The Mojave Region of Historic Route 66

A brief history of Route 66

Route 66 was a stretch of road 2,448 miles long, connecting Chicago, IL, to Los Angeles, CA. It existed in entirety from 1926 to 1985, and sections can still be driven today. Unfortunately, the interstate system all but demolished most of the route. The modern day planners and developers failed to consider the historic significance of the route, and more importantly, the cities and towns who depended on it.

The “Mother Road” is a now a staple in American history and culture. Beginning with the hardships of the 1930’s Dust Bowl era, through the 50’s automotive boom, to the modern day bike culture and tourism. Route 66 has become an icon to which no interstate highway can compete.

As we toured the Mojave region, we found a rusty, weathered, and a neglected history of the west. A small resurgence of industrial tourism has saved some of it, especially along the present day I-40. Deviate from the interstate, and you’ll find whats barely left on this open road. It will surely tune your imagination to the boom and bust of route 66 Mojave Desert.

We visited: Oatman, AZ

Oatman, AZ is home to the Burro, and a few people who brave the seasons of the high desert. The town has a history which predates Route 66 due to a gold rush. The mines closed in the 1940s due to the war effort. During WWII the town became abandoned and left to the burros.

Present day, Oatman is a tourist town catering to route 66 travelers. Much of the rebirth of this area is due to the tourism industry mainly coming from Laughlin, NV and Kingman, AZ. While the cruise along 66 was a beautiful tour of the high Desert, we couldn’t help making the Burros our favorite part of this trip.

We Visited: Needles, CA

Needles is a very depressed place. It’s unfortunate, as its location along the Colorado River and proximity to the Topock gorge should make Needles a desert oasis. Instead, this once booming route 66 town is now littered with abandoned motels, gas stations, and boarded up homes. Needles has a high transient population, which I’ve heard is responsible for the many creative and impressive murals bringing light to the otherwise seriously depressed buildings.

I hope there is a future for Needles. Maybe with investments to restore some of the old fuel stations, motels, and classic diners, travelers would have reason to spend money here. Unfortunately, there really is no reason to stop here, aside from taking pictures of a city that once was.

We Visited: Kingman, AZ

Kingman is an example of what Needles can be. The western exit off I-40 brings you to the historic town. Complete with a Route 66 museum, murals, a restaurant and brewery (I really enjoyed the Rickety Cricket!), and a tourist strip of historic buildings and railroad landmarks.

The eastern exits of Kingman display a modern city, complete with a healthcare complex, shopping malls, golf courses, and other modern amenities.

Kingman was the safest, most successful Route 66 cities we visited. It is a tale of two cities, old and new.

We Visited: Ghost towns of the Mojave

Goff, CA. It’s on the map, I’m not sure why. It took courage to get out of the truck in this town. Located on the southern boundary of the Mojave National Preserve, this town is an introduction to the extreme lonesomeness of anything north of it.

Neither Megan or I had the courage to enter this building in Goff. We did, however, decide to travel through the rest of the Mojave National Preserve.

The road was unkempt, and there were no services for many, many miles. The views of the Joshua trees were a welcome break from the vast nothingness that surrounded us. Eventually, we found another abandoned building which we had to visit, located about 30 miles south of the I-15.

This roofless, graffiti, and bullet ridden building put an uneasy feeling throughout my whole body. Inside the doorless entryway looked to be the site of a human execution site. Multiple bullet holes at head height and nowhere else. It was enough for me to get back in the truck and dart off… quickly.

What I’ve Learned!

In general, the Mojave is a harsh and unforgiving land. The old Route 66 was a lesson in history, a visual aid to the boom and bust, and channeled itself into my imagination of what it once was. While this region is only a small segment of the old highway, the magic of the desert brings the left for dead Route 66 back to life in surreal fashion.