Classic Roads: US Highway 191 - Arizona

Classic Roads: US Highway 191 - Arizona
A little north of Tombstone, the coyote (Roadrunnerus digestus) emerges from the low scrub brush on the dusty shoulder of Arizona's Route 80. He stops mid-trot and watches with apparent nonchalance as our RoadRUNNER Gold Wing (Burn-em-upus asphaltus) breezes by. But I'm not fooled by his insouciance  -  years of Saturday mornings have taught me that Wile E. Coyote always has something up his sleeve. The rest of the way to Douglas, I'm keeping my eyes peeled for anything tagged "Acme."

Kathy and I get a good laugh out of the incident. We both loved the "Roadrunner" cartoons as kids and now here we are, two RoadRUNNERs speeding across the barren desert. Almost every time we'd pass something after the coyote our adenoidal impressions of the speedy bird's "beep-beep" crackled across the Wing's intercom the rest of the way to the Mexican border and our tour's beginning in Douglas, Arizona. It's funny how much silliness desolate roads can inspire.

Continuing south, we race the setting sun and ominous skies boiling up on the far horizon. Blackening and billowing, the clouds quickly spawn storms, and two leaden veils of rain descend one after the other in the vast distance. Though separated by hundreds of miles, the dark masses seem to work in Wagnerian concert as branching traceries of lightning dance left and right briefly animating the cascades. It's a thrilling, humbling experience, and our place in the grand scheme of things has never been so obvious. Riding on in all due haste, we hoped this celestial cauldron wouldn't be stirred and upended above our heads.
Rolling into Douglas, we find our digs, the Hotel Gadsden, just as a startlingly cool breeze converges on the empty streets. The resulting Venturi effect whips up a whirling waltz of dust and stray paper that seems appropriate for a sleepy Mexican border town. Gear in hand, we stroll through the heavy hotel doors and enter another era.

The lobby's two-story-high ceiling, complete with vaulted, stained-glass skylights, is supported by four marble columns, each capped with 14-carat gold leaf said to have been worth $ 20,000 in 1929. A resplendent Tiffany mural depicting desert trees and cacti spans forty-two feet across the mezzanine of the sweeping, white marble stairway. Despite the dim lighting, we can see the gouged-out space missing a chunk of marble on the seventh stair, an accident attributed to Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa and whatever whim it was that caused him to take his horse for an impromptu ride through the lobby. They didn't call it the Wild West for nothing.