Our Arizona Route 66 journey begins in Williams, Arizona. Williams is a tiny town without a lot of activity but it does have two things going for it, it is home to the Grand Canyon Railway, and it has a well restored and popular Route 66 Main Street complete with diners, gift shops, 50’s Motels and restored gas stations. It is a great place to start our drive west.
The Interstate very closely follows Route 66 along its entire distance but in western Arizona Route 66 does take a couple of diversions. The first ventures off near the town of Seligman, it’s an 85 mile side trip off the Interstate and we’re not sure it’s going to be worth it. About 2 miles into the trip we arrive in downtown Seligman, a generally forgotten, beat-up old town along the route but the downtown has a variety of semi-restored gift shops and store fronts and features “The Snow Cap Diner” where the neon sign in the window says “Sorry We’re Open”. These guys have a sense of humor and we’re already having fun.
The road takes us deep into the back country of Arizona with unspoiled mountain and prairie views as we travel through Peach Springs and Valentine and eventually stop at the Hackberry General Store, an oasis of unrestored Route 66 era memorabilia. It’s warm and the top is down. The trip is exciting and fun as we continue into Kingman and meet back up with the Interstate.
We stop for lunch at Mr D’z Route 66 Diner and venture across the street to the Route 66 Museum in the Powerhouse, a restored electric generating plant that was used to power the city decades ago. We are trying to decide if we should continue onward or turn and head back to Williams when the guide at the desk asks “Are you going to Oatman?” She tells us it is worth the trip but warns us that the afternoon prediction includes some rain and the road to Oatman closes during heavy rain. We throw caution to the wind and decide to take the 25 mile trip out to Oatman, after all, this was US Highway Route 66, how bad can it be?
About 5 miles into our drive across the prairie we begin to travel through “Washes”. These are dips in the road where the mountain runoff crosses the highway during heavy rains, anywhere else in the world they would have built bridges but here in Arizona we just build a trough big enough to swallow your car. Now we’re both studying the sky looking for any sign of rain clouds and impending doom. The road gets narrower and narrower as we approach the mountains and eventually there are signs prohibiting vehicles over 40 feet from continuing onward, good thing we didn’t bring the motorhome. As we climb the mountain it becomes clear that this is a trip worth taking and the top down Mini provides front row seating to the most incredible views imaginable. The road zig-zags up the mountain with hairpin turns and no guardrails, it is not for the faint of heart but it is a blast to drive and the viewpoints are astounding.
We eventually get to Oatman and immediately feel like we crossed through some type of time-warp. Oatman is an old mining town in the middle of nowhere and it still looks that way. This is not some Hollywood Old West backdrop, this is as close to the real deal as you can get. This town makes its living off the tourists but remains as authentic as possible. Route 66 is the Main Street through town but it is so narrow and windy you wonder how anyone ever got through. The town clearly has a gritty old west feel and I’m beginning to think I may need the Outhouse, luckily they do have flush toilets for the tourists. In case you’re not getting an “Old West” vibe yet, there are a dozen or more wild burros roaming the streets of downtown. The story is that miners would bring burros here to help them work the mines and some of them would wander off or be let loose. Eventually there was a wild growing population in the area, now they wander into town in search of food scraps from the tourists.
We reluctantly turn back toward Williams and manage to avoid any rain on our long ride back toward civilization. This is sadly the end of our Route 66 Journey, even though Route 66 continues on toward Los Angeles, we will save that for another trip.