For me, this stretch of old road is as comfortable as a well worn pair of jeans, as inviting as the wagging tail on an old hound, and as refreshing as a glass of ice cold sweet tea on a hot summer afternoon. Long before the world rediscovered the hidden pleasures found in a leisurely drive along dusty old U.S. 66, the broken asphalt that tracked across the desert, over the spine of the Black Mountains at Sitgreaves Pass, and down to the oasis at the river, was my refuge, an island where the confusion and angst of adolescence was held at bay.
It was the summer of ’66 when I made the first trek over this road. My dad had a day off and decided a drive to Needles, in August, in a 1964 Ford Fairlane, without air conditioning, was a good idea.
To this day when I drive the old road, the memory of the stifling and choking heat that seemed to increase with every mile, the look on my mother’s face as the chocolate bars she had forgotten in the glove box began to drip on the floor, and of our many stops to poke around the empty places fills my senses. Sitting at the top of the pass and watching the sun sink into the west, just as we did that hot summers day on our return trip, I can still smell that baking engine, and hear my mom warn my little sister about snakes, while my dad fumed about the ruined carpet as the ticking of the cooling engine, and the hiss of the radiator, played as background music.
With the exception of the traffic choked ends of U.S. 66, there isn’t one mile of this old road that I don’t enjoy. Still, it is the old road across the wide Sacramento Valley, over the mountains, and into the Colorado River Valley that serves as the sacred chalice of my fondest memories.
When we first drove that road, the traces of Fig Springs station could still be found, the ruins at Cool Springs were still fresh, Kings Dairy was an oasis, old man Edgerton still called Ed’s Camp home, a tree and picnic table remained at Schaeffers Fish Bowl Springs, the skeletons of visible register pumps still stood as silent sentinels at Snell’s Summit Station, Goldroad was still a village of empty shells, Oatman was a ghost town, and the old highway was quite along its shade dappled course under the willow and salt cedars along the river. Much has changed but in my mind these fast fading remnants of better times are still there to provide tangible links to the era when this was the Main Street of America, and my special memories.
In those years before the old highway rose like the mythical Phoenix from the ashes, few traveled its course into the Black Mountains. So, I learned to ride a bicycle by following the faded white line towards the swimming hole near the faded vestiges of Fig Springs station, and how to start a vehicle with a clutch at Ed’s Camp.
The first time I changed a tire was just down the road from the Whiting Brothers station now hidden behind the facade of Dan’s Auto Salvage. It was at about the same spot that I learned the importance of never trusting a forty year old gas gauge.
Years later, when I was working in New Mexico and my visits to Kingman were infrequent, memories of this old road with its many charms and hidden secrets made the loneliness of the line shack, the emptiness of riding fence, and the cold winter nights on the dredge, tolerable. Little has changed.
Route 66 remains my refuge, my island where the angst of fast approaching age, and the confusion of rapidly changing times, is kept at bay by memories and long stretches of empty road. Still, it is only in the twists and turns over the Black Mountains, and the high perches where I can watch the shadows of sunset transform the canyons, that childhood seems near, and the promise of the future seems brightest.