Route 66 in just one day

Route 66 – surely the most enthused about, written about and sung about road on the planet.

Running from Chicago to Los Angeles, Route 66 proved a veritable escape route for middle America fleeing the Great Depression of the 1930s. After World War II, the restless pursuit of the American Dream continued to lay wheel tracks down its well-worn blacktop.

While no longer possible to travel the full length of its original 3939km, various stretches remain that offer the magic of the Mother Road, as it became known. One such deeply evocative example is the 200km drive from Seligman to Oatman in Arizona.

Seligman is the birthplace of the Route 66 Association and Historic Route 66. As such, this small town fairly flaunts its connection with button-bursting pride.

The weather-beaten carcasses of old Chevvies and Caddies sit outside once Neon-lit burger joints and former gas (petrol) stations, as if their drivers had stopped for a bite and somehow never came back. It’s a scene frozen in time, but not nearly as stiff as the menagerie of stuffed and mounted wildlife on display in the appropriately-named Roadkill Café (pictured) where we’ve sought shelter and sustenance late on a heavily-inclement afternoon.

If the aforesaid wildlife isn’t enough of a give-away, a menu that lists Splatter Platter, Swirl of Squirrel, Big Bagged Stag and Highway Hash makes a statement that this is going to be a dining adventure.     

The Doors’ 1971 classic Riders on the Storm pulsing from a Wurlitzer juke box makes for a fitting, if somewhat cliched, soundtrack as we eat to the beat. We’ve gone conservative and ordered buffalo wings and sticky ribs. They – and a splash of the local brew - are going down a treat, but when the rain stops, the walk down memory lane begins.

Unfortunately, Angel and Vilma Delgadillo's Route 66 Gift Shop and Visitor's Centre (complete with old-style barber shop, pictured) is closed along with, it seems, just about everything else. A pity, because Angel is the man who kick-started the grass-roots movement to revive historic Route 66 in Arizona.

It’s eerily like a ghost town. But there’s still much to see, among things: Olsen’s Chevrolet dealership and garage, originally built in 1936; the Rusty Bolt souvenir shop, its roof and frontage bizarrely-adorned with shop dummies; Seligman Sundries, circa 1904, which has served variously as a theatre, dance hall, trading post, community centre and still has a beautiful, working old-fashioned soda fountain; the Snow Cap Drive In, built in 1953 by Juan Delgadillo and family who still run what is a true Route 66 icon.
“Down the road aways” (local speak) and in the middle of nowhere is the Hackberry General Store (pictured). If the old Mobilgas Pegasus sign and rusting gas pumps out front don’t lure you instantly, then the owner’s 1956 two-tone Corvette parked out the front surely will. This is no Miss Prissy, but a straight, original and tidy – if you can look beyond the liberal coating of desert dust inside and out – example of Chevrolet’s finest.

With a mother lode of Mother Road memorabilia on display and sale, the Hackberry General Store is an absolute ‘must stop’.
The city of Kingman brings more pockets of Route 66-infused nostalgia, none more so than Mr D’z, another original roadside eatery resplendent in pink and turquoise paint that keeps travellers and locals alike well fed and watered.

Leaving Kingman, Route 66 – which for the duration of the drive has been arrow-straight and pancake-flat – now starts to climb and contort over craggy, mountainous terrain straight out of a John Wayne western. Welcome to Sitgreaves Pass (pictured).

The story goes that, in the old days, westbound travellers often would pay a local to drive their vehicle over the pass, rather than risk it themselves. Breathtakingly steep and narrow and festooned with hairpin bends, its surface cracked and crazed, only a couple of rusty, steel cable ‘guard rails’ hang between you and seemingly infinity.

Make it through safely and there lies the former gold mining camp of Oatman, its dusty street over run by wild burros looking for a hand-out from tourists only too willing to buy bags of fodder from the local shops.

In 1939, giants of the big screen Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their wedding night in this tiny town’s only hotel after having married in Kingman.
Travelling to the USA sometime soon? Then, this is a drive for you. One that encapsulates the best of Route 66 in just a day.