In this final installment of our series on making the most of a Route 66 adventure, we begin with dusty, historic, Barstow, California. Your first stop, and if time allows for only one, has to be the Route 66 Mother Road Museum in the beautiful old Harvey House.
Mojave River bridge at Victorville
Debra and the staff are the best source of information about the area and the important role Route 66 played in its development. The museum, and gift shop, are not to be rushed as there are surprises and treasures at every turn.
From Barstow to Victorville the roadside is littered with remnants from more than a century of societal evolution as the road here follows several historic trails that predate Route 66 by decades. Tragically, with the exception of the Iron Hog, most everything found along the way on this segment is little more than dusty photo opportunities.
The first gem has to be the bridge across the Mojave River just north of Victorville. Even the period guardrails have survived into the modern era making this a very rare treasure indeed. The historic district of Victorville is a bit tattered around the edges but here too there are some pretty interesting places awaiting your discovery. Stop one is the California Route 66 Museum.
Green Spot Motel, Victorville
One of the often overlooked places of note in Victorville is the old Green Spot Motel, once a haven for the rich and famous and the location where the first draft for Citizen Kane was penned. The management does not take kindly to visitors and is quite suspicious of folks snapping pictures but a quick drive by shouldn’t be an issue. From Victorville the next stop is Hesperia and then the summit of Cajon Pass, a funnel for almost two centuries of travelers headed for the Los Angeles basin and the Pacific coast. Even though Route 66 has to a large degree been buried under the modern freeway one wonderful link to that by gone era remains, the Summit Inn that has met the needs of travelers since 1952. For the uninitiated, the drive down Cajon Pass is an interesting blend of bumper cars at the carnival, NASCAR racing, demolition derby, and Death Race 2000. Of course in my opinion that pretty much sums up the entire drive through the greater Los Angeles metropolitan http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0970995164&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrarea. To make sense of Route 66 here, a guide book is essential. I also recommend Depends, patience, and a very dark sense of humor. In a previous post I made note of Jerry McClanahans superb guide, EZ 66. To create this book McClanahan turned to Scott Piotrowski , author of Finding the End of the Mother Road: Route 66 in Los Angeles County. If your serious about discovering the hidden gems of Route 66 in the modern urban sprawl this book is a must. I also suggest starting the trek to the coast about mid morning after a good nights sleep. Now, in my humble opinion there is but one place to stay the night at the west end of the metro area and that is the iconic Route 66 landmark, the Wigwam Motel in Rialto. Don’t let the neighborhood intimidate you. This loving refurbished home away from home rates near the top of the list for favorite places to spend a night. Contrary to popular opinion Route 66 did not end at the park on the palisade with its Will Rogers memorial or at Santa Monica Pier. However, decades of people thinking it did and decades of people marking that point as the end of the trail have almost made the illusion a reality. The pier and all that it entails is a fitting end to an adventure on Route 66. The lights, the crowds, the shops, the sea breeze, and the restaurants all blend seamlessly in a collage that fills the senses.However, a stop at the pier is not truly the end of the trail. Your journey along America’s most famous highway will only be complete when you meet with the proprietors of 66 to Cali, Dan and Jessica Rice.If you are like most adventurers along Route 66, one trip is never enough and a dozen trips leave you hungry for more. With that said, I will see on the next trip. With a little bit of prompting from fans of the highway, I have begun offering my services to groups as they pass through Kingman. So, if you need a dinner companion that can answer your questions please drop me a note.
By February of 1943, the Kingman Army Airfield was an established training facility and military base but expansion and additions were ongoing. On the third of the month an aircraft recognition and sighting department was added. On the 6th a Sperry Lower Ball Turret was installed to enhance the B-17 gunnery training. By the 15th the commissary was open for business. In rapid succession a photo lab was added, a quartermaster warehouse and distribution center was completed, and the first air to air combat class commenced. By the first of March the airfield was a beehive of activity as the aircraft available for training now included 15 AT-6As, 3 P-39s, 13 B-17Fs, 14 AT-23B’s, 18 AT-23As, and numerous other aircraft. The goal of making the Kingman Army Airfield “the best gunnery school in the country” was well underway. Every aspect of training as it pertained to aerial gunnery was available by the beginning of summer. By this time the base had become a city unto itself with a gas station, library, two chapels, butcher shop, recreation hall, and organized ball teams that played through the region. Dusty, sleepy, little Kingman was forever transformed. A shortage of ammunition for skeet shooting led to procurement from area residents as well as emptying local stores. The saloons and bars were a sea of uniforms, the streets became parade grounds, and GIs became an integral part of the communities fabric with inclusion in everything from Sunday dinners to teaching kids to roller skate. On the 16th of May, Kingman, Oatman, and Chloride became the target for a bombing run. Utilizing cardboard bombs, all three communities served as training grounds for crews that were about to be transferred to the European theater. As a military installation USO tours were now regular features. On April 13th, Bob Hope, Jerry Colonna, and Frances Langford flew in to entertain the troops. On June 5th, the Three Stooges arrived. On April 15th, the permanent steel frame control tower was completed. The tower, one of only two remaining in the United States, still cast its shadow across the airfield. On May 13th, the airfield suffered its first casualty. Private Charles DiGiorgio of the Ordnance Department was fatally injured in a training accident at the airfield. The second death occurred five days and the circumstances behind it remain a mystery. On May 18, the body of Private First Class Woodrow Sells was discovered on the eastbound tracks where he had been struck and killed. On June 20th a collision in Kingman on Route 66 between a construction dump truck and a military deuce and a half resulted in the injury of four airmen and one civilian. This resulted in the establishment of a military police presence to augment the local law enforcement in Kingman for traffic control. On July 5th, the airfield experienced its first aircraft accident. The crash landing of the AT-18 killed the co-pilot, Benjamin Horsley. July 13th was a day of celebration at the airfield and for the city of Kingman. Major Robert Morgan and his decorated crew made a war bond stop in the legendary Memphis Belle. A new chapter for the airfield commenced on August 26, the date the cornerstone was laid for a USO building for the use of “Black Personnel.” The base and its sub bases were segregated. The year 1944, saw an expansion in classes being taught. Chinese gunners were brought in by rail, and special WASP classes were also initiated. The year started on a very dark note. On the evening of January 1, a B-17 on a training mission from Kingman Army Airfield disintegrated in mid flight enroute to McClellan Field in California. The month proved to one tinged with tragedy. Sargent Dennis Pitman, cause of death unknown, was found at the bottom of the “colored swimming pool” on January 4. Then, on the 6th, the worst training disaster to date at a military training base occurred at the railroad crossing into the base. The driver returning from a night time training exercise at the gunnery range on the north side of Route 66 jumped the bus into the bath of a high speed freight train. Twenty-eight men were killed and four critically injured. The month ended with another tragedy. On the 22nd, a “Negro private” threw himself in front of an oncoming train. The somber year was punctuated with numerous highlights including an awards ceremony at the base for graduates receiving medals for meritorious service in combat. The ceremony was covered by Life magazine. On May 29th, it was another dark day at the airfield. A rancher discovered the wreckage of Marine Corps Lieutenant Norman Arendt’s plane. He had been reported missing on January 27th. The last months of the year continued as it began, with tragedy. On October 10, Sargent Amos Strawder died resultant of injuries received in a motorcycle wreck on Route 66.On November 3, a mid air collision between a B-17 and a P-39 claimed the lives of 15 men. A monument to the tragedy is now found under the control tower. As the year 1945 kicked off there was little at the airfield to indicate the end for the facility was near. However, at the War Department the decision had been made to begin scaling back operations and, with the cessation of hostilities, to deactivate the field. The tragedies that marred the base history in 1944 continued into 1945. On January 7, Lieutenant Norman Cross was involved in a four car collision in front of the Beale Hotel on Route 66. On February 23, a P-39 crashed as a result of engine failure. On March 1, Private First Class Charles Power was killed in a motorcycle accident. On June 1, Staff Sargent Howard Ford died as a result of injuries sustained in a head on collision on Route 66 and on June 2 a private at the Yucca field succumbed to an accidental shooting. The spiral toward closure became noticeable by early spring. On April 19, the last target towing mission was flown. On the 24th of that month it was announced that there would be no further co pilot training courses and on May 17, the first men were discharged based on the point system. On June 11, Range 1 was deactivated and the announcement of inactive status issued. This was the beginning of the end but it was not the final chapter in the airfield history or its association with Route 66.
In this installment of our Route 66 tour tips, we turn our attention toward the leg from Seligman in Arizona to Barstow in California. On Monday we complete the trip by following it to the end of the trail at Santa Monica Pier, the traditional, not historic, western terminus of that legendary highway.
The segment of Route 66 from Seligman to Topock remains as the longest uninterrupted section of Route 66. It is also, arguably, the most scenic, especially west of Kingman with its twists and turns through the Black Mountains.
But, from Kingman west there are actually two distinctly different manifestations of Route 66, and a short detour along a dead end section that is the original alignment of that highway as well as the path of the National Old Trails Highway.
The attractions and sites to see on the road between Seligman and Kingman are many. If you enjoy the photographic possibilities of empty places keep a sharp open for the Hyde Park turn off and the ruins of a resort complex once promoted with signs that read, Park You Hide Tonight at Hyde Park.” These ruins are found west of Seligman just before topping the grade above the turn to Grand Canyon Caverns, a roadside attraction of time capsule proportions. This attraction perfectly captures the very essence of attractions found along Route 66 during the era of the Edsel and the tail fin. Don’t rush the descent into Peach Springs. In fact take the first opportunity to pull over and gaze toward the north. Those deep purple canyons on the horizon are a part of the Grand Canyon system. If you are a bit adventuresome, and have a vehicle with a some ground clearance and the roads are dry, you can obtain a permit, and directions, from the lodge in Peach Springs for a one of a kind adventure. This would be to drive the only road, Diamond Creek Road, that leads to the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.Peach Springs has a long and colorful history that predates Route 66 by more than a century. Tangible links to that history are slim but there is the tribal offices on the north side of the road housed in a pre 1926 trading post and, directly across the street from the market, Osterman’s service station that dates to 1927. Truxton is a surprisingly recent manifestation along the highway and the Frontier cafe is a great opportunity for a lunch break. The towns origins date to the establishment of a garage and land speculation at the site during the very early 1950s. Slow the pace as you drop through the canyon west of Truxton. Crozier Canyon, and the ranch of the same name on the south side of the road towards the bottom are quite historic and have an association with the highway that spans more than seventy years. The Beale Wagon Road traversed this canyon as did the National Old Trails Highway. The ranch is one of the oldest in northern Arizona dating to the 1870s. For a time there was a resort here that included cabins, a service station and cafe complex that served as a bus station, and the spring fed pool. Andy Devine worked the bath house here as a kid. A flood in the late 1930s decimated the resort section of the property and only part of the stone station and the cabins remain. The flood necessitated the realignment of Route 66 to its current path. Valentine is a place you will zip through and never notice. There are actually two distinctly different portions of Valentine, nestled among the rocks are the offices of the Truxton Canyon Agency of the BIA, and the towering brick edifice that is the last remnant of the Hualapai Indian School complex that dates tot eh early twentieth century. The second portion is marked by a bar, currently closed, an empty station signed as a post office, the post master was killed and the facility never reopened, and an old, overgrown motel. There are some great photo opportunities. The Hackberry General Store is now an icon of the highway and is considered a must stop attraction. However, lost in the shadows of that fame is the old town of Hackberry, dating to the 1870s, south of the tracks. Next up is Antares Point with its towering “A” frame building and giant Easter Island styled head. Some years ago I worked ranches in the area and loved to stop here for excellent chili served in a room with million dollar views. Between here and the Kingman Airport complex, the Kingman Army Airfield during World War II, there is little to see in the way of Route 66 attractions. However, the astute observer will find a vintage Stuckey’s, now a residence. I time allows take a bit of time to explore the Kingman Airport and industrial park. You will find numerous remnants from the war, including one of the last control towers from that era that casts its shadow over an interesting memorial, a distillery that offers tours, a museum under construction but open on weekends, and Import Corner, an interesting store that is somewhere between an authentic Turkish market and Pier One Imports.
The drive through Kingman seems to have be chronologically choreographed. It begins with the modern generic age nestled around every interstate highway interchange in America, is followed by time capsules from the 1950s and 1960s, gives way to a wide array of motels and other roadside business structures from the 1920 to 1950 period, then an historic district predating statehood, and finally, the modern era of resurgent interest in Route 66. Even if your time is short there are a couple of attractions that should not be overlooked. These include the Locomotive Park, the Power House Visitor Center and Route 66 Museum, and the Mohave Museum of History and Arts. For those really in search of the Route 66 experience there is a neat little detour of several miles that dead end at the far end of Kingman Canyon. Cross the tracks at Fourth Street in front of the depot, follow this for several blocks and follow the right hand curve across a narrow bridge. Follow this to its end. This is the original alignment of Route 66 that was bypassed in the late 1930s. It was also the path of the National Old Trails Highway. Back on the main track of Route 66, curving to the left past the Mohave Museum of History and Arts, you will have two options at the junction with I-40. Follow the modern highway, which is the path of the post 1952 alignment of Route 66 through Yucca, or the pre 1952 alignment of the highway, and the National Old Trails Highway over the Black Mountains, past Cool Springs and Eds Camp, over the summit of Sitgreaves Pass, and through the old mining towns of Oatman and Goldroad.
Sitgreaves Pass on the pre 1952 alignment of Route 66
Here you will find the steepest grades and sharpest curves to be found anywhere on Route 66 today. The rewards in making this drive are many including stunning scenery, Cool Springs, and the fun of a “ghost town” where burros roam free in the streets. As the road drops to the Colorado River, often the hottest place in the nation during the summer, it passes more than a few excellent spots to stop and wet the toes. Next is Topock, rejoining the interstate highway, and then crossing the Colorado River into California in sight of the 1916 bridge that was featured in the movie Grapes of Wrath. Needles is well worth exploring. Here you will find a wide array of interesting places with a long association with Route 66. Just west of Needles turn north on US 95 and drive to the intersection with Goffs Roda, now turn west. This is the pre 1931 alignment of Route 66. The destination is Goffs with its fascinating Schoolhouse Museum.
Route 66 in the Mojave Desert
Then the highway loops past Fenner and again crosses I-40, passes through the forlorn remnants of Essex, Cadiz Summit, and Chambless before coming to world famous Amboy. Dusty remnants that make for wonderful photo opportunities, an opportunity to hike to the top of a volcano, and a multitude of plans for resurrecting this diamond in the rough, are all that remain here. On my last drive west this past fall, I found the road between Amboy and Ludlow, past the site of Bagdad to be getting a bit rough. From Ludlow to Newberry Springs even rougher. Still, it is worth the effort to make this hhistoric and scenic drive.
Ludlow has a cafe, station, and motel. It also has a wide array of ruins, some of which predate Route 66 by a half century. Long before that highway became Main Street this was a booming railroad town with a business district of substantial two story concrete structures. Newberry Springs is littered with remnants from the glory days of Route 66 but few that hint of its importance almost a century before. To see vestiges from that era you will need to cruise Daggett.