Day 14 on Route 66 — The town where wild burros run the place

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

(July 7, 2016) The winding road through the Black Mountains to the old mining town of Oatman, Ariz., is the most spectacular on the entire stretch of Route 66, a winding and somewhat treacherous stretch of highway through beautiful mountain scenery. The road — unpaved for many years — proved daunting to many travelers in the '20s and '30s.

The section of Route 66 coming into Oatman from the east was fraught with hairpin turns and was the steepest along the entire route, so much so that some early travelers, too frightened at the prospect of driving such a potentially dangerous road, hired locals to navigate the narrow winding grade. In 1953, the Oatman section of 66 through the Black Mountains was completely bypassed by a new — and safer — route between Kingman and Needles, Calif., and by the 1960s, Oatman was virtually abandoned as a ghost town.

The speed limit in the mountains even today on a good paved road ranges from 20 mph to 15 mph on the sharper hairpin turns. But that doesn't stop hordes of tourists from enjoying the beauty of the drive before arriving in a revived and prosperous Oatman with a main street lined with gift shops — and roaming wild burros.

And it didn't stop the MotorwayAmerica crew of road warriors — editors Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman and their wives, Luci and Trudye — from making the trek through the mountains to get a feel for what it was like in the early years of Route 66. We stopped to pet the burros after they came to drink from a trough that we were lucky enough to park close to, and the women visited several gift shops — and made some more purchases.

From Oatman we came down out of the mountains to a relatively flat road to Needles, Calif., and on into the Mojave Desert where the temperature on the car thermometer climbed to as high as 107 degrees. After a brief stay on Interstate 40 we returned to Route 66 through the desert, stopping at the nearly deserted little village of Amboy for pictures and a restroom break. 

Located between Needles and Ludlow, Amboy today contains a post office and gas station ($4.99 for regular!) and the famous Roy's Motel and Cafe, which appears to be closed. In 1926, Amboy became a boom town after the opening of Route 66, and in 1938, Roy's Motel and Café opened, which prospered due to its isolated location on the route.

Although business dropped off in World War II, the remaining travelers need for lodging, meals, and gasoline kept the town busy. But, alas, like hundreds of other towns on the Mother Road, the opening of nearby Interstate 40 in 1973 sucked the lifeblood out of the tiny town.

Route 66 coming through the desert near Ludlow, Calif.

We found the desert section of Route 66 in good shape and we were able to make excellent time on the nearly deserted highway as we passed one huge freight train after another on the extremely busy Santa Fe and BNSF railroad that runs parallel to the old highway.

We jumped on Interstate 40 at Ludlow and then switched to Interstate 15 (also marked as the route of historic Route 66) into Victorville where we stopped for the night.

We are going to take a leisurely drive into Pasadena today where we will view some Route 66 sites, and then end on Friday with a flourish at Santa Monica pier, the end of the road and the end of our incredible odyssey that started on June 23 in downtown Chicago.

MotorwayAmerica Route 66 road warrior Luci Meachen (left) watches as a local feeds a burro in Oatman

Source for some information: Wikipedia