History, adventure, kitsch, mystery, are but a few of the words that come to mind when I think of Route 66, and I have discovered much of all of these along the Mother Road.
Topock to Kingman Arizona is a stretch of old Route 66 I have been over often, so I have learned many of it’s secrets (but many more are out there waiting) and have many an adventure to share with you. We first traveled this road when our children were small with our Chevy family van, then with our Jeep, and now with our Harley, but the only thing you really need to travel here is patience.
And water, lots of water.
Topock is where Route 66 begins in Arizona, and this stretch of the Mother Road is not for everyone. It is one of the most inhospitable of landscapes along the historic highway…with no water (ok, there is SOME water but it’s all in bottles in very few stores), very little gas, and a whole lot of very hot desert.
But don’t let that fool you. There is much to see here if you know where to look.
There is a new place of interest in Topock, known as Topock 66 where we often stop to wet our whistle, enjoy the views of the Marina and bridge to California, and of course the mighty Colorado River.
This is my husband enjoying the unique seating. He can be a butt sometimes, I’m not gonna lie.
The men’s restroom is also a place of interest and no…I didn’t go in. I suppose you could call this lip service or urinals with benefits? Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I warned you, Route 66 has it’s share of kitsch.
But enough of the new…let’s move on.
There are a few small fishing lakes in the marshes up the road from Topock 66. We have taken the nearby side road to these a couple of times, but that is not a Route 66 story now is it?
Route 66 is desolate after going through Topock (population 1,790) for quite a few miles and I must warn you to take water if you plan on traveling this route, despite it’s aridity it is uniquely beautiful.
Let’s just say there is no traffic. In fact we can say that we were alone, completely alone when I took this photo from the Harley. I’m good with it. After California traffic…I’m real good with it!
I’m used to the hot and harsh landscape, but a friend from Novia Scotia came down to visit once and described it as looking like the surface of the moon. I suppose he is right, but I would be frightened in Nova Scotia I think, what with all those trees and large hidden animals…and the COLD (remember that is my kryptonite). I think I’ll stick with the surface of the moon.
We are traveling northeast here, toward Oatman, Arizona which is in fact our next stop.
Much is written about this ghost town, so a simple google search will fill you in on it’s resident burros left over from the miner’s days. They are wild, but come into town to beg for food during the day when hoards of tourists are present. They can get pretty cranky if you pet them but don’t feed them, and most recently I had one sneak up behind me and steal the bag of feed out of my hand.
They are not dumb asses.
I’m not going to say it, I’m not going to say it, I’m not going to say it….here is a couple of asses….dang I said it. I said it, but you know I don’t mean it, right honey bunch (this in case he ever finds this blog)?
Did you ever hear the legend on how burros got the crosses on their backs? No? Jesus rode on the back of a burro into the city of Jerusalem (to fulfill scripture) knowing he would be crucified, and as a remembrance…the burro has forever after carried the cross on their backs. Cool eh?
The town is named after the Oatman family who as a splinter off of the Mormon church were heading west (known as Brewsterites) in to find their own heaven on Earth, but in 1851 were massacred by Yavapai Indians about 25 miles north west of what is Gila Bend in South Arizona. Of the 7 children, only Olive (14) and Mary Ann (7) survived (an older brother was beaten and left for dead, but survived also) and taken captive by the Indians.
What happens to Olive during that time is debated, but what is not in dispute is that she was eventually bought by the Mohave Indians a year later, where the two girls were treated well and blue tattooed like other tribespeople who were coming of age. She was completely acclimated to the Mohave life 5 years later when her release was demanded by Fort Yuma (who had learned of her existence). Her sister Mary Ann had died of starvation along with many of the Mohave tribe due to a harsh drought during their time in captivity.
The Mohave (and Olive it is said) initially resisted but after being offered gifts and threatened with retaliation, Olive was released and repatriated. There is no record of Olive living in or near this current day town, but her autobiography published in 1857 sensationalized her story and made her nationally known. This is most likely the reason the town was named after the Oatmans.
Olive was reunited with her grieving brother, married a white man, and went on to lead a long and prosperous middle class life with her husband in Texas until her death in 1909, which coincidentally was when the town was renamed from it’s original Vivian.
This is us in front of what used to be the pharmacy and professional offices in Oatman’s heyday (where 25 million dollars in precious metals were extracted). And yes…those ridiculous smiles are on our faces pretty much the whole time we are riding the motorcycle. Notice the handmade Route 66 sign behind us, kitsch I tell ya, you gotta love it.
We continue northeast toward an old ghost town just outside of Oatman that is much less known (and even less of it left) than the aforementioned.
Just north and west of Oatman is a dirt road that we travel often to get to our second house in Arizona. It is full of old abandoned mines, and it is recommended that you pay close attention when you go off road out there since most of them are vertical holes in the ground. After awhile, they are easy to spot when you know what tailings look like. Tailings are what is left of processed rock after the miners have extracted their gold or silver.
Here is an example of tailings from a random photo that we took while exploring with friends in our OHV’s last New Year. The obvious mine tailings are circled in red, already you can see 3 just in this photo. Like I said, lots and lots of old mines out there, and we have explored many of them but that is a story for another time…
One other tidbit about burros in this desert before we move on to the Gold Road Mine Ghost town ruins…sometimes those furry hooved cuties find you.
My hubby and I were out shooting (He was shooting, I was reading, looking for mines, looking for rocks, taking photos, or any other amusement I indulge when he shoots) and out of nowhere here come two adolescent male burros into our “encampment” which by the way is about 70 miles northwest from Oatman in the middle of nowhere desert.
They decide they would help themselves to our ice chest and began merrily slurping up the melted water, and then the ice. Can you blame them? It’s hot and dry. I poured out all of our bottled Aquafina for them to drink, which they promptly tried to edge each other out for. The shooting didn’t bother them at all.
Aquafina? There’ll be no living with them now.
They have a tough life out here, especially like these that have been kicked out of their herd by an adult male (because they are competition now). I took a photo of how scarred up the back of their legs are from the coyotes trying to bring them down, but I can’t find it now.
I hate it when I do that.
Ahem, back to Route 66 and the Gold Road Ghost Town Ruins that 99.99% of people drive right on by. I took these photos in 2007 (which is just yesterday to me) before the brute squad threw me off of the mountain…but let me explain.
Like an honest citizen, I respectfully pulled into the Gold Road Mine Headquarters (back then they were offering tours of the mine for tourists because it was more expensive to mine than the gold was worth, and which we had taken a couple of years before) and asked for permission to take photos of the old GR ghost town which is hardly visible, and the gentleman behind the counter gave me permission.
My hubby drove me up the road about a mile and a half and dropped me off so I could hike down (not far for the first of the ruins, about 100 feet down the steep hill to more of them) and he and our daughter went back into Oatman for some ice-cream. They would pick me up in about 30 minutes.
These are ruins right by the road where I have taken the liberty of circling the remains of buildings and the Route 66 sign on the Mother Road.
I hiked down, taking photos as I went and in my usual awe of the history of such a rugged place. I always feel extra sorry for the women, can you imagine having to wear long skirts or give birth in 110 degrees Fahrenheit with no water, much less air conditioning? I can’t hardly stand it with shorts and a tank.
Here I am surrounded by ruins, can you spot the large pile of tailings on a hill behind what is left of a building?
As I stood there in the footsteps of our intrepid forefathers having these thoughts, I see a group of about 7 men climbing up the mountain with intent. 7 huge men. A brute squad. All 14 eyes have a bead on me, and I have no doubt that I am their destination.
This photo shows the headquarters buildings down the mountain, a car on Route 66 to the left, ruins in the foreground, and incredible vista that one enjoys all along this stretch of highway. The brute squad had not yet come into my view when I took this…
Really? I got permission.
I consider my options. Oops, I have none. My ride is in Oatman.
So I calmly stand there as if I am waiting for a prescheduled meeting, all calm and unafraid like. That was on the outside anyway. I was really, really scared. They could throw me down any number of mine shafts and nobody would see or hear from me again. For example the huge mine that is circled in this photo in red. I have also very clumsily shown in blue where the road runs here behind what remains of what used to be a very nice place.
Here is a close up of the building…
As I see the brute squad coming closer to me I start taking photos like I am a professional from National Geographic (I need very specific direction if I am going to act), and they are invisible to me.
I was very careful not to point the camera at them, I suspected that might cause me to lose my beloved Canon, if not my beloved life.
Here those photos are…notice the tailings in this one also…
…and then the brute squad is upon me. So much bigger up close than I even thought they would be. Geeeez…all this for lil ole me? This day suddenly turned VALUE ADDED quickly didn’t it?
I explain that I got permission to photograph the ruins from the man at the headquarters building. They asked me his name.
Really? I’m supposed to know his name? Dang it, I didn’t ask.
So I described what he was wearing. That seemed to appease them somewhat and they proceeded to escort me back to the road. Like bouncers. 7 of them. I explain to them I don’t have a ride until my husband and daughter come to get me, all the while I am looking at that mine shaft just across the street.
I was very respectful as I took a picture of it. Just in case my camera was entered into crime scene evidence, they would know where to look for my body.
They actually made me stand ON THE VERY NARROW ROAD while they stood back and watched. Like I was in time out and playing chicken all rolled up into one terrifying game. And they were cheaters.
I have never been so happy in my life to see the Jeep roll up with my little family in it. My husband looked at them a bit quizzically, but I jumped in like a stuntman and told him to hit the gas, which he obligingly did.
He laughed when I told him what had happened. I still don’t know if it was with me or at me.
Back to the Gold Road Ghost Town Ruins…
Gold mining began in earnest here in 1900 and by 1902 when the post office was established, there was a town with 400 residents. By 1931 the gold had run out, but the town held on until 1942 when the post office was closed and the town was razed to save taxes. That explains why there is almost nothing left but memories. This is a photo of Route 66 running through Gold Road in 1940.
The gold must have not entirely dried up because a firm bought it and has been mining it since 2007 (probably why they were so persnickety when I took these photos as if I was a gold spy).
I can tell you the entire landscape has changed since they started there big time mining. I’m not sure if the ruins are still there. I’ll have to check the next time we go by, but the rumor is the security is so tight now that people don’t dare stop or an ATV will be on top of you.
Surely not me, the brute squad and I are friends now.
As we near the Summit, it’s hard to not want to stop and take photos every other minute. You can see California, Arizona, and Nevada from the Black Mountains.
We move on to Sitgreaves Pass, which is the peak of this mountain and we will begin our long descent into the Sacramento Valley that will take us to Kingman. I took this from the back of the bike so I shot a little more of the road than I should have.
There is an old graveyard here at the Pass, but I am not going to reveal it’s location. What with my new found respect for ghosts and all from my last road trip, I would rather just leave them in peace.
Just after the summit, there is a curiosity that is easily missed.
Strange stone steps up seemingly to nowhere near mile marker 30. Climb up the steps and you will find a natural seep in a concrete bowl with goldfish in it. That’s right…goldfish. They very intelligently dive when there is any kind of shadow pass over them so patience is key. It’s called Shaffer’s Fish Bowl, who stocked it is anybody’s guess. Shaffer perhaps?
Here one is now…just patience that’s all it takes…
But the vista here is the real story. Just us, the Jeep, and a million dollar view. Does it get any better than this? On our motorcycle the turns are quite exciting. In the early days of Route 66, drivers would pay locals to get their cars over the pass. Can you see what looks like a dirt road to the far left by the beige sandstone? That was the original trail pioneers took through the pass. Hard to believe it is still there, but parched as this place is, things are preserved for an eternity (as long as flash flooding doesn’t disrupt the landscape too much).
Just one more little curiosity before we hit the sandy flats that will take us to Kingman.
Cool Springs was an important stop along this road when it was built in 1926. It provided much needed gas and refreshments along this most beautiful but inhospitable place.
As Route 66 prospered, so did Cool Springs. It served as a spot to rest overheated cars and their equally overheated passengers. The Cool Springs Gas Station added cabins and a chicken dinner café for travelers. This is what it looked like in 1942.
In the 1950’s Route 66 bypassed this treacherous pass and moved to a straighter path through Yucca, Arizona and Cool Springs died a slow death. Cool Springs was destroyed by fire in the mid-sixties and nothing remained but the old stone pillars.
Cool Springs -2001
In 2001 it was bought and restoration begun by Ned Leuchtner and completed in 2004, so for the first time in 40 years it is operational again. Ned was careful to replicate the Cool Springs of yore. We always stop and have an ice-cream or soda and peruse the 1950’s and 1960’s trinkets inside. Cool Springs is very cool.
Down to Kingman we go. The Sacramento Valley is low and is not the place to be during heavy rains, but since it rarely rains here it’s a safe bet any time of year to get your adventure on!
Next time Kingman to Seligman…a very kitschy fun trip down memory lane.
Until then Dear Diary…