Birthplace of Historic Route 66

Seligman is another town on the Arizona segment of Route 66 that was impacted when the Mother Road was decommissioned and traffic went to the nearby Interstate 40 instead. Even though it is located pretty close to an exit on the Interstate highway, most travelers would drive past the town unless they needed to stop for rest stop, and the town became just like any other exits on the long Interstate highway where the focus for the travelers was to get to the destination in the shortest amount of time possible.

In 1987, a longtime Seligman resident, Angel Delgadillo, started a petition with several other Route 66 enthusiasts requesting the state of Arizona to designate the segment of the road between Seligman and Kingman as a historic route. The Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona was founded with the goal to preserve the rich history and cultural influence of the road and where travelers could still experience what it was like to drive on this route as it was in the past. By 1990, similar organizations were started in the other states on Route 66, and now all segments of Route 66 in Arizona and significant portions in the other states are marked as Historic Route thanks to the grass root efforts from these local activists. In many places, you can meet people like Mr. Delgadillo who are happy to share their knowledge or even life experience meeting travelers who passed by the Mother Road. They could be attraction in themselves in addition to visiting the landmarks.

When we reached Kingman after the drive through the old Route 66 from Needles, CA, it’s already dark and we still had quite some distance to cover for the day. So we decided to get back on the Interstate to go at higher speed. It was close to dinner time, so we decided to stop in Seligman, the next town we knew of from the guidebooks that seemed to have good dining options.

We decided to eat at a place that had curious name, the Road Kill Cafe. We wondered if they actually indeed served road kills (animals that got killed on the road accidentally). It turned out that they simply named their dishes as if they were prepared with road kill meats; I’m not sure if they would be allowed by law to serve those for health reasons. The place itself had character with its quirky decorations, definitely making it a unique place to stop (certainly better than eating at generic fast food chain restaurant).

It turned out that there were some interesting places in Seligman where you could meet locals like Mr. Delgadillo who could tell you stories about the Mother Road. However, it was already pretty late on a Sunday night by the time we were done with dinner, and we still had at least three hours of driving that we wanted to cover for the day. So we stopped by at a nearby gift shop to take photo from the outside while we filled up our gas tank, and then we continued on our road trip. You can see on the photo below that they definitely had quite a selection of Route 66 memorabilias there.

Route 66 gift shop

Rest Stop in the Desert

When you’re driving from the east on the Arizona segment of Route 66 between Kingman and Oatman, the highway transitioned from a drive on a flat plains of the Sacramanto Valley from Kingman to a treacherous climb up through the Black Mountains near Oatman. In the old days, this was quite intimidating for the travelers as they would have to go through a narrow road with steep grades and hairpin turns. Some people even hired locals to drive their cars through these area or even tow their cars to the summit.

Just before you start the climb, there was rest stop called Cool Springs that was was opened up as a place for the travelers to check their cars or fueled up before they tackle the challenging terrain, or for those who traveled from the west, a stop to rest after going through mountainous road. A family from Indiana opened and ran the litte shop since the 1930s and handed the property over through a couple generations through the heyday of Route 66 in the 1950s. By early 1960s, however, the new alignment of Route 66 that bypassed the segment through the Black Mountains, and then later the development of the Interstate highway ended up killing the traffic through this road. And finally in the mid 1960s, a fire burned down the rest stop building reducing it to ruins.

In 1997, an Illinois man named Ned Leuchtner passed the area and was very impressed with the landscape around it. He wondered what ever happened to the place when he saw the ruins of Cool Springs, and through the help of a local real estate broker, he was able to find the owner of the property and learned the story about the place. After three years persuading the old owner to sell the property to him, he finally was able to get the property with his promise to rebuild the place. From 2001 to 2004, Ned worked to restore Cool Springs to what it was like back in its heyday, and in 2005, the restoration was complete and the place was reopened as a museum. Now travelers can see what the place looked like decades ago when this was an important stop on the old route to the West.

From Oatman, we traveled east through the Black Mountain towards Cool Springs. So in our case, we went through the Black Mountains route in reverse and it was mostly negotiating steep downhill drive through narrow roads with hairpin turns that definitely lived up to the description we read in guidebooks. Fortunately we managed to go through this segment when it’s still light outside. It was quite beautiful as well to see the sun setting in the distance as we drove through the mountainous region.

When we reached Cool Springs, the place was not open and we were pretty much by ourselves. We stopped there to admire the scenery and took some photos of the old rest stop, the restored gas pump, and some architectural details on the facility that showed the quality of the restoration that was done at the place. There was also an old Ford pick up truck parked outside the building, adding an authentic feel to the scenery. Unfortunately we didn’t get to meet some of the folks that made this happen, but it was a cool stop nevertheless.

The photo below was taken from across the street of the building. You could see the picturesque mountains behind the building.

Cool Springs

Burros at the Old West Town

Oatman is a small town in the Black Mountains in northwestern Arizona. It is located in a remote area, but the town has quite an illustrious history.

It started as a tent camp soon after two prospectors found $10 million worth of gold in nearby area in 1915. The town was named after Olive Oatman, an Illinois-native woman who was abducted by an Indian tribe, kept as a slave, traded to another Indian tribe, and later released near the site of the town of Oatman.

Later on, the Oatman Hotel in town became famous as the place where famous Holywood actors Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their honeymoon after getting married in nearby Kingman, AZ. Supposedly Clark Gable enjoyed spending time playing poker with the miners in the town.

During the heyday of Route 66, the town became a tourist attraction because of its colorful history and its location that is right on the old Route 66. After the Interstate 40 was opened and it bypassed the Route 66 segment in Black Mountains area, it almost became a ghost town. Today it regained its popularity as a tourist attraction as there is more interests on the Historic Route 66. There is also a nearby gambling town in Nevada that runs tourist groups to visit Oatman on regular basis.

After following the road markers on a seemingly dead end road, we started a gradual climb in the Black Mountains area. And around a bend suddenly we saw a sign to welcome us to Oatman. As we reached the main street of the town, we noticed some interesting sights. Here was an old town that looked like what you see in old wild west movie settings — except this is a real deal. That we expected already from reading about Oatman before the trip. We also saw a couple of big coach buses with tourists. I was expecting to see tourists, but not in big coach buses like that. It was quite a contrast comparing the old town with its off the beaten path road and two modern coach buses there.

The most unexpected sight was seeing several burros (wild donkeys) roaming around the town. Apparently these burros were descendants of the burros used by gold prospectors back almost a century ago. They had been released and lived in the wild, and are actually protected by law. In Oatman, they were freely roaming the main street, and apparently they knew to look for tourists with food who were willing to feed them. The local gift shop sold a bag of carrots for $1 that you could buy and feed the burros with.

My brother and I stopped and walked around the area for a little bit before continuing our journey. On some days, there were reenactment of wild west gun fight on the main street, but there was nothing going on when we were there.

The photo below was taken outside a curio shop off the main street of Oatman. You can see a couple of local shopkeepers with the burros in front of their shop.

Shopkeepers and the burros

Grand Canyon

One national park in the United States that is among the most well-known is the Grand Canyon National Park. Located in Northern Arizona, it is a canyon carved by the Colorado River since over 17 million years ago, exposing layers of rock that tell the earth’s geological history from over two billion years ago. The Grand Canyon is 227 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and over one mile deep. It is considered as one of the world’s natural wonders.

The first time I visited the Grand Canyon was during the time I was working on a project for a regional hospital in the Navajo Indian Reservation about one hour north east of the Grand Canyon. One day I decided to leave work early and on my way back to Phoenix, I took a detour into the park. I remembered the first time I saw the canyon after driving on flat lands for a while. I’ve seen photos and TV programs on Grand Canyon before, but nothing compared to seeing it with my own eyes. It’s one of those sights that just took my breath away and all I could say was ‘wow.’ Since then, I’ve been back to the Grand Canyon National Park several times, and it’s still awesome to see the sights and observer other visitors’ reaction in seeing the canyon for the first time. But that first visit was one that I always remember.

The photo below was taken during one of my return visits to the Grand Canyon. It’s a photo of the canyon from the South Rim during the sunset. One of the lessons I learned from visiting the Grand Canyon is that the best time to take photographs of the canyon is either at sunrise or at sunset, when the sun light is soft and not as harsh as in the middle of the day. During the day in the bright day light, your photos of the rocks would look washed out.

Sunset at Grand Canyon

Saguaro

Saguaro National Park is located in Tucson, Arizona. It comprises two areas (called districts), the West District at the west suburb of the city of Tucson, and the East District at the east suburb of the city. The park gets its name from the saguaro cactus that grow abundantly in the park area. The saguaro cactus is native to the Sonoran desert, and it’s known for its large size (it can grow anywhere from 15 to 50 feet) and long life (some can live for more than 150 years). Whenever you think of the ‘wild west’ the picture wouldn’t be complete without saguaro cacti as part of the scenery.

I visited Saguaro for the first time when I was working on a project in Scottsdale, Arizona. While I was there, I did a road trip to visit the park in Tucson. You can drive your car on both the paved and gravel roads inside the park. There are also walking paths where you can walk among the tall saguaro cacti. And a trip to the Saguaro National Park wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the nearby Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a living museum that showcases the native vegetations and animals.

The photo below was taken at the West District of the Saguaro National Park on my second visit to the park, during a road trip I took with my cousins on the way to Phoenix, Arizona. We arrived in Tucson close to the sunset time, in time to catch one of those amazing moments of the day in the Southwest United States when the sky lights up as the sun sets in the west. The silhouette of the saguaro cacti added interesting details to the scenery; the cacti with their arms looked like human beings standing around.

Sunset at Saguaro National Park