Route 66 has often been referred to as America’s Main Street. In many communities it was and still is exactly that even though Route 66 no longer officially exists.
One community where this is the case is also a community that really encapsulates the history of this legendary highway. This is Oatman, Arizona, on the western slopes of the rugged Black Mountains.
The town rose from the rocky hillsides above the Colorado River after the discovery of extensive gold deposits in the surrounding mountains around 1900. Oatman as well as nearby Goldroad had an advantage over many frontier mining communities as an existing trail dating to the Sitgreaves expedition of the 1850s provided the towns with ready access to markets.
Route 66 shares a similar origin in that in the beginning the highway was largely a collection of established trails linked by a common designation. One of these, in the Southwest, was the National Old Trails Highway.
From the Oatman/Goldroad area, through the Black Mountains and across the Sacramento Valley to the east this “highway” followed the Sitgreaves Road which in turn was followed by Route 66. One of the many obscure historical footnotes associated with Oatman and the National Old Trails Highway is the 1914 Desert Classic Cactus Derby Race that pitted some of the worlds top drivers, including Louis Chevrolet and Barney Oldfield, against some of the most formidable terrain in the nation.
The rise, fall, and rise of Oatman mirrors that of Route 66 and in some instances is even prophetic in nature. With the bypass of this section of the highway in 1953, Oatman began a precipitous slide into obscurity, similar to what transpired with Route 66 during the period 1975 to 1985.
During the 1960s an adventuresome few, frustrated with the sameness of the modern interstate highway, discovered the old highway and the slumbering ghost town of Oatman. By the 1990s all of Route 66 was being rediscovered by those in search of a less generic world.
By the 1980s Oatman was awakening from its long slumber to be reborn as a romanticised image of the glory days of the western frontier. By 2000 Route 66 followed suit.
Today, Route 66 and Oatman are again intertwined in the imagination and heart of those who seek the road less traveled.