By John R. Beyer
In his 1939 novel Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck referred to Route 66 as the “Mother Road” of America. It was the strip of asphalt those fleeing the devastation of the Dust Bowl took from the Midwest to the Promised Land of California.
So what is it about Route 66 that beckons millions of people to drive along its nearly 2,500-mile path from the beginning in Chicago to its end in Santa Monica each year?
It was time to find out, and one of the best places to start was Kingman, Arizona. My wife Laureen and I set out for the 73-mile drive between Kingman and Seligman to see what we could discover.
Kingman is definitely a place to stop and experience. There is so much history to cherish in this small town, just 105 miles southeast of Las Vegas.
It’s named after Lewis Kingman, a railroad engineer for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. He was quite the engineer, designing over 1,300 miles of the Santa Fe Railroad system during his tenure.
Actor Andy Devine was raised in Kingman, where he learned his love for the West. He appeared in over 400 films during his lifetime, not including long stints in multiple western television shows that aired for decades.
Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart dedicated Arizona’s first commercial airport on Route 66 in Kingman in 1929. Clark Gable and Carole Lombard were married there in 1939. To say the least, Kingman is a historic place.
Driving along Route 66 is not like driving along an interstate. No, if speed is what someone is after, find another road.
Route 66 is meant to be a drive of knowledge – a drive learning about the backbone of America, where people ventured in search of a better life for themselves and their families.
A drive along the Mother Road is an opportunity to slow down and enjoy each mile along this iconic highway. Millions of foreign travelers descend on this roadway each year to find out about this thing referred to as Americana.
Beatrice, a shop owner outside of Kingman told us, “It is so exciting to see the tourists from all over the world stopping here. They are amazed at all the things they experience driving Route 66. It thrills me.”
As we drove northeast from Kingman, towns such as Hualapai, Walapai and Valle Vista were soon in our rearview mirror. Roughly 25 miles north of Kingman is Antares Point.
It is one of the showcases for the international artist, Gregg Arnold. This master sculpturer has made this tiny bend in Route 66 a place for visitors to stop and enjoy numerous art pieces on display.
The small A-framed building housing the artwork is easy to spot along the road, but in case the tourist fails to notice the structure, there’s another object that cannot be missed, nor forgotten.
Standing in front of the artist’s studio is a 14-foot-tall green Tiki head that Arnold created in 2003 out of concrete. It is appropriately entitled: Giganticus Headicus.
As we meandered about the place, at least 20 other vehicles loaded with tourists stopped, snapping photos of each other with the Tiki head before wandering into the studio. Giganticus Headicus is a big hit with those driving by Antares Point.
After leaving Antares Point, we soon passed through Peach Springs, Nelson and Yampai before reaching the town of Seligman.
Originally a railroad encampment known as Prescott Junction, the town was renamed Seligman in 1886 after Jesse Seligman, a railroad financier.
It was a thriving locale along Route 66 until Interstate 40 was built on the outskirts of town in 1978. The town seemed to be on the verge of becoming a ghost town, but its citizens banded together and demanded the state of Arizona recognize Route 66 as a historic highway in 1987, and to ensure Seligman was accessible to those driving by on the freeway.
Thus, a few offramps were built allowing travelers to exit the interstate and explore downtown Seligman, which soon after became a major destination for Route 66 tourists.
An eclectic group of shops like the Rusty Bolt, bars like the O.K. Saloon and restaurants like the Roadkill Café line Route 66, beckoning the curious to stop and enjoy.