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The challenge: We (Me – Scotty, and my cousin Daniel from Ohio) decided to start in Flagstaff, since much of the route east of there is broken up and not suitable for a car. We would head west from Flagstaff, following as much of Historic Route 66 as we possibly could all the way to the California border. Along the way, we’d check out numerous restaurants, museums, and other roadside attractions.
The vehicle: If you’re going to do a road trip along a historic and wide open road, you need the right car. As two eighteen year old guys, our minds immediately jumped to the coolest thing we could think of – a muscle car. So, with some careful reading of the fine print, we were able to find a rental company crazy enough to let us have the keys to a muscle car for the weekend. The end result: a 2013 Chevy Camaro. Not the fastest car in the world, but for a rental, it’s pretty much the best option. The Camaro pumps out 323 horsepower out of its 3.6L V6 engine. The rear-wheel drive Camaro gets around 30 MPG on the highway and can do 0-60 in about six seconds flat. It was perfect.
3 days | 907 miles covered | 160 Route 66 miles | Places visited: Williams, Ash Fork, Seligman, Kingman & Oatman
Route 66 is the Mother Road of the U.S. and here in Arizona, we’re fortunate enough to have the longest continuous stretch of this gem running right through the northern part of our state. That gave us an idea. Why not try and drive as much of Route 66 as we can in a weekend? To make things better, why not try and do it in a cool car? So we did.
Day 1, Friday, May 16th: After picking up the Camaro the night before, we were excited to get on the road to Flagstaff as quick as possible. After doing a little prep-work at home throughout the morning, we loaded up and hit the gas station. We were on the road by 2:00 P.M. Driving from Phoenix to Flagstaff gave us the chance to really feel what the Camaro was like on the open road. Up at speed, the Camaro slipped through the air with ease and was fairly comfortable for the 2 hour drive. The numerous curves and climbs along I-17 went by quickly. We arrived in Flagstaff at around 4 o’clock and cruised briefly along Historic Route 66 as it passes a few notable spots in Flagstaff.
From Flagstaff we set our sights west and hopped on I-40. However, the day was already almost over and with much of the day spent playing around with the Camaro, we would have to stop for the night soon. We headed west on I-40 for about 20 miles until we took exit 178 towards Parks. Right off the freeway, we were back on the mother road. In Parks, Route 66 comes from Brannagain Park (the highest point along Route 66) via dirt roads and becomes pavement just before the Parks Feed and Mercantile. We continued west to a historic old gas station on the corner of Route 66 and Spring Valley Road. We stocked up on last minute supplies and continued north. The quiet road wound through the trees and eventually turned to dirt. We pressed on, sure the Camaro wouldn’t mind a little dust.
9 miles from the town of Parks, we arrived at our overnight stop – Spring Valley Cabin. A bright red Camaro looked quite out of place on a narrow dirt road in the middle of the forest, but a little red cabin helped it blend in a little better. This cabin, and the town of Parks, would serve as our base for the next few nights as we made our Route 66 road trip. The cabin can be reserved from the USFS’s ‘Room with a view’ for around the same price as a hotel room. We had a simple dinner at the cabin, watched the sunset, sat around the campfire, and then called it a night. Today we had covered only around 5 miles of Route 66, but tomorrow would be our longest leg.
Day 2, Saturday, May 17th: Excited and ready for what would surely be another great day on the road, we woke up early. After spotting some elk in the meadow by the cabin and a nice breakfast, we were on the road by about 9:30 A.M. We traveled the quick 9 miles back to the town of Parks and turned right (west) onto Route 66. Rather than take the busy interstate, we cruised along the lonely road for 6 miles until we were forced onto I-40.
A brief 9 miles along I-40 and we were in the town of Williams, the first major town going west along Route 66. We turned off, and proceeded to follow the historic route as it goes through Williams’s historic district. Williams is known as the “gateway to the Grand Canyon” and is the place the worthwhile Grand Canyon Railway leaves from. It also contains the busy I-40 and the much less popular Route 66. The town itself is full of things to check out. Old railroad cars, quiet restaurants and gift shops sit up and down the main drag. There’s even a Route 66 zip line which cruises in the air ABOVE Route 66. There is also a historic train depot to check out. We hit the highlights and spent roughly an hour exploring the town.
By about 11:00 A.M. we pressed on, and were back on I-40. For the next 18 miles we continued along the monotonous interstate – passing trucks, passing other cars, and enjoying the steep downhill section just before Ash Fork. Our next detour would be to the sleep little town of Ash Fork. There’s a lot to do in Ash Fork. One of the highlights we found was the Route 66 Museum. The museum houses tons of historic artifacts from when the railroad was built and the early days of Route 66. It’s worth the stop. Just outside of the museum, we found a great photo-op. We parked our Camaro smack-dab in the middle of Route 66 (adorned with Route 66 marking on the highway) and snapped a shot. Once a major highway artery equivalent to I-40 now had so little traffic we could park in the middle of the road (safely) and take a picture.
We grabbed lunch in Ash Fork at the Ranch House Cafe, one of the many small eating spots in town and continued on. With our support vehicle heading back home, we were now on our own as we continued west. We had one more brief stint on I-40, the 6 miles between Ash Fork and our next exit. We got off at exit #139, Crookton Road, and the official start to the longest continuous stretch of Route 66. We pulled over to talk things out. For the next roughly 160 miles, Route 66 continues on, mostly on its own as it meanders through the landscape towards California. We looked to the left and saw Interstate 40 head straight off for as far as the eye could see. To the right, Route 66 disappeared into the rolling hills as it went its own direction.
After a brief stop at this key separation point, we continued on the road less traveled. For the first time, we were able to really feel the open road. No traffic for as far as the eye can see, a muscle car, and two guys looking for adventure. It was about 2:00 P.M. when we rolled into what seemed like a movie. Old cars were parked on the edge of the road and had eyes painted on their windshields. People walking about snapping photos and old buildings along the main drags of Seligman.
It had only been 18 miles since I-40 but it felt like we were in another era. We quickly ditched the car and walked along main street. It was here in Seligman where the “historic” part of Historic Route 66 owes a lot of credit. A movement started here by a man by the name of Angel Delgadillo. Angel helped formed the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona, which eventually persuaded the state to designate this old and useless road as a historic route. Because of his efforts, Route 66 was in a sense saved from total disrepair. More tourism along the road meant businesses could survive and people could either relive or learn for the first time what life was like back during the 1920s to 1950s. Angel owns a barbershop and gift shop (Delgadillo’s Route 66 Gift Shop & Visitor Center). We checked it out and some of the other businesses on main street, including the famous Snow Cap Drive-in and the Historic Seligman Sundries. Artifacts from the early days line the streets and make this a worthwhile stop. Nevertheless, it was now 3:00 P.M. and we still had a lot of road to cover.
Leaving Seligman, we continued west as the road passes a large plateau to the right. This section is especially scenic, and after that, the road opens up in a long and straight line as far as the eye can see. This allowed us to make up a little time. While we easily could have spent more time in Williams, Ash Fork, and Seligman, we still had a schedule to stick to. 25 miles after leaving Seligman, we pulled off, intrigued by some roadside dinosaurs.
We were now at Grand Canyon Caverns, home to a small motel, gift shop, and interesting tour that takes you far below Route 66. The Grand Canyon Caverns are a series of caves formed millions of years ago. They get their name because they eventually connect to the Grand Canyon, now not too far to your north. The tour took us 21 stories underground. We walked roughly a mile underground with our guide who explained the different rooms and geologic features of the cave. There is a large open room, known as the Cavern Suite, which contains a couple beds, couch and other basic amenities should you want to spend a night 200 feet underground. The tour also took us past an enormous stockpile of emergency supplies (the cave is a designated nuclear fallout shelter) as well as some recreations of the large animals (much more realistic than the dinosaurs out front) that would have been roaming around the area when this cave was formed. The cave is dry, which means it isn’t “growing” anymore. It is worth the money for the tour. Check out their website for tour times and prices. After the tour, we climbed the 21 stories back up to the surface and got back in our Camaro, and were back on the road by 5:00 P.M.
Back on the road, we proceeded quickly and on our own as we headed west. The next 35 miles were fairly uneventful. We entered the Hualapai Reservation and passed by the town of Peach Springs which has a few services as well as a road to the bottom of the Grand Canyon (which we took 1 year later on our off-road expedition to the Grand Canyon). At about 5:30 we rolled into Hackberry. Not much is left on the main road except for the popular Hackberry General Store. The iconic stop snacks and drinks, souvenirs, and a ton of Route 66 memorabilia (including a cherry red 1957 Corvette out front). Snap a few quick photos to say you’ve been here and check out the store. Although it doesn’t seem like much, there is a lot to take in at this stop.
We pressed on. The next 30 miles between Hackberry and Kingman offered a few roadside oddities but nothing worth stopping for us. The day was fading fast and we still had a couple hour drive back to our cabin. We gassed up in Kingman and took a quick break before jumping back on I-40, our cabin could only be reserved for 2 or more nights on the weekend, and we didn’t feel like throwing money at a new hotel along the route. The 130 mile long, 2 hour trip back to Spring Valley Cabin allowed us to reflect on the day and spend even more time with the beloved Camaro. It’s hard not compare driving on Route 66 and driving on the interstate. The interstate is quick and efficient but lacks the charm we had felt on Route 66. It was dark by the time we got back to the cabin. We made a quick fire and had a late dinner. After 300 miles on the road (115 of which were on Route 66), we were done for the day. We put the fire out and called it a night.
Day 3, Tuesday, May 19th: After the long day before, we couldn’t help but sleep in. We cleaned the cabin and packed up our gear, which somehow was able to fit in the narrow backseats and trunk of the Camaro. By 10:30, we were on the road back to Parks, where we got ice and jumped back on to I-40. Unfortunately, in order to pick back up with Route 66 in Kingman, we had to drive the 2 hours and 130 miles back to Kingman along the same route we ended yesterday with.
Just before 1:00 P.M., we rolled back into Kingman. We had picked back up on where we left off yesterday. The first thing we did in Kingman was check out the Powerhouse Visitor Center (originally built in 1938 as a substation), a museum that contains more of Route 66’s iconic history. We spent a good amount of time in the museum and then headed across the street to a small park. The park has an old Santa Fe Locomotive and caboose. The history of Route 66 owes its foundation to early survey tracks of military expeditions (notably General Crook in 1870s). Later, railroads were built along these survey tracks and with the invention of the automobile, highways were eventually built alongside the railroads. After briefly checking out the train, we got back in the Camaro. We topped off and continued along Route 66 aimed for Cool Springs.
There is more along Route 66 in Kingman but our time constraints meant we had to hit only the most popular attractions. The road quickly leaves the city and is in the desert in no time. After 20 miles, we were now facing the rugged and daunting Black Mountains which contained one of the most dangerous sections of Route 66. Beforehand however, we made a quick pit stop in Cool Springs. Cool Springs was originally built as a gas station in 1926 before burning down in the ‘60s. The site was rebuilt and now stands as a stone cabin with a few old items out front and souvenirs and snacks inside. We continued on.
Leaving Cool Springs, Route 66 twists and climbs four miles to Sitgreaves Pass. This section of narrow road (often without a guardrail) can be intimidating. Going back, this was the steepest grade along Route 66 and offered motorists numerous car problems as they climbed the grade and overheated. At one point, there was a service that towed cars along the road to the summit so that people wouldn’t have to face driving it. We fared much better, in fact, thoroughly enjoyed the climb. Although my passenger (Daniel) was feeling a little uneasy, the Camaro, with its manual paddle shifters proved to be a great car for such a curvy mountain road. We arrived at Sitgreaves Pass (3,550 feet) and stopped briefly to take in the tremendous view on either side. Looking east, you see the road you just came on and the open desert outside of Kingman. To the west rugged mountains, the Gold Road Mine below and somewhere out in the distance, California. There was also an unsettling amount of crosses on the west side, but we won’t mention that because that kind of ruins the moment.
Though the ride up to Sitgreaves Pass was fun, the ride down was even more so. With gravity as our aid, we zipped down the road past Gold Road mine and through the tightest turn on Route 66 (yes, that’s a thing) at a couple of switchbacks. Before we knew it, it was 3:30 and we were in the iconic town of Oatman, the last major town along Route 66. Oatman was founded in 1906 when gold was discovered in the surrounding hills. By the 1930s, the town boomed. By the onset of WWII, Oatman died out, although not completely. Today Oatman remains a popular tourist destination. The numerous gift shops and restaurants, and historic spots (like the Oatman Hotel). The real draw for Oatman is the wild ass – errr – burros that roam the streets. Descendants of miner’s burros, the wild burros that roam the streets today make Oatman a unique place. They get plenty of food, like to poop on cars, and don’t mind standing in the middle of the road. Oatman also features reenactments as well as an annual “fry an egg on Route 66”.
We walked up and down main street checking out the sites and then grabbed a bit at the Olive Oatman Restaurant. Oatman has a fun vibe. Old and creepy, maybe even haunted on one hand, but small-town charm and touristy on the other hand. By 5:00 P.M., the town was starting to shut down. The shops closed and the burros began to retreat to the hills. We took this as a sign to continue on. Leaving Oatman, Route 66 weaves past Boundary Cone and through some high-desert. 20 miles later, we found ourselves in Topock.
We found a pullout that overlooked the Colorado River and stopped to bid farewell to Route 66. While Route 66 does remain in sections in other states, there is no place that has a longer stretch. Between the past two days, we had covered over 160 miles on Historic Route 66, stopping at numerous museums, restaurants, and roadside attractions we found in the small little towns along the way. Without a doubt, this had been one of the best experiences of my life. Cruising on the open highway, no cares at all, in a muscle car with my cousin. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Conclusion: After leaving the Colorado River, we continued 200 miles back to my house on the outskirts of Phoenix. It had been a long day, covering over 400 miles (around 55 of which was Route 66) since the cabin in Flagstaff. Very tired, we unloaded the car, which was now quite dusty and turned it in the next day. It had been a great trip. The perfect car, good company, and a perfect route. If you are every looking for a day long or weekend road trip, Route 66 needs to be on your bucket list.
•U.S. Forest Service “Rooms with a View” Program:
Spring Valley Cabin: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/kaibab/recreation/recarea/?recid=11662&actid=101
•Towns of Parks, Williams, Ash Fork, Seligman, Kingman and Oatman
•A documentary of our trip is also available soon on Youtube:
Coming later year!
•More pictures/behind the scenes photos available here:
•Special thanks to all the family and friends that provided support along the way and allowed us to do this epic trip.
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