Route 66 Detours

The oasis that is Beale Springs is located less than two miles from Route 66 and downtown Kingman, Arizona. ©Jim Hinckley’s America

Sharing America’s story, and telling people where to go is what we do at Jim Hinckley’s America. On yesterday’s episode of Coffee With Jim, our audio podcast, we talked a bit about the historic Bradshaw Trail in the Mojave Desert.

In this blog I want to tell you about another historic 19th century road, and a very special place that is linked to centuries of Arizona history. And I will also introudce you to a delightful hiking/mountain bike trail system that is located just a few miles off Route 66.

The center piece of this delightful desert oasis is Beale Springs. This is the site of an 1870s military outpost, an historic ranch, a territorial era hotel, and a tangible link to a very dark chapter in the history of the Hualapai people.

It is bisected by a Native American trade route that was used for centuries. That trail was followed by Father Garces and his expedition in 1776. And it was followed by Lt. Beale and his famous camel caravan that surveyed a road across northern Arizona in the 1850s.

Traces of the 1850s Hardyville Road a road built in 1913, and U.S. 466 can also be found in Coyote Pass. U.S. 93 cuts thorugh the hills and provides a more direct route to the summit. Soon that highway will be joined by I11. And now this historic pass is at the center of the Cerbat Foothills Recreation Area.

Located less than two miles from historic downtown Kingman and Route 66, the short trail from the parking lot to the springs is almost wheelchair accesible. The rest of the trails in the recreation area range from easy to moderate, with a few crossing the line into difficult.

Some Territorial History

During the mid 19th century, before the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad laid tracks across Arizona, the river was the primary artery of commerce in the southwest. Towns that sprang up around steamboat landings were rough and tumble places. They were also thriving boomtowns.

A 1913 guide book to Arizona roads shows the route of a new road that conencted Chloride with Kingman via Coyotee Pass. ©Jim Hinckley’s America

A pioneer, entrepreneur and namesake for the town of Hardyville on the Colorado River near present day Bullhead City, Arizona was William Harrison Hardy. Attesting to the town’s prominence, it was the second Mohave County seat.

Sensing opportunity, in 1864 he began construction of the Hardyville toll road that would connect the Colorado River with the territorial capital of Prescott. He obtained a charter from the legislature and began charging a toll of $2 per wagon and 25 cents per animal to use his road.

Completed in 1866, the road became a primary link for bringing supplies into north central Arizona. It was also a key military road, especially after construction of Fort Mohave a few miles south of Hardyville. During the Hualapai Wars of the 1870s, the road and Beale Springs figured prominently. A military outpost was established at the desert oasis, and this was also the site of an internment camp for the Hualapai before being marched to a reservation on the Colorado River. That incident is known as the Hualapi Trail of Tears.

With the arrival of the railroad in the early 1880s, the Hardyville Road faded from prominence. It was still used in part by ranchers and miners, and as a component in anetwork of roads connecting remote mining camps in the Cerbat and Black Mountains.

Beale Springs

As a desert oasis Beale Springs played an important role in the development of northwestern Arizona. The old fortification was used as the headquarters for a ranch. For a brief time there was a hotel at the springs. And in the formative years of Kingman, the springs served as a primary water source. Kiosks give meaning tot the stone foundations on the hillsides, and ruins of the reservoir remain as a tangible link to territorial history.

Some of the hiking trails in the Cerbat Foothills Recreation Area follow these early roads. Near the summit of the pass the Hardyville Road, U.S. 466 and the 1913 auto road converge, and then disappear under the four lanes of U.S. 93.

The Cerbat Foothills Recreation Area is anohter reason to make Kingman destination. But if your schedule isn’t conducive to spending a day or two exploring the many attractions in the Kingman area, at least pack a picnic lunch and make a detour off Route 66 to Beale Springs.

This fading old road is just one link to territorial era Arizona history at Beale Springs. ©Jim Hinckley’s America

I hope that you enjoyed this blog post. Coming soon, more shared adventures! Stay tuned and thanks for reading!


The Quest

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.