A Magic carpet of Asphalt

A Magic carpet of Asphalt

Route 66 in western Arizona, from Topock to Kingman, is no mere highway. It is a bridge between the past, the present, and even the future. It is a scenic drive without equal. It is a destination for legions of international Route 66 enthusiasts, and a tangible link to centuries of history. There is even a Hollywood connection.

Cross into Arizona from California on I-40 and you are traveling on the last bridge to carry Route 66 across the Colorado River. It is also the bridge that Peter Fonda is driving on in the opening scenes of Easy Rider. Immediately to the south is the graceful arch of the 1916 National Old Trails Road bridge, now a support structure for pipelines. In the cinematic classic from 1940, The Grapes of Wrath, this is the bridge used by the Joad family as they crossed into California. As a bit of trivia, in that movie Henry Fonda, Peter Fonda’s father, is at the wheel.

Just north of the resort at Topock, Route 66 skirts the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, one of the last native riparian areas on the Colorado River. It is also a major birding area.

Oatman is known worldwide for its “wild burros” and gunfights in the streets. Dating to 1902, Oatman was never the wild and wooly frontier town portrayed to tourists today. It was, however, a prosperous and modern boom town with a purported peak population numbered in the thousands. Oatman, and Goldroad, the forgotten mining camp along Route 66 to the north, are also at the heart of the last major goldrush in Arizona.

In 1914, Louis Chevrolet, Barney Oldfield, and other drivers roared through Oatman during the last of the epic Desert Classic races. The course for the last race in the series that had been dubbed the Cactus Derby was along the National Old Trails Road from Los Angeles to Ash Fork, Arizona, and then south to Phoenix. It was an epic event worthy of headlines throughout the world.  

Legend has it that Carol Lombard and Carol Lombard spent their first night as husband and wife at the Oatman Hotel. In March 1939, they did marry in Kingman. There was also a small reception that afternoon at the Brunswick Hotel, and the following morning they were in Los Angeles for a press conference.

Goldroad is no more. The faint vestiges from the once bustling town are fading fast or are being buried by tailings from the gold mine that operates there. Did you know that there is a connection between this forgotten mining camp and Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner in Kingman, an icon of the modern era on Route 66.

By the late 1930’s, N.R Dunton was a leading businessman in Goldroad. In addition to a busy and prosperous garage and gas station on Route 66, he provided a towing service, crucial for many travelers whose cars were unable to pull the grades of Sitgreaves Pass. In the now classic book, A Guide Book to Highway 66, written by Jack Rittenhouse in 1946 this towing service is noted. Roy Dunton, Dunton’s nephew, worked at that garage, and on occasion drove the tow truck.

In 1946, N.R. Dunton, with a business partner, purchased the Taylor-Owens Ford dealership in Kingman. Roy Dunton would later become the owner of this company and successfully steer it through several transitions; in late 1957 it became an Edsel dealership, next came a full line GM facility, and then transformation into Dream Machines, the classic car facility that it is today. Roy’s son, Scott, manages the dealership today and is also the president of the Route 66 Association of Kingman.

The Kimo (Ki for Kingman, Mo for Mohave County) Café and Shell station with a garage opened in 1939. The Dunton family acquired the café in the early 1990’s, refurbished it, and renamed it Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner. The “D” is for Roy Dunton.

On the east side of Sitgreaves Pass is the faded vestiges of Ed’s Camp. Known as Little Meadows in the late 19th century and in the era of National Old Trails Road, the springs located here were a welcome sight for weary travelers. The first European to camp at the desert oasis was Father Garces during his exploration across northern Arizona in 1776. Edsel Ford stopped here for water during his cross country trip on the National Old Trails Road in the summer of 1915.

I have a personal connection to the site, as well as to Route 66 in the Black Mountains. My first paying job was tending the gardens for Ed Edgerton, founder of Ed’s Camp. This section of Route 66 is also where I learned to ride a bicycle, to drive, and to drive trucks.

Cool Springs on the eastern flank of the Black Mountains is another landmark in the era of renaissance on Route 66. And it too has a Dunton connection. N.R. Dunton built the initial complex that consisted of a gas station and garage at the site in 1926.

Route 66 from the Colorado River to Kingman, through the scenic Black Mountains and across the wide Sacramento Valley is no mere highway. It is a magical journey through time. It is an adventure reminiscent the great American Road trip. It is Memory Lane.

Photos courtesy Mohave Museum of History & Arts

Sex, Murder, Scandal, and Celebrities on Route 66

In the 1940’s, W.A. “Tex” Thornton was a living legend, an almost

mythical figure whose exploits in the oil fields of Texas and Oklahoma made him seem larger than life. During the 1920’s he had perfected the use of nitroglycerin and dynamite to extinguish oil field fires, and in the era of the Great Depression, developed a steady rainmaking business using balloons, timed charges, and explosives.

The Park Plaza Motel on Route 66 in Amarillo was the scene of a murder that became a media sensation. Courtesy the Joe Sonderman collection.