Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Get Your Kicks in a Wigwam along Route 66

San Bernardino -- We've seen the Kodachrome photos of families posing in front of windmill restaurants, coffee cup- shaped cafes and the largest ball of string, or was that from the movie "Vacation...?"

Recently I was forced onto a detour and happened upon the Wigwam Motel along Route 66. It was a vision out of Life Magazine! After taking a few photos and talking with the owner, I drove away feeling as if had left a site of an old Disney documentary; all that was missing was an Airstream camper and Charlie, the Lonesome Cougar.

Roadside vernacular architecture seemed more popular during the first few decades of the 20th century. I miss seeing them. As a kid in the 60s and 70s, I remember the giant dinosaurs on the way to Palm Springs and the magic of Clifton's Cafeteria in Los Angeles; all are examples of zany facades designed to entice the curious traveler. These tourist attractions were also a nice excuse to pull off the road and give the kids a break from asking the same, age-old "question" every ten minutes.

During my brief visit, I met up with a family owner of the Wigwam Motel, Kumar Patel. While he was showing me the teepees and grounds, he mentioned that the last owner allowed the old 1949 motel to deteriorate, almost to the point of disrepair.

Six years ago, the Patel family purchased the now historic landmark and renovated each of the 19 stucco teepees complete with air conditioning and free wi-fi. The pool was resurfaced and palm trees planted throughout the grounds. Due to it's landmark status, they cannot add buildings. However, they are allowed to make improvements, and to their credit, they have restored and maintained the personality of the 50s-era motor hotel to a tee.

For about $70 per night (about $10 more on weekends), the Wigwam Motel is quite a deal, as well as a pretty cool experience in lodging--even your pet, Charlie is welcome!

For more information, visit

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Taking Off

In May of 1987, a small group of us drove out to Death Valley. One of our stops was Ubehebe Crater. Ubehebe is about 2,400 feet in diameter and 500 feet deep. The hot wind blows across the east rim, then down inside and funnels through a passage, builds up speed and up the west side of the rim at a 45-degree angle. Sometimes winds can blow up to 100 miles per hour.

We stood at the west rim, opened our jackets and like kites, were lifted up by the force of the wind and all enjoyed a short yet eventful flight.