From the venerable old Hackberry General Store iconic Route 66 sweeps onto the broad Hualapai Valley. At the old Lake Mead Rancheros Café where a misplaced Easter Island head casts long morning shadows, the dusty tracks of the National Old Trails Highway have been transformed into a ribbon of blacktop that points straight as an arrow toward the Cerbat Mountainson the distant horizon.
A hint of urban sprawl, a few dusty remnants from the era of the tail fin and Edsel, and an old Stuckey’s are the only clue that this is the 21st century. At the first stop light, where the Kingman Airport and Industrial Park masks the old Kingman Army Airfield commemorated by a pair of memorials to war time tragedy and an original control tower at the terminal, Route 66 assumes the persona of the interstate that eclipsed it and continues its course into Kingman as a four lane highway.
Interestingly enough, Route 66 slices through Kingman with an odd sort of chronological precision. First there is a touch of urban sprawl circa 1960s that engulfs the forlorn vestiges of when this was still the Main Street of America.
Next, where the cold and impersonal interstate highway casts its dark shadow over the old road, there is a sea of generic motels, restaurants, and stores, a reflection of the American roadside for most of the past half century. As the interstate fades from view in the mirror the modern and almost modern intermingle.
Here a NAPA store has replaced a Whiting Brothers station, the last remnant of the Hobbs Truck Stop masquerades as a Penske truck leasing office, and a long dusty strip of empty stands in mute testimony to the horrendous propane explosion that erased the businesses along this section of highway in the early 1970s. A desert oasis in the form of a city park draws the eye from the old crossing that funneled the National Old Trails Highwayinto Kingman through Slaughterhouse Canyon, and U.S. 93 around the HualapaiMountains on its southerly course to Phoenix. .
A few down at the heels vestiges of glory days on the double six crowd together just before the venerable old highway is bisected by a modern thoroughfare. Behind the facade of Lomeli’s Garden Arts hides Art Bell’s Flying A station, the towering shell of the sign that once lured the weary traveler with a promise of a good night sleep at the Kingman Motel looms across the now empty Denny’s that awaits its turn to rise from the ashes of abandonment like the mythical Phoenix.
Here motels from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s provide a tangible link to better times along the old double six. In the shadow of the cold glow of the Walgreens sign where the City Café once stood, and the circa 1929 Siesta Motel slumbers in obscurity. Even fans of the double six overlook this roadside time capsule that rose from the rocky desert soil at the dawning of the Great Depression.
Where the trains rumble through the canyon as they have for more than a century, time is being turned back at the historic El Trovatore Motel and the neon again glows bright. Ensuring the illusion of time travel is the neon glow of the Hilltop Motel on the north side of the highway.
It was here in the era of I Like Ike buttons Route 66 that mimicked the cold, soulless interstate that replaced it, first with the transformation of the El Trovatore from a resort into a motel and then in the red cinder hill of the same name halved by mechanical monsters that straightened the kinks of the narrow old highway that had coursed down the hill on what is now Chadwick Drive.
Today that savage cut is as a portal into a lost world. As Route 66 courses west through the historic heart of Kingman, one can almost sense the ghosts of the past in the swirling dust.
There is the corner where Pamela Anderson was arrested for indecent exposure during a Playboy magazine shoot in 1992. This is the intersection where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard crossed their tracks onto Fourth Street in their race to the courthouse for a marriage license before closing time on that early spring day in 1939.
In 1927 a car load of hired thugs sped south through this intersection as they made their getaway after murdering Tom King at the American Kitchen next to the Hotel Beale. Twenty years later, Tap Duncan a pioneering rancher, a friend of Tom Mix’s, and a man linked to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid through mistaken identity died here after being struck by a distracted driver.
That forlorn old hotel that bears the name of the man who led a camel caravan across northern Arizona before the advent of the Civil War was home to Andy Devine, Kingman’s favorite son, and a haven for Charles Lindbergh during his stay to oversee construction of the airfield that would serve as an important link in the revolutionary TAT Airline that combined air and rail travel for unprecedented coast to coast time.
Route 66 rolls past the venerable old Kimo Café masquerading as Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner, the monument to a time when the railroad was king in the form of a 1920s era Baldwin Mountain Locomotive, and the Powerhouse Visitor Center. Unlike the landscapes that embraced the highway on the east side of town, on the west it is squeezed into a canyon shared by more than 100 years of railroading, and the course of the National Old Trails Highway that also carried Route 66 traffic until 1937.
To follow Route 66 through Kingman is to experience why this old road once labeled as the Main Street of America is now known around the world as the highway of dreams. To follow Route 66 through Kingman is to experience a bit of Jim Hinckley’s America.