As the release date for the highly anticipated Route 66 Backroads fast approaches it seemed a good idea to provide a sneak peak, a preview of forthcoming attractions if you will. Courtesy of Voyageur Press here is the introduction to the Route 66 guide with a twist.
INTRODUCTION Route 66 is a fascinating enigma. For those fleeing the dust bowl it was a road of desperation. In the era before the interstate large portions of the iconic highway were white-knuckle drives with larger than life reputations for death and destruction, the result of narrow bridges, minuscule shoulders, heavy traffic, and all manner of highway hazard. From Chicago to Santa Monica the roadside gave the illusion PT Barnum had established the world’s biggest sideshow promoted with colorful billboards encouraging you to stop and see a live Indian or albino buffalo. Today the old double six, segmented and broken, is an American legend that lures travelers from throughout the world who come to drive what remains, to experience life at a slower pace, to rediscover that quintessential American experience that is the road trip. Mini vans may have replaced station wagons and sanitized politically correct roadside attractions where the Green Book for the Negro Motorist is no longer a necessity for many travelers may dot the roadsides but the essence of Route 66 is alive and well. However, for those who truly seek this essence, those places where the past and present flow together seamlessly Route 66 is merely a portal. With just a short detour north or south of the iconoclastic highway there is coffee shops where the locals gather as they have since 1950 and the gas station attendant will still check your oil. Route 66 enthusiasts tend to be myopic in their quest for America before the generic age. Sadly, in so doing some of the best attractions, historic, natural, and those designed to part one from their money are missed, and overlooked. In Arizona, a journey of less than one hundred miles separates Route 66 from the Garden of Eden and a village so remote mule trains still deliver the mail. In Missouri, a similarly short drive can transport you to the family vacation paradise of Branson or a pristine wood unchanged from the time of Daniel Boone where the silence is broken only by a trickling brook, the sounds of a songbird and the wind whispering through the trees. One of the most beautiful drives in America begins less than an hour from where Route 66 ends in California. In New Mexico, you can visit a wonderful little village that has been perched on a towering monolith of stone for almost a thousand years in the morning and be back on Route 66 in time for lunch. The homes of Presidents Grant, Lincoln, and Reagan are just north of the highway in Illinois and to drive along the banks of the mighty Mississippi is to experience the world of Mark Twain, French pioneers, American explorers such as Lewis and Clark, and lost Native American civilizations. It would be a safe assumption that Route 66 has inspired more ink to cover paper with its praises than asphalt to pave it. Yet little about the wonders awaiting discovery with short detours on the roads less traveled is written or published. It is my hope that you find the drives in this book enhances your adventure on Route 66. Additionally, as you travel I pray that you have the time for a side trip or two, to take a journey on the back roads of Route 66 and rediscover the Main Streets of America.
After years of hit and miss attempts that resulted in the demise of numerous historic buildings and countless lost opportunities it looks as though there will now be positive developments in the the promotion of Kingman via Route 66. The seed for this grand endeavor are the fine folks in the photo(I am the grumpy looking little fellow on the left end).
The initial project will be four fold in nature; the development of an interactive website, a clean up project for the Route 66 corridor and historic district, a mural program, and the coordinating of events such as the Route 66 Fun Run as well as development of events for the historic district.
I speak for myself, not the association, from this point forward. With that in mind your thoughts and opinions would be most appreciated.
For more than ten years I dulled my frustration with the disjointed, half hearted efforts to make Kingman a destination rather than a quick stop on the trip to somewhere else with dreaming. Perhaps now some of these will be made manifest.
First, let me briefly detail what gives Kingman unequalled status in regards to potential. We are at the center of one of the longest uninterrupted stretches of Route 66. The skyline that dominates the western horizon in Kingman is a quintessential western landscape (please note the opening photo for this blog. We have a lengthy railroad history. Kingman has an association with a multitude of historic figures including Louis Chevrolet, Barney Oldfield, Charles Lindbergh, Andy Devine, Amelia Earhart, and Clark Gable. Kingman was the site of one of the largest flexible training schools in the nation during World II.
Together these present a nearly unlimited list of potential topics for a mural project. The Mohave Museum of History and Arts has a beautiful mural on one wall and will soon have a Harley Davidson themed mural on the wall facing Route 66. We will begin our “imagination” tour from west to east.
On the west facing wall of the body shop behind Mr. D’s we have a 1930s style automobile flying down Route 66. As a background we have the buttes and mesas that dominate the historic district and looming above that are dark, towering thunderheads. Inspired by the song Ghost Riders in the Sky, closer examination reveals a shadowy wagon train in the cloud formation.
As continuity is a problem along the Route 66 corridor in Kingman the traffic flow has been altered with Beale Street from the intersection with Route 66 on El Travotore Hill to First Street made a one way, west bound street and Andy Devine from the Power House to the Beale intersection being a one way, east bound street. The traffic signal on First and Beale is now reactivated.
An ornate fence runs from the Power House to the depot ensuring folks don’t step into the path of a train. Linking the two buildings is a meandering path shadowed by palo verde, mesquite and ironwood and bordered by a desert botanical garden. Windmills along the way hearken back to when Kingman was known as the city of windmills. Evening walks are encouraged with the use of vintage lighting similar to that found at Mr. D’z.
The depot is now a railroad themed restaurant. It is also a small railroad museum and gift shop with scale model trains rolling through a recreated Kingman circa 1940.
On the other side of the street we have Mr. D’z, the Dream Machine Auto Museum, the car wash refurbished to look like a circa 1930 service station, a small cafe in the rock building, a small park with kiosk that contains a map of historic structures int he downtown area, the post office with a facade that presents the illusion it is circa 1890 in the Arizona Territory.
The west wall of the Old Trails Garage is faced with corrugated tin that presents the illusion of age. The windows and doors in that wall are no longer mere outlines in concrete, they are windows into a shop busily readying the racers cars for the next grueling leg of the 1914 Cactus Derby. If you look closely there in the corner is Louis Chevrolet discussing repairs with a mechanic.
In front it appears as though the garage door is open as the theme from the side is continued here. Out front stands a visible register gas pump just as it was in 1920. A gleaming Packard Sales & Service sign hangs over the door.
The Brunswick Hotel is now longer a diamond in the rough. The whimsical murals of the Sportsman Bar are refurbished in garish color. As the remainder of the buildings on the block are a long ways from a completed restoration photo murals dominate the windows.
A peak into the windows of the store next to the Sportsman reveals a busy saddle shop. The wooden doors that bar entrance to the Sump are now painted to portray the entrance to a crowded, noisy pool hall filled with soldiers from the Kingman Army Airfield. The Nighthawk Saloon is filled with dusty cowboys. The lobby of the Beale is a busy place and in the cafe passengers await the next bus.
On the wall facing Fourth Street a colorful billboard proclaims the wonders awaiting discovery on a trip with Trailways Bus Lines. A bench under shaded trees provides an opportunity for rest before we begin the rest of our tour.
Now we have a choice – south on Fourth Street along old Route 66 to the Hubbs House park or toward the court house and the treasures of Beale Street that include restaurants, antique stores, the coffee shop, an underground miniature golf course/arcade, and more colorful murals.
What other attractions encourage the visitor to make Kingman their base camp for a weekend or week of adventures?
Well there is the scenic overlook park at the crest of El Travatore Hill that provides breathtaking views of the Kingman historic district and the refurbished White Cliffs historic park. There are also the trails at Camp Beale Springs and the Indian themed murals.
Of course where better to stay than Kingman if seeking the wonders found along Route 66 to the east or west, Chloride, or Grand Canyon West? Moreover, didn’t there used to be a banner over the streets that proclaimed Kingman to be the “Gateway to Boulder Dam”?
Could this be the dawn of a new era? Will Kingman become the jewel of Route 66? Stay tuned ….