Route 66
Travelling the Main Street of America


Returning to Kingman, I was grateful to be back with my old friend, 66. The canyon-busting switchback ride to Oatman over Sitgreaves Pass will give you a real charge. This section was feared by all the flat-landers and city-slickers who drove 66 in the early days. The steep inclines and hairpin bends would defeat many of the beaten-up jalopies which carried the tide of Okies and dreamers towards California. With the lowest forward gear giving insufficient mechanical advantage, standard procedure was to employ the lowest ratio of all - reverse. Local "pilots" became adept at driving cars flat out backwards on the mirrors. As you drive up this tortuous, wonderful road, have the navigator keep an eye out behind for the most stunning photo stops. It can be difficult to find a pull-off, but if you're as lucky as I was there won't be much traffic. The giant cacti at the chaotic flea market of Ed's Camp definitely warrant a short break, and do pause at the top of Sitgreaves Pass to drink in the amazing views. From there it's a steep descent to the Wild West town of Oatman. Quite how you'd get down here safely in a T-model Ford with primitive two-wheel brakes is beyond me - but thousands did it.

Oatman is a real treat. It's not quite as old as it looks as it dates only from the mining boom just after the turn of the century. Main Street is Route 66, and that's it really. There are several fascinating shops, including a Route 66 store, and three or four interesting places for coffee or lunch. The restaurants on the main drag being very busy, I took a side-step up an alley, brushing past a couple of the mules that roam these parts, to the Crystal Palace. In spite of its grandiose name, this is a rather dark bar of generic Western style. A surreptitious glance at the other customers told me I should not ask for a glass with the can of beer that was set before me. A surreptitious glance at the dusty glasses confirmed me in this decision. The special of the day was a "stinky" which turned out to be a hamburger with a healthy smothering of garlic. This was cooked on a barbecue on the porch by the barman's side-kick. I went in at 1.15pm thinking that I'd be sure of making it back to the 2.00pm gunfight in Main Street. How wrong I was. The Crystal Palace's stinkies are emphatically not your usual hamburgers. They are carefully - and incredibly slowly - cooked using proper raw materials. As the gunfight outside rattled the mangy long-horn hanging over the check-clothed tables, I was finally able to tuck into one of Oatman's finest delicacies. Note that if a beer-glass is seen as a soft affectation, so apparently is cutlery. The garnish - a garlic clove on a toothpick stuck into the bun - was a nice touch, though.

The last stretch of 66 in Arizona, from Oatman to Topock, is even more rugged than the climb over Sitgreaves Pass. This whole section of old 66 was bypassed as long ago as 1951, since when it has been the preserve of locals and Roadies. It's a tough desert run that hasn't changed since it was first laid out. Take your time, and give thanks that in 1999 you're not likely to be stuck out here on your own. As you head towards the Colorado River and the California state line, spare a thought for the desperate refugees of the Dust Bowl era. Many a spirit - and many a car - must have been tested to the limit on this heart-breaking slog.