Seligman is Overrun
The Red Garter Inn is a nice place, I highly recommend it. I’m leaving Arizona today for the last state of Route 66, California. I drive out of Williams at 11 am. To start, there’s a mix of I-40 and old Rt 66, the first deviation being through Ash Fork to see a nice piece of Rt 66 history in DeSoto’s Salon.
The weather today and for the past few days has been hot and sunny with clear blue skies. A few miles further on and another exit off I-40 W takes me into Seligman. I don’t think I go back onto I-40 until near the end of the day. Hurrah!
Seligman has lots of roadside attractions. It is also overrun by tourists when I arrive in town. There are hundreds of them. They are not true-66ers but coachloads of Chinese, Europeans, Americans and all other sorts of folk. It’s a bit of a shock given how remote the town is, and I can’t work out where they have come from. A day trip from Las Vegas, maybe? The peace and quiet I’m used to at previous roadside stops has also disappeared here, everyone is yapping loudly and taking group selfies by the dozen. So it’s almost impossible to take photos here without someone ruining the shot. Ah well…
There is however quite a lot to see in Seligman, with loads of old buildings including the famous Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In, a historic eatery and roadside attraction, and The Roadkill Cafe/O.K. Saloon diner – their motto: “You Kill It, We Grill It!”. Nice.
It’s all a bit of a madhouse. But I suppose if their dollars keep the businesses in town going, then all well and good. And then I see two familiar faces – it’s the French guys from Gallup! They are stopped by the side of the road, also looking at the sights. We shake hands and I discover they also did Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon yesterday. “Maybe see you again on Friday” I say as I bid them goodbye. (As it happens, I didn’t see them.)
Just outside of Seligman I see more of the Burma Shave roadside signs that pepper much of Rt 66, and I decide to stop and photograph a set. OK, they are replicas but it’s part of Rt 66’s charm and appeal that folks are restoring them to the Mother Road.
Route 66, west of Seligman, AZ
Grand Canyon Caverns
Ahead of Seligman are the Grand Canyon Caverns, regularly mentioned as worth a visit. They reportedly have a short 25-30 minute tour option, which would suit me time-wise. It’s a mile off Rt 66, down a rather bumpy and not very good dirt access road.
The Caverns are the largest dry caverns in the world, apparently. I see the smaller cavern on my short tour and it is quite interesting. Worth a stop, I’d say, and if you have time, do the longer tour. Coming outside into the sun it is now 1.30 pm. I eat my lunch sitting in the car in the lot.
This trip I’ve generally been buying a pre-packed sandwich and small of bottle of milk in a gas station each morning before leaving each town. Or I’ve stopped early en-route, depending on the remoteness ahead, and the likelihood or not of there being a gas station or shop. I got loads of sachets of mayonnaise and mustard at one stop and regularly use these, as sandwiches in the USA don’t put butter on their bread. Unless the sandwich is a ‘salad’ option, which usually includes mayo, the sandwiches can be dry.
I start to pull out of the car park and back up the access road to Rt 66. Computer says no. I’ve got another flat tyre! I’d only gone 200 yards so I return back to the parking lot. When I get out, the right rear tyre is completely flat. How did that happen, I wonder?
I also find I have no cell phone coverage. There might be a phone in the Caverns office I could use but, with a lower temperature today of 76º F, I decide to try and put the replacement wheel on myself.
The Gods smile on me and I manage to change the wheel in about 20 minutes and I don’t get sweaty or dirty, apart from some muck on my hands. A visit to the Caverns rest room resolves that problem. Trouble is, I guess that I’m miles from anywhere remotely civilised enough to have a tyre repair depot.
When I took the wheel off, I looked it over. There was a cut on the tyre rim, and into the sidewall. There must have been a nail, sharp rock or piece of glass near the end of the access road. Given the size of the tear I don’t think I’d have made it all the way down to the Caverns if it was something I picked up on Rt 66.
“Life in the fast lane” *
Or rather not. I have to keep to 50 mph to preserve the replacement tyre. Back on Rt 66, the next town is Peach Springs. Rt 66 does not go through the town so I turn off, drive around but there’s no tyre depot in sight. In fact there are no businesses at all, it’s all residential houses. Heading west on Rt 66 again, I figure that Kingman it going to be my best bet for a repair. It seems to be the next reasonable-size city, the rest of the places on the way all look like small towns. Kingman however was 61 miles from the Caverns. My ETA there is 3.30 pm. Will I make it to Needles tonight?
There are admittedly few POIs on the way to Kingman but I decide not to stop at any anyway. I need to get there as soon as possible. The road itself has not a lot to recommend it either. It would be an OK drive at a decent speed but I’m doodling along at what feels like a snail’s pace.
As the commerce of Kingman starts to appear by the roadside on the outskirts of the city, I pull over into some eatery’s parking lot and call Roadside Assistance again. I’m told to go to Big O Tires, just down the road, as there’s a contract in place with this company. When I get there, I’m to ask them to call RA to get authorisation. A couple of miles later, Big O is right on Rt 66 at a traffic junction. After pulling, I find that Cody is in charge and he sorts me out. I explain I’m doing Rt 66 and what happened. Luckily there is a guy free and within minutes the car is being worked on.
There is an apparently good museum in Kingman I wanted to visit. But I won’t be seeing it today. It closes at 5 pm but I don’t drive off out of Big O with my second new tyre of the trip until 4.40 pm. I didn’t get to Kingman until after the original ETA because the app assumed I’d be travelling the normal speed limit, not my self-imposed lower speed. Now, with not stopping anywhere else today, the app estimates I won’t get to Needles until 6.45 pm.
Kingman seems quite a big city, and soon after leaving it I’m driving through a brilliant canyon for a few miles, with great scenery. After leaving this the road opens out into long, fast straights.
“The long and winding road” **
I’m now on the Oatman Highway. There are warnings in various Rt 66 guides that the ascent up, and then down, the road to Oatman itself can be tricky. The warnings are correct. It’s a hell of a drive! Truly exhilarating. Multiple hairpin bends at a maximum of 10 mph. Tight twists and turns all the way. It’s a relatively gentle incline up towards the town of Oatman but the tightness of the road width and the lack of decent safety barriers – I’m on the ‘right’ side of the road to fall off the mountain – make this a dangerous climb. Where there are safety barriers, they are not very high.
The Sitgreaves Pass is the summit and then the descent begins, equally as precarious. A few miles on, I enter the town of Oatman. What was once a mining town, is now a tourist trap. Apart from the burros (donkeys) that roam wild over – and shit all over – the road through Oatman, most of the shops I pass are tat emporiums. They even stage gun-fights for tourists, apparently. Yee-hah! Apparently Oatman is quite popular as a tourist destination but there didn’t seem much to shout about to me.
After Oatman the tight curves disappear and it’s generally a fast run towards Golden Shores, although there are lots of small hills and ridges in the road, it’s almost like a rollercoaster in places. Care is definitely needed. It is a great drive though, in fact I think the Oatman Highway from its start at Kingman through to Golden Shores is the best section of Rt 66 that I have driven so far.
I was aware of various warnings to fill up with gas in Arizona before entering California. There was supposed to be a gas station right near the state line in Topock. But Maps didn’t show anything there. It did however show the gas prices in Needles. Over $4 a gallon! Turns out the information I read was wrong and the gas station on Powell Lake Road is two miles back up the road in Golden Shores. This is showing as a $1 cheaper, so I turn around and head back to fill up.
Job done, I go back down to Topock then cross the Colorado Rover into California, joining I-40 W again. Soon after I exit to be taken on a long detour on old Rt 66 before I finally arrive in Needles.
The town is not what I expected at all. It’s on or near the river and some hotels I researched offered river activities. I assumed this was a small quiet place. Not so.
I arrived in Needles at 6.45 pm, just as it got dark. The sun was setting as I drove on the Rt 66 detour after crossing into California. The fading light made it tricky to see everything Needles had to offer, if anything, as I entered town. It’s a railway town as far as I can see, and right by the Interstate which makes it noisy. I couldn’t see or find any shops; I only saw motels and gas stations with food marts.
Thankfully there’s a supposedly decent diner across the street that I’ve chosen for later. And at least the Rio Del Sol Inn is good, with friendly staff in reception. I get a good size room in decent condition. After checking-in I go back out in the car to the nearby gas stations to buy tomorrow’s breakfast. The Shell garage proves best.
Off to Jedro’s for Dinner
I walk out to Jedro’s Wagon Wheel Restaurant at 8 pm. About a five minute walk away, it’s not busy inside. The waitress is friendly and enthusiastic about the food. It’s not the standard burgers and ribs fare on offer. The waitress, and the hotel reception guys, said everything is prepared fresh on site, to order, with nothing ‘pre-packaged’ or bought in. There is a lot to choose from on the menu. I settle on the Pot Roast Skillet: beef slow roasted, served over mashed potatoes, onions, mushrooms and gravy. It was very tasty. It’s some ‘homely’ food, probably what I need after a somewhat stressful day on the road.
Service at the restaurant is quick again and I’m back in my hotel room by 9.45 pm. I chill out with some cold beer bought at the gas station earlier. It was a long day today but not by choice. Again, I think I got away lightly with what could have been a bad outcome: a delay in getting tyre service in Kingman and I could have been looking at change of stop-over, maybe having to stay there, which would have royally screwed my plans up. (I’d read somewhere not to attempt the Oatman Highway in the dark: apart from the fact you wouldn’t see any of the scenery on the way up or down, having now driven it I think it would be extremely dangerous at night.)
I write some diary up before lights out. It was a tough day. Despite the exhilaration of driving the Oatman Highway, I do feel somewhat drained. I just hope I have no more car problems on the rest of the journey.
* Life In the Fast Lane by The Eagles
** The Long and Winding Road by The Beatles