Even the aficionado of Route 66 that has never motored west is familiar with the path of that highway in western Arizona, over the Black Mountains in a series of hair raising twists and turns and through Oatman with its friendly burros obstructing traffic. However, what many fans of the highway don’t realize is that there is another Route 66 in western Arizona.
Not nearly as scenic or intact this portion of the road dating to 1953 has almost entirely vanished under the asphalt of I40. Still, if you know where to look there are miles of vintage asphalt to be followed across the desert and over rolling hills in a stomach turning series of climbs and dips.
The most tangible links to this forgotten chapter in Route 66 history are found in the dusty wide spot in the road that is Yucca, Arizona.
Signs that once glowed bright under the starlit desert skies now cast long shadows over empty fields littered with broken glass and brown tumble weeds fill the parking spaces at the ruins of a forlorn cafe. Barely discernible foundations peek from under wind blown sands.
Even recent attempts to breath life into Yucca such as a housing development to the east of town have done little to erase the sense that here the glory days are long past.
After a busy morning at the office, the drive to Lake Havasu City, and a several hour book signing we decided to forgo the drive back through Oatman even though the weather was picture perfect with temperatures hovering around seventy degrees. Instead we thought we would see how much of the post 1953 alignment of Route 66 was still drivable.
Much to my surprise from the junction of I40 and highway 95 east to Yucca we found many miles of asphalt in good condition. Often these sections were interspersed with good gravel roads where I40 negated further driving on Route 66.
Little has really changed in Yucca since my last stop. The proving grounds opened by Ford in the mid 1950s at the site of an axillary field built during World War II as part of the Kingman Army Airfield complex is now a Chrysler proving ground.
The Honolulu Club is still going strong. The original was along Route 66 in Oatman. A fire and the bypass of the highway prompted the owner to relocate operations to Yucca in about 1954.
If vestiges of the towns association with Route 66 are few in number the links to its territorial history are even fewer. As I understand it only a couple of houses remain from the pre 1920 era of the town.
In a 1914 guide book to the western United States the path of the National Old Trails Highway is shown as going through Oatman and over the Black Mountains, essentially the same as that of Route 66 after 1926. However, it also shows a secondary route that follows the 1883 alignment of the railroad closely for those wishing to avoid the steep grades on the main highway.
The only indication of services available along this route, between the Colorado River and Kingman is at Yucca. In an odd series of events the establishment of Route 66 through Oatman in 1926 effectively destroyed many businesses in Yucca but the realignment of the highway through Yucca in 1953 initiated a renaissance of sorts.
The official date for establishment of Yucca is 1905, the year the post office was established. A rough camp that met needs of railroad workers, miners, and hardy ranchers existed here for at least a decade before that.
The town never really amounted to much in the grand scheme of things. The Borriana Mines to the south fueled a small boom of sorts during the 1920s and again in the 1950s.
The establishment of the auxiliary airfield in the 1940s kept the town from blowing away. With the transformation of the airfield into a proving ground for Ford’s new Thunderbird it even garnered honorable mention internationally.
The realignment of Route 66 in 1953 gave it the biggest boost. For a brief moment during the 1960s, about the time Robert McCulloch was creating a desert wonderland with the relocation of the London Bridge and the establishment of a town now known as Lake Havasu City, it looked as though Yucca’s golden years were about to begin.
As it turned out this was just a modern version of the old land scam deal that had been played in the 19Th century with mining claims. The only remnant from that expansive boondoggle is the landmark Dinesphere, now a residence, west of Yucca.