Route 66 can trace its history back to the late 1920s, when it was first proposed and mapped. However, it was not until 1938 that the highway was completely paved from its eastern beginning in Chicago, Illinois to its western terminus in Santa Monica, CA some 2,450 miles later. Of course, the route can be traveled east or west, although most Route 66 travelers prefer to go east to west just as the Joad family did in John Steinbeck’s famous literary work, The Grapes. Of anger.
Sadly, Route 66 began to be replaced in the 1960s by new interstates that bypassed many small towns along the way and was completely removed from the interstate highway system in 1985. However, in part for many organizations of Route 66, small town chambers of commerce, many enthusiasts and historians refused to let him die. In the last 25 years there has been a new resurgence in heritage tourism that has rekindled interest in preserving this great piece of American history and nostalgia that is Route 66.
Often referred to as “The Mother Road,” “America’s Main Street,” or “Will Rogers Highway,” the route passes through eight different states: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Let’s take a look at the state of Arizona in more detail.
To the west, Arizona is the seventh of the 8 states on Route 66 and has 401 miles from border to border. It boasts some of the most beautiful scenery, some of the most unique must-see establishments, the highest elevation, and the longest uninterrupted stretch of Route 66 on the entire trip.
Geographically, Arizona is home to the Meteor Crater, the Petrified Forest, and the Painted Desert. These locations provide incredible photo opportunities, but also an opportunity to explore and hike these natural attractions.
Approximately 75 miles in Arizona, beyond the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert, is the city of Holbrook. Home to the Wigwam Village Motel, most Route 66 travelers look forward to sleeping in a teepee and many cite this landmark as a highlight of their trip. Further west is Joseph City, a Mormon establishment established in the late 1870s. Located in Joseph City is the famous Jackrabbit Trading Post. One of Route 66’s best known landmarks is the famous “HERE IT IS” billboard located at the Jackrabbit Trading Post.
Further west, beyond the Meteor Crater and the cities of “standing on the corner” Winslow, the defunct Two Guns, the abandoned Twin Arrows and the “don’t forget” Winona lies the city of Flagstaff. Flagstaff is home to the famous Lowell Observatory and is also the gateway to the Grand Canyon, located an hour’s drive north. It’s worth taking a canyon excursion from Route 66 to see one of the eight natural wonders of the world. If you prefer, you can also access the spectacular Grand Canyon via the Grand Canyon Railroad from Williams, just 30 miles west of Flagstaff. Between Flagstaff and Williams is Brannigan Peak. At 7,320 feet above sea level, it is the highest elevation point along the entire route of Route 66.
15 miles west of Williams is Ash Fork, the slab capital of the world. Just past Ash Fork, you can say goodbye to I-40 as you begin the longest uninterrupted stretch of Route 66 for the entire trip. Be sure to stop at the legendary Snow Cap Drive-in in Seligman and the fascinating Hackberry General Store before reaching Kingman. Here you will find many still preserved commercial establishments catering to the Route 66 traveler, including a very well done museum.
Make sure to get out of Kingman while you still have daylight because you won’t miss the incredible scenery ahead as you travel through the bends and hairpins of Black Mountain. Oatman awaits, as do the many wild donkeys that call the old mining town home. Be sure to visit the historic Oatman hotel where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their honeymoon.
Leaving Oatman, you can take a quick trip to the Laughlin Nevada casinos and try your luck, or you can continue through Golden Shores, Topock, and return to I-40 to cross the mighty Colorado River into California.