Gazing into the placid blue sky, I drew a full breath of monsoon air, rich with creosote and an undertone of scorched dust, and sighed with satisfaction. Joe sneezed. He tossed our packs into the trunk of the car and, ever the gentleman, opened the door for me. We were heading north from Phoenix for a weekend getaway with our friends Lauren and Roberto (and their dog Nibbles) in Winslow, AZ.
Lauren had planned the trip after a coworker told her about McHood Park and Clear Creek Reservoir. She was excited to go kayaking, Roberto wanted to do some fishing, I was looking forward to swimming and Joe was losing his mind over the fact that we would be visiting the town featured in the Eagles’ song “Take It Easy,” his most-played song according to every music platform he’s ever used. As we pulled into town, he insisted on stopping so that he could stand on the corner at the Standin’ on the Corner Park. I took several dozen pictures of him, and then we drove another few miles out of town to the reservoir.
Like Joe had done four years earlier, McHood Park made a good first impression. Not only could we stay for up to two weeks free of charge (if only we had the time!), but the camp host was just about the friendliest person I’ve ever met during business hours. He gave us a quick introduction to the area and pulled a treat out of his pocket for Nibbles.
We parked at one of the 22 campsites, each with its own picnic table and grill. Roberto immediately started cooking burgers while Joe passed around bottles of kombucha and set up our lawn chairs. Lauren and I decided to take Nibbles for a walk.
It was a beautiful spot – water! In the desert! There were good smells for dog and human alike. Not just the smell of freshwater, but of cottonwood and purple sage and some other plant I didn’t recognize. The three of us walked along the reservoir for ten minutes and came to a bridge. On the other side, we found McHood Park itself, a lovely picnicking spot.
Lauren sat on a rock at the water’s edge and slipped her feet in. I followed suit while Nibbles hung back, content to bathe in the sunlight. Green water, brown desert, blue sky. It was paradise.
We walked back to the campground and reported our findings to the boys. Our tale was halting because we took many breaks to chow down on the burgers Roberto had cooked up.
After lunch we spent a few lazy hours floating in the water and napping at the covered picnic tables. Dinner was grilled kabobs, eaten in view of a glorious sunset – all orange and red before sliding into indigo and violet, with even a glimpse of green now and then. Joe opened the cooler, and Roberto took out his guitar. Following a couple of beers, a few stories and half a dozen songs – including, by Joe’s request, two renditions of “Take It Easy” – we slipped into our sleeping bags without bothering to pitch the tents. That night I counted stars instead of sheep.
The morning was clean and clear. While we drank coffee and ate breakfast, we watched an elegant heron standing at the water’s edge. After breakfast, it was time to explore Clear Creek Canyon. We rented a couple of tandem kayaks from Clear Creek Rentals and set off upstream. We picked our way past swimmers in the reservoir and entered the canyon, which rose up on either side of us in sheer sandstone. A couple of miles later, Lauren spotted some petroglyphs, which I was delighted and surprised to see had not been defaced.
We tethered our kayaks and played in the water. Roberto and Lauren tried to climb the canyon walls, but neither got far before falling back into the water. They egged me on, since I’m an avid climber, but I hesitated. Finally, though, Joe lifted me out of the water and I started ascending. A few minutes later, I was at the top of the cliff catching my breath. I felt weightless, elated. My friends cheered and chanted, “Jump!” Jumping was just as fun as they told me it looked.
Back at the campground, Roberto fished while the rest of us lounged in the shade. Occasionally he yelled to us with the thrill of the hunt, but as a fisherman he is more enthusiastic than adept. The ranger had told us that rainbow trout, carp, sunfish and largemouth bass could all be caught, but Roberto wasn’t lucky this trip. We packed up, bid the reservoir au revoir and drove back to Winslow.
After giving Joe a hard time about taking a few more pictures on the corner, we popped in to Relic Road Brewing for lunch. The patio was dog friendly, so we took an outside table for Nibbles’ sake. As could be expected, the Eagles were well represented on the speakers. Relic Road offered a great selection of local craft brews. Even Roberto, a hop nut, hadn’t heard of every brewery represented, and all but two of them were Arizonan. I went for a blonde ale, which everyone felt obligated to crack a joke about. It was cool and smooth and modest, not unlike yours truly. Lauren and I ordered perfectly cooked burgers on gluten-free buns, which were much better than gluten-free buns should be, and the homemade spiral chips were the best I’ve ever eaten. Joe surprised us all by ordering a vegan sandwich, which he insisted was no less satisfying than a burger.
After lunch, we checked out downtown and visited Old Trails Museum and did some shopping. Winslow, an important maintenance stop on the Santa Fe Railroad, used to be bustling back in the days when Route 66 passed through town. Business declined after the railroad moved operations to California and the I-40 bypass was completed, but Winslow managed to escape the fate of the Western ghost town. Today it feels wonderfully balanced between past and present. It’s not hard to imagine the culture of road-trip living and automobile adventuring, of discovery and freedom, that Route 66 still represents.
Last stop: La Posada. The word “authentic” gets thrown around a lot these days, but there’s simply no better way to describe La Posada in one word. The hotel was built in 1929 and is now listed on the National Historic Registry. Our rooms were both spacious and evocative of the region’s diverse cultural history, but without sliding into kitsch – no minor accomplishment. Freshly showered, we toured the property in search of the Tina Mion paintings permanently on display. I was impressed to find such high quality work exhibited in such an out-of-the-way place. Even the boys, who claimed to know nothing about art, found something to admire in Mion’s stylistic precision and symbolic clarity. Lauren took a lot of pictures.
From the garden we watched the sunset – another stunner – and then went to the Turquoise Room, a gourmet Southwestern restaurant that also serves as an Amtrak station. “Nothing beats a scratch kitchen” was the consensus we arrived at after the first bite. I ordered the Killer Vegetable Platter. It came with a corn masa empanada filled with quinoa, currants, and pine nuts. I took the pairing suggestion, a Riesling from Washington State, and it was just the right amount of sweet.
We closed out the night at the bar before returning to our rooms. In the morning we would drive home, knowing we’d be back in Winslow as soon as the road would take us.