Spring Break 2007: Route 66 Adventure

The first day of spring 2007 my husband, Klaus, our best Swedish friend, Magnus and I embarked on a journey of a lifetime.  We flew from Sweden to New York to partake in a month long journey along the world famous Mother Road … Route 66.  The trip was planned and talked about for 5 years and we did an enormous amount of research to make our travels across the United States the best possible experience. 

In late 2006 Magnus found a great 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air for sale that would be perfect for our Route 66 Adventure.  Klaus and I made some arrangements with our best American friend, Scott, who lives in southern New Jersey to go look at the car for us.  He gave her two thumbs up and the car was purchased.  Scott spent the next several months getting the Chevy, dubbed “Jersey Belle”, ready for the challenging cross country road trip.  His efforts proved invaluable because Belle was in tip top shape when we arrived.  There were only small maintenance items that needed to be performed before our departure west.

We headed west from Haddonfield NJ and drove straight through to Chicago some 780 miles from our starting point.  We had a little play time in the Chicago area and then on Sunday March 25th we began our once in a lifetime journey.  Finding the beginning of Route 66 proved to be a challenge in and of itself but once found we were elated to finally be on this most anticipated journey.

We had no agenda other than we had to be in California on April 17th to fly back east where we had to catch our flight home to Sweden April 19th.  We enjoyed every roadside attraction still standing and even the many places that were only remnants of what they once where in the heyday of the glorious 1950’s.  There were multitudes of photo opportunities on nearly every inch of Route 66 for these vintage loving eyes.  I had compiled a turn by turn guide which placed us on every bit of concrete or asphalt of the Mother Road still surviving.  We drove on an 8 foot wide original alignment of Route 66!  The builders calculated that they could pave twice as much of the road if they only made the road 8 feet wide. We also drove on dirt and gravel alignments that we found in the very “rural” sections of Route 66. These roads where tough on the car and our kidneys but we had a blast driving on them. 

The Mother Road took us through ghost town after ghost town that couldn’t survive the bypassing of interstate system.  The sadness we felt though each ghost town was great.  These amazing little towns that once flourished were now left in shambles.  They perished because the interstate saved motorists valuable time.  The charm and personality of these towns and villages are what America is all about!  What ever happened to enjoying the driving experience?  Everyone hustles here and bustles there.  It seems like no one stops to smell the roses anymore!  The places that have survived have done so out of the love of what once was!  The roadside attractions, silly monuments, old time gas stations and fun themed restaurants and drive ins are pieces of Americana at it’s finest and there are still people out there in the world, these three delighted travelers included, that WANT to see these things.

Our trip was full of amazing people, places and things to see and experience.  We met people who treated us like long lost family in every one of the 8 states that Route 66 ventures through.  Every night we stopped in a town that once thrived on Route 66.  Many places in many of these towns have long since been abandoned but we always seemed to find a warm, comfortable and friendly hotel to stay in or the fabulous diner to enjoy a great meal with the locals.  We were delighted by the people’s willingness to share their folklore, we learned countless historical facts on our journey from the locals and we were amazed by the commitment of the folks who are desperately trying to keep Route 66 alive.

When you spend 25 days traveling across the United States, each day brought new adventures and experiences.  It seemed that each day brought something better than the day before.  But one day in particular stands out as one of the most amazing highlights of our journey.  It was the road to Oatman.  This road took us from Kingman AZ to Oatman AZ through a mountain pass.  “The Grapes of Wrath” first made this mountain pass famous and believe me, it’s as treacherous as your imagination made it reading about it!

We started out later than usual that morning as we had some things we wanted to see in Kingman.  So once we were fed and gassed up we headed west.  The excitement and anticipation was mounting with every mile that drew us closer to the foot of this monster of a mountain ahead of us. Once at the base of the mountain … we started our slow and particularly dangerous trek up the mountain on Oatman Road.

To say the road was dangerous is an understatement, but it was spine tingling and thrilling and awesome.  The view surrounding us was awe striking and breath taking.  There were very few guardrails at all protecting the car and driver from the plummeting depths below.  As we drew closer and closer to the peak we encountered many 150-200 foot drops straight down the mountain side just a foot or so from the road’s edge.  We had heard stories the night before from the locals in Kingman that many a men have plunged off the side of the mountain to their death on this very treacherous pass.  It’s said that in the 30’s and 40’s cars would drive up this pass in reverse because their cars had no fuel pumps so it was the only way they could get the fuel to the engine … doing it backwards!  Yikes, it was dangerous enough negotiating the hair pin turns and 8% graded incline driving correctly – up hill, I can’t imagine doing it backwards! 

Once at the top if the mountain, Sitgreaves Pass elevation 3,550 feet above sea level, we stopped at the observatory point to admire the beauty of the mountainous region we had just climbed.  Then we pointed Belle west again and started the equally treacherous descent down the mountain.  After descending about 1,550 feet we drove right smack dab into the middle of a former Ghost Town now turned souvenir heaven of Oatman Arizona. This town was absolutely incredible!!!  There were burros (mules, donkeys, jackasses … call them what you will) roaming the streets.  We pulled into the first empty parking space we came across and started exploring this marvelous little town.  What was once abandoned buildings are now shops of all kinds.  All we could say was WOW!  The shops were filled with cheesy T-Shirts, ponchos, turquoise jewelry, leather goods, Native American wares and every silly gadget and gizmo thinkable.  Everything offered was very modestly priced in the 30 some shops that line Oatman Road.  We couldn’t help ourselves from visiting nearly every shop and helping the economy by buying more stuff we already didn’t have room for!

The mules in the streets were fantastic!  They just wandered to and fro looking for a bit more to eat from anyone who would feed them.  It’s said that the very mules that inhabit Oatman today are the direct descendents of the mules that we left by the miners when they abandoned Oatman long ago.  We bought a bag of carrots for a buck from a shop and we feed the jackasses!  Some were aggressive and followed you when you walked away even nudging you in the back side wanting more and others were lackadaisical but all were willing to chomp those tasty orange treats from our hands.  We popped into the local watering hole for a cold brew and enjoyed it sitting on the patio of the saloon watching the passersby.  The shop owners were closing their doors for the day, so we headed west down the mountain again and into Needles CA for the evening.  We sat for hours that night recounting the awesome day we had just had.

We continued through CA enjoying the beautiful scenery.  As the journey was nearing it’s completion we made our final turn onto Olympic Boulevard we all got a bit teary eyed when we saw the world famous Santa Monica Pier arch spanning across the opening of the pier over the Pacific Ocean.  The most adventurous, exciting and fun filled trip of our lives was coming to a close.  It was a sense of accomplishment and a sense of sadness that this magnificent journey was over.  We drove 5,434 miles in ‘ole Jersey Belle.  We had the time of our lives and made memories that will last us all for a life time! If you’re a car enthusiast or you love vintage things traveling Route 66 is a dream vacation!  Happy Traveling!  Cindy Ritz-Gardan, Klippan Sweden by way of Cherry Hill New Jersey USA

Skrivet torsdag 31 maj, 2007, av Cindy

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