Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Route 66: Dramamine required

Stunning highway views
Route 66 is not always like the comfortably paved highway celebrated in the classic television series of that name. At least one part is so hair-raising you need nerves of steel to drive it, and passengers may want to have plenty of motion sickness remedy handy.

The 22-mile section in question starts a few miles south of Kingman, Arizona, where Route 66 also is known as the Oatman Highway. The first few miles are pretty good compared to the rest of the journey, with mostly roller-coaster roads, but once you start the climb into the mountains, it’s a different story.

The road is narrow with steep grades and lots of hairpin turns. One driver estimated there were 122 turns, so you can imagine how twisty the final miles are. I didn’t keep count of the number of turns, but I would not dispute the other driver's figure. The drive is very nerve-wracking if you’re headed south toward Oatman because your vehicle will be in the outside lane which overlooks deep canyons and ravines. The shoulder isn’t very wide and there are no guard rails as we know them today. A few places had short curbs while wood posts connected by wire cable passed for guardrails in a couple of other places, but mostly there was nothing to keep vehicles from tumbling over the bank. Far better to drive this highway north out of Oatman where if you drive off the road, you’ll end up against a hill.

Oh, and the road isn’t very well maintained, so drive slowly, not that you could go very fast over it anyway. This would be a great road for motorcyclists, but not for RVs or large passenger cars. Route 66 – America’s highway – was built in the days when roads followed the contours of the land, bridges were only built over rivers and cars were a lot smaller.

The summit at Sitgreaves Pass
Whatever else it may be, this section of Route 66 is very scenic. You can literally see for miles and miles. There are occasional pull-offs to admire the view. The summit, at Sitgreaves Pass, is 3,550 feet high, then you start downhill, which is almost as scary, past a working gold mine, into Oatman
Downtown Oatman
Route 66 is Oatman’s main street, barely two lanes wide. Traffic slows to a crawl here because the street is frequently filled with tourists feeding wild burros.

The rest of the Oatman Highway, from Oatman to Topock, Arizona, where it joins Interstate 40, is boring in comparison, as it is mostly roller-coaster road, so you still might want to keep the Dramamine handy.

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