me.
Within two weeks, I had all of my legal documents in order and resumed my normal life. As they say, for every victim, there is a perpetrator ready to complete the transaction. Foolishly, I had trusted my identity and my cash to people on the highway that I did not know. It was inconvenient and humiliating to realize how naïve I had been. For the "Double Spoiler Bandit" and his crew, however, there was a pack of Instant Karma heading their way. Soon enough they would be aware; they held a blogger’s pack.
Travelers beware. There are roving bands of thieves plying the Interstate Highways of America. Trust no one that you see on the road. Wherever you stop, there may be spotters and accomplices teaming up to steal your belongings. It can happen in a gas station, at a roadside rest-stop or at any rural off-ramp on the highway system. Let my loss be a lesson to all. Never leave your open vehicle unattended. Keep your identification, cash and credit cards with you at all times. If you walk away from your vehicle for even a moment, always lock your doors.
Furthermore, if you see a generic looking, older sedan sporting a gold-filigreed double-spoiler on its trunk, take a picture and call 911. It just may be the “Double Spoiler Bandit”. If he and his gang are reading this now, they may wish to retire from highway robbery before Smith & Wesson catch up with them. Finally, the Coconino County Sheriff and the Arizona Highway Patrol should ask their officers to pull off I-40 at the Winona off-ramp each time they pass. Those robbers were so successful with me; I expect them to return soon to the scene of the crime… unless they read my blog.
Brush Fire in Simi Valley, California - First Responders Deserve Local, State and Federal Support
On June 6, 2013, I was working at Casa Carrie in Simi Valley, California. From nine in the morning until noon that day, the Ventura County Fire Department was conducting live helicopter fire drills at nearby Hummingbird Nest Ranch. Several Ventura County Fire Department helicopters were loading water at a helipad in the nearby hills. Over Casa Carrie, they flew to their destination about a mile away. At the time, they did not know how timely their practice was.
Watch the fire-fighting "Air Force" take on a brush fire at Simi Valley, California
By 4:00 PM, I realized that the sky in Simi Valley had turned orange, indicating that there was a brush fire nearby. As I looked west across Simi Valley from the backyard, I could see a huge plume of dirty brown smoke drifting eastward. Not wanting to miss a brush fire so close to my location, I grabbed my camera, jumped into my Jeep Wrangler and headed across the valley.
Upon arrival at Los Angeles Avenue and Stearns Street, I found a police roadblock. A quick turn into the Albertson’s Supermarket parking lot allowed me a front-row view of the hillsides to the south. Although the fire was still active, firefighters had established a perimeter around most of it. By then, Los Angeles County fire helicopters had joined the Ventura County choppers that I had seen earlier in the day.
While at least four helicopters shuttled water from the helipad near Casa Carrie to the fire, crews on the ground were clearly gaining the upper hand on the fire. In its earlier stages, visibility had been minimal. The huge smoke cloud indicated that the fire was consuming both chaparral and grasses. If the winds had shifted, beginning to blow to the south, the fire could have taken off over the ridges and on to the grounds of the Santa Susana Field laboratory.
Other than older local residents and nuclear regulators, few people know that under the Atomics International division of the old North American Aviation (later Rockwell International's Rocketdyne Division) built the first commercial nuclear reactor on that site in the 1950’s. In 1959, it was also the first commercial nuclear reactor in the United States to experience a core meltdown. Kept secret from the public for many years, the Santa Susan meltdown released more radioactive material than the later Three Mile Island nuclear incident in Pennsylvania. To this day, no one knows what happened to thousands of pounds of sodium coolant present at the time of the meltdown. It dispersed either into the air or on to the ground.
When a brush fire looks to be out of control and heading for a nuclear contamination site, it is time to call in the Air Force, or at least the USDA Forest Service "Air Force". Rather than risking a wildfire within a nuclear contamination site, the fire bosses in Simi Valley called for massive air support. Soon, three large air tankers arrived to augment the helicopter fleet and hand crews already on scene.
First on scene was Neptune Aviation Services’ new “Tanker 41”, a BAe-146, four engine, "next generation" commercial jet retrofitted as an air tanker or "fire bomber” as the Canadians like to say. Looking like a lost commercial aircraft, Tanker 41 made wide circles around the scene as it waited for a smaller, twin-engine spotter plane to arrive.
Next up was the Minden Air Corp "legacy" “Tanker 48”, a Lockheed P2V-7 maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare plane retrofitted for aerial firefighting. With the first P2V-7 flight having taken place in 1945, it is safe to say that this bumblebee-painted beauty was older than her flight crew was. Featuring two 3700 hp. turbojet engines and two 3000 lb. thrust jet engines, the elegant aircraft both rumbled and screamed as it maneuvered overhead.
Although a third air tanker joined the other two, I was not able to identify it, since the big aerial fire battle was about to begin. While the four helicopters headed off for a refill, what looked like a Beech King Air twin-engine spotter plane buzzed the fire ridge at low altitude. Its speed and grace reminded me of Sky King, who flew a similar looking Cessna in the old TV program by the same name. By then, the aerial ballet was getting exciting.
Perhaps since it had been on scene the longest, the four-engine BAe-146 got first shot at the dying fire. With “Sky King” in the lead, the two planes flew a straight and level route along the highest ridge of the fire. At the drop point, the smaller plane puffed out two spurts of white smoke. At that spot, only a few seconds later, the big jet cut loose a torrent of bright pink fire retardant, mixed with water. It was a spectacular sight.
Only a few minutes later, Tanker 48 took its run along the westerly portion of the same ridge. Judging by the fifty-foot tall hulk of a burned out oak tree, the P2V-7 appeared to clear the ridge by little more than 100 feet. Distances can be deceiving and the pilot dropped his load just behind the ridgeline, so he may have dropped at two hundred feet above ground, but little more.
When I realized that the mysterious “Tanker #3” was going to make a drop, head-on towards my camera, I switched from still shots to video. Dropping his fire retardant in a saddle along the ridge just west of the previous drop, the mystery tanker put an end to any threat that the fire would escape its lines and head toward the Santa Susan Field Laboratory.
I have lived in Southern California for most of my life. I grew up in Burbank, one block from the chaparral-covered Verdugo Mountains. As James Taylor sang, “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain…” Never, in my life have I seen such a well-coordinated firefight. Congratulations to Ventura County Fire Department, their mutual-aid affiliates from other jurisdictions and the fire-fighting air force of the USDA Forest Service.
In congressional and state budget battles, firefighting is just one more line item to cut when possible. That the so-called “sequestration” has cut the federal fire suppression budget by twenty percent in 2013 is unconscionable. Before any more of the Western United States goes up in smoke, federal first responders to fires, floods and weather disasters should have their funding restored.
Wake Up America - Our Interstate Highway Infrastructure is Crumbling
On May 14, 2013, I departed Kingman, Arizona, heading for Flagstaff, one hundred forty-seven miles east on Interstate I-40. The altitude of Kingman is 3350 ft. while the altitude at Flagstaff is more than twice that at 6900 ft. What those statistics do not indicate are the many mountain passes and low valleys that I-40 traverses in that distance. The vertical rise and fall is like no other similar stretch on I-40.
By the time I reached Seligman, Arizona, I was ready for a break and my Nissan Titan truck was ready for fuel. Before I departed Seligman, a 1980’s vintage Ford L9000 water truck pulled in for fuel beside me. When I introduced myself, the proud driver of this venerable workhorse introduced himself as “Colonel”, which was good enough for me. Before he pulled away, I took several pictures of him and his iconic desert water truck.
Back on I-40 East, I lamented the poor condition of our interstate highways. To be sure, I-40 gets both heavy truck traffic and harsh winters, but the rutted and crumbling highway had me grumbling to myself about the poor state of our infrastructure in America. “Why don’t they ever fix this highway?” I asked aloud.
Although I was late for an appointment in Flagstaff, I slowed down to prevent damage to my truck or travel trailer. Soon, I was to experience highway reconstruction at its finest, thanks to our federal tax dollars. As I approached the crossroads town of Ash Fork, Arizona, lighted signs and myriad orange cones appeared along the highway.
From Ash Fork, Arizona Highway 89 heads south to Prescott and Wickenburg, Arizona. In times past, an inattentive motorist might miss the small signs that identified the highway junction. After May 2013, no one would miss the gigantic new signs installed alongside I-40. As a large mobile crane lowered a new sign into place, a construction engineer guided the process from a platform fifty feet in the air.
With the construction excitement of Ash Fork behind me, I began to notice smooth new pavement in the right lane of the interstate highway. A semi-truck and trailer loaded with California onions glided up over a hill on its way to the east. For me the shaking and jarring of crumbling pavement ended. With a sigh of relief, I could relax a bit as I rolled smoothly toward Flagstaff.
Soon, the road was climbing again as it made its final ascent toward Williams and Flagstaff, beyond. Twice more along the way, I encountered large crews of workers and their equipment. They were repairing, restoring and resurfacing the same highway I had cursed only an hour before. Any delay I experienced that day paled by comparison to the glee I felt about my country and its ability to fix its infrastructure issues. In times past, signs erected at each project would say, “Your federal highway taxes at work”. If we abolish taxes in America, who will pay to keep commerce and tourists safely rolling along our highways?
Even as I sped by, I could see the efficiency and care that each road crew applied to their work. Awash in neon-green or bright orange shirts, each person was actively accomplishing their task. The whole scene was in motion, with heavy rollers following the monster pavers up ahead. On the back of one paving machine sat the boss. Along with two quality control experts, he was assuring that the new asphalt went down smoothly and firmly. Farther on, crews were stripping old asphalt from the road and recycling it into new asphalt for the pavers to follow.
As I neared Williams, Arizona, the federal highway dollars and the construction crews disappeared. For miles on end, I drove on a rutted roadway, which beat heavily at the undercarriage of my rig. Although the average citizen sitting at home might not know it, our taxes often accomplish more than they realize. Whether it is a load of onions making it safely to market in the east or tourists and vacationers making it safely to the Grand Canyon, good roads are essential to our economy.
When I reached Flagstaff, I was pleased to be on time for my afternoon meeting. I was also pleased to see Americans at work, helping other Americans safely reach their destinations. Here is to the water truck drivers, the pavement crews and the highway engineers who make safe travel available to all in our great country, the United States of America.