Once the decision was made to head east instead of west for a day of playing hooky, it seemed an ideal opportunity to look for signs of an early alignment of the National Old Trails Highway that linked Ash Fork with Seligman in a southerly “U”. Professor Nich Gerlich, a leading contender for the Indiana Jones of the Route 66 community title, had called to discuss this quirky circa 1913 alignment a few days ago.
Well, Nick (Jeroen, Maggie and fellow fans of Route 66 and the National Old Trails Highway), I didn’t quite make it to Ash Fork. In fact time ran out on this adventure at a point somewhere to the east of the Crookton overpass along an early alignment of Route 66 where what appears to be a vintage roadside park hides among the cedar trees.
Author Jim Hinckley, left, and John Mcenulty in search of the National Old Trails Highway in Arizona.
Still, thanks to John Mcenulty owner of Grand Canyon Caverns, the planned voyage of exploration instead became an exciting voyage of discovery. Let me provide a visual teaser before telling the tale.
Just like a couple of giddy kids on Christmas morning, my dearest friend and I had the Jeep loaded (assorted tools, first aid kit shovel, jack, peanut butter and raisin bread sandwiches, water, canned beans, utensils, our fancy foldin’ chairs, jackets, cameras and gear, a variety of granola bars, one bottle of beer, small ice chest, topographical maps, compass, and, of course, our autographed and note riddled copy of the EZ 66 Guide) for the adventure before the sun cleared the western horizon. We picked up the old double six near the I-40 interchange in Kingman and were closing in on Antares Point by full sunrise.
As per our discussion on Saturday morning, my dearest friend and I met John at the caverns motel, drove to the caverns parking lot, and began our hike into the cedar forest to the east. Almost immediately it became apparent that sixty years of development had failed to erase traces of what had once been a very important roadway.
Scattered among the construction debris, discarded equipment, and modern housing were hints of roadside stone work. Less than a half mile to the east, where nature was fast reclaiming the old road bed, any hint that we were still in the 21st century was obscured by brush and trees.
As we continued to hike east under an overcast sky, it quickly became apparent that the old trail we were following had at some point in time been far more than a mere cattle path into the canyon and through the broken red rock. Here and there the path was boarded by rock that had laboriously been cut from the opposite bank in order to create a road bed on the shelf in the canyon.
Then we encountered a series of stone constructed road supports with clay pipe drainage. It seemed as though each one encountered was more spectacular than the last.
Just as we turned a corner that awarded a view of the valley below, and the old road sweeping toward the distant mountains, we encountered the most spectacular of these monolithic monuments from the era of the tin Lizzy and the National Old Trails Highway. That is the picture at the top of the page.
What an amazing adventure! But it didn’t end there, this was only the beginning.
After the second hearty breakfast of the day at the lodge in Peach Springs, my dearest friend and I continued east on the double six toward Seligman. At Hyde Park we turned south in search of the National Old Trails Highway in the hope we could find it, and follow it at least as far as Pica.
The first road encountered that held promise was truly a cattle path overgrown with grass and brush, washed out in places to such a degree we were forced to abandon its course and snake our way around the trees on the side, and strewn with rocks. Hints that we were on the right path were few (stumps of phone poles, an occasional rusty can, broken bottles that dated to the 1920s or earlier) but yet they were adequate enough to encourage us to continue.
Then we came to the fence with the locked gate and oversized no trespassing sign. So we retraced our tire tracks to Hyde Park Road, and continued south toward Yampai crossing in the hope we could pick up a railroad road to continue the journey east.
That game plan worked rather well, until we came to a boulder strewn, washed out cut that twisted down a steep grade well in excess of eight percent. So, again we backtracked, this time all the way to Route 66 at Hyde Park.
At this juncture we decided to stick to the pavement to a point somewhere east of Seligman. And that led to our last discovery of the day.
At the bottom of the downgrade east of the Crookton overpass, we turned onto a dirt road on the north side of the highway in search of a suitable location for a picnic lunch. I had only driven the gravel track for a short distance when I noticed what appeared to be bits of pavement among the gravel.
In consulting our EZ 66 Guide (Arizona, page 18)I determined this was definitely an older alignment of Route 66. Thank you Mr. McClanhan.
So, we continued to the west on the upgrade and on the south side of the road, below the current course of Route 66, discovered a clearing in a grove of trees. It was the ideal place for our late afternoon picnic.
Apparently a few other folks had a similar idea. There was a fire pit, and in the wash below, a few hints of modern refuse.
Initially I paid little attention to the fire pit, after all from the front it was just a stack of stones. However, as I set up the foldy chairs under the shade of the lift gate, I noticed that originally the fire pit had been built of finished concrete!
This prompted further investigation. Scattered in the thick brush and scrub oak above the wash was a wide array of cans and broken bottles circa 1940s (plus or minus a few years). The next discovery was what appeared to be a broken concrete picnic table seat. Had we inadvertently set out our picnic in a vintage roadside park?
Once again Gumby had been proven right. The flexibility that allowed us to abandon a long planned trip to the ghost town of Swansea and head in the opposite direction with eager anticipation turned out to be the best adventure of the new year.