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Exploring Around Route 66 with a Disability


  • Published: 2014-04-15 (Revised/Updated 2014-11-02) : Author: Disabled World : Contact: Disabled World
  • Synopsis: Article by Disabled World writer looks at exploring some of the scenic attractions of America and traveling when you have disabilities.

The prospect of a vacation, for many people with disabilities, is something that brings endless questions to mind. As someone who experiences various disabilities, those questions certainly came to mind but determination kept them in a very secondary position. A vacation is something I have not been on in some time and wanted. My girlfriend Kat works in a rather confining job and wide-open spaces are just the relief she needed.

U.S. Route 66 (US 66 or Route 66), also known as the Will Rogers Highway and colloquially known as the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System. Route 66 was established on November 11, 1926 - with road signs erected the following year. The highway, which became one of the most famous roads in America, originally ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending at Santa Monica, California, covering a total of 2,448 miles (3,940 km).

The main question of course was, 'Where should we go' We live in the southwest and there are some major sights to see in the area. We decided to visit the Grand Canyon and a couple of other attractions in the states near to us. As it turns out, it was a trip that neither one of us will ever forget and we are glad we went.

Preparing to Leave

Traveling when you have disabilities is something that requires forethought. For me it meant making sure I had not only the medications I have to take each day with me, it also meant making sure I had my knee braces, ankle-foot orthotics (AFO's), and other gear with me, as well as a fair idea of where to go if something happened along the way. For Kat it meant making sure she had her medications, as well as maintaining a diabetes diet en-route.

Like other travelers, we also had to pack clothes, plan a route to travel, and all of the other more common types of planning people do when they leave for a vacation. We had to have someone watch after our pets while we were away and so forth. We secured our respective homes, I changed the oil in the car, and away we went!

The Agenda

The route we chose was down I-25 to New Mexico. When we reached the interchange to I-40 we took it out to Flagstaff, Arizona so we could see the Grand Canyon. Our plan after seeing the Grand Canyon was to backtrack and see the Meteor Crater and then continue back along our route and see the Petrified Forest.

Along the way there and back, towns and cities presented endless opportunities to see touristy kinds of things. We did not make our agenda so completely planned out that we left no room for wandering here and there; instead, we wanted to have the ability to roam and bounce around a bit. When you travel around Route 66, it is a good idea to leave some time available to wander through the many shops along the way.

Image of a 1941 police carAbout This Image: Image of a 1941 police carThe Grand Canyon and a Surprise

We drove and looked at the natural wonders outside the car windows, knowing that we would take our time to see them on the way back. When Kat and I arrived in Flagstaff we were bone tired, to be plain. We reached Flagstaff, Arizona, checked into a hotel room and simply went to sleep. We knew what we would be seeing the next day and were excited about it, but sleep beckoned.

The next morning we got up, enjoyed the free continental breakfast at the hotel, and headed toward the Grand Canyon. We stopped at a gas station to find that some car show cars were in the lot; one of them was a 1941 Police Car! The owner had a sign in the window of the car asking people to not even touch it - I can't imagine how much money it cost to restore the car.

While we were at the gas station we purchased a $25 ticket to get into Grand Canyon National Park. All of the stores and gas stations in the area sell them and we thought it would save time getting into the park. We drove the 80 miles to the Grand Canyon, pulled up to the Ranger's little house at the entrance to the park, and guess what

Image of the Grand Canyon from the South RimAbout This Image: Image of the Grand Canyon from the South RimAs a veteran with disabilities, as well as someone who experiences forms of disabilities that are not service-connected, I am eligible for a lifetime pass to 2,000 national parks for the price of $0, something that surprised me. The Ranger had me sign two forms; one for his accountant and another for the park itself - something that took about three minutes and upset the driver behind us. The Ranger himself looked at the driver behind us and said, "The Canyon isn't going anywhere friend, believe me."

People with permanent disabilities are eligible for the same pass at no cost! What a pleasant surprise! The Ranger even refunded the $25 we had spent on the ticket to get into the park. We also discovered that the Grand Canyon National Park is incredibly accessible, with four-foot wide paved trails all along the South Rim of the Canyon. We were certainly not the only people with disabilities at the Grand Canyon, there were many people with a number of forms of disabilities there.

We spent the day wandering along the trails by the edge of the Grand Canyon; it was nothing short of amazing. When you look down, you look down at soaring hawks and amazing views that cannot be seen anywhere else on earth. People from all over the world were there and everyone was very friendly. My use of a cane and braces did not cause a single person to bat an eye or make a comment.

Image of Kat in front of a picture of Meteor CraterAbout This Image: Image of Kat in front of a picture of Meteor CraterThe geological history of the Grand Canyon is presented all along the trails. Kat and I wandered along at our leisure, amazed at the sheer size and depth and variation of colors in the canyon. The sun would go behind a random cloud and the lighting would change - suddenly the whole appearance of the canyon would change along with it.

Meteor Crater

The day was only so long and we finally decided to go back to the hotel room. The next day we checked out, got back on I-40, and drove towards Meteor Crater, something neither one of us had seen before. In between Flagstaff, Arizona and the Meteor Crater there were seemingly endless trading posts selling Native American jewelry, moccasins, and other items from Hopi, Anasazi, and Navajo tribes.

The land itself was incredibly beautiful in the area. The southwest in parts of Arizona and New Mexico has buttes and bluffs that are red, tan, and stunningly picturesque. As we drove along, we noticed the numerous truckers on the road, as well as the trains with double-stacked cargo containers on them. The truck drivers were very responsible for the most part, something we were thankful for.

Image of a dinosaur skeletonAbout This Image: Image of a dinosaur skeletonArriving at Meteor Crater, we wondered if my new lifetime pass to national parks would get us in - it did not. Meteor Crater is privately owned and it cost $16 each to enter. It was very worth the entrance price. While the grounds are not the most accessible ones, they were still accessible to a person with knee and ankle braces. We looked down into the crater in awe.

NASA trained astronauts in Meteor Crater, and also did training for a potential mission to Mars there. At the bottom of the crater is a cutout of an astronaut and an American flag. Inside the building are several presentations concerning the history of the crater itself, as well as information concerning NASA's training efforts. We even encountered a certain critter that might be my hearing assistant dog's ancestor!

As it turns out, Meteor Crater is the first verified one in America. There are other craters around the world as well, some of them are even bigger than the one we visited. It made us think about how young we really are as a human race, and how fragile the earth itself is.

The Petrified Forest

We moved on down the road with the goal of visiting the Petrified Forest.

Image of a petrified logAbout This Image: Image of a petrified logTo get there we decided to hop off of the freeway and take a secondary road - oh my. The land in this part of America is the very definition of, 'wide-open.' Massive tracts of land with occasional cows grazing on grass right next to antelope and a home here and there, with big skies and lots of road. You can literally see for miles out there.

When we pulled into the Petrified Forest park we discovered it is a national park, so my pass got us in for free.

The shops at the entrance had some magnificent pieces of petrified wood for sale, but the costs were prohibitive. Some of the petrified wood ran into the thousands of dollars!

Inside the park itself were massive logs of petrified wood, ones that have been there for millions of years. The information at the park said the whole area used to be a swampy kind of forest but you would never know it to see it now. The whole area is dusty, sandy, and very dry. It is amazing how much the environment can change over so much time.

A petrified tree is just like stone, but you can tell where the rings inside the tree from its growth are! It is heavy, just like stone, and on the larger logs you can see the petrified bark and all. A chunk of petrified wood about a foot around weighs enough that I did not want to try to pick it up.

Wide Open Spaces

We decided to spend the night in Gallup, New Mexico before heading back home. In Gallup we were reminded of something we did not really want to see on our trip - the fact that alcoholism is indeed a disabling addiction. A lot of people in Gallup drink because there is not a whole heck of a lot else to do. The trains run through Gallup every 20 minutes and 3 people lose their lives each month in the town because of them.

Image of a Butte in New MexicoAbout This Image: Image of a Butte in New MexicoIn the wide open spaces on the way home through New Mexico we saw a lot of red rock bluffs and buttes. We saw more antelope grazing on grass right next to cows. The sky seemed to go on forever and we just enjoyed each other's company as we looked out upon the same vista's the frontier settlers must have gazed upon so long ago.

Finally, we reached the City of Albuquerque and were stunned to find ourselves looking at row after row of brand new adobe homes and wide lane streets. Unfortunately, it seemed like everyone had to drive at least ten miles per hour over the speed limit and jockey for a one car lead to get to the stop light. Other than that, it was a very pleasant city.

Home Again

Back across the Colorado state line again, we reached the point where we could see the mountains again. From the south you can see an entire chain of the mountains and it is a stunning sight. Snow capped mountains certainly are the hallmark of the state.

Traveling and visiting the sights along the way was something both Kat and I enjoyed. If we had more time we would most likely have gone south from Flagstaff, Arizona to Sedona and then on to Phoenix, returning by a different route, but that is a trip for another day. We are very happy with our trip and disabilities were something that did not stop us from enjoying our vacation.

The staff members at hotels were very accommodating, as were the Park Rangers and other personnel. Fellow tourists, to include tourists with disabilities, were all very polite with one another. People were very willing to take pictures of each other for example, and share information. If you can, do not hesitate to take a vacation in the American Southwest along Route 66 and the area - it is well worth the trip.

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