The gathering of material for Route 66 Ghost Towns has really sparked a flood of reflection about my long association with this highway and how it seems to be a consistent thread throughout most of my life beginning at the age of one. Perhaps that was the catalyst for this past Sunday mornings adventure.
One of the stops was the site of Fig Springs station. In the classic guide penned by Jack Rittenhouse in 1947 it is noted the station was abandoned.
With the passing of each year the site becomes harder to locate as the desert reclaims the property. For me one of the landmarks are the corrals and water tank a few hundred yards to the north. This was where we filled the water truck some forty plus years ago.
The pipeline that fed the tank ran from a spring in the foothills of the Black Mountains. One of my chores was to once a month walk the entire path of the pipeline, about four miles each way, and repair leaks with pieces of inner tube and bailing wire.
The station was a Bonelli family enterprise. This pioneering family played a very large role in the development of Mohave County and the Bonelli House in Kingman is a fascinating and often overlooked museum.
The family also had a ranch at Fig Springs in the Black Mountains. The springs have a cloudy but storied history.
Aside from the spring there the primary claim to fame was several towering fig trees that were reportedly the tallest in the world. Further fueling the mystique of the springs were a series of archaeological expeditions in the Black Mountains conducted by the Smithsonian Institute in the late teens.
Their goal was to prove or disprove Spanish with several sites in those mountains. Two of the primary locations examined were extensive stone corrals in the Warm Springs Canyon area and Fig Springs where legend had it the fig trees were planted on the Graces expedition of 1776.
The findings were inconclusive. The oldest verifiable remnants at both locations was 1830, plus or minus 20 years.
When I first visited the springs there was a tumble down ranch house and barn, fruit cellar, pond and three towering fig trees. After a major storm one of the trees blew down and the following winter was cut up for fire wood.
On my last visit the road was closed and marked as private property, no trespassing. This was about twenty years ago.
I admit it. To a large degree I take Route 66 for granted, after all I drive it every day, watch the traffic roll by on it every day, and have been tied to this legendary highway for more than forty years.
We made our first trip west from Virginia in 1959. On this epic adventure we picked up Route 66 in Missouri.
The next big adventure came in the summer of 1966 when we moved from Michigan to Arizona. We rolled south on US 127 and then cut across northern Ohio and Indiana to pick up Route 66 south of Chicago.
Then followed annual vacations to visit family in Michigan as well as Tennessee, Alabama, and Michigan. My dad always sought different routes but at some point we always ended up on US 66.
Shortly after moving to Kingman my dad bought a shell that was supposed to have been a model home before the developer went broke. To give you an idea as to how close to we lived to the pre 1953 alignment of that iconic highway, also known as Oatman Road, this photo taken yesterday morning was shot while I stood on Route 66.
The old homestead is fast going to ruin. Even the garage dad and I built from used lumber obtained by tearing down two old houses and the Episcopal church in Kingman seems to be defying gravity. The barrel cactus that lined our circle drive way are almost gone. It seems only the yucca we planted at the corner of the garage is thriving.
There was no interest in old Route 66 during those years. This was merely the road you needed to drive if you were going to Oatman.
Across the highway from us was an abandoned wrecking yard, the local parts source for the desert rats that populated the valley then. I don’t think there was much of anything in that yard manufactured after 1950.
I learned to ride a bicycle on Route 66 as there was no traffic. For the same reason I learned to drive here.
The twists and turns through the Black Mountains haven’t intimidated me since I drove a 1949 Studebaker stake truck piled with hay over the pass. Fear about facing the desert emptiness and heat hasn’t been given a second thought since a breakdown on the leg between Oatman and Topock at a time when this leg of the highway was faced turning to gravel and broken pavement and daily traffic was counted in the single digits.
Many lament the marketing of Route 66 as some sort of historic Disneyland. I find it refreshing and exciting.
This old highway has always been one part fantasy and two parts harsh reality. It has always been a road of transition.
Yesterday morning, after enjoying a delightfully quiet sunrise stroll down an old road into Golroad, I was walking back to the Jeep via Route 66 when I met an elderly couple from Virginia snapping pictures and smiling radiantly. It was impossible not to smile back as it was quite apparent the old road was acting as a youthful tonic.
Near the summit I met a couple from Europe standing next to their motorcycle. The look of awe on their face as the sun cleared the mountains, the light glinting from the chrome of their Harley Davidson, and the stunning vista left little doubt that this old highway, this twisted and tortured stretch of ancient asphalt had long ago transcended its original purpose to become something truly special.
I may take the old road for granted but am always reminded that it is a national treasure. In turn this refreshes my perspective about how blessed I am to live along this amazing highway.