In any given year between 1938 and say, 1975, road trippers heading "out west" would have driven their Pontiacs, Chevrolets and Plymouths down the two-lane, sometimes winding and climbing, ever-popular "Main Street of America" called Route 66. Along the way, they would have filled up gas tanks at service stations and chowed down at diners in towns called Ash Fork, Glenrio and Winona. Today's travelers bypass these little towns and roadside stands in favor of a faster, smoother ride on the interstate, but Historic Route 66 - and all the towns it supported - are still there.
While driving back to Los Angeles from Flagstaff, Arizona, my boyfriend and I stopped in the western Arizona town of Kingman to use the bathroom and buy a fishing pole (I know, don't ask). We were hoping to stretch our legs and asked the employee at the sporting goods store if there might be any good hikes nearby. He nonchalantly mentioned a town called Oatman not too far from there that would have some trails for us to explore. Some shops and restaurants, too, he noted. On a whim, we took his advice, and headed on our bypass.
What we weren't expecting was to find ourselves on Historic Route 66, heading up and over a mountain rage as the desert unfolded behind us. We stopped at Sitegreaves Pass - we'd later learn that California, Arizona and Nevada are all visible from the pass - to get out for a quick hike. What we discovered was actually a hillside memorial site for loved ones, both human and furry. Crosses and headstones were dispersed over an area of a few hundred square feet, some with trinkets, flowers, or even beer left behind by loved ones.
We continued on our way down the mountain and to the town of Oatman, Arizona, which happened to be bustling with Thanksgiving weekend tourists, likely also on their way home. Today, the town of Oatman is a tourist trap, with t-shirt shops and trinket stores. But the unmistakable character of the gold mining boom town of 1915 is still there.
Situated smack dab in the middle of the thoroughfare, the Oatman Hotel is the oldest two-story structure in Mohave County. The hotel loves to remind guests that it housed Clark Gable and Carole Lombard on their honeymoon in 1939, and in fact, guests can still peek into the honeymoon suite, with a neatly made brass bed and other items of the time decorating the room. Oatman is also known for the burros (or donkeys) that roam the streets of town, knowing they'll receive a handout from tourists as long as they're hungry. When the locals are able to clear the main street of both cars and burros, they put on a street theater gun show in the style of the old west cowboys.
Something special happens when you veer off the fast and convenient freeways in favor of the historic and scenic byways of America. Sure, it may take you a few more hours to get to your destination, but wouldn't you rather enjoy the journey of getting there? Without our detour through Oatman, we would have missed hand-feeding burros, jumping at the sound of each shot during the gun show and eating lunch in a restaurant almost entirely covered in signed dollar bills. We would have wizzed past the desert views without really seeing them. Instead, our trip down Route 66 took us back to the golden age of the American road trip - when it wasn't so much about how fast you can get there, but more about the fun you had along the way.