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EDITOR: Andrea Kirk
WEEKEND GETAWAY - ROUTE 66 ROAD TRIP
By Eye Spy LA Editor
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|When ya gotta drive, ya gotta drive, but open road is hard to find. Driving in L.A. is only fun on Sundays or holidays, and the drive on most roads leaving town is like playing dodgeball with a bunch of semis. However, there is a road that's an uncrowded time warp back to the 50's -- historic Route 66. Also known as "The Mother Road," and "Main Street, America", it was the main road for people traveling west from Chicago and the midwest from 1926 to 1970, when it was replaced by the Interstate highway system we have today. Fortunately for us, it has been given new life as an historic route that is managed by the National Park Service. It is, essentially, a drivable museum. Our goal was the section of the route that runs through Arizona from Topock to Seligman. So we set off on the I-15 toward Barstow, planning to pick up Route 66 after the I-40 turn off. Both Barstow and Victorville have Route 66 Museums, but we were more interested in driving the road than learning about it at that point, so we didn't stop. Kingman, Arizona was our base destination and we planned to explore the beautiful section of the road from Kingman to Seligman, the birthplace of the movement to preserve Route 66.|
At Barstow we turned onto I-40 and headed toward Needles on the border of Arizona and California. All along this section of I-40 there are exits to Route 66. We exited at the first opportunity and found open road with little traffic on it. However, the road became really rough, and we opted back onto I-40 for awhile. This stretch of the trip, through the Mohave desert, is strewn with small abandoned shacks and other artifacts that make you wonder how they got there and what happened to the people who put them there. Exploring this area, using Barstow as a base, could make another fun weekend getaway.
Route 66 Barstow CA to Kingman AZ
The weather was clear and it was a beautiful day for a drive. It's approximately 150 miles between Barstow and Needles, and there were some intriguing side roads, but we pressed on because we'd lost a bunch of time looking for socks in all the wrong places at the outlet mall in Len (just before Barstow) -- not much going on there these days and many of the outlet stores are vacant -- don't bother. However, there is a Bob's Big Boy in Len, where we had a classic double deck burger that whetted our appetite for our time trip back to the 50's in Kingman. Did you know that Bob's Big Boy in Burbank still has car hop service?
Needles isn't much. It's primarily a truck stop, with more interesting destinations close by. Boating on the Colorado River is the main attraction. Topock Gorge, Havasu Wildlife Refuge and Lake Havasu are nearby and so is the gambling town of Laughlin, Nevada. I wasn't expecting any Route 66 attractions, but Needles seems to be jumping on that tourism bandwagon. Restoration of the El Garces train station in Needles is underway. There is a Route 66 museum/thrift store, which wasn't open when we passed through, and a 66 Motel open for business. Kingman was our goal and we pressed on. Travelers must use I-40 to cross the Colorado River, and we stayed on it for the rest of the journey to Kingman (planning to do the portion of Route 66 from Topock through Oatman on the way back).
We arrived in Kingman as the sun was setting and looked for a 50's retro motel to stay in. We were not disappointed. The Hill Top Motel fit the bill to a "T". Nothing fancy, but it was clean and serviceable and had the perfect mid-century ambiance I remember from summer trips as a kid to visit the relatives in Oklahoma. It is easy to find places to stay in Kingman, they're all located along the same street - Andy Devine Avenue (Rte. 66) - the main road through town. The old historic part of town is located on the west end, and the newer places are on the east end where you will find typical chain establishments. All are located along the very active railway tracks, where it seems like a train passes by every few minutes.
The Hill Top Motel: time warp motor court surrounds a nifty pool in the center. Rooms are small but perfect for a one night stop. Vintage metal motel chairs outside each room round out the 50's flavor. Surprisingly, there are modern amenities such as internet service and hairdryers, but, not surprisingly, there was one postage size soap and the expected skimpy motel towels to dry off with.
Dinner at Mr. D'z Diner rounded out our time trip to the 50's. Even though this is a much newer establishment, it had the right feel. We had chicken fried steak with country gravy and mashed potatoes, washed down with ice cold home brewed root beer. The root beer is worth a stop - the food was pretty good too. Located across from the Power House Visitor Center.
The Next Day
The first stop was the Power House Visitor Center, a designated Route 66 Roadside Attraction. The visitor center, which has friendly staff and plenty of information about the area and its history, also houses the Route 66 museum. There were exhibits from the early pioneer, railway and mining days at the turn of the 20th Century as well as mid-century road culture.
This 1950 Studebaker Champion represents the pinnacle of affordable, yet stylish family transportation. It originally retailed for less than $1500. The exhibits here traced the history of the area from the early pioneers, probably arriving in horse drawn wagons made by the same manufacturer as this fine automobile. More history, particularly about the railroad and mining days, was available at the Mohave Museum of History and Arts. The museum also had a collection of Andy Devine memorabilia. Andy Devine (1905-1977) grew up in Kingman and had a long career in film and television. He is best known as the hefty, raspy voiced sidekick in numerous westerns.
Route 66 Kingman to Seligman
After our morning museum visits, we headed east toward Seligman. Along the way we spotted another Roadside Attraction, the Grand Canyon Caverns (about 65 miles from Kingman). A Brontosaurus beckoned from the road -- we couldn't resist. These caverns are privately owned and apparently they were originally named Dinosaur Caverns. Since they had no dinosaurs in the caves, the owners at some point changed the name, but kept the tourist attracting dino statuary out front. They do have a replica of an extinct giant sloth in the caverns below though.
The guided tour, which takes about 45 minutes, starts with a 21 story elevator ride down to the main cavern. Along the 3/4 mile walk through the caves, the guide tells the history of the caves and explains about the geologic formations. This is a dry cavern and the temperature stays a constant 59 degrees, making this a very popular place in the summer. I've always found caves fascinating places to visit, and this was a worthwhile stop. There is also a restaurant, motel and souvenir shop.
On to the nifty 50's in Seligman, about 25 miles east, our eastern most destination for this road trip. This is the town, where Angel Delgadillo, the local barber, decided to do something to put the town back on the map after I-40 passed it by. He founded the Arizona Route 66 Association and his efforts led to the historic preservation of Route 66. His barber shop is a part of the visitor center where you can also pick up a walking guide to the historic parts of town.
We had lunch at the Copper Kettle, a busy and friendly diner. We might have had a burger at the very colorful Snow-Cap Drive In, owned by Angel's brother, but it was closed for the winter. The entire town is an indoor/outdoor museum and the shops here are loaded with Rte. 66 and car culture memorabilia.
Heading back to Kingman, we ran into a snow flurry from a mild storm front that was moving through. We also passed through the Hualapai Nation. The tribal headquarters and the Hualapai Lodge are located in Peach Springs. They offer the only driving trip to the Grand Canyon floor, rafting trips and other outdoor activities. This west end area of the Grand Canyon is much less crowded (even in tourist season) than the South or the North rim areas. Here is another link to information about this area.
There aren't any fancy hotels in Kingman. The closest that comes to charming is the Brunswick Hotel, originally built in 1906. It has an Old West flavor, yet reminded me of a small European boutique hotel. Off the lobby are the bar and restaurant. A stairway leads to rooms on the two floors above. Cowboy and Cowgirl rooms are available with shared bath down the hall. Regular rooms (with bath) are small and individually decorated. The hotel also has suites, which are essentially double rooms, one with the bed, the other a sitting area with a bath between. Staying the night here launched us back in time, another 50 years, to the days of the Wild West in preparation for our journey to Oatman, the last leg of our Route 66 journey. We wanted to try the hotel restaurant, but it is closed on Sundays. Just a couple of doors away, on Andy Devine Ave., we had some really good Mexican food at El Palacio.
The road to the western style touristy old ghost town of Oatman from Kingman is approximately 28 miles, much of it narrow (very) with no shoulder as it winds through the Black Mountains. In the early 1950's this section of road, because it was so treacherous, was by passed for a new alignment that roughly went the same route as the current I-40 does today.
Kingman to Oatman and back to Los Angeles
As you head toward the summit of the old route (3515'), you'll pass Cool Springs Camp, originally a water/rest stop. Now, it's a newly restored piece of history and a souvenir shop. The Cool Springs Camp website has history and photos (old and new) of the area plus a comprehensive list of related links, if you want to know more about Route 66.
The gold mining ghost town of Oatman, with it's wild west atmosphere, gunfighter shows and wild burros, is a popular tourist attraction. It is close enough to Laughlin, Nevada to make it convenient for a daytime break from the casino action there. Oatman started out in the 1800's as a gold mining town, then after the mines shut down, catered to travelers on Route 66. It has survived as a place catering to tourists who enjoy reliving the old west for a few hours. Miners originally brought the burros. The miners left and the burros stayed. They are tame and like to be fed. Feed is available for purchase for that purpose.
The town, which isn't much more than a block long, is often clogged with cars, both moving and parked, competing for space with pedestrians and a gang of burros (sort of detracts a bit from the old west ambiance for me). I was ready to get back on the open road, even if it meant driving home.
Route 66 has become a popular travel itinerary and area of interest. All of the websites listed in the box below, as well as the links provided throughout the text, lead to more detailed information.
The pleasure of traveling uncrowded, off season, open road with no specific plans. The Grand Canyon Caverns. Root beer at Mr. D'z in Kingman. The Powerhouse Visitor Center in Kingman. A brief snow flurry between Kingman & Seligman. Discovering there is a lot more to know about Route 66. We want to go again.
Los Angeles to Kingman - 320 miles. It is 320 Rte. 66 miles from Santa Monica (end of Rte. 66) to Needles. Kingman is about another 65 miles.
Kingman to Seligman - 78 miles.
Weather - windy, chilly but mostly sunny.
Travel time: 3 days
Time travel: 100 years.
The Illustrated Guidebook to the Mother Road by Bob Moore & Patrick Grauwels.
Historic Route 66 website - turn by turn directions.
Kingman Arizona Tourism website..
Route 66 tourism in Needles, CA
West Rim Grand Canyon information.
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