February, 2016: I not only enjoyed the “living ghost town” of Oatman enough to go three times, the ride getting there down historic Route 66 was a real bonus.
The first time, I went the most direct route on the highways (AZ 95 and CR 153) from where I was staying at Needles Marina RV Park, but even though that’s the shortest (22 miles) and quickest route, you don’t get onto Route 66 except for a little stretch near town.
The next time, I went south from Needles and took the turnoff at Topock, whose big sign boasts having the longest uninterrupted stretch of Route 66. This section also goes through a section of Havasu National Wildlife Refuge.
From here almost to Kingman, this section is called Historic Route 66 National Back Country Byway. The sign at the info kiosk says it is 42 miles and to allow 1-1/4 hours without stops. Although you can get gas in a couple of places, it’s definitely more expensive, so I recommend filling up beforehand (Bullhead City always had the best prices when I checked).
I always like to read about where I’m going and the kiosk sign informed me that from 1926 to 1984, Route 66 was one of America’s primary east-west arteries, linking 100s of cities and towns between Chicago and Los Angeles. “Indeed the highway formed the Main Street of towns along its route from the midwest to California.”
It has a desolate feel to it even now and I tried to imagine the scene the sign painted:
“Dust, Depression, and the Promised Land: A half million people migrated from the Dust Bowl states to the fertile California fields during the Depression Era of the 1930s. Carrying all their worldly possessions in the Model A or Model T Fords, these hearty migrants feared the steep, winding grades of Route 66 over the Black Mountains. During later more prosperous times, “Movie stars joined other travelers on Route 66 seeking the adventure of the open road, and the roadside camps of the 1930s grow into businesses to serve the new fun-seekers.”
Another sign you’ll see now that they probably could not have conceived of back then is the restriction of vehicles over 40′. In most places it really didn’t seem that bad, but even though just my motorhome is 35′ long even without towing my car, I prefer not to drive on little winding, dippy roads with such sharp turns and steep grades in places. Plus, I kept wanting to pull over and take pictures and there are really no places for a vehicle that large on the shoulder which is soft sand in a lot of places.
The wildflowers added an almost surreal beauty to the roadside because it just didn’t seem like something so lively belonged in such a desolate environment.
Almost to Oatman, I had to laugh again at the humor in the desert at the way they decorate these bushes with Christmas decorations along the road. A great introduction to a quirky little town! Click here for pictures of the town and the fun I had there.
This scene shows portions of the road with no center divider lines and how it curves around going up and down the hillsides.
At least there were guardrails in places.
But not everywhere, and the scenery was so endlessly diverse and fascinating, I had to keep reminding myself to keep my eyes on the road!
There’s a large parking area around here and I’m glad I didn’t miss this. Walk up a short ways from the lot for this view: Graveyard at Sitgreaves Pass – This is not a graveyard, really, but actually are memorials to deceased people (and pets) whose cremains are scattered at the site.
There are also some modern “petroglyphs” on this boulder, with the saying “Crash and Burn, all the stars explode tonight.” The bare bush here was decorated with what looked like Mardi Gras beads. Beautiful views and I read it’s not just memorials to the dead, but weddings take place up here, too.
Back to thinking of the earlier travelers on this road and how much more difficult it was then, I had read, “Many even hired local residents to drive or tow their car over the dreaded Sitgreaves Pass in the cool of the evening before crossing the Colorado River into the Mojave Desert.”
Looking back, you can see the parking area where the memorials were. Even trucks look tiny here!
A view taken from the curve showing the road on both sides coming downhill.
Cool Springs – Despite the Cabins sign, there is no lodging available here. I had seen pictures of this before and was ready to stop for a snack, but it was closed when I went through here.
Yep – Route 66 and this part of Arizona are a great fit and shouldn’t be missed!
Route 66 USA – There was a slower, simpler time before the Interstate decreased travel time. Though it was decommissioned in 1985, parts of the highway can still be found stretching across the desert. Make it a point to stop at the small towns and see if any events are going on!
Old Route 66: Oatman (Road Trip USA) – One of the most demanding, desolate, and awesomely satisfying stretches of the old road loops north from the I-40 freeway, between Kingman and the California border. Climbing over steep mountains while cutting across a stretch of desert that brings new meaning to the word “harsh,” the narrow roadway passes few signs of life on this 50-mile loop, so be sure you and your car are prepared for the rigors of desert driving.
Route 66 – Main page (Legends of America) – Descriptions of the many towns, sites, and icons of the Mother Road, as well as additional articles and the Route 66 Emporium for those looking for books & maps, postcards, souvenirs, and memorabilia.
Route 66 – Arizona (Legends of America) – Arizona’s stretch of Route 66 is one of the most picturesque along the entire route. From volcanoes, to painted deserts, to lush green forests, your journey provides numerous scenic photograph opportunities as well as a wealth of history, great side trips, and a volume of Route 66 era icons.
Route 66 – Facts and Trivia (Legends of America) – Arizona has the longest stretch of the historic highway still in use today.
Get Your Kicks on Route 66 – A brief history of this historic highway.
The Colorado Crossing – The Colorado River was the gateway to California for the Oakies who traveled Route 66 during the dust bowl days.
9 Sights to See on a Route 66 Road Trip Through Arizona (Review Journal) – For many Americans, Route 66 evokes the nostalgic feelings of simpler times, mom and pop shops and early American transportation. And rightfully so. Erected in 1926, Route 66 was one of the original highways in the U.S., stretching westward from Chicago, Ill. out to California’s coastal city of Santa Monica.
Arizona Highway Guides – Kingman to Oatman – The Historic Route 66 Back Country Byway follows a 42-mile-long paved section of beloved Old Route 66, a 2,400-mile highway that linked Chicago with Los Angeles. Travelers are advised that the portion of the highway passing through the mountains is a very narrow two-lane with no shoulders, extremely tight switchbacks and many steep drop-offs. This section through the Black Mountains is a series of narrow, hairpin turns. This section was bypassed in 1951 in one of the many realignments of Route 66.
Virtual Tourist – You don’t want miss this stretch of Route 66, it offers the thrill of a roller coaster without the cost to ride. My muscles were tensed and my toes were curled in my shoes as Bob navigated the many twists and turns in our rental car. The view is simply indescribable and the drive is unforgettable. Unfortunately I didn’t get any photographs (other than the donkey) as I was too busy gripping the dash.