It stretches before us, the far side a distant, green line, the intervening territory red, brown, deep and dramatic, plunging almost a kilometre to the desert floor. We were here a quarter century ago, father and son. I was a kid in 1991, and we were on a monumental family road trip, crisscrossing North America in a two-tone, grey Pontiac Bonneville. Now we’re back, a scene from a movie, side by side on the edge of the Grand Canyon, with so much changed in our lives.

On Route 66, the two of us are travelling through northern Arizona on the longest continuous, still-intact stretch of the Mother Road—where the concept of road trips began.

Now designated U.S. State Route 66, we joined the historic highway at Kingman. Our first stop is the Route 66 Museum, where we discover the highway was established in 1926 and was a route for westward migrants during the 1930s Dust Bowl era. Traffic peaked in the 1940s and 1950s, but it lost its cachet (and life) to the Interstate Highway System.

The road-tripping writer and his father at the Grand Canyon

We wind into the high desert, my dad at the wheel, as he always was. We laugh and relive old road stories from when we travelled as a pack—before my sister got married, and before my mother passed away, suddenly and devastatingly of a brain aneurysm, two years earlier.

Road therapy is the best catharsis, with its ever-changing landscapes and inherent opportunities for discussion, and, perhaps most importantly, its built-in ability to create new memories. That we did, taking a selfie—my father’s first, ever—at the charmingly tumbledown Hackberry General Store, eating fry bread tacos in Peach Springs northeast of Kingman. We later pass giant dinosaurs and mini-golf courses to descend deep into Grand Canyon Caverns. In the 1920s, it was the site of the original “dope on a rope.” Visitors would be lowered by rope into one of the largest dry caves in the world (now accessible by elevator).

We drive for days, staying at Globetrotter Lodge [now closed], a motel in Holbrook, enjoying diner grub at Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In in Seligman and standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona—such a fine sight to see, as the song goes.

Snow Cap Drive-In in Seligman, photo courtesy of Kingman Visitor Center

Continuing on, we examine stone trees at Petrified Forest National Park and tour Canyon De Chelly National Monument [temporarily closed, check for updates] by Jeep, visiting Spider Rock and the ruins of native settlements built by the Anasazi, Hopi and Navajo.

But it’s the Grand Canyon that tops the trip. Soaring over that great chasm in a helicopter, we recall how my mother, terrified of heights, pushed past her fears so the entire family could share this sight from a small airplane.

Soon, the two of us are off again, my father and me, the wheels rolling, the horizon before us. 

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This article appears in the March 2017 issue of WestJet Magazine and has since been updated.