Road tripping; historic Route 66 through Arizona, California

The Copper Cart in Seligman, AZ, is a busy place for food or Route 66 miscellany.

The Hi-Line Motel in Ash Fork, AZ, once prospered but closed when I-40 skirted the small town.
An abandoned truck stop in Ash Fork, AZ, is within viewing distance of I-40, which bypassed it in the 80s.
The Canyon Club in Williams serves Mexican food and drinks a’plenty.
Author’s spouse Susan “standing on the corner in Winslow, AZ”.
The El Trovatore Motel in Kingman is a trip back to the Route 66 past.
The Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, AZ, “do it in a teepee” they advertised!

Road tripping; touring historic Route 66 through Arizona, California
Take the ‘Mother Road’ in bite-sized pieces!

Route 66, feted as “America’s Mother Road”, turns 93 this year and the Nat King Cole hit, “Get your kicks on Route 66″ celebrates 73 years. Each year, more and more Americans endeavor to tour all, or part, of the historic highway. To do it well, Chicago to Santa Monica, you’ll need 2 to 3 weeks. Better, for most, is to tackle the old highway in bite-size pieces.

The highway was dedicated in 1926 and brought millions of Americans west to Arizona and California; but, by the 1950s, its days were numbered. President Eisenhower, noting the success of the German Autobahn during the World War II, spurred the construction of a new, Federal four-lane highway system in 1956 that would become today’s Interstate system.  Five new Interstates (I-55, I-44, I-40, I-15 and I-10) would steadily replace Route 66 over almost 30 years, and in 1985 Route 66 was decommissioned (Williams, AZ was the last town bypassed).

We have been touring portions of Route 66 over the past six years. We tackled our first segment, from Williams, Arizona west to California’s border six years ago (and just revisited that stretch in January), followed by the Oklahoma, Texas and eastern New Mexico portion five years ago, then the Needles, CA to Santa Monica section four years ago, and, later, the stretch from St. Louis, Missouri through Kansas to Oklahoma. That means we still have the Chicago to St. Louis stretch to navigate – hopefully a meandering diversion on our next trip across the central US.

Without space to share all our favorite memories of the three-quarters of Rt. 66 we have toured, we offer sections.  Last week, we shared New Mexico memories, this week, we take you from Petrified Forest National Park, through Holbrook and Winslow, AZ (homes, respectively, to the Wigwam Motel and the Jack Rabbit Trading Post) and head west to California.

In many places, Interstate 40 directly overlaid Route 66; remaining portions of the old highway are well marked as exits off the Interstate. Visit Petrified Forest National Park, the only national park bisected by Route 66; where a short drive off 40 will take you to an exhibit highlighted by an abandoned 1932 Studebaker, marking the old highway’s right of way through the park. You’ll see the Painted Desert, evocative in deep reds and oranges, and the Petrified Forest. Heading west, stop in Winslow for “standing on the corner”, from the popular song “Take It Easy”, written by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey, recorded by the Eagles.

Flagstaff, a big town relative to the others, owes its history to Route 66, railroads and lumbering. A good portion of the old highway is preserved in Flagstaff, with a number of businesses celebrating the old road. But Williams, just west, toasts the highway best. Blessed as the gateway to the Grand Canyon just 55 miles north, Williams would be the last town bypassed by the Interstate in 1984. Enjoy Williams several miles of preserved Route 66, with numerous shops and restaurants offering memories and memorabilia. You’ll find old filling stations, motels and vintage cars, looking much as they did in the 1950s. Stop at the Canyon Club for drinks and Mexican food, and explore blocks of retro downtown and the nearby Grand Canyon Railway!

Just west, Ash Fork, with abandoned truck stop and the town almost dried up, is sober testimony of a city that lost its luster when bypassed by the new Interstate. The remaining shuttered motels, dilapidated bars and homes offer a melancholy footnote to busier times.

However, the next town west, Seligman, offers an example of how a small town off I-40 can recapture much of its grandeur by focusing on the highway’s drawing power. Stop at the Copper Cart or Snow Cap Drive-in for a bite, and admire both the town and many tourists that make this such a popular diversion. It’s also on an unbroken stretch of Route 66, well-preserved, with interesting high desert towns of Peach Springs and Hackberry, all the way to Kingman.

Kingman is another town that goes out of its way to preserve memories of the old highway. We spent a recent night at the El Trovatore Motel, remaining much as it was in its heyday some 60 years ago. The owner provided us a good map of Route 66 highlights, and a 15 minute discussion of what to see and do. Stops include the Arizona Route 66 Museum and Route 66 Electrical Vehicle Museum, Kingman Railroad Museum and Mohave Museum of History and Art. Check out Locomotive #3759 in Locomotive Park, retired in 1957, which logged 2.5 million miles with a top speed of 100 MPH.

Follow the old highway west-bound into the low mountains and find old Oatman, with a wild-west themed downtown, and populated by scores of wild burros that wander the streets and raid snacks out of visitor’s purses!

Crossing into California, Needles boasts the grand old El Garces Hotel (an old Harvey House Hotel) built in 1906, the Needles Theatre, circa 1930 and old Union 76 and Texaco gas stations.  Just behind the Route 66 Motel are the moldering remains of the old Carty’s Camp Motor Court, featured in the Grapes of Wrath movie. The balance of the journey, with Route 66’s western terminus at the Santa Monica Pier, will await another installment.

For more info: Overall historic Route 66: nps.gov/nr/travel/route66; Arizona, azrt66.com; California, route66ca.org.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com; follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in your world!

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    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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