The sun rose in a burst of gold above the distant mountains as I huffed and puffed along Route 66 in Williams, Arizona, which has an altitude of 6,766 feet. Running through the last remaining town on the Mother Road, I passed signs that read, "Lonesome Dove Antiques," "Saddlery: Custom Gun Leather" and "Red Garter Bed & Bakery." They echoed Williams' cowboy past--and present, as it turns out. I slowed down at Pete's Route 66 Gas Station and Museum to check out the antique gas pump and 1950 Ford with whitewall tires on display outside. I couldn't get "Route 66," originally sung by Nat King Cole and later by the Rolling Stones, out of my head: "Well, if you ever plan to motor west, just take my way, that's the highway that's the best. Get your kicks on Route 66."
Judy and Ann--who came along for a five-day girlfriends' getaway in Northern Arizona--sang the iconic song all the way from Phoenix to Williams. Throughout our trip, I planned to stick to my training schedule because I had a 10k race on the horizon. I was up early, running past the display windows in Williams, crammed with Navajo rugs, western wear and turquoise and silver jewelry. When the sidewalk ended, I headed west on the shoulder of the highway. I veered onto a dirt trail that led to a cemetery dating back to the mid-1800s. One headstone read, "Edith Wade, she was good-hearted (1886-1973)"; another read, "Tabor J. Goudreau--died of an accidental gunshot."
Williams has only 3,000 people-- less than in my midtown Manhattan neighborhood. And while the mayor of New York has never greeted me, Mayor John Moore, tall and lanky with one cowboy-booted foot resting against a building and a pistol on his hip, tipped his Stetson and introduced himself. He was the quintessential cowboy marshall.
Moore's many hats, besides mayor and marshall, include owner of Wild West Adventures, a company that stages a cowboy shoot-out at the train depot each day before the vintage locomotive departs for the Grand Canyon. We decided to take the train, which was laugh-out-loud fun. We wouldn't take the train back to Williams because we were continuing on after the Grand Canyon, but we heard that Moore and his cowpokes ride alongside the train on horseback, stop and board it, and "rob" everybody for fun.
We arrived at the Grand Canyon mid-afternoon. Fifteen years ago, I paddled 16 days on the Colorado River at the bottom of the Canyon, mesmerized by the ancient red cliff walls shooting thousands of feet into the sky. Now, looking down from the Rim Trail and seeing how the river cut through to the depth of a mile, it was every bit as hypnotic. I started to run a simple three-mile loop, but stopped. How often do you get to view a chasm so majestic it makes you cry? I just stood there, the sun warming my face, looking out at endless vermillion, cinnamon and ocher cliffs. No sound except the wind. My world slowed down.
I decided to run Horseshoe Canyon trail, which is a sand hill, to run hill repeats. Trudging is more like it because the sand came up to my ankles. At 4,200 feet above sea level, I had to work hard to arrive at the top. From there, it was downhill until I finally stood above Horseshoe Canyon, looking 1,000 feet straight down at a rounded sandstone tower. The emerald Colorado River circled the formation on both sides just like a horseshoe. A boat floated in the river that looked no bigger than a Matchbox car. I chose a rock and sat quietly watching the sunset, mesmerized by the bold streaks of pink and purple painted across the sky.