Imagine throwing your feet up on the dash, the sun beaming down on your red Corvette and listening to a little Bruce Springsteen on the radio. Perhaps I am reflecting here a little on an old movie that I have seen or maybe it’s just because we experienced a little reminiscing of our own, as we encountered what it feels like to be driving Route 66, probably the most famous highway around the United States.
During our epic road trip around Utah and Arizona, we headed through the Four Corners area of Colorado and New Mexico before heading back along I-40 from Gallup to Flagstaff. As soon as we reached Flagstaff, the attraction of exploring historic Route 66 was too much to resist so we embarked on a memorable journey along this stretch of road that has a plethora of history associated with it.
Join us as we hit Route 66 in Flagstaff and made our way along 147 miles of Arizona roadways before we arrived in Kingman.
Route 66 History
Historic Route 66 was established in 1926 and covered a total of 2,448 miles spanning across 8 different states. The fundamental components of Route 66 are still present to this day, but since the US Highway officially removed this from their listings in 1985 (after the construction of I-40 that runs parallel and even on the grounds of Route 66), it is no longer feasible to drive all the way from LA to Chicago on this historic route.
If you ever plan to motor west,
Travel my way, take the highway that is best.
Get your kicks on Route sixty-six.
Listening to the lyrics of Nat King Cole’s ‘Route 66’ that dates back to 1946 really depicts the relationship that travelers had with this route. Even though today we are seeing the prevalence of I-40 through the states we covered (New Mexico and Arizona), it’s certainly nice to see the appreciation that visitors still have for Route 66.
Of course we are now seeing a huge tourist attraction being made of this route, but even this is helping local economies in towns such as Seligman, Williams and even the historic downtown part of Flagstaff.
Our Journey Through Arizona
The stereotypical journey of taking Route 66 all the way from LA to Chicago may seem a little daunting, but there is nothing at all wrong with dreaming. Of course, a more realistic target is to experience part of Route 66 wherever is convenient for you, and what better part to start than the stretch from Flagstaff to Kingman, Arizona.
As you drive along Route 66, you will notice on several occasions that the road ceases to exist. Why? Simple answer is I-40! The reality is that since the US Highway system no longer funded the maintenance of Route 66 since 1985, all the focus was switched to the interstate. However, it is still fun to try and figure out the best roads to take and how to stay on Route 66 as long as possible without touching I-40!
Flagstaff to Kingman is a really awesome part of Route 66, especially with many of the western towns (I am referring to the real country and western style saloons you all associate with John Wayne et al.) that are all decked out brandishing their true heritage and history in relation to Route 66 passing directly through the heart of their towns.
Before reading on, I urge you to close your eyes for a few seconds and contemplate the old western towns that I am sure you have all seen in the movies.
Here are the towns we visited along this historic highway and I will say that each one of these had a very unique feel and character that typifies the reputation of historic Route 66. Everything you imagine Route 66 to be like is portrayed through these iconic towns in Arizona.
Much of the history surrounding Route 66 relates back to the city of Flagstaff dating back to 1857 when Lt. Edward Beale led a following through this region en route to California. Did you know that the initial route of what is now renowned as Route 66 was south towards Phoenix from Flagstaff? However, in 1921 an improved system led to the construction of the highway running from Chicago to Santa Monica along the infamous route.
The stereotypical Route 66 journey started for us in Flagstaff and what an awesome place to start! The old Santa Fe Plaza is a perfect spot to start your exploring of the old downtown district. As you look one way you can see many of the historic stores still maintaining their original look and feel, while modern day designs have merged perfectly into the landscape.
Turn around and you will be faced with the historic train station and 1897 depot, home of an old engine that typifies the railway system that was once prolific around the nation.
Downtown Flagstaff offers an awesome self-guided historic walking tour. You can collect a guide inside the visitor center located within the train station. The walking tour begins at the train station and leads visitors to a number of iconic locations, such as the Downtown Motel, DuBeau Motel among many other intriguing spots.
It’s so cool to just park your car (we found a free parking spot directly by the train station) and get out and walk.
A really cool wall mural depicting historic Flagstaff and Route 66 is a great focal point of the city, although this is located parallel to Route 66 on Phoenix Street.
Whether you spend a couple of hours walking around the self-guided tour, or choose to go ‘off the beaten path’ and check out some of the local bars and eateries, Flagstaff is a great location to begin your Route 66 journey.
As we moved away from Flagstaff along Route 66, our next stop really brought a sense of nostalgia to our trip as we visited Williams, Arizona. We immediately noticed a quiet town (or at least that’s what we thought!) with a few saloons and historic social clubs remaining along the street.
The Long Horn Saloon and Woo Tom Social Club are iconic representations here and really bring back the stereotype we all associate with this stretch of Route 66 from decades gone by.
Parking by the train station, we walked through one of the back alleys and found ourselves in the heart of a western style community. The old jail, Branding Iron restaurant, saloon and bar make this a pretty active part of the Williams community today, immediately changing our initial impression of the town.
I love how Williams have maintained such a historic, old-fashioned infrastructure throughout this part of the town.
As we moved away from the heart of the town along the main street, we noticed how Route 66 is really idolized with the neon lights and Coca-Cola soda fountains scattered along the storefronts.
3. Ash Fork
Even though the likes of Flagstaff and Williams are still booming communities, the movement away from Route 66 to the modern day I-40 interstate has had the reverse effect on towns like Ash Fork. As we left I-40 and headed for Ash Fork, we really noticed how derelict and rundown this town was. The community really looks to be struggling, but perhaps this is just the facade we see from the outside.
Ash Fork is the ‘flagstone’ capital of the world so will likely continue to be a prevalent force, but it’s certainly disappointing to see a town that appears to be so neglected. The images of the old antique and gift shop are a reflection on what we experienced as we passed through Ash Fork.
I hope that one day this town will be reignited and perhaps the more exposure that is given, the more people will take the time to explore the landscape surrounding this community.
After the disappointment of Ash Fork, we headed onwards along Route 66 though yet again we were redirected along I-40 which honestly becomes a little annoying after a while as you efforts to stay along this historic route are in vein.
However, our exit for Seligman arrived sooner than expected and I have to say that everything about this town reinvigorated our desires to continue exploring Route 66.
If there is one town along this Arizona stretch of Route 66 that oozes nostalgia, class and maintains the gorgeous history that we associate with this iconic road, Seligman is certainly that town. Seligman has wholeheartedly embraced Route 66 and continued to portray the heritage through the infrastructure and overall look and feel of the town.
As we drove through Seligman, we couldn’t help but stop every couple of hundred yards to capture another shot of the vibrant colors that are stereotypical of Route 66. Whether it’s the rickety Aztec Motel or the colorful Romney Motel, there are a variety of accommodation options if you are looking for a spot to spend the night in real Route 66 fashion.
Our time in Seligman was just a passing visit but with memories stood outside the Route 66 Gift Shop and The Rusty Bolt, I could quite easily see us returning here to spend a little more time to embrace the history that is being preserved here.
I really enjoyed taking in the quirkiness and beauty presented in the architecture of the motels, restaurants and gift shops. If you are looking for a souvenir to remind you of your journey along Route 66, Seligman is a great place to find something that meets your needs.
Our time along Route 66 ended as we arrived in Kingman as we headed towards Las Vegas rather than continuing along this historic stretch of road to California. Stereotypically known as the ‘Heart of Route 66’, Kingman is home to a museum devoted solely to the history of this route.
Although Kingman may now be a more popular destination for visitors traveling to nearby attractions such as the Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon, Route 66 will always have a proud home here and locals will continue to cherish the rich heritage that has developed over the years.
Historic downtown Kingman still maintains a rich representation of Route 66 in its heyday. Head over to Route 66 Ice Cream & Sweets for a delicious sweet treat, or maybe you prefer to just wander around the downtown area taking in the deep history that has prevailed here.
Route 66 is undoubtedly the most famous stretch of road not only across USA but also perhaps around the world. Anyone fortunate to drive this from Chicago to Los Angeles is in for a real treat, but I am delighted that we were able to experience this from Flagstaff, AZ to Kingman, AZ.
Throughout Arizona, many of the historic towns along Route 66 have continued to preserve their deep, cultural roots that date back to way before Route 66 was even constructed. Combine this with the iconography we all associate with Route 66 such as the old sports-cars, saloons spotted along the landscape and bright, neon lights and you have a magical stretch of road that you will all enjoy!
Driving Route 66 is a great memory that I will cherish forever and provided a perfect ending to our amazing trip around Utah and Arizona. A nice contrast from the geological wonders we explored throughout these states, this is a road trip not to be missed if you are visiting the Grand Canyon state!
Still not seen enough pictures of Route 66? Don’t worry – we have many more, so head on over to our photo gallery of the amazing Route 66 journey here – Route 66!