Travel Log: Whiling Away the Hours in Williams

(Albuquerque, New Mexico; May 18, 2021) – Williams and the Grand Canyon are now far in my rearview mirror as I steadily make my way east to Florida.

Williams is a charming little town that found some creative ways to survive the blow of being bypassed by Interstate 40 in 1984 and the decommissioning of Route 66 in 1985.  Williams survived obscurity by getting several exits from I-40 to lead into town while focusing its economy onto a tourist/history-based model extolling and relinquishing the economic sectors that faded when the interstate took commercial and general traffic north of town.

For the foodies who might visit Williams, options are available that range from pizza, to Mexican food, to Creole, to traditional country fare.  I’ve only been to Williams twice, so my own dining experience is still a bit limited (that, and I’m famous for eating simple food in my hotel room to save money).  However, even I get out and slowly explore local eateries, and I’ve had some great meals while whiling away the hours in Williams.

The Pine Country Restaurant quickly became a ‘traditional’ staple for me during my first visit back in 2018.  Serving country fare, Pine Country’s food is always hot and I’ve never had a meal that disappointed me.  Their hamburger steak smothered in mushroom gravy is definitely not to be missed, nor is their traditional fried chicken.  Their coffee is also robust and full, meaning it’s a great way to wake up in the morning or get a nice boost to avoid the after-lunch sleepies.

Of course, I am a modern American, so I must have my pizza!

Williams is blessed to have two great pizzerias: the Station 66 Italian Bistro and the Pizza Factory.  Station 66 serves New York-style pizza.  Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of New York-style pizza.  Just as a matter of personal preference, I prefer more traditional crusts, but when I learned Station 66’s chef and crew literally make everything by hand every morning (sauce, crust, etc.), I gave them a try.  For the first time in my life, I found a place making a New York-style pizza I can happily recommend!  The flavor was mesmerizing, and I could easily tell everything was about as fresh as possible.

The Pizza Factory serves a more traditional pizza that’s just as good as Station 66.  The Pizza Factory also makes things fresh, and their sauce possesses and nice tangy zip that’ll wake up any somnolent taste buds with a burst of belovedly boisterous flavor.  Further, whereas Station 66 has a modern feel to it, the Pizza Factory is set up as a unique hybrid of traditional pizzeria and Western decorating schemes (you eat on Western-style rough wood tables and benches).

Now, if you want a hamburger, Cruiser’s Route 66 Café is a 1950s-style diner serving a variety of burgers, BBQ, and other diner staples.  I’ve personally never been to a place that offered pepper jack cheese as an option for a cheeseburger, but I thoroughly enjoyed it!  (I’m sure pepper jack is offered in many places, just none I’ve eaten at before.)

There are several more places to eat, but I’ve only been to town twice so far.  Depending on your own preferences, check out Bayou by You, Anna’s Canyon Café, El Corral on 66, and the other restaurants.  Don’t be afraid to explore.

Very rarely will I ever recommend a store for the simple reason that, while I might have a good experience there, it’s difficult to get a true gauge on their business practices, source and quality of merchandise, etc.  This time, however, I’ll exercise my option as my own senior editor and make a command decision to recommend you pop by Thunder Eagle.

Thunder Eagle specializes in Native American jewelry, pottery, and arts.  I spoke with the owner and one of his sons during the few stops I made to browse the shop (and purchase a few beautiful treasures).  They only buy stock from local Native American artists belonging to the Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, and other native peoples.  They even carry a few items from indigenous artisans in Mexico.

If you aren’t aware of the source of their items (particularly the jewelry), the sticker price might shock you.  However, you’re looking at art and jewelry that’s done with a minimum of modern tools and a maximum of traditional manual labor.  This is one of the few times I’m comfortably confident saying the items are truly worth their price (for example, when you consider it can take a Hopi artisan over 400 hours to prepare materials and weave just one rug on a manual loom, the triple-digit price makes sense).

Another reason Thunder Eagle won a spot on my “You should check it out!” radar is that the staff are highly educated in the history and cultures of the indigenous nations they do business with.  To give just one example, if you’ve ever wondered whether dream catchers are really a traditional Native American spiritual and medicinal tool, Thunder Eagle’s staff can tell you the real story about them.

Dream catchers are indeed a real part of many Native American cultures, but their use is much more complex than simply leaving them hanging above the sleeping area.  Much like a hanging medicine wheel, the dream catcher was not simply hung up and left.  It was only hung over the sleeping area if the person was having a spate of bad dreams and/or difficulty sleeping.  The dream catcher is believed to catch the bad dreams and negative energies in its tangled web, while the central opening allows good dreams and energy to flow unimpeded to the individual (being pure and righteous, good energy and good dreams flow straight and true, passing through the central opening with ease).  Once the person was back in a better place, the dream catcher was removed and carefully stored until needed again.

Sadly, I have no photos of these establishments to share.  The card I was shooting on for this column decided to corrupt, and I only discovered the issue here in Albuquerque as I sat down to begin writing this morning (anyone with any experience knows that when SD cards decided to go, they go with no warning).

Even if you don’t purchase anything, Thunder Eagle is most certainly worth your time.  The art and craftsmanship of their stock will take your breath away.  If you do make a purchase, you can be assured you’re supporting a business that only does business directly with indigenous artisans, therefore helping those economies thrive.

You can contact Thunder Eagle with any questions at Thundereaglewilliams@gmail.com.

Williams might be a small hamlet, but it’s definitely got a big city’s variety of cultures, food, and crafts neatly tucked inside its historic streets.  I can’t recommend too highly that you one day while away a few hours in Williams!

Also, if you have a minute, check out my short video on the Silence of the Canyon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruKWyWoHMJQ

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Nathanael Miller’s Photojournalism Archives:

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