By Jim Hinckley
When Americans first were discovering the joys of exploring the back roads of the nation via automobile there was a romanticism that prompted the rediscovery of the old routes, post roads and trails. In time, these old routes became crowded with the trappings of the modern era and the adventuresome motorist were forced to find other lesser-known trails to satisfy their hunger for “the simple life” free from the modern rush and all its generic trappings.
Well, these types of things have a tendency to go full circle. The next generation falls in love with that deemed modern and generic in years past and seeks them out. More often than not, this in turn results in overcrowding, recreation, and an influx of the modern trappings these adventurers had been hoping to escape from. As an example, consider Route 66.
Surprisingly, a number of asphalt trails that date from the golden age of the family vacation and the station wagon have survived into the modern era. For hundreds of miles they are relatively intact with all of their now vintage roadside charm.
Many of the best cross the wide-open spaces of the west – U.S. 40 through Colorado and into Utah, U.S. 6 from near Provo into California, U.S. 50 across Nevada, U.S. 60 across Arizona and New Mexico, U.S. 180 from Holbrook to Deming in New Mexico. These are but a few of my favorites.
However, for a few intrepid travelers these are far too modern to satisfy the hunger for the adventure found on the back roads. For these hardy adventurers vintage maps and a sturdy vehicle are passports to the only adventure that will satisfy.
In 1913, the Arizona Good Roads Association issued an “Illustrated Road Maps and Tour Book” that introduced visitors to the many sites and attractions in the new state, provided a listing of reputable businesses, and, most importantly, information on how to get from one to the other. Today that little guide book is worth its weight in gold for those who truly want to find the road less traveled, the real lost highway.
Seligman to Kingman is listed as 93.5 miles on a “fair road with easy grades.” There are fascinating notations such as in the canyon to the east of Nelson, “13 railroad crossings in canyon.” The route from Antares to Kingman is along the railroad tracks on the north side. Then it takes a sharp swing south and follows Slaughter House Canyon into Kingman along Topeka St.
Kingman is listed as having a population of 1,500, having three good hotels and two banks. Additional items of note pertain to the community having one of the largest and best-equipped power plants in the state, now the visitor center, and that mines in the area were producing 75% of the gold in the entire state. The Beale Hotel, Thomas Devine, proprietor, dominates an entire page.
If one was to continue west, it was a drive of 49.5 miles to Needles on a “good road, sandy in river bottoms, heavy grades.” Heavy grades listed as 5% to 26%were an understatement!
To the west of Oatman, the route was over and along the old Milltown Railroad bed. The river crossing was via ferry or if there were no trains, on the railroad bridge.
A drive to Phoenix from Kingman was not to be undertaken lightly. The first leg was to Yucca. The second was a drive of 80 miles to Bouse over a road listed as “rough and sandy” with a “bad ford” on the Bill Williams River just north of the Planet mines.
For the weary traveler Bouse offered numerous amenities that may seem surprising to those who would drive through that sleepy town today. The Alaska Hotel was billed as the “only two story concrete building in Bouse.” The Winters Hotel offered, “The best home cooked meals in Yuma County.”
From Salome there were two routes into Phoenix. The main route paralleled the railroad tracks along the south side through Wenden, Aguila and Forepaugh into Wickenburg, a drive of almost 59 miles. From Wickenburg to Phoenix was another 55 miles.
The other route, a drive of 103 miles, ran south from Salome to Palo Verde and into Phoenix. The primary reason for this being listed as a secondary route was a near complete lack of services or dependable all year round water sources.
This little tour book does more than spark wanderlust for the back roads. It provides fascinating insight into the nearly forgotten era when Arizona was a newcomer into the union with fresh memories of when it represented the frontier.
For the armchair explorer or those who seek out the roads less traveled vintage maps as well as tour guides are a resource that should not be overlooked. Hidden in their pages and creases are the stuff of dreams.