The first incarnation of Route 66 in 1926 from Albuquerque west to Barstow followed the path of the National Old Trails Highway of 1915. One notable exception was the section between Gallup and Holbrook.
In a feature article written by A.L. Westgard for Motor in 1915, “Owing to the difficult Manuelito Wash, along the railroad west of Gallup, the route now bends northwest, following a good road past the “Haystack” monoliths and the Megaphone Rock to St. Michaels, a short distance across the Arizona line.” St. Michaels is a small community southwest of Window Rock, about twenty-five miles north of present day I-40.
Westgard continues his travelogue with, “Here one is on the Navajo Reservation and finds an Indian school, a San Francisco Monastery, in charge of Father Weber and three monks, and Day’s Indian trading post. A side trip to the north via Old Fort Defiance to Canyon du Chelly will unfold to the admiring eye some wonderful views. Another side trip to the west takes one to Ganado, Volpai, and Oraibi, in the Painted Desert where the Navajos hold their famous snake dances.”
“Proceeding on the way from St. Michaels, the motorist will reach Pinto, a railroad pumping station on the Puerco River. Hence one has the choice of following the north bank via Adamana (on the original alignment of Route 66) to Holbrook or cross the river on the new bridge, if finished, otherwise by fording, which is usually safe in mid-summer, and keeping south through the very heart of the Petrified Forest to Holbrook. Either of these options offers some pretty tough going, but a few photographs of the giant petrified logs in the “forest” will make one feel amply repaid for his trouble.”
To say either route from St. Michaels to Holbrook was a very restrained understatement. A guide book from this period suggest allowing two days!
“There is a good road in the valley of the Little Colorado River from Holbrook to Winslow, at one point crossing on an iron bridge a very deep gash in the earth. The visitor will always remember this Dante Inferno with the sheer granite walls and the black waters of the bottom of the chasm.”
“From Holbrook a new graded road leads via Meteor Crater, a depression some 700 feet deep, a few hundred feet to the south of the road, the safe crossing of Canyon Diable (this would be Canyon Diablo at Two Guns) and over a magnificent concrete bridge (still existent) spanning Canyon Padre to Flagstaff, nestling at the foot of San Francisco Peaks.” From this point Westgard notes the detour to the Grand Canyon and then, perhaps resultant of space constraints, takes a different tact and moves from descriptive to stark in wordage pertaining to the rest of the trip to Los Angeles.
“Once more on the way, the route follows the railroad pretty closely on good to fair roads, passing through Williams, Ashfork, Seligman, and Kingman to the station of Topock on the Colorado River.” Overlooked in his brevity was the treacherous grade from Williams to Ashfork, the twisted road that crossed the tracks almost a dozen times between Nelson and Peach Springs, or the attraction of the Diamond Creek Road, still the only road to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
Another item missing from his discussion is the section between Kingman and Topock. The primary road was through the Black Mountains to Oatman, a section of which still exists below Route 66 east of Goldroad. However, there was also an alternate route through Yucca that would be closely followed by Route 66 after the realignment that bypassed Oatman in 1952.
Even though the road through Yucca was not a primary route it was an important road. From Kingman to Phoenix during this period there were but two options by automobile; east to Ashfork and then south through Prescott or to Yucca and south crossing the Bill Williams River at Alamo Crossing.
“At Topock one pays the railroad three dollars and a half toll to cross the Colorado River on the planked ties of its bridge and then follows a fine road sixteen miles to Needles, California. The traveler has now reached the promised land of the Golden West.”
Westgard’s description of the crossing from Needles to Barstow is as dry as the desert the road crossed. “A new road, following the railroad more or less closely, leads from Needles, 166 miles along the length of the Mojave Desert to Barstow, where it turns south, and soon the motorist descends a splendid highway through Cajon Pass to San Bernardino.” Today the drive from Needles to Barstow is 145 miles.
Westgard was an intrepid explorer that played in a key role in the development of automobile roads and their mapping in the southwest. From 1910 to 1920 he traveled coast to coast seeking new and improved routes, and on occasion he covered more than 10,000 miles in a single year.
He wrote an interesting chronicle of his adventures, Tales of a Pathfinderhttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=B004FTK8XQ&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr, that has fortunately been reprinted in recent years. For those who like to seek the road less traveled, the one beyond the forgotten highway and the backroads, this book is more than a good read, it is also a great travel companion.