Arizona & Route 66 – Day 3

Day three of my Southwestern adventure meandered along historic Route 66, the first highway across the continuous United States, coast to coast. US 40 now largely obliterates old Route 66, but there are still long stretches of highway preserved for those adventurous enough to brave the aging tourist traps. Luckily, I am one of those brave young women. As an aside, in almost all the places I stopped in both California and Arizona, someone inevitably commented on how brave I was to be a woman traveling alone.  By “brave” they really meant stupid.

Perhaps this story justifies their silly assumptions.

I mean, how many people get trapped 210 feet underground alone with only a middle aged, under-socialized, sock-and-sandal wearing, crazy, farting tour guide?

The day started out cheerily enough. Relics from another era dotted the road, at home among the surrounding grasslands. I was on my way to a tourist trap, which I will leave unnamed, suggested by some other adventure seekers I met the day before at a rest stop.  After following signs and driving several miles down a dusty, rock strewn road, I finally saw a plaster T-Rex looming ahead. I had arrived.

I immediately noticed there were very few vehicles in the gigantic parking area. A single RV and a couple SUVs made a lonely row next to a deserted playground. I walked into the building, finding an empty cafeteria and a souvenir shop full of the usual Southwestern/ Route 66 tchotchke. I purchased a ticket for the underground cavern tour and was told to listen overhead for my tour to be called.

Several minutes later, I was introduced to tour guide Bob when he exclaimed nervously that this was it. Business was slow, so it was just the two of us descending 210 feet underground in a mining elevator last updated in the 1960s. “I never had a tour with just one person before!” It would not be the last time he stated this fact.

The thing about tour guide Bob is that he had a script memorized, a shtick he presented to every tour, ensuring that each group had the same experience, just like McDonalds ensures its fries taste the same in each of its thousands of restaurants all over the world by using the same boring potatoes grown specifically for the chain. Except this tour was different. It was just me. I didn’t laugh at his rehearsed jokes and I interrupted him to explain more about the history of the caverns — those bits of information that wouldn’t have held a much larger group’s attention.

Bob didn’t like that. It made him uncomfortable and he ended up dismissing my questions.

I don’t like being dismissed.

Not that he had real answers, anyway.

As we marched on through the 45-minute tour, Bob began addressing an audience that was not there. Upon talking about rations left in the caves per JFK’s Presidential Orders in 1962 after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Bob looked over my head and asked the empty room, “Does anyone want to know what was in these ration barrels?”

I looked behind me. No one. Waving my hand in an exaggerated manner, I eagerly exploded, “I DO, BOB!”

At this point, Bob became increasingly self-conscious and irritated. He chuckled, but between points of interest on the trail where he stopped to rehearse his lines, I heard him begin to swear under his breath with each step. As the tour progressed, the muttering of curse words became more pronounced. A stop later, a new noise was introduced to his crazy mumbles.

At first I thought it was his sandals squeaking.

Then I realized the awful truth. Bob had gas. Bad gas. The kind that you can’t control, pushing outward from your bowels, no matter how tightly you may be clenching your sphincter. Unfortunately, the cave was empty, devoid of any noise whatsoever. Bob knew I could hear. Neither of us said anything. I was trying desperately not to laugh and the more I tried to control my laughter, the funnier the entire situation became. Finally, I attempted to give Bob some alone time (as much as possible under the circumstances) by using the ol’ ‘I’m gonna take some photos of these rocks – I’ll meet you up ahead in a minute’ excuse. However, tour guide Bob did not get the hint and stood next to me as I took boring photos of some rocks that looked like a snowball war had erupted in the cavern thousands of years ago. Bob continued to curse and fart as he walked, with occasional maniacal laughter thrown to round out the crazy.

As we made our way around the loop back to the elevator, I increasingly became more and more anxious. I wanted out. The novelty of the situation had worn off by now, over 40 minutes underground with only an apparently unbalanced tour guide as company. However, we had to make the final two stops on the tour. The first was to show off a hotel room in the middle of the gigantic cavern where you could pay an insane amount of money to be locked in the cavern overnight to sleep. The last was a massive, furry replica of a giant sloth that had plummeted to its death in the cave hundreds of thousands of years ago. The bones had been extracted from the ground and given to ASU but the remaining half inch deep claw marks that ran up and down twenty vertical feet of the cave walls were left as testament to this poor creature’s slow, painful death.

At this point, I was beginning empathize with the sloth.

Five minutes later, I was envious of the beast.

Finally, we reached the elevator. Bob pushed the call button and… nothing.

Bob flipped out as panic replaced his mania. Trying to calm him down, and making sure to breathe myself, I asked him what the problem was. Apparently, if the doors to the elevator shaft are not closed properly 21 stories above, the elevator is unable to come down.

“Don’t you have a walkie talkie?” I asked.

“It’s in the elevator,” came the four word reply.

“There’s no other way to communicate with the ground level?” I asked impetuously.

“There’s a phone,” Bob said pulling a rotary phone from within a barely noticeable nook among the rocks, “but it hasn’t worked since the lightning storm last week.”

Taking control of the situation, I asked when the next tour was coming down. This curbed Bob’s cursing and he looked at his watch. 15 minutes he said. We both sat on a couple rough benches, and Bob began to tell me the exact same stories he had already told me while on the tour. He checked his watch obsessively. After 20 minutes, Bob said that maybe there wouldn’t be another tour today. He had a distant look in his eyes. I could feel my heart palpitate.

Suddenly, Bob dashed to his feet, ran toward the elevator door and proceeded to kick the doors, swearing profusely. Then he reached overhead, pulled down a well hidden panel next to the elevator shaft, and pulled his entire body up and through a 2′ x 2′ hole. “WHERE ARE YOU GOING?!” I screamed. “STAY PUT! I’m going up. I’ll be back down in 10 minutes with the elevator!” he growled back. Apparently, before the elevator was installed in the 1960s, the only accessible way to the caverns was down switchbacks of scaffolding installed in the 1920s. Soon I could no longer hear Bob huffing up the elevator shaft.

Now truly alone, my thoughts raced: This is the quietest place I have ever been. People pay a lot of money for this kind of thing. That poor fucking sloth. Is Bob coming back? I hope he doesn’t kill me.

After what felt like an eternity, I heard the chain mechanism of the elevator engage, clanking against the cavern wall as it descended. I exhaled, only to notice my hands shaking. As the elevator came closer, I could hear Bob cursing God inside. As the elevator arrived, it made a friendly ding. Bob’s smiling face emerged from between the opening doors, “Look at you! You made it! Ready to be above ground?” Literally stuck between a rock and a hard place, I walked into the elevator without making eye contact.

As the doors closed, another ding sounded. Bob was momentarily quiet. Then,spewing in a hysterical tone, he began blaming his boss, convinced that she did this to him on purpose, how she did it to get back at him, and how she was a rotten, filthy cunt. I nodded my head, agreeing, trying to melt into the metal elevator walls hoping that his wrath would not become focused on me.

Finally we arrived in the lobby of the gift shop. Before the doors had even finished opening, I literally ran out. Without looking over my shoulder, unaware of the rest of the empty shop, I rushed out to the the parking lot, hurriedly unlocked my car’s door, and threw myself into the drivers seat. As I sped along the dirt road leading to 66, I bottomed out several times, oblivious to all potholes and large rocks in my path. I didn’t pull over for another three hours, even after 66 rejoined US 40. I don’t remember any of this part of the drive.

Three hours later, after finally gripping the amount of danger I could have potentially been in, I immediately called my housemate Erin. “Dude, you wouldn’t BELIEVE what just happened to me… I was actually trapped in a tourist trap!”

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