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.


The research for the Route 66 encyclopedia project has opened some very interesting doors, exposed some dusty closets filled with a wide array of long forgotten wonders, and has even allowed me to shine the light in very dark places. Counted among these discoveries were the adventures of the intrepid explorer A.L. Westgard, a pioneer in the development of early highways and automotive tourism.
In 1915, as vice president and director of transcontinental highways for the National Highways Association, Westgard wrote an extensive feature for Motor magazine. The article provides fascinating insight to the construction of the foundations for Route 66 and the US highway system.
“Owing to the recent improvement of the transcontinental routes, it is no longer necessary to load one’s car down with all sorts of paraphernalia to combat the many difficulties which formerly were strewed along the path, nor is it, in this day of dependable motor cars, necessary to carry a multiplicity of parts.”
“To begin with, limit your personal outfit to a minimum, allowing only a suitcase to each person, and ship your trunk. Use khaki or old loose clothing. Some wraps and a tarpaulin to protect against cool nights and provide cover in the case of being compelled to sleep outdoors are essential. Amber glasses, not to dark, will protect your eyes against the glare of the desert.”
“Carry sixty feet of 5/8 inch Manilla rope, a pointed spade, a small axe with the blade protected by a leather sheet, a camp lantern, a collapsible canvas bucket with spout and a duffel bag for the extra clothing and wraps. Start out with new tires all around, of the same size possible, and two extra tires also, with four extra tubes. Select a tire with tough fabric; this is economical and will save annoyance. Use only the best grade of lubricating oil and carry a couple of one gallon cans on the running boards as extra supply …”
In regards to the Old Trails Road, “This route had about two million dollars expended on its improvement during 1914 and a like amount will be spent on its further betterment during 1915. At the present time it takes first place, looked at either from the standpoint of surface condition, scenery, historic interest or hotel accommodations.”
“Across the state of Missouri will be found substantial concrete culverts and bridges, built preparatory to macadamizing the entire route. At present, however, there are still several counties where the soil makes bad going when wet, though for the major distance will be found good macadam or well graded dragged dirt roads, though somewhat hilly.”
From Santa Fe, “Nineteen miles out one almost jerks his car to a stop, and, if I am a judge of human nature, spends a half hour in admiring contemplation from the rim of La Bajada Hill.” “After taking several photographs the traveler leaves the rim of the precipitous lava hill and gingerly proceeds down a very winding road, where three or four turns are so sharp that with a long wheelbase he will be compelled to back up to make it.”
“Though assured by the State Engineer that the new road from Albuquerque to Gallup will be open for traffic this spring, I think it might be well, in case of possible delay of the opening of that route, to state here that a fair road leads from Albuquerque to Socorro, crossing a new bridge over the Rio Grande near the latter town, and thence on good to fair road via Magdalena across the Augustine Plains and the Datil Mountains to Springerville, Arizona, thence via St. Johns to Holbrook, where it joins the regular Old Trails Route …”
In our next post we will get to the meat and potatoes of travel on the best road in America, for 1915, across the desert southwest.


On the afternoon of August 17, 1959, near Needles, California, motorists headed east on Route 66 were teased with respite from the searing desert heat by towering thunderheads over the mountains on the far horizon that promised rain. Then, in the blink of an eye the temperature plummeted, near gale force winds whipped the desert sands into a blinding storm, and walls of water more than 15 feet high began rolling down the dry stream beds that stretched like bony fingers from the mountains to the Colorado River Valley.
From Kingman to Essex bridges were swept away, rail lines were ripped from their beds, cars washed from the highway, and motorists were stranded for more than 12 hours. The devastation was staggering; four missing railroad section hands, 500 rescued motorists, several dozen vehicles destroyed, numerous highway and railroad bridges destroyed or damaged.
The research for the current project, a Route 66 encyclopedia and atlas, has become a myriad of magic windows that look out into a world now vanished. With each new discovery there is the sense that I have been entrusted with the rare threads needed to weave an incredible, majestic, colorful tapestry. But there are so many threads still needed to complete it.
The Whiting brothers kicked off their service station empire with a small facility in 1917 in St. Johns, Arizona. Their first expansion was a station on Route 66 in Holbrook, Arizona in early 1927.
From those humble beginnings the Whiting Brothers stations soon became an integral component of the Route 66 roadside from Shamrock, Texas, to Lenwood, California. Then they expanded into motels. When?
Initially, the National Old Trails Highway was to follow the path of the Trail to Sunset from Santa Fe to Yuma mapped by intrepid automotive explorer A.E. Westgard. Imagine if that had come to pass how different Route 66 history might be!
Casting a dark shadow over my research is a near constant glimpses of what made Route 66 obsolete before it was even paved from end to end. The automotive society that spawned it evolved faster than it could be adapted to the ever changing needs and that gave rise to the generic but relatively safe world of the interstate highway.
On March 7, 1935, the Inman family of Shamrock, Texas, was returning home from Alanreed when their car drifted across the line and clipped a west bound truck. In a family of seven there were but three survivors.
On New Years Day, 1962, the Wildenstein family of El Cerrito, California were headed home on Route 66 after a delightful holiday spent with family in Las Vegas, New Mexico when, near Chambers, Arizona, when a truck crossed the center line. In a family of seven there was but one survivor, Warren Lee, age 5.
On April 10, 1930, a bus bound for Denver from Los Angeles, pushing to make up for time lost on muddy sections of Route 66 east of Flagstaff, crossed the tracks at Isletta about a dozen miles south of Albuquerque in the path of Santa Fe train number seven. The initial death toll was 19.
Route 66 was the yellow brick road and a ribbon of asphalt adorned with tragedy. It was the stuff of dreams and fodder for nightmares.
Next weekend we will get back to the book reviews and travel tip feature. Between then and now, we have a few surprises to share.


The old adage that the cemetery is full of men who didn’t have death on their busy schedule has taken on a new relevance and deeper understanding this past two weeks. I suppose there is a blessing of sorts to be found in this visitation from the ghost of Christmas future that has allowed me to see the world through the eyes of the aged whose infirmities mute the fear of death that haunts their every waking moment.
Right up until Tuesday evening a week ago, my schedule was filled with all manner of pressing business, obligations, and schedules. In less than a dozen hours the priority list was whittled down to how best to ensure care of my wife after my departure and how to keep the faith in a very dark time.
Well, I am on the road back but it looks as though it may be a long drive. In the mean time there is a contract deadline looming on the horizon and a much anticipated adventure to Amarillo in June for the international Route 66 festival.
Yesterday, I recorded the postponed interview with Norman Fisk for the upcoming documentary on Route 66 in Arizona. I hope his editorial skills are good as my performance was well off the mark.
Earlier in the week, I met with John Springs, the ambitious visionary that is behind the first on line magazine about Route 66. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this project is the incredible potential for promotion and advertisement of the mom and pop shops that are the heart and soul of this legendary highway. For more information check out http://www.66themotherroad.com/.
I am to meet with John again Saturday after work but this will be dependant on how much energy is left after the office and a bit of tour guide time postponed from last week. As always, updates on both will be provided.
As additional income would be greatly appreciated by the book keeper at this time, and as it is a golden opportunity to promote Ghost Towns of the Southwest http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0760332215&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifras well as introduce folks to the wonders of southern New Mexico, I have agreed to work with Kerrick James and write a feature on ghost town photography for that state’s AAA magazine. Needless to say, this and the illness are really cramping the schedule in regards to the current project, a Route 66 encyclopedia.
I have written more than 80,000 words of concise text for that book but it seems each entry opens the door to a multitude of unanswered questions and a litany of things to add. So, my list of people and places to include is now longer than when I started!
With that said does anyone have information on –
Henry Pierce, Pierce Petroleum, and the visionary establishments along Route 66 in Missouri during the early 1930s –
The history of Pecan Joe’s –
The history of the Abbylee Motel near Springfield, Missouri –
Deer Lodge near Hyde Park in Arizona –
Information about Joe Sekakuku –
Background on Rimmy Jim Giddings –
Thanks again for the prayers, cards, and notes of support. They have been greatly appreciated.



Red lake

Marking both ends of a rather dark and depressing week were two absolutely delightful Sundays. On the Sunday before I embarked on my journey along the river Styx, a friend from Brookton, W.A. arrived. Yesterday, my dearest friend and I savored the delightful spring weather with a voyage of recuperation and restoration to the petroglyphs near Red Lake, the dry lake north of Kingman.
I met Dave last year when he stopped by the office to have me sign a book, Ghost Towns of the Southwest. As it turned out his plans to tour the USA were derailed when he discovered the wonders to be found in the Kingman area.
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0760332215&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrSo, he purchased a car and became a regular taking in the sites and the events in northern Arizona. When it came time for him to return home, I made arrangements for the storage of his car and we began exchanging news paper clippings of interest.
When he returned a week ago we dug his car out of storage, spent the morning catching up on the latest news, and he provided a few more coals to stoke the smouldering fires of my fascination with the land down under. As I write this mornings post, a calender from Tomeo’s Service Station, Karragullen, W.A. with a beautiful photo of El Questro Gorge, Kimberly, now dominates the wall beside the monitor.
Yesterday morning, to speed my recovery, my dearest friend prescribed a leisurely drive north from Kingman to an old haunt of ours, a stark hill of petroglyphs near Red Lake. As it turned out this was a much needed tonic.
The temperatures were near perfect. We had the road to ourselves once we cleared the urban sprawl, and as we followed the sandy track into the desert wilderness I could feel the restoration that can only come from being in a quiet place of memories with a dear friend surrounded by some of God’s finest handiwork seep into my weary bones.
Ever the mindful and caring nurse, my dearest friend reigned me in after a short walk along the sandy trace where horned toad lizards darted in front of us even though my spirit longed for a stroll of miles. In celebration of the fact I was still counted among the living, and the fact I had managed a walk of several hundred yards without having to rest, my dearest friend surprised me with a cold spearmint tea and bag of grapes that we shared on our return to the Jeep. Life is good.
On a final note, please don’t forget those who have suffered so much in recent months, our friends in Queensland who have endured record floods, the fine folks in New Zealand and those in Japan who are suffering through tragedies of epic proportions. They need our prayers and support.