Salome’s reputation as desert inferno where it was so dry that local frogs didn’t know how to swim goes back nearly a century to the yarns of humorist Dick Wick Hall. He operated the Laughing Gas Station that advertised “Free Hot Air,” published a newspaper and wrote syndicated columns that put Salome on the map.
In 1904, Hall and other investors founded Salome about 90 minutes northwest of Phoenix. Grace Salome Pratt gave the town its name and motto — “Where she danced.” It’s said that Salome got out of a car barefoot and quickly took to dancing to keep her feet from burning on the desert sand.
Salome is in the McMullen Valley between the Harquahala and Harcuvar mountains. Its early days were tied to prospecting and mining. Tourism in Salome and the nearby towns of Hope, Wenden and Aguila started in the 1930s with development of U.S. Highway 60/70, a transcontinental route from Norfolk, Va., to Los Angeles.
The highway linked Phoenix to the west coast. Cafes, truck stops, gas stations and motels served motorists for more than a half century along U.S. 60/70.
But construction of Interstate 10 in the 1970s ended the glory days of motor tourism. The so-called Brenda cutoff left Salome, Hope, Wenden and Aguila marooned in the desert.
The motoring public left the towns in the dust and the fortunes of U.S. 60 have faded over the past 40 years. Still, treasures remain in Salome.
Roadie revives Westward Motel
Ex-rock band roadie Rande Wolters saved the Westward Motel, a block off U.S. 60, and turned it into a desert gem. It is four cozy rooms in a shady ranch yard with lots of succulents, a sentinel saguaro and many relaxing outdoor spots to enjoy the stillness and dark skies of the desert in Salome.
The Little Roadside Chapel is an oddity worth a look along Salome Road south of town.
In the 1930s and early 40s, Salome became a romance trip destination with the local justice of the peace offering quirky marriage ceremonies to traveling couples.
California had a 3-day waiting period for marriages so couples drove to western Arizona towns to get hitched without delay. The so-called "gin marriage law" aimed at preventing drunken nuptials was in place from 1927-43.
In 1939, Russell "Bus" Sheffler and his brother Bill set up Sheffler's Motel in Salome with gambling and prostitution on the down low. The Shefflers had provided slot machines for off-shore gambling near Long Beach and Santa Monica that was shut down in 1939.
The Shefflers failed in their effort to legalize gambling in Arizona, with one casino in each county.
Sunset Motel gets new life as art gallery
In nearby Wenden, five miles to the east, Bonnie Powell rescued the fading Sunset Motel, transforming it into the Courtyard on 60 art gallery. It includes creations by local artists and other collectibles in a colorfully redecorated space.
There are other vestiges of the heyday of U.S. 60/70, including a truck stop sign in Wenden, Sheffler’s Motel in Salome and the Burro Jim Motel and Saguaro Motel sign, both in Aguila.
Route 66 is more famous and has surged with renewed attention to early roadside America. But the roadside attractions and ruins of U.S. 60/70 are frozen in time, more so than what has happened along Route 66 over the past two decades. What’s left along U.S. 60/70 seems more authentic to midcentury motoring in Arizona than some of the kitschy redevelopment along Route 66.
To be honest, the towns along U.S. 60/70 in the McMullen Valley aren't for everyone. The area is billed as the Arizona Outback and it's plenty remote. Still, there are many affordable RV parks for visitors and lots of back country to explore, whether it's hiking mountain trails or riding across the desert on a mountain bike or in an ATV. It's wise to avoid summer for outdoor activities here.
There is a rugged jeep route and a hiking trail up nearby Harquahala Mountain and the summit has an interesting history as a astrophysical observatory. http://bit.ly/2wVG22c