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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