Road Trip Guide - Page 12 - Open road, open plans continued (2)

Road Trip Guide
- Page 12
Open road, open plans continued (2)
Oatman, Ariz.
In 1915 Oatman changed — virtually overnight — from a small mining camp to a boom town after prospectors discovered a new source of gold worth millions. Eventually, Route 66 brought more visitors who streamed through the town until a bypass was built in 1953.

Today, the main drag of Oatman, about the length of three football fields, has become something that resembles Disneyland’s Frontierland. Covered wooden walkways flank both sides of Main Street, where nearly every shop caters to the tourists who come for a faux taste of the Old West.

The highlight of any visit to Oatman on the weekends is the mock Wild West shootout. The cowboys, part of a volunteer group that serves as a de facto tourism bureau, mill around town, mixing with visitors and posing for photos before the loud, action-packed showdown.

After the gun smoke cleared, I moseyed into Oatman Hotel Restaurant & Saloon for a buffalo burger and a chance to inspect $140,000 in dollar bills that cover the walls and part of the ceiling. The practice started when miners would hand the bartender a dollar and drink until they were out of money. The bartender would stick the money on the wall and scrawl the patron’s name across the bill.

When it came time to head east to Kingman, Ariz., I had to confront my fears about the Oatman-Topock Highway — an old Route 66 alignment—which looked like a squiggly series of spaghetti switchbacks that might spell an early end to my journey.

The narrow two-lane road left little room for error, with hairpin curves and drop-offs of several hundred feet at several spots. I strongly considered a roundabout route to Kingman by way of I-40, but a parking lot attendant in Oatman told me I’d be fine if I stuck to the speed limit, which is 10-15 mph in many spots.

After a few white-knuckle miles, I pulled off at an overlook populated by 65 motorcycles. The rocky point offered a spectacular view of the rugged mountainside, a few shadows dappling the jagged desertscape from the clouds above.

Kingman, Ariz.
I spent the first night of my trip in Kingman at El Trovatore Motel (eltrovatoremotel.com, doubles from $76 a night), established in 1939 during Route 66’s heyday. I stayed in the “Clint Eastwood” room — a theme that amounted to a pair of movie posters on the adobe walls and a plaque on the door. The slightly dated furnishings looked as though they’d been picked up at a Las Vegas hotel clearance sale, but the tiled bathroom looked original — from the tiny corner sink to the preschool-height toilet.

The El Trovatore offered everything I was looking for in a Route 66 motel: a little roadside history mixed with a bit of chintz and kitsch.

I ate breakfast at Rutherford’s 66 Family Diner, where the beautifully browned, flaky biscuits satisfied another of my goals: simple meals in roadside restaurants that maintained the spirit and mystique of Route 66.

Kingman to Seligman, Ariz.
One of the longest unbroken segments of Route 66 stretches from Kingman to Seligman, a flat black ribbon that rambled between fields of green scrub ringed by distant purple mountains.

On my way out of town, I had to stop at the Hackberry General Store (hackberrygeneralstore.com), which looks like a movie set surrounded by roadside artifacts, vintage gasoline pumps and rusting Model Ts. The souvenir shop served as an inspiration for the Radiator Springs Curio Shop in the 2006 “Cars” movie, an animated film that sparked my interest in Route 66 and the real-world inspirations for the fictional Radiator Springs town.

The next stop was Grand Canyon Caverns (gccaverns.com), in Peach Springs, where a 200-foot-deep elevator shaft takes visitors down to a labyrinth of limestone passageways filled with stalagmites and stalactites.