Riding Old U.S. 66 from Seligman, Arizona, to Barstow, California
August 7, 2014
Filed under Favorite Rides: Motorcycle Rides from Rider Readers, Motorcycle Rides, Roads and Self-Guided Travel
I always like intros where you get to ride the new model home. The new Aprilia Caponord 1200 ABS Travel Pack (Rider, July 2014) was introduced to the moto-world in Prescott, Arizona, which offers some seriously great riding, whether it is headed down into Skull Valley on State Route 10, or up U.S. Route 89 on the delightful twisties northeast of Wilhoit.
The Caponord’s trip computer records “maximum speed,” and we shall not say what was registered on my bike.
After all the fanfare was over, I headed back to California and decided to travel on as much of old U.S. Route 66 as possible. I picked up Historic 66 seven miles west of Ashcroft, where the exit sign off Interstate 40 reads “Crookton Rd, Historic U.S. 66.” Old 66, officially known as National Trails Highway, is nothing but fun, due to its two lanes and minimal traffic. The longest original stretch, which originally ran 2,400 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles, is the 120 miles running from the Crookton Road turn-off all the way to Topock on the Colorado River. Not to be missed.
The first town along the way is Seligman. It used to be a bustling place, hundreds of cars passing through every day, until it was bypassed in 1978 by Interstate 40; the traffic stopped. But it did not stop the local barber, Angel Delgadillo, who decided to promote old 66 as a better road to travel than that boring new Interstate. How right he was, and he has succeeded. A half dozen or more tour buses stop at his souvenir-selling barbershop every day, and the sensible travelers get their food at the Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In, two doors down, run by the late Juan Delgadillo’s kids. A third brother, Joe, owns the grocery store between the two.
The town has several old motels, where the sheets are clean. But I’ve not gone a hundred miles, so I’m not stopping…except for an infamous Snow Cap “cheeseburger with cheese.”
Out of Seligman, I-40 and U.S. 66 part company, with the railroad and its half-mile-long freight trains carrying 40-foot containers keeping the old road company. Old 66 runs into the wide Aubrey Valley, temporarily angling away from the Interstate by as much as 25 miles. Half an hour along, you see big signs for the Grand Canyon Caverns, worth an hour’s stop. An elevator takes you 20 stories down into the caverns. These used to be called Dinosaur Caverns, until an enterprising owner figured that the Grand Canyon name had a bigger draw—a large tin dino still stands guard over the place. In the middle of the biggest cave is a gigantic pile of canned goods and warm gear, put there back in the 1950s when nuclear war was just over the horizon.
Historic Route 66 continues on through the southern edge of the Hualapai Indian Reservation and Hualapai headquarters in Peach Springs. For a goodly sum of money you can get a permit to ride the 20 dirt miles of Diamond Creek Road down to the Colorado River. Bring along a sandwich and you can have lunch with your feet cooling in the river…it’s the only place where you can ride your bike into the Grand Canyon.
A couple of small semi-abandoned communities can be found on the way to Kingman, as well as the Hackberry General Store, which sells every Route 66 trinket known to man or woman. A 16-mile straight leads you into Kingman, where you ride under I-40 and on to Andy Devine Avenue (Historic 66). At the old powerhouse, now a visitor center, bear left, keeping on 66. A couple of miles farther on you cross over I-40 and head off toward the Black Mountains, soon climbing the Gold Hill Grade. The remains of old mining camps can be seen, but keep your eyes on the pavement—no guard rails here. After crossing the 3,600-foot Sitgreaves Pass, the road descends rapidly and abruptly for the three miles to Oatman. It is late-afternoon now, and the tourists are out in full force, buying T-shirts, feeding burros, eating ice cream—and the lucky ones know that upstairs in the Hideway store is a collection of old American motorcycles. Pamela will show you where the staircase is located.
I take 66 to Topock, get on I-40—the only way to cross the river—and head into Needles for the night. Good sleep. In the morning, I suit up and am on I-40 by 7:30 a.m., headed for breakfast 140 miles away at the Bagdad Café. After 30 miles, I arrive at Mountain Springs Summit, about 2,700 feet, and turn off the big road and onto the National Trails Highway to meet up with Essex. We are now in the Mojave Desert, with the Clipper Mountains to the north, the Cadiz Summit (1,302 feet!) ahead of me; since few vehicles pass this way there is not much need for roadside services. Although at Amboy, where a road goes south to Joshua Tree National Park, there is a café and gas, backdropped by an abandoned motel.
Staying on 66 another 28 miles, I come to Ludlow and I-40. After a few miles of superslab, I exit into the unincorporated community of Newberry Springs onto old 66 and before long arrive at my breakfast destination—the Bagdad Café. Any of you remember the movie of the same name, which came out in 1987? A German couple stops at the café/motel, the guy bails by himself, and the woman takes a job at the place. Good movie; do rent it.
At that time it was called the Sidewinder Café and had been rented by the movie company. Afterwards, it went back to being the Sidewinder until a local woman bought the place in 1995 and changed the name and the fortunes of the café. The manager, Gilbert, comes out to greet me. At 10:30 a.m. there is not much business, except for a Japanese backpacker who is sitting in a corner going through some of the 30-plus guest books that visitors over the past 19 years have signed.
After eggs, sausage and a lot of coffee, I’m back on the old road until I get to Daggett, where 66 goes into a military base that doesn’t much like casual visitors. Briefly back on I-40, I exit at Barstow onto Main Street, which is part of Historic Route 66. There are a couple of motels dating back to the ’50s. From Barstow, 66 heads south to Los Angeles, but I want to go west.
I bid goodbye to the old road and get on new State Route 58. I’ll be back. The Bagdad Café breakfast was a good one.
(This Favorite Ride: The Way it Was in the ’50s was published in the August 2014 issue of Rider magazine.)