Don’t forget Winona, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino
Won’t you get hip to this timely tip:
When you make that California trip
Get your kicks on Route Sixty-six
— "Route 66" by Bobby Troup, 1946
Kingman, Ariz., is a town with many monikers — Route 66 stop, museum city, crossroads for the Hualapai people — where you’ll discover lots of interesting and often quirky facts. (Did you know camels were used to help map the wagon trail that became Route 66?)
This town, population 30,000, is an easy 90-minute drive from Las Vegas and a great one-day or weekend getaway that lets you step back in time while enjoying the present with its museums, historic sites, antique shops, friendly folk and even a rum and vodka distillery.
First stop on arrival in Kingman is the Powerhouse Visitor Center. This huge concrete structure was completed in 1909, ushering northwest Arizona into the electricity age and the area’s first population boom. The Powerhouse was idled as a power company with the opening of Hoover Dam but was reopened in 1997 to house the Kingman Area Chamber of Commerce, the Carlos Elmer Photo Gallery, the Route 66 Museum, the Kingman Visitor Information Center and Gift Shop and two O-scale model trains on tracks that circle the inside of the building.
The Route 66 Museum is a treasure trove of memorabilia about the historic highway.
That includes the story of the U.S. Camel Corps. From 1857 to 1859, U.S. Navy Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mapped out a federal wagon road that eventually became part of Route 66 and then Interstate 40. Remnants of the wagon road can still be seen in White Cliffs Canyon in Kingman, named after Lewis Kingman, a surveyor who supervised the construction of the rail line near what is now Kingman, which was incorporated in 1881 as a rail stop.
As part of Lt. Beale’s military orders, he used camels for transport to test how well the animals could adapt and be used as pack animals in the Southwestern desert. Beale praised the beasts, saying: "My admiration for the camels increases daily. The harder the test, the more fully they seem to justify all that is said about them."
The Army was less pleased. While the camels proved to be hardy and well-suited to travel through the region, the Army declined to adopt them for military use. Horses were frightened of the unfamiliar animals, and their unpleasant dispositions made them difficult to manage, according to official documents about the Camel Corps.
Or how about a 34,000-mile foot race? In 1928, the Great Footrace from Los Angeles to New York City was conducted to promote travel on Route 66. Andy Payne took 84 days to win the $25,000 prize. He then went home to Oklahoma, paid off his father’s farm mortgage, bought a car, married and spent the rest of his life as a high school teacher.
The museum is also full of life-size dioramas of highway scenes ranging from a 1930s journey reminiscent of "The Grapes of Wrath" to a 1950s family on vacation in a big Chevrolet. There’s even a collection of old Burma Shave ads: "Careless Bridegroom, Dainty Bride, Scratchy Whiskers, Homicide — Burma Shave."
A short walk across from the Powerhouse Visitor Center is Locomotive Park, home to famed steam engine No. 3759. Built in 1927, this iron behemoth was a northern-type coal burning steam locomotive. With its 80-inch drivers, the No. 3759 could reach speeds in excess of 80 mph pulling passenger cars between Los Angeles and Kansas City, Mo. For two decades, it was a workhorse for the Santa Fe Railroad, running up a total of 2,585,600 miles. In 1941, the engine was rebuilt and converted to run on fuel oil. Santa Fe Railroad presented the engine to Kingman in 1957. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Next to Locomotive Park is Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner, a must stop for hamburger and diner lovers. Oprah Winfrey even stopped to eat once on a road trip along Route 66 with her television program, "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Walking into the restaurant feels like stepping onto the lot of a movie about the 1950s, with its booths, pink-and-blue decor and black-and-white photographs on the wall. The hamburgers are tasty and waitresses more than friendly. The diner is known for its root beer floats, but the chocolate malts are wonderful as well.
Another museum worth a visit is the Mohave Museum of History and Arts, a fantastic collection about the history and inhabitants of northwest Arizona. There are exhibits on the Hualapai people, railroading, mining, ranching and famous Western actor Andy Devine, a native of Kingman. In one corner you’ll find the ornate organ from St. John’s United Methodist Church. This organ was used in the wedding of Carole Lombard and Clark Gable, who were married March 29, 1939, at the Kingman church, which has since been converted to an office for the county’s public defender.
Other museums or homes worth visiting include the Kingman Army Airfield Museum and the Bonelli House, built of tufa stone in 1915. The home offers a peek into life in this area around the turn of the 20th century.
From the Mohave Museum, it’s an easy walk to downtown, full of more than 40 historic buildings and sites.
Stopping in one of the many jam-packed antique shops dotting Kingman’s downtown, it would be easy to spend an afternoon leafing through old magazines from the 1950s or selecting a special piece of antique green glass. One shop is a converted old movie theater full of antiques and other fascinating pieces of furniture with many great buys.
Downtown also boasts one of the best knitting shops to be found anywhere. The Spinster has a wide variety of yarn, a large loom and offers classes in coiled baskets, nalbinding, spinning and weaving, Kumo-Himo — not to mention traditional knitting classes.
Kingman’s weather mirrors Las Vegas’, although with its slightly higher elevation (3,300 feet), it’s not quite as hot in the summer. And, of course, if you need a break from the summer heat, Hualapai Mountain Park, elevation 6,700 feet, offers a cool respite. About a 15-minute drive from town, the park provides cabins, camping and picnic sites, hiking trails and beautiful mountain vistas.
After a full day, it’s time for a little relaxation. One choice is the Desert Diamond Distillery, a family-owned working distillery and one of the few in the U.S. open to the public with tours, a retail outlet and tasting bar. The distillery received the 2011 Spirits International Prestige Awards, including platinum for its Gold Miner’s rum. Other spirits include agave rum and vodkas. Visitors are urged to call ahead for tours. The distillery is just off scenic Highway 66 at the Kingman Airport.
If wine is more to your liking, the Cellar Door, a specialty wine bar, is downtown. With a full wine list, including some Arizona wines, the Cellar Door highlights local entertainment on weekend evenings.
Along with Mr. D’z, other restaurants worth a visit include the Redneck Southern Pit BBQ, El Palacio Mexican Restaurant and Dambar and Steakhouse.
There are many motel choices along Interstate 40 in Kingman. Further afield, visitors can find Hualapai Mountain Resort and Upton’s Hidden Pines Bed and Breakfast. Both are small, so call ahead.
Not far from Kingman are ghost towns and mining town sites to visit, including Oatman and Chloride, if you want to extend your stay. The town also features golf courses, parks and trail systems. Mohave County, where Kingman is, has more than 1,000 miles of shoreline on the Colorado River, which includes Lake Mead, Lake Havasu and Lake Mohave. These areas provide fishing, boating, swimming and other water sports.IF YOU GO
Location: Kingman is approximately 100 miles southeast of Las Vegas in the northwest corner of Arizona.
Directions: From Henderson, take U.S. Highway 93 south and head east on Interstate 40 just as you enter Kingman.
Powerhouse Visitor Center: Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (866) 427-7866, 120 W. Route 66 (Andy Devine Ave.), kingmantourism.org.
Mohave Museum of History and Arts: Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays and 1-5 p.m. Saturdays. (928) 753-3195, mohavemuseum.org.
Desert Diamond Distillery: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Call for special appointments, (928) 757-7611, desertdiamonddistillery.com.
Lodging: Lodging within Kingman abounds with choices of Comfort Inn, Holiday Inn, Hampton Inn, Days Inn and Best Western to name just a few and ranging in price from $30 to $140 per night. A short drive from Kingman, you’ll find the Hualapai Mountain Resort and Restaurant. Only eight rooms are available, starting at $75 per night, but the views are spectacular. (928) 757-3545. Upton’s Bed and Breakfast is also a relaxing, out-of-the-way spot with only three rooms from $79 to $125 per night. uptonhiddenpines.com. (928)279-7394.
Camping/RVs: Kingman has many campgrounds and RV parks. More information is on the Kingman Tourism site.
Hualapai Mountain Park: Cabins, camping and hiking. (877) 757-0915, mcparks.com.