Get Your Kicks on Route 66!
Leader: Bob Jacoby Photos by Julie Smith, Bobbi Sanchez and Daniel Dick
It seems like it has been years since we first hatched the idea of a DE trip on Route 66. What we needed was someone to step up and help organize and lead the trip. Our prayer was answered when Axel Heller volunteered to be Mr. Route 66. Axel’s leadership was what made this trip happen. He performed considerable research in advance and performed a pre run for the trip across northern Arizona.Because of a family emergency, he was unable to join us on the actual trip, but we couldn’t have done it without his input.
The trip was to start in Needles on Saturday May 4 and extend for three days across northern Arizona. Everyone was treated to some great comradery and excellent food at the abode of Bob and Sue Jaussaud on the night before we departed. There can’t be more gracious hosts than Bob and Sue and their hospitality got our adventure to a great start. Our group included the following in addition to Bob and Sue: Nelson Miller, Janet and Pete Austin, Daniel Dick and Bobbi Sanchez, Dave Burdick, Marian and Neal Johns, Bill and Julie Smith, and myself and my friend & Route 66 junkie, Tim Thompson.
We all convened the following morning at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Needles. This is a Route 66 landmark and a great place to begin our adventure! Bob Jaussaud volunteered to be the leader on this day as we got our caravan underway and crossed the Colorado River and immediately said goodbye to I-40 at Topock, Arizona. The concept of the trip was to accomplish at least two things. The first was to drive as many of the old alignments of Route 66 in Arizona as we possibly could. We also wanted to visit the many Route 66 landmarks that still exist and also see the ruins of many places that died when Route 66 disappeared and usually was replaced by I-40.
Our first stop Saturday morning was at the most interesting town of Oatman, Arizona. I will guess that most of you have been to Oatman which is located in the Black Mountain range on old 66. The town is primarily occupied by burros who are the descendants of the mining era around Oatman. The town is anything but a ghost town as there are many, many stores selling Route 66 souvenirs among other things. After about an hour in beautiful downtown Oatman we were all ready to head on up the mountain on old 66 on our way to scenic Sitgreaves Pass.
If you have never been over Sitgreaves Pass on 66, you have missed quite an adventure. This road to the top of the pass and down the other side was one of the biggest challenges in the original days of Route 66. The road goes through a gap in the Black Mountains at an elevation of over 3,500 feet. There are steep switchbacks and the road is very narrow in places. Until this route was paved it intimidated and discouraged travels to such a degree that many actually hired drivers to drive the travelers vehicles over the road. Even after the road was paved it was very intimidating for travelers. We were most fortunate to have Bob Jaussaud lead us over the pass. Not only does Bob know the road and its history, he also knows where the mining sites were and where the Beale expedition went over the pass. We did a couple of short hikes to view interesting inscriptions, etc. that few people have seen going over this road. This was a most spectacular ride and I thank Bob so much for sharing his knowledge.
On our way down the mountain as we headed toward the Sacramento Valley below we stopped at the restored gas station at Cool Springs. This rebuilt gas station is now a gift shop offering Route 66 souvenirs and one of a kind Cool Springs memorabilia. The owner was extremely friendly and shared with us the history of this remote site. It is the site of at least two motion pictures and it served as the inspiration for Radiator Springs in Disney’s Cars. It was at Cool Springs where we first encountered significant traffic related to the annual Route 66 run from Seligman to Topock. We encountered this traffic all the way down the mountain to Kingman which was the center of activity. Because of this significant traffic, we were unable to stop at the Power House Route 66 museum in Kingman. This is probably the best Route 66 museum on the road and it was most unfortunate that we were unable to stop there. After lunch we made a stop at the Kingman Airport to view some classic airplanes and continued east on the longest remaining original section of the highway. Heading northeast we passed through several classic Route 66 small towns on our way to Hackberry and the legendary Hackberry General Store. This is one of the most unforgettable stops on Route 66 in Arizona. The place not only has the usual Route 66 souvenirs, but it also has an incredible collection of gadgets, mementos, billboards, signs and artifacts going back to the early days of 66. It is like a journey through time to walk through this incredible place.
It was here at the Hackberry General Store where we said goodbye to Bob and Sue who had to leave us to head back. They were a tremendous help and showed us things we never would have found on our own. By this time, is was getting to be late afternoon and we continued a our caravan down old Route 66 to our stop for the night at Grand Canyon Caverns just beyond Peach Springs. At dinner that night we all agreed that this was a great day and an amazing way to start the trip.
The next day proved to be equally interesting and fun. We started out heading east on the old road and had a great time reading the reestablished Burma Shave signs. (I can remember seeing these signs all along 66 when I was a child.) We soon arrived in the town of Seligman. This is a town that figures significantly in the history of Route 66. Not only is it historically important as one of the original landmark towns on 66, it also is the birthplace of the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona. As a result, it has one of the best gift shops on the route. It also is the home of the legendary Snow Cap ice cream stand as well as the well-known Roadkill Café. (The Roadkill is an Axel Heller favorite.)
After about 45 minutes seeing the sights in Seligman we followed a 17 mile original stretch of the old road which follows an old railroad alignment. This splendid and deserted road ended in Ash Fork where, unfortunately, we were forced onto I-40 for a short while. We soon arrived in the beautiful and interesting town of Williams, Arizona. We spent a couple of hours in Williams, including lunch at the Route 66 Café and headed really were the original alignments of 66 and, in some cases, the National Trails Highway. It was fun being on these dirt segments and at one point as we crested a hill we were on the highest point on Route 66 in Arizona!
Our next challenge was to get through Flagstaff on some of the original alignments. Fortunately, Bill and Julie call the Flagstaff area home and they were able to guide us through the original route across town and provided some historical information as we went. Flagstaff is the home of Northern Arizona University and is a place that should be included on any 66 itinerary.
As we left Flagstaff it was getting later in the day as we followed the pre 1947 alignment toward Winona. Along the way, we passed the abode of Bill and Julie who never thought their home would be part of a Desert Explorers trip! Bill and Julie also led us to the interesting Walnut Canyon Bridge near Winona. This bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic places. It is a truss bridge spanning over 100 feet. This is one of few remaining 66 bridges in the area. Finally, we arrived at the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort which was our home for the night. Not too much gambling went on as our group was pleasantly tired from a long and interesting day on Route 66.
Day Three began with a visit to the Twin Arrows site across I-40 from the casino hotel where we were on 66.staying. The site is marked by two large arrows in the ground that are visible from a long way off. This site was once a thriving trading post, gas station and diner in the old days of 66. After Twin Arrows we headed down the road for about eleven miles to the site of Two Guns. Two Guns now consists of some ruins of stone buildings along with some other items in a very spread out area. It basically was a trading post area similar to Twin Arrows with the big difference being that Two Guns had captive wild animals in cages. At one time, this was a major 66 tourist attraction and a major town site for 66 traffic. Nearby is impressive Diablo Canyon which looks to be off limits to motorized vehicles. From Two Guns it was off to Winslow which is a real town for a change. There are at least two significant tourist attractions in town. Number one is the famous La Posada Hotel. The hotel had a Harvey House and is still a daily stop on the Amtrak Southwest Chief train. Our group toured the hotel lobby and grounds and found it to be very beautiful and very interesting. The second tourist attraction in Winslow is the Standing On the Corner monument in downtown Winslow. This of course, was made famous by the Eagles song, “Take It Easy.” Unfortunately, Nelson and Dave had to leave us in Winslow but the rest of us went to Holbrook where we had some great Mexican food in downtown Holbrook. From there it was off to the New Mexican border and some interesting older alignments. Before we knew it we had finally reached our goal. However, we were forced at the border onto I-40 east bound and couldn’t exit for about 20 miles or so right by Gallup, New Mexico. Most of us then ventured back to Holbrook for a night’s stay at the legendary Wigwam. This is one of the most famous motels along 66. The rooms are indeed shaped like a wigwam. However, we found the place to be very satisfactory. The next morning most of us headed for home from Holbrook. Unfortunately, this meant hopping on I-40. That, of course is the road we were trying to avoid on our eastbound sojourn on old 66. Despite driving on the interstate all the way home, we had a great time thinking about the great time we had on this trip.
What still stands out in my mind are the quirky route 66 landmarks, great scenery, and, perhaps most important, the great camaraderie of the group of wonderful and knowledgeable people. Maybe we should consider a Route 66 trip across New Mexico! ~ Bob