Milt's features hormone-free, grass-fed beef burgers and hand-cut fries with housemade fry sauce, a clever mixture of ketchup, mayonnaise, salt and pepper.
"Fry sauce and Jell-O are Utah staples for some reason," our friendly server Jim Aleff told us. Emily had a juicy Cowboy Burger with melted cheddar cheese, jalapeños and an onion ring, and I had a Peggy-O Ranch burger with avocados, tomatoes and ranch sauce.
We hiked off the calories in Arches National Park with a trip to Landscape Arch, a giant with a span of 290 feet, then sped on for the cool, green of Colorado. There we took a dip in the hot springs in Ouray and bunked down for the night in the old mining town of Silverton. But the vibe of these stops was more 1870s than 1970s, so we quickly detoured south to New Mexico.
At sunset we pulled into the quaint town of Taos, N.M., and checked into El Pueblo Lodge. It was built 100 years ago but became a motel in the 1950s. This was the best-kept motel of the trip: The grounds were neatly manicured, it had a lovely kidney-shaped pool and we found barbecue pits and picnic tables. The rooms were large and clean with pretty wooden porches for lounging. The motif was adobe and Southwest, and the place spoke to the past without giving up on niceties of the present.
Our breakfast the next morning was a gooey egg enchilada at Michael's Kitchen, which opened in 1974 and attracts a big morning crowd. With a cool old sign, a scratched diner counter and round, red stools we found it easy to picture yesterday's travelers. After discovering the joys of New Mexican sopaipillas at Michael's, they would surely head for El Santuario de Chimayo, which features an 1816 adobe church and a pit of sacred earth said to have miraculous healing power.
We stopped here before heading to our final destination, the hard-as-nails town of Gallup, N.M., my birthplace.
Gallup has a strip of old motels along a stretch of Route 66; my parents, who were once teachers on the nearby Navajo reservation, recommended El Rancho Hotel & Motel. The sign on this 1937 classic boasts of the "Charm of Yesterday … Convenience of Tomorrow."
Yesterday's charm was apparent in our Rita Hayworth room (hordes of old stars once stayed here too) with its old carpet and rickety wood balcony that looked over the faded glory of Route 66 and its successor, the brutish Interstate 40.
The next day we took the latter home, passing unremarkable motel chains and fast-food places. No charm, no character, no portal to the past. What fun was that?