One of the things we planned to do on our RV travel adventure was to drive parts of Historic Route 66, The Mother Road, and the first part we drove set a high bar for what to expect elsewhere.
We started off I-40 (exit 44) outside of Kingman, Arizona and drove up, around, and through Oatman, then around and back down to exit 1 of I-40. I’m so glad we were not pulling the Airstream!
Oatman Highway, AKA Route 66, is more one-and-a-half-lane, unlined country road than a highway. The first part was a long, flat road in need of attention. It has not been well maintained. Scenery was limited to scraggy desert brush and long, dirt driveways that led back to little compounds of rundown shacks and dilapidated RVs serving as people’s permanent homes. We would see a lone mailbox along the road and search for the homestead to which it belonged because what little was on this stretch of road was hundreds of yards off.
Then we began ascending the mountains on this narrow road with virtually no berms and tight, hard-core switchbacks. Carl kept imagining what it must have been like for the jalopies back in the day to drive this stretch of road. Route 66 was constructed back in the late 1920s, after all. The switchbacks were scary, and, with no berms and no guardrails, it was a thrill-seeking adventure! I believe a few too many automobiles have met their demise on this section of Oatman Highway, and I captured pictorial proof of one that was never retrieved.
This windy road took us past a gold mine that is still operating to this day and led us into the town of Oatman. What started out as a small mining camp in 1915, Oatman is now a tourist town, with burros (and their “aromas”) roaming the streets, a shootout reenacted in the middle of town a few times every day, and several stores and restaurants serving the crowds. From what we could tell, there is no other way to get to this town except by the Oatman Highway. Luckily, as we continued through the town to get to the other end of it, the road became wider, better maintained, lined and with less switchbacks.
Kingman to Flagstaff
Temperatures were beginning to drop the night we pulled into Kingman, Arizona. In fact, when we dropped our Airstream at the Elks Lodge and ventured out to fuel up the truck, we were greeted with freezing rain on our drive back. The next morning, as we left Kingman, our views were blanketed with a thin layer of snow! For me, it was a surprise, totally unexpected. My ideas of Arizona weather pretty much centered around hot, dry, and desert. So, seeing snow for several hours as we drove toward Flagstaff was a welcome sight, making the landscape seem less bleak, more inviting.
This section of Route 66, except for the snow, was not as scenic as Oatman Highway, but it did have a few businesses along the way that would be considered traditional Route 66 stops – souvenir shops, cafes, etc. It was relatively flat, no switchbacks, and fairly uneventful. We did reach a point, about 15 miles west of Seligman, where the roads were no longer plowed. It was like stepping over an imagined line—one section of the road perfectly clear, then the next perfectly NOT. Carl expertly navigated this slippery, unplowed section while pulling the Airstream, and we were both glad there were no mountains to climb or switchbacks to maneuver.
We stopped in Williams, Arizona for lunch. This is a popular and busy little Route 66 town, as this part of Route 66 has been absorbed into I-40 and is a place from which people begin their trip to the Grand Canyon.
As we got closer to Flagstaff, we saw tall, snow-covered, long-needle pine trees gracing the landscape. We hadn’t seen tall trees of any kind since we left Mt. Hood, Oregon in September (two months prior)! Seeing these trees with snow on the ground reminded me of home, making me homesick for North Carolina. Not that snow reminds me of home, but the snow in Arizona was covering the brown, desert ground, allowing my imagination to fertilize it with greenery.
Stay tuned for Part 3 … Cottonwood and Sedona.