Driving along the I-40 expressway all you see are long stretches of the Arizona desert. They appear to go on forever with the rocky formations of mountains far off in the distance. If you keep a close look out there is an exit on the right, an exit to none other than Historic Route 66. The original highway lifeline of the United States, built to connect Chicago, Illinois and Los Angeles, California, it is now mostly forgotten.
The stretch of Route 66 in Arizona is not for the faint of heart, because this is no ordinary route. If you enjoy driving in a straight line in a wide lane, where you can see the road in front of you, then this is not the trip for you – stick to the I-40. If, however, you are adventurous and want to see what driving was like in days gone by, including some beautiful vistas of mountains and valleys as far as the eye can see, then go for it! The first part of the route features a sign informing you that you are indeed on Historic Route 66, lest you be sceptical (or lost). The road is straight and narrow, passing by homesteads surrounded by barbed wire and “No Trespassing” signs.
The road slowly starts to curve, long gentle curves. As the far-off mountains come closer, you see a small sketchy looking gas station with aluminum side paneling to the right, selling various Route 66 paraphernalia. Keep driving.
Slowly but surely, the curves in the road become more frequent, the road seems to have narrowed as you climb in elevation. Your heart starts to race; the surprisingly nicely paved road has much sharper curves than expected. The long gentle curves give way to sharp switchbacks wherein all you can see is the valley below, the tires hugging the precipice of each curve. If a car were to come from the other direction, it would surely slam into yours, as you are in the wrong lane for fear of falling over the edge into the chasm. You inch along, having slowed down to a snail’s pace, and whoosh, a UPS truck flies by. Once your heart finally stops racing you look over and see the remains of a car on the side of the cliff.
Just when you think you have had enough, that you cannot take anymore of this… a sign appears: Oatman, Arizona, from behind which emerges a donkey. As you look down the street, you see… another donkey? Oatman was once a thriving mining town but when the ore dried up, the miners left, leaving their donkeys behind. Not exactly an abandoned town, Oatman features shops selling everything from Route 66 wares to donkey food for the tourists. Out in the middle of the Black Mountains of Mohave, Oatman remains one of my favourite destinations. After all, where else can you feed donkeys and climb head first into an old mining shaft? Plus – getting there is half the fun.