Ideas on what constitutes the ideal road trip are as varied as the people that embark on these adventures. However, most everyone will agree that two components needed to to ensure a memorable odyssey are unique restaurants that offer good food as well as regional specialties and good friends to share the meals. Food on the road, or more specifically a few of my favorite places for food while on the road, is the subject of the latest episode of 5 Minutes with Jim, our weekly audio podcast.
So, on this weeks blog post I wanted to expand on that theme. With that said here are a few of my favorite places for a snack, a breakfast, lunch or dinner while on the road. Not all of them are found on Route 66. After all, this is Jim Hinckley’s America. And as our slogan says, telling people where to go is our specialty. We test the pillows and taste the enchiladas so you can be assured of an honest review and recommendation.
Let’s kick this off with two recommendations from my adopted hometown of Kingman, Arizona. In our free weekly newsletter you have most likely seen advertisement for Calico’s restaurant. Located on Beale Street (U.S. 93) just to the west of the Mohave Museum of History & Arts, this family owned restaurant offers an array of traditional American offerings as well as a few specialties such as the coyote BLT, a twist on an old favorite with the addition of alfalfa sprouts and avocado on a nine grain bread. They also have two meeting rooms for groups, one with a private bar.
Enchilada New Mexico at Oysters in Kingman, Arizona
Oysters in Kingman is one of those hole in the wall places that is easily overlooked or seldom given a second look, let alone a look to see what is behind the non descriptor interior. Located on East Andy Devine Avenue (Route 66) near the Kings Inn Best Western, this is a true treasure. Authentic Mexican dishes, not the stuff that is hidden by over spiced rice and beans, and surprisingly delicious and diverse sea food offerings are their specialty. For quite some time this has been our go to place for the Sunday family dinner. With the exception of the occasional return to an old favorite, I have been working my way through the menu and have yet to have a bad meal.
There are a couple of places I can recommend in Needles, California. One is the Wagon Wheel restaurant, a Route 66 classic. As with Oysters, I have yet to have a bad meal at this venerable old restaurant. As a bonus the prices fall are budget to mid range. My second choice is Valenzuela’s, a one family owned little restaurant that opened in 1952. If I had one complaint with this little time capsule it would be that the hours of operation are somewhat sporadic, and they are closed most of the summer.
I first discovered Bella Notte in Jackson, Michigan while in town for a speaking engagement in the fall of 2018. This past October there was an opportunity to share this delightful restaurant with my dearest friend as it was across the street from JTV where I was scheduled to give an interview. My recommendation, the fresh Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna in a Béchamel Sauce.
As we receive numerous requests for restaurant tips, reviews and suggestions, a regular series of podcasts and blog posts will be added to the schedule. And as we are gearing up for more road trip adventures, our list of favorite places for roadside dining will be growing. So, stay tuned.
Shortly after the U.S. Highway 66 Association was established in early 1927, a marketing campaign was launched that branded the newly minted highway as the Main Street of America. It was a brilliant strategy as one of the most famous “named highways” in America, the National Old Trails Road, had been branded the Main Street of America by Judge Lowe of the National Old Trails Road Association in 1913. Linking Route 66 to a road with an established reputation, a road popular with tourists traveling to see the natural wonders of the southwest was the cornerstone for the eventual transformation of this highway into an an icon with an international fan club.
The National Old Trails Road, after 1913, coursed across northern New Mexico and Arizona, and across the California desert to Los Angeles. It provided travelers with access to the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon. Near Peach Springs, Arizona a popular side trip was Diamond Creek which is still the only road that allows for vehicle access to the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. These natural wonders were one reason the then twenty-one year old Edsel Ford and his college buddies traveled along this road to the Panama-Pacific Exposition in California during the summer of 1915. Likewise with Emily Post. Attesting to the popularity of the National Old Trails Road in the southwest is the fact that more than 20,000 people attending the Panama Pacific Exposition from outside California arrived by automobile and the overwhelming majority traveled this road.
While much of the National Old Trails Road history is documented there are still secrets hidden in dusty archives, road departments, family photo albums and old travel diaries. One of these mysteries is found on the western slope of Sitgreaves Pass in the Black Mountains of Arizona. Route 66 enthusiasts are intimately familiar with this section of highway that began as the National Old Trails Road. Arguably it is one of the most scenic portions of this storied old highway and Oatman is known throughout the world.
This old road dates to about 1907. It was upgraded to meet the needs of the National Old Trails Road in about 1913. When was it bypassed? When was it realigned to the current course for the pre 1952 alignment of Route 66?
This rare map from the state of Arizona shows U.S. 60 instead of U.S. 66
Much of this morning was spent with an engineer and unofficial archivist at the Mohave County Road Department in search of answers. Instead of what I was looking for, I found new mysteries that need answers as well as rare and obscure historic footnotes. As an example, did you know that originally U.S. 66 was designated U.S. 60? Early 1926 Arizona maps show U.S. 60 and it is also designated the National Old Trails Road in places. This takes us to another mystery. U.S. 66 and the National Old Trails Road shared the same road in much of the southwest. There are postcards that show both designations. When did the first U.S. 66 signs go up? Was the road ever signed as U.S. 60?
Author Jim Hinckley signing books after leading a neon nights walking tour in Kingman, Arizona. Photo Anita Shaw
In our home we celebrate Valentine’s Day every day of the week. Never is there is a day that I don’t reflect on how fortunate I am that an amazing woman looked beyond my down at the heels, rough around the edges exterior and accepted my invitation to share the grand adventure that is life. This year my dearest friend and I will be celebrating 37 years of marriage as well as countless shared adventures, both good and bad. And make no mistake about it, it has been an epic adventure.
When we first met, after the mines had shut down, I was working as an itinerant ranch hand and part time truck driver earning a few dollars while searching for more permanent employment. I drove a battered old ’46 GMC pickup truck, and on occasion we would double date in an even more battered ’26 Ford touring car. I had spent most of my life on the road. My folks often joked that I had been potty trained along Route 66. She was a quiet, but beautiful, clerk working in a local department store that drove a ’70 Charger. Her travels had been limited to a family reunion in Tombstone, a family vacation to Disneyland, a trip to the Grand Canyon and regular visits to family in Phoenix.
Me and my old dog, Critter, called a line shack about 25 miles from town, on a dirt road that turned into a quagmire when it rained home. I had an outhouse, kerosene lamps for lights and a word burning stove for heating as well as cooking, and hauled my water. To escape the heat of summer I often slept on the porch under the stars at night. She still lived with her parents. I will be sharing more of our story in the autobiography that I am writing in serial format as exclusive content on our Patreon based crowdfunding site.
Several years ago we launched our most amazing adventure to date, and it is still unfolding – Jim Hinckley’s America. Books, presentations, the website, a weekly travel planning newsletter, live stream programs, 5 Minutes With Jim podcast and more; a travel network and marketing venue for small businesses and communities as well as artists, authors, photographers, museums and nonprofit organizations with very limited promotional budgets. We provide a service for travelers, have made the most amazing friendships, and traveled to places we could never have imagined 35 years ago.
Kick off for the new presentation series in Needles, California
And now we are taking this to an all new level. We have developed promotional packages for most every budget, and created opportunity for partnerships invested in tourism related economic development. Three new presentations have been developed and we are now in the process of organizing a series of speaking tours linked with book signings. This was launched last week to a packed house in Needles, California and to date we have appearances confirmed in Spokane, Kingman, and Zlin, Czechia. We have tentative appearances in Ely, Nevada, Pontiac, Illinois, Cuba, Missouri and Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Meanwhile we are chasing promotional partners for the two big projects this year; the Route 66 promotional tour that includes the Miles of Possibility Conference in Pontiac, Illinois and the International Route 66 Festival in Zlin. And we are moving ahead with development of community education programs through Mohave Community College and Route 66 Crossroads, a recently organized nonprofit developed to foster creation of cooperative partnerships in communities.
In recent years things have turned full circle. The quest for information that led to the writing of my first book began in Jackson. And last October we returned to Jackson for a speaking engagement, and the launching of a new chapter in Jim Hinckley’s America.
Thirty-eight years ago I would never imagined that telling people where to go could be so much fun or be so rewarding. And I surely never imagined having such an incredible friend to share the grand adventure that is life.
A great way to start the day, sunrise on the Colorado River at Fenders River Resort in Needles, California.
It was a perfect morning for a bit of reflection and some desert exploration. I was alone with my thoughts for the first time since hearing that my pa had passed, and there was a hint of a chill in the air as the light of dawn chased the shadows. Seldom do I sleep in later than 5:00 A.M. and this morning was no exception. That habit was a part of my legacy. For as long as I can remember the day started early and years spent working farms and ranches have ensured that it is an ingrained habit.
I had held emotions and thoughts in check even during the drive to Needles, California at the historic El Garces. That also was a part of my legacy as there was a job to be done but it was a challenge since the drive took me past the ruins of the old homestead that I had helped pa build in the late 1960s and along old Route 66 where I had been taught to drive.
An abandoned alignment of Route 66 in the Mojave Desert near Needles, California.
Now, however, was time to give thought to the loss. For more than a half century I have found solace in the desert. And so I slipped from our room at Fenders River Road Resort, the only motel that is located on the National Old Trails Road, Route 66 and the Colorado River, and walked to the river as the sun broke in the east. Then after a bit of reflection I began walking into the desert along Route 66 with little to no thought as to distance or direction. And so it was a bit of a surprise to notice that at some point in my wanderings I had left the highway and was following a long abandoned segment of iconic Route 66.
Route 66 figures prominently in my life and so I consider it a part of my legacy as well. Aside from being taught to drive on a bypassed alignment, I learned to ride a bicycle on this iconic old highway. My first job was on old Route 66. I learned to drive a truck on Route 66. And Route 66, and the desert, figures prominently in the story of how my inquisitive nature and passion for the quest, for exploration was kindled.
A long vanished truck stop along Route 66 in the Mojave Desert of California.
As I followed the broken asphalt and faded white line deeper into the desert, the ruins of a once thriving truck stop or service station complex was discovered. Judging by the extensive trash piles, and the pile of bulldozed ruins, my best guess is that it had been in operation during the mid 1950s and into the 1960s. Had we stopped here during my childhood travels?
As I wandered around the overgrown remnants of the complex a tsunami of memories engulfed me. The road trip figured prominently in my relationship with pa. We hauled hay from Mohave Valley over Sitgreaves Pass to the homestead in the Sacramento Valley. We hauled scrap metal from Silver City in New Mexico to Phoenix and Tucson. We hauled appliances in Michigan. We moved the family from Arizona to New Mexico, from New Mexico to Michigan and from Michigan to Arizona. And we stopped at thousands of dusty old truck stops and gas stations on our desert odysseys.
Dusty memories and remnants abound in the desert.
With my eyes closed I could hear the ringing of the gas station bell and smell the hot engines. I could smell the tires, the oil, the gear oil, the diesel fuel and the exhaust. I could feel the hot desert sun on my face, and see pa checking the radiator as the gallons pouring into the tank were counted with the clanging of the gas pump. I could taste the cold soda pop, the hamburger and hear the accents as people from Michigan and Florida and Wyoming mingled in the cafe.
It was here that I bid adios to the man that instilled in me a hunger for the open road, for adventure, and a passion for the empty places and the desert.
The historic Hotel Brunswick on Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona
The celebrity association is lengthy. At one of the hotels an impromptu reception was held for Clark Gable and Carol Lombard after their wedding in the spring of 1939. Edsel Ford and his travel companions had stayed at the hotel in July 1915. The neighboring hotel was the boyhood playground for character actor Andy Devine. In 1925 during the filming of Go West it was used as the headquarters for Buster Keaton’s film company. Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart were guests. Legendary western writer Louis L ‘Amour did a bit of amateur boxing in the Sump, a bar in the cellar.
Today the forlorn old relics stand in stark contrast to the renaissance that is transforming the historic district in Kingman, Arizona. For at least thirty years there were half hearted attempts to give the Hotel Brunswick a new lease on life. In the mid ’90s the front portico was replaced returning the hotel to its original appearance, and a restaurant and bar operated on the ground floor. When the owners went bust, it sat empty for many years. The next investor gutted the downstairs, and began work on the rooms. And then he gave up on the project and put the hotel up for sale. That is the hotels current status.
There is a haunting beauty in the mezzanine of the Hotel Beale lit by a morning glow from the skylight. #jimhinckleysamerica
The historic Hotel Beale faces a very uncertain future. The owners don’t want to sell or to invest in the property. The city continues to try and facilitate a solution. Even though the owners recently replaced a few windows and added a touch of paint, the building is nearing a point where it could be cost prohibitive to renovate. The roof has been leaking, and as a result one corner of the upper joists and the floor joists are in jeopardy. There is extensive mold and as the hotel has a massive steam boiler in the cellar, a great deal of asbestos sheeting as well as wrapping on pipes. The saving grace is that the hotel is built on rock with extensive use of masonry. And the addition constructed in 1916 made extensive use of reinforced concrete.
For decades before its closure the hotel served as a flop house with little maintenance performed. For most of the next thirty years its primary function has been use as a storage facility. From furnishings purchased during the 1916 remodel to old gas pumps, snow tires, refrigerators, Vespa’s, refrigerators, car parts, barbershop equipment and tools the old hotel appears like a hoarders dream. Surprisingly many original fixtures are still in place including the wood check in counter with frosted glass, the switchboard and hotel safe.
The National Old Trails Highway at the dawning of Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona
Both hotels face an uncertain future. Both hotels are key to the continued transformation of the historic business districts. Both hotels could be transformed from tarnished gems into crown jewels.