Historic Route 66 still provides
surprising scenery and quirky
adventure, especially along the
stretch from Kingman to Oatman.
© Larry Lindahl
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For more scenic
drives, pick up a copy
of our book, The Back
Roads. Now in its fifth
edition, the book
($19.95) features 40
of the state's most
To order a copy, call
or click here.
Route 66There’s nostalgia at every turn on the Mother Road, but the section from Kingman to Oatman is more about scenery.
By Roger Naylor
Known as the "Main Street of America," Route 66 conjures up images of mom-and-pop filling stations, diners where the waitress calls you "hon" and motel rooms shaped like tee-pees. While all that and more can still be found along Historic Route 66 in Arizona, there's one section that invokes less nostalgia and more of a heady mix of soul-squeezing scenery and heart-leaping terror.
West of Kingman, Route 66 climbs from the desert floor through the torturous Black Mountains in a twisted spiral of brake-searing curves with views that roll all the way across state lines.
Begin your journey at the Powerhouse in Kingman. Built in 1907, the hulking concrete structure fueled the energy needs of the town and surrounding mines until being eclipsed by Hoover Dam. Today, the Powerhouse serves as a visitors center and houses the Route 66 Museum and the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona. It's a perfect place to garner perspective on the significance and history of what John Steinbeck called the "Mother Road."
Turn left out of the parking lot and follow the signs toward Oatman. You'll curl through the fringes of Kingman, paralleling train tracks before crossing under Interstate 40. A scattering of homes and ranchettes dot the landscape, but soon are a wisp in the rearview mirror as the road streaks across an expanse of creosote-dotted sand flats.
At 20 miles, you'll reach Cool Springs, one of the joyous success stories of Route 66 revival. Perched on a bluff below Thimble Butte, Cool Springs was a gas station built in 1926 and later expanded to include tourist cabins. Traffic dwindled with the advent of interstates, and in 1966 the camp burned down, leaving only a stone foundation. After decades of neglect, Cool Springs was purchased in 2001 and rebuilt in strikingly precise detail atop the original foundation. It operates as a gift shop, museum and essential roadside attraction.
From there the road careens up the mountainside in sharp-edged switchbacks. The Black Mountains are a convulsed jumble of volcanic remains adorned with Joshua trees and spiny yuccas. As you climb toward Sitgreaves Pass, toothy, broken country shambles away in all directions. This series of hairpin curves and steep drop-offs so intimidated early travelers that many hired locals to drive their cars up the grade or have them towed to the summit.
About a mile shy of the pass, watch for a flight of ghost steps carved from the rocky hillside. These lead up to Shaffer Fish Bowl Spring, a natural spring that collects in a man-made concrete bowl and is often stocked with goldfish. It's also a popular watering spot for wild burros.
Pull over at the pass to let the blood rush back to your white knuckles and to soak in the views that stretch into California and Nevada. The road writhes down through lava-capped hills for another three miles into Oatman. The former mining town — nestled among craggy hills — has reinvented itself as a quirky destination where gunfighters still shoot it out and wild burros mooch carrots, all to the delight of tourists.
Tour Guideclick to expand
Note: Mileages are approximate.
Length: 28 miles, one way, from Kingman to Oatman.
Directions: Begin the drive at the visitors center in Kingman, which is housed in the old Powerhouse at 120 W. Route 66, also known as Andy Devine Avenue.
Vehicle Requirements: None; accessible by all. Trailers over 40 feet long are not permitted.
Warning: Back-road travel can be hazardous, so be aware of weather and road conditions. Carry plenty of water. Don't travel alone and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
Information: Powerhouse Visitor Center, 866-427-7866; or Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona, 928-753-5001, www.azrt66.com.
Travelers in Arizona can visit www.az511.gov or dial 511 to get information on road closures, construction, delays, weather and more.