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Oatman

If you follow the older route, Route 66 parallels and ducks under Interstate 40 before beginning the true stretch of Oatman Highway. This is perhaps the most intriguing part of the entire Mother Road. Off I-40, you would use Exit 44 (Shinarump Drive) and turn onto Oatman Highway, technically County Road 10.

After a straight run toward the Black Mountains, Route 66 begins the climb. Early on, enjoy great views of Thimble Mountain and the surrounding terrain, which will be changing a lot over the next 20 to 30 miles. In THIS part of Route 66, guardrails are for wimps.

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A history lesson: Many cars prior to 1940 didn't have fuel pumps; so steep upgrades sometimes meant gas wouldn't feed to the engine, requiring one to drive in reverse to make it up the hills. Some travelers hired locals to drive this stretch for them, fearing undesirable consequences of not navigating this properly. Despite the beauty and adventurous nature of the road, it's no wonder they built an "end-around" to Needles by the early 1950s to accommodate the increasing traffic loads.

After about 10 miles of clinging to mountainsides and gripping the wheel, you traverse Sitgreaves Pass. At 3,550 feet, it once had a few businesses for travelers: ice cream, sodas, services for your car, etc. They were perched on the gravel between the road and the steep drop. Heading west over Sitgreaves Pass, you can see Laughlin, Nevada in the distance. Yes, three states: Arizona, Nevada, and California all lay before you.

Oatman began as a mining settlement, grew to 3,500 people, exhausted its reserves of gold, and promptly became an almost-ghost town. Enough people stayed to enjoy the resurgence of Oatman thanks to Route 66. Today, Oatman is a must-stop along Arizona's Mother Road.

The reason people stop in Oatman: a lot of neat things to see. Along the wooden sidewalks you can take a stroll and enjoy historical Old West buildings, shops offering rare and unique crafts, jewelry, clothes, and, yes, burros roaming the streets. Don't be shocked when one comes right up to you; they're used to people feeding them.

Oatman became popular with many Hollywood stars in the golden era of movies. The Oatman Hotel, built in 1902, was the honeymoon stop for actors Clark Gable and Carol Lombard in 1939. Gable enjoyed the townsfolk and solitude of the desert so much that he returned often to play poker with the local miners.

Beyond Oatman, Route 66 continues to descend, and you can start "opening it up" again. You join I-40 for the ride across the Colorado River – leaving Arizona for California.

 
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