Over the course of her acclaimed career, Grace Potter has carved out a flourishing yet unconventional place among the best songwriters and singers in rock & roll. Her latest solo album, Mother Road, is out now on Fantasy Records.
I took all the highways and byways of Route 66, starting in basically Bullhead City. I’ve been feverishly going through the places on my map, because when I’m really delighted by a place, I take a billion pictures. So I’m trying to go by numbers, mainly — what brings me the most joy tends to be what I’ve taken the most pictures of. I’m leaning on the statistics, because I’m certainly not a very good with empirical evidence. It’s all in my mystical, magical brain.
1. Oatman, Arizona
There’s a place where I clearly took some kind of a detour through Golden Valley, Arizona. Between Laughlin and Golden Valley is a little town called Oatman. I’m obsessed with this town — just based off of the amount of photos I took alone, this was definitely one of those, Wow, I can’t not stop here, this is where I’m meant to be.
I stumbled onto it by taking a road that wasn’t the main road. And not only was it not the main road, but in the notes that I had in this Route 66 guide, it was suggested not to go there at night and not to feed the donkeys — because the entire town is run by the donkeys. It’s wild donkeys running amok; they’re everywhere and they are wild, so the town is just cool with it. They’re like, “Alright, yeah, I guess that’s just what happens here in Oatman.”
The town is really cautious, too, about driving, so you have to go really, really slow. People will definitely give you the hairy eyeball if you don’t go slow. This is not a town to blow through quickly. It just had all of the kismet experiences that I didn’t expect to have taking a sideroad. I did end up spending a night up in the hills, just beyond Oatman, in a guest house. It was amazing and I didn’t feel unsafe in any way. And there’s a hotel in town — I did not stay in the hotel, but I did go have a drink there at the cantina. It was really lovely.
Olive Oatman was apparently the sort of lady of the town who had her own tale to tell and everybody in the town just feels like a character out of a movie. I know there’s towns like this around as you get out West, but this felt much more real, like it wasn’t just a tourist trap. There’s a filter on this town — you’ve got to be a little crazy if you want to go there because it’s off the beaten track. There’s a self-edit button to the type of person who lives in Oatman, the type of person who’s attracted to Oatman. I’m clearly one of those people who found it compelling. It was just a wonderful detour for me.
2. Winslow, Arizona
I stayed over at the La Posada Inn in Winslow because it had a train that runs through the building, and is actually a real train stop. It was recommended to me by so many Route 66 enthusiasts, and from everything from [sings] “I was standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, I’ve got seven women on my mind” — I was like, Alright, this is that songwriter moment where you can’t not stop in Winslow.
But La Posada was such an amazing surprise to me, because I got to meet the owner and I got to really dive into what it is about that place that is worth not only salvaging, but also what is not worth fixing. Like, don’t change a thing if it ain’t broke. They have amazing art exhibits and really forward-thinking people and a staff that cares a lot, but they don’t care about everything. They leave certain things, like the overgrown garden in the front, which is kind of overgrown on purpose. Fuck it, you know? Then there’s this perfectly pruned back area where the train comes through along with this beautiful Mexican restaurant where you can watch the dishes rattle as the train pumps by. There’s just an energy to a place that has a train going through it that really feels true to my heart. It’s like a tour bus that never moves; it’s a tour bus that hosts other tour buses to drive through it.
I also got a lot of really great advice from the owner about different directions I should drive. She sent me on some wonderful adventures that day, like the Petrified Forest.
3. Alamogordo, New Mexico
The other one that I really loved, which also kind of took me by surprise, was how little of New Mexico I knew. Having grown up there, I thought I kind of knew everything about New Mexico, and I really didn’t and I enjoyed so much the experience of getting back into Albuquerque and exploring parts of it that I had never seen before.
Alamogordo is a way out of Albuquerque that I normally wouldn’t take, because if you want to continue on Route 66 you would usually continue heading east through Edgewood and Moriarty. But instead, I took one of my side trips that my madre and padre had always said we had to do and we never had a chance to, which was to go to the White Sands desert. But the night before we went out to the White Sands, we stayed in a trailer park in Alamogordo. And when I say trailer park, I mean most of the people in the RV park definitely one-hundred-percent live there. But it was just a really great RV park, and it had such an amazing collection of people. We got a rainbow bagel from this bagel shop, which just cracked me up.
And when I say “we” — I drove Route 66 four times over the course of two years, and this last trip was the only time where my family was with me. So, that was part of why it really is one of the greater memories I have on this adventure, because I had them with me and I wasn’t just alone with my crazy thoughts.
But another cool thing about Alamogordo is that there is this crazy this space history museum. I, of course, called my friend Jessica Meir, who is a NASA astronaut — another person who I visited on this very same trip — I was like, “we’re at the space center in Alamogordo!” And she was like, “That’s not a NASA thing, but that’s super cool.” It’s a privately explored journey into space history. Which I love — I love anybody that’s passionate enough to make a museum about space history and actually collect these things privately.
A piece of the story that goes along with that great adventure was running out of gas on the way out of the White Sands desert and having to stop at the military base and beg them to give me some gas. This was a first for them as well — we literally ran out of the last drop of gasoline at the gate to the military missile testing base. It was all the things you need: It was drama, a wholesome family camping experience, and a wonderfully wacky, rainbow-bagel-having town with a space history museum in it. It just ticks all my boxes.
(4. Honorable mentions)
There’s Shamrock, Texas, the Ludlow Cafe, the Oro Grande — where I found the purple couch from the liner notes. There’s the Amboy Crater, the motel El Rancho in Gallup, New Mexico. There’s the Pop Museum, that’s just all the history of soda, in Oklahoma — and I feel like I haven’t given any love to Oklahoma, but that is another amazing state. Driving through Oklahoma always feels like I’m tearing a page out of history and getting a little drunk on the shadow of the American Dream.
Grace Potter’s Mother Road is out now.
As told to Annie Fell.