A LAND OF CONTRASTS

Today marked another opportunity to prove my adage that the worst day on Route 66 is better than the best day anywhere else. It also reinforced my firm belief that adaptation to failed plans, while wearing a smile, is key to survival. 

Havasu National Wildlife Refuge on the
Colorado River


As winter is the only sane time for exploration of the Colorado River Valley, and as the weather has been delightfully warm this past week, we made plans to explore the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge and gather more images for the forthcoming Route 66 in Mohave County exhibit at the Powerhouse Visitor Center in Kingman. The game plan called for leaving after I closed the office at noon, and following the pre 1952 alignment of Route 66 through Oatman to the river, a pleasant drive through a land of startling contrasts.
The first little incident occurred as we were leaving Kingman on Route 66. An elderly couple that appeared to be somewhere between seventy and two hundred years of age dominated the road in front of us with the cruise control set at 35 miles per hour as they motored west in a massive late 1970s Lincoln Town Car.
Now, I am quite passionate about vintage vehicles and am so happy to see them in their native habitat that it is quite easy to tolerate their speed limitations. Of course, many vintage car owners stay close to the shoulder and will even pull off to let you pass on occasion.
The folks in the Lincoln were wholly oblivious to the traffic backing up behind them. They were as equally oblivious to the yellow line, the shoulder, and on coming traffic. The resultant tension was not so much  a result of being stuck behind them as it was the sense that I was watching a vintage Lincoln being readied for its final stop at Dan’s Auto Salvage, which was just a mile or two ahead.
We left the weaving travelers at Crazy Fred’s Truck Stop and the drive across the wide Sacramento Valley and into the Black Mountains was, as always, a delight. Then we made it to Oatman – just in time for the shoot out which blocks the road and backs up traffic from one end of town to the other.
Call me a stick in the mud but in all honesty I preferred Oatman in the 1960s when it consisted of two rows of empty stores, a few empty houses, a bar, and a cafe. Tourism has been a boon in the sense it has kept the town from following Gold Road into obscurity but at what cost? Original structures were replaced by cheap caricatures and authenticity was traded for a veneer of Disneyland.

If your new to the southwest and are happy with Disneyland styled fun then Oatman can be a real hoot. If, however, you are looking for historical authenticity, or a bit more than several blocks of false fronted gift shops, just plan on driving through.
We ran the gauntlet in Oatman, made a pit stop in Golden Shores, and continued our journey into the desert oasis of the Colorado River Valley. Initial plans called for exploring the more scenic California side of the refuge but after spending some time along the dike in Arizona, the winds began to pick up, a tell tale sign they soon would be howling across the desert.
As solace for cutting the trip short, there was the promise of dinner with my dearest friend, and some left over, home made lasagna, at the end of the trail. So, with this as our reward, we began retracing our steps over the pre 1952 alignment of Route 66 through the Black Mountains. 

Even though the winds were beginning to rock the Jeep, we couldn’t resist a slight detour to explore some ruins below Route 66 that have intrigued us for quite some time. I know nothing of the history behind this forlorn homestead but the date in the concrete of the cistern is 1947 and there is ample evidence that someone was quite ambitious as well as gifted in regard to working with stone. 
The remainder of the trip was pleasant and uneventful. As there was little to no traffic through the mountains and across the Sacramento Valley, I decided to emulate the elderly drivers of the Lincoln, with the exception of ignoring the shoulder or the yellow line, and savor the pleasure of a quite drive along the most famous highway in America.

And so ends another grand adventure on legendary Route 66.

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