Route 66 - Oatman

The remains of Ed's Camp
A little over 1 mile west from Cool Springs is Ed's Camp. Lowell "Ed" Edgerton came to the area about 1917 to prospect for gold, but he figured out it was a lot easier to make a living serving the old Oatman Road  travelers than digging in the dirt. About 1920, he purchased some property along the road and opened a camp where the travelers could take a break, camp for the night, and buy some water.

The first building he constructed was for the Kactus Kafe where people could get a bite to eat. Eventually he also built a grocery store, gas station and souvenir shop. The buildings were all simply built from wood and items he found or acquired from other sites and re-used or re-purposed  For travelers who didn't have a tent or trailer, he charged $1.00 to sleep in their car parked on his property or, for the same price, they could sleep on a cot in his screened porch. If you didn't pay to camp or sleep, he charged by the bucket for water.

Kactus Kafe at Ed's Camp
The area around Ed's Camp became known as a rock hunter's paradise and Ed eventually became a widely known expert in the field of geology. Folks from all over the world came to hunt for precious stones and Ed made a good living just from charging people to hunt on his land.  Even after Route 66 was realigned and Ed's Camp was bypassed, he continued to make his living and kept his establishment open until his death in 1978. Today, most of the buildings still stand, but the site is on private property and fenced off. There's enough room for you to stop beside the road and take pictures though.

The scenery behind you as you near Sitgreaves Pass
Past Ed's Camp is where the road really gets interesting - steep, hairpin turns and sharp drop-offs with no guard rails. Watch out for animals and human drivers and bikers coming around those turns. We only encountered two other cars on our way up to Sitgreaves Pass, but one of them was coming around a blind curve and we came within about a foot of exchanging car paint. Providing even more encouragement to slow down and be careful at one point is the crumpled, rusted remains of an old auto which evidently didn't make a turn and crashed down the side of the steep hill.  Fortunately, upon reaching the pass, there is a small dirt flat where you can pull off the road and take pictures. The view back down the way you came is starkly beautiful.

Sitgreaves Pass
Oatman is an interesting place, but today it is really just a tourist draw complete with fake gunfights in the street and very docile "wild" donkeys looking for a hand-out. It began as a gold mining town named Vivian because most of the residents worked for the Vivian Mining Company. A post office opened under that name in 1903, but the name was changed to Oatman in 1909 to honor a young girl, Olive Oatman, who had been rescued a few years after being taken captive by Mohave Indians in the area and sold into slavery.  Eventually, Oatman became Arizona's largest gold-producing district and for a while had over 2,000 residents. The town's business district had a theater, a lumber company, restaurants, saloons, general stores, service stations and hotels. Upon completion, the Oatman Hotel became the first adobe structure in the county. In 1938, Clark Gable and Carol Lombard got married in Kingman and spent the first night of their honeymoon in the Oatman Hotel.

The town of Oatman, AZ.
The mines began to play out in the 1930's and the town began sliding to ghost-hood. The last mine closed in 1942 and Route 66 was realigned and bypassed the town in 1952. By the mid-1950's, nearly all the stores were boarded up and abandoned. With its rustic scenery and buildings, several movies were filmed in and around Oatman in the 1950's and '60's including How the West Was Won and Edge of Eternity.

More recently, Oatman has found new life mostly as a tourist town. There is a little mining activity that has resumed and the old buildings have been refurbished to sell paintings, do-dads, gewgaws, souvenirs, and antiques. The so-called wild donkeys, descendants of the burros brought in by miners back in the day, are accomplished moochers and will even try to push their mouth into your pockets if they think you have something tasty to give, but are holding out on them. None of them appeared to have missed any meals.

Youngest-daughter petting one of the many "wild"donkeys
walking around the town.
I was perplexed to see probably several hundred tourists walking around town when we had only seen a handful of cars on the road all the way in from Kingman. While Youngest-daughter petted the donkeys and fed them donkey food (which several stores sold for a fancy price), I stood there for a while thinking, "Where the hell did all these people come from?" We heard some shouting up the street a little ways and then some incredibly loud gun shots, but it was just the fake cowboy actors putting on a show. The white donkey my daughter had been feeding and petting didn't even twitch an ear at the commotion.

Gunfight actors standing around in front of the
Oatman Hotel waiting to excite the tourists.
I asked Youngest-daughter if she wanted to shop for a while and she shocked me when she said, "No, this place is just a tourist trap. It's not real. I'm ready to leave when you are." We were in the truck heading on down the road 3 minutes later and in the rear view mirror, I saw the white donkey mooching from the next person who had a hand full of food.

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
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Route 66 - Cool Springs

Leaving out of Kingman, any true Route 66 road tripper simply must take the old pre-1952 road through the Black Mountains to Oatman rather than the newer route which is boring, boring, boring Interstate 40. The only reason to stay on I-40 is if you are driving or pulling a large RV. The road to Oatman is a narrow, twisty, sharp turns mountain road with steep drops. No big deal for a car, but iffy for a big RV.

Continue on Andy Devine Ave. west to the outskirts of Kingman and the road will return to being posted as Route 66. You will parallel I-40 for a while and come to I-40's exit 44 where you will need to take a right on Shinarump Dr. Go under the interstate (this is known as the McConnico undercrossing) and take a left on Oatman Road. You'll go past a couple of little housing communities and then civilization is quickly left behind as you enter the Sacramento Valley.

Route 66 between Kingman and Oatman
This was the most feared section of Route 66 for travelers of yesteryear, especially during the Dust Bowl years when families had to navigate Gold Hill Grade up and over the mountains in their under-powered, prone to overheat vehicles which were often held together with nothing more than wire and make-do repairs. Most were so under-powered, even in 1st gear, they had to drive the curves and switch-backs up to Sitgreaves Pass in reverse. If something went wrong, they only had themselves to rely on or wait and pray for help from the next traveler.

As Youngest-daughter and I sat in the leather seats of our very comfortable, air-conditioned, 8-cylinder Ford pickup, we tried to imagine the trepidation and fear those drivers and families must have felt as they made their way across this sun-scorched road. All I had to do was go slow, watch out for animals on the road and when the road went up, push down the pedal on the right a little bit. If something goes wrong, there is always the cell phone to call, hands-free, for somebody to come save us. We were enjoying the drive. For those who came before us? Probably not so much.

About 20 miles out of Kingman on the eastern slope of the mountains, just before heading up the most difficult section of Gold Hill Grade, is Cool Springs. On Route 66, but in the middle of nowhere, it was built in the 1920's as a camp and service station. It served the west-bound travelers as an important stop to rest, fill up the car with gas and check for mechanical problems before tackling the drive to the other side of the mountains. For travelers coming from the west, it was a place to stop and calm the nerves after the heart-pounding drive.
Cool Springs station
In the 1930's, James Walker uprooted his family from their home in Huntington, Indiana to live in Cool Springs. He made improvements to the station and built 8 cabins. His wife and children ran the cafe. Before WWII though, Mr. Walker went back east and left the operation to his wife and kids. Mrs. Walker eventually remarried and her new husband, Floyd Spidell, moved in and helped to manage the place and did the maintenance work. Cool Springs continued to be a success and provided a good living for the family until the 1950's when a new straighter alignment for Route 66 opened. This new route, which is now basically the same route taken by I-40, bypassed Cool Springs and traffic on the old road dried up. Not long after, the former Mrs. Walker moved on and left Cool Springs to Floyd.

Restroom at Cool Springs

In 1997, a fellow named Ned Leuchtner came through and found the ruins fascinating. He eventually managed to buy the site in 2001 and, using old pictures of the station, he began the massive job of cleanup and restoration.  After more than 3 years of work by Ned and his business partner, Cool Springs re-opened as a gift and snack shop. It's a really nice spot to pull off, maybe buy a souvenir and get a cold drink, relax for a while and enjoy the beauty of the desert, the silence, and the fresh air. And know that, except for the modern cars we have now, nothing much has changed here in a long, long time.

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
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Route 66 - Kingman, Andy Devine & Other Neat Stuff

Promo pic of Andy Devine - I believe this was from
Twilight Zone episode.
Coming into Kingman, Route 66 becomes Andy Devine Ave. If you are old enough, you may remember raspy-voiced Andy as Roy Roger's sidekick "Cookie Bullfincher" or as "Jingles P. Jones, " in the TV show, The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok or in some of the more than 400 movies he had parts in or numerous radio show skits such as Jack Benny's Buck Benny Rides Again.  Andy was actually born in Flagstaff, but grew up in Kingman after he moved there with his parents when he was just 1. After he passed away due to leukemia in 1977, the city named Route 66 through town in his honor.

We stopped a few blocks into town at a gas station that had gas a couple of cents cheaper than several we had just passed. It had a large open-sided shelter with a lot of hay bales  behind the store. A nice older gentleman wearing overalls and a cowboy hat that had seen better days many days ago pulled in next to me in his beat up old pickup with all the windows rolled down and while getting gas himself, started a conversation about my new pickup. He walked over, gently ran his hand along the fender and softly said, "I sure wish I could afford one of these." It was easy to see he had lived a hard life and things probably were not going to get any better. If I had Bill Gates or Warren Buffett money, I would have said, "Here you go, old-timer. Take the keys and enjoy her." Unfortunately, I'm not rich and he's probably still driving that old pickup with the broken air conditioner.

I went inside the store and asked about a restroom. The girl behind the counter told me the bathroom was broke. I made a joking comment about the whole room being broke and without cracking a smile she said, "Not the room, just the toilet. It sprung a leak or something so the water is turned off."  There was a young guy behind the counter with her, standing there watching, waiting for another customer to come in and he looked at me and nodded his head to indicate she was telling the truth. I said I bet they would be glad to get that fixed, but they both chuckled and she replied, "I've worked here for 2 years and it was broke when I started." I asked, "So where do you guys go when you need to?" With no smile at all to show whether she was joking or not, she pointed outside to the hay shelter and said, "Over there behind some of those bales. You can go there too if you want." I waited for one of them to laugh or at least smile, but neither did. Well, OK then. Thanks, but I believe I'll just cruise on down the road a ways.

Sure enough, just a couple of blocks later, still on Andy Devine/Route 66, we came to a Jack-In-The-Box fast food place. The food was decent for fast food and the restroom worked and was fairly clean. Then one of those truly serendipitous, "what are the odds" road things happened. A little over 35 years earlier, I finished my hitch in the Navy and was discharged in San Diego, California. I had spent the last 3 years serving in the photo lab on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Kitty Hawk. I'm sitting there in a generic Jack-In-The-Box in Kingman, Arizona and in walks a gentleman wearing a U.S.S. Kitty Hawk cap. After he ordered his food and I had finished the last of my fries, I walked over to him, introduced myself and told him I had served on "the Kitty." For those who may not have had a military experience, especially a Navy ship duty, even though there may have been thousands of men (and a handful of women in the last few years) who served on "your" ship, as soon as you meet one, there is a connection, a blue-water sailor shared experience and easy conversation follows. During our talk, it turned out this guy had started his service on the Kitty Hawk shortly after I left. And out of hundreds of jobs and dozens of departments on-board our ship, what was his duty and where did he work? In the photo lab. Here it was 35 years later, out of thousands of sailors who served on my ship, both of us on vacation hundreds of miles from our respective homes, we both decided to grab a burger on the way through town and just happened to choose the same place at basically the same time in the afternoon several hours after the normal lunch rush and I chance to meet the guy who probably replaced me when I finished my enlistment and was discharged! The odds of that must be about a billion to 1, but it happened. Just one of the surprises of the road.
The Kingman Powerhouse Visitor Center
After saying goodbye to my new-found friend, we decided to take a little side trip before leaving Kingman - the Powerhouse Visitor Center. The Powerhouse was placed in business in 1907 to generate electricity for the city. It served in that capacity until 1938 when the Hoover Dam was completed and started providing all the electricity the city needed. The building sat unused for a few years until a group of citizens rescued it and turned it into a Visitor Center. It also houses several other organizations, including "The Historic Route 66 Museum." The Route 66 museum was interesting and worth a visit, but the real reason we stopped was because of a marker located about 12 feet up on the wall just to the right of the entrance door. That marker is exactly 3,333.33 feet above sea level.  No, as far as I know there is nothing magical or mystical about being 3,333.33 feet above sea level. It's just something different, another roadside oddity. Youngest-daughter couldn't figure out why we had to stop and get a picture of it. "You ask why, daughter of mine? Well, my dear, in the words of George Mallory, 'Because it's there."
Exactly 3,333.33 feet above sea level!

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