The Main Street of America. The Mother Road. The quintessential American Road Trip.
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.
During the Great Depression, the nearly 2,500 miles of highway represented hope and adventure to settlers migrating out west. And the influx of motorists offered some relief to many of the smaller communities located along the highway. The growing traffic of the freeway gave way to the rise of many modern restaurants, service stations, and trade posts.
Today, many of the early sights are still standing, and even thriving, right off the road. Arizona’s stretch of Route 66 is peppered with all the charm and whimsy of the earlier 20th century, including diners, ghost towns and ruins of both early car culture and Native American history.
Before the desert gets too oppressively hot, now is the time to steal a long weekend away, pile up your friends in the back of a rented vintage car, and get your kicks on Route 66.
Start your trip on the longest stretch of the original Mother Road with a visit to Oatman, Ariz. Part ghost town, part gold town and part Wild West, Oatman still boasts all the Americana charm it possessed in its heyday. Relatively unchanged since its inception, this old mining town is like a time capsule of 1915 complete with wooden sidewalks and buildings adorned with white awnings. Wild burros roam the streets, waiting for tourists to feed them carrots that many of the town’s proprietors sell for a dollar. In the afternoon, you can watch local thespians act out staged gunfights.
From Oatman, take the thirty minute scenic drive through the Black Mountains to Kingman, Ariz. Stop in at the Historic Route 66 Museum located in the Powerhouse Visitor Center to pick up a brochure for the rest of your journey.
Less than an hour east of Kingman lie the small towns of Hackberry and Valentine. The hidden gem of Hackberry, just off Route 66, offers more photo opportunities than anything else. Originally settled in the 1870’s, this town is a fun and colorful stop on an otherwise lackluster stretch of road. Vintage gas pumps and signs implore weary travelers to get out and look around. The Hackberry General Store and Visitor’s Center sells all the Route 66 memorabilia you could need. But anyone with even a passing interest in cars will want to wander around and discover the ruins of early car culture settled around the store.
A ten minute drive from Hackberry will lead you to Valentine. The big attraction here is the old schoolhouse at Truxton Canyon Training School. Located on the Hualapai reservation, the boarding school was constructed to house and assimilate young Hualapai Indians. Boys would be trained to learn a trade while girls attended domestic classes. The school was closed in 1937 and the schoolhouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. The schoolhouse still stands, serving as a painful reminder of our nation’s past.
From Hackberry, venture three hours east into Winslow. Popularized by the Eagles’ Take it Easy lyrics, “Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see…” this city boasts all sorts of road-trip cred. A major stop for early travelers on both the Santa Fe Railway as well as Route 66, Winslow was founded as a tourist hub for many of Arizona’s wonders. Stay the night in La Posada de Winslow, built in 1929 and considered to be the last great Railroad Hotel. Alternatively, take note from Glen Frey and sleep “in a flatbed Ford.”
Rock Art Ranch
This hidden treasure will add some Native American culture to your trip. Owner Brantley Baird is an expert in the land’s secrets and will happily share them with people interested enough to visit the ranch for a tour. Encompassing 5,000 acres, the Rock Art Canyon Ranch is home to one of the most extensive petroglyph collections in the world! Unexcavated caves, American pithouses, primitive maps and images etched into the rocks and canyon provide a glimpse into the lives of cowboys, early pioneers and Native Americans. Interestingly, while this site is of huge significance to archaeologists, there is still no consensus on what many of the petroglyphs actually mean. Allow some time to venture into the museum or out onto the hiking trails after wrapping up the tour.
Route 66 Marker
As you leave Rock Art Ranch, make sure to spot out the historic Route 66 mile marker on the road. You’ll want a picture of that, too.
Chevelon Canyon Bridge
Located near the Rock Art Ranch, the Chevelon Ranch is an iconic snapshot of the American Southwest. Built in 1913, the bridge is one of Arizona’s oldest historic places. Recent renovations have made it safe to drive across. The very modern looking bridge poses a striking contrast to the cliffsides supporting it. For bonus points, plan to get here just before dusk to witness the sunset.
From the bridge, drive a short distance to Holbrook. Located at the convergence of Interstate 40, U.S. Highway 180 and State Highway 77, this roadside town feels more like a real place than a ghost town like other destinations on the Mother Road. Wander out to the nearby Petrified Forest National Park for some gorgeous hiking and check out the Agate House, a ruin that demonstrates the ancient Puebloan practice of using the petrified wood as a building material.Spend the night in the very cool Wigwam Motel. The motel is composed of fifteen individual concrete teepees modeled after those of the Plains Indians. Each unit has a bed and bathroom, but its the grounds that are the real draw. The property holds Indian artifacts, Route 66 collectibles, and Civil War memorabilia. The big attraction is the gorgeous vintage cars that decorate the grounds.
Janna Karel is a tour guide in Las Vegas and a seasoned international solo traveler. Contact her on twitter @jannainprogress.