You know how I love road trips–reading about them–riding on them–watching them in movies and TV. So when I heard that Candy Harrington, recognized expert on accessible travel, had published a book about accessible road trips, I asked if she would write an article for A Traveler’s Library. While Candy includes plenty of information for people with mobility challenges, anybody can be inspired by these exciting travels.
Destination: Route 66 in Western Arizona
Book: 22 Accessible Road Trips; Driving Vacations for Wheelers and Slow Walkers (June 2012) by Candy Harrington
Article by Candy B. Harrington, author of the book
Road trips are a great option for people with mobility issues, as you can bypass long airport lines and you never have to worry about a lost or damaged wheelchair. And there’s just no better way to get the feel for a road trip than to explore part of historic Route 66 – America’s first interstate highway.
This route takes you through Western Arizona and features some kitschy roadside attractions, travels over a few stretches of the original road and has a definite nostalgic feel to it. And even though many of the stops along the way were constructed well before the Americans with Disabilities Act, access upgrades have been added over the years, so today it’s a great choice for wheelchair users, stroller pushing moms and even folks who just get around a little slower.
Finding the Mother Road
The best place to begin your Route 66 journey is in Seligman, located about 40 miles west of Williams. Just take exit 123 from Interstate 40, follow the signs and soon you’ll be cruising down Seligman’s main drag. From there just keep going straight and you’ll hit an old section of the Mother Road.
To be honest, this is one of the more nostalgic sections of the old road, and even though it’s in all the tour books, it’s still pretty isolated. In fact, it was literally cut off from civilization once the new Interstate opened. It’s as if time stands still along this stretch of road, where nostalgic Burma Shave signs still dot the landscape.
One kitschy stop worth a visit along the way is Grand Canyon Caverns. Located a mile or so off the road between Seligman and Peach Springs, it’s a fun photo stop. You’ll understand why when you see the giant dinosaur that graces the entrance. It’s a true old fashioned roadside attraction in every sense of the definition. Unfortunately the caverns themselves are not accessible, however the adjacent restaurant is. Additionally there’s a large stall in the restroom, however it lacks grab bars. Still, it will work for some folks.
Continuing west on Route 66, you’ll cross a Hualapai Indian reservation and pass through Peach Springs, Truxon and Valentine, before you roll into Hackberry. Here you’ll find the Hackberry General Store, which features a vintage gas station, a soda fountain and another great photo opportunity.
There’s a dirt parking area in front, but it’s usually not that crowded, so there’s plenty of room to park an accessible van. Outside there’s a treasure trove of memorabilia including some rusted out old cars, signs, tools and a nicely restored 1957 Corvette.
They have level access to the soda fountain and souvenir shop, which is packed with more memorabilia. Don’t forget to take a gander in the men’s restroom, which is tastefully decorated with vintage pinup posters. Sadly the owner had to take down the posters of Farrah and Bo Derek, as they kept disappearing. Once you’ve had your fill of nostalgia, continue onward to Kingman.
Back to Civilization
Once you hit Kingman, Historic Route 66 turns into Andy Devine Boulevard. Continue along the road until you come to the Powerhouse Route 66 Museum on the right. Housed in a former substation, the building is pretty distinctive.
There’s plenty of accessible parking in the lot, with level access to the entrance. Inside you’ll also find the Powerhouse Visitor Center, which has tourist information on Kingman and the surrounding area.
There’s elevator access to the top floor, where the museum is located. Here you’ll find exhibits about the history of Route 66, including photos from the Dust Bowl era, information on the origin of those ubiquitous Burma Shave signs, and a movie about the rise, fall and the rebirth of the Mother Road. It should be noted that the museum also has some very nice accessible restrooms, a fixture that’s somewhat lacking along the old road, so don’t hesitate to take advantage of it.
Save some time to check out the old Santa Fe steam locomotive and the red caboose across the street in Locomotive Park. And if you’ve got a hankering for a thick, creamy milkshake, then stop in next door at Mr. D’s Route 66 Diner. There’s accessible parking in front, with level access to the front door. Inside there’s good pathway access, but no accessible restrooms. Outside seating is also available, and it’s a great place to sit back and watch vintage cars cruise along the Mother Road.
Continue on through Kingman, bear left and follow the signs to Oatman. Once outside of town, you’ll notice a pleasant lack of traffic as you make your way across the Sacramento Wash. The first hint of civilization comes as you begin your trek through the hills, at Cool Springs.
Scantly more than a wide spot in the road, the site formerly housed a small store, restaurant and gas station. The 1926-structure fell into disrepair until Hollywood discovered it in 1992. It was haphazardly rebuilt, used as a filming location and demolished in the final scenes of the Jean-Claude Van Damme flick, Universal Soldier. Finally, in 2001 it was acquired by Ned Leuchtner, who restored it to its former glory.
There’s accessible parking in front and level access to the museum and gift shop. Ned has lots of memorabilia inside; some of which is for sale. Want a piece of the old Mother Road? Ed has that too. The front part of the gift shop and museum is accessible but there’s a step up to the back section. Still, if you see something that piques your interest, the staff is happy to fetch it for you.
Outside, there’s an old 1935 rusted out Nash Sedan to the left of the store. And of course the old gas pump which rests under a restored stone canopy. It’s a great little photo stop, with a definite feel of yesteryear.
From Cool Springs the Mother Road climbs up Gold Hill to Sitegreaves Pass. Hairpin turns and sheer drop-offs are commonplace on this stretch of the road, with a noticeable lack of guard rails along the way. On the plus side, there’s no shortage of awesome views, including a great one near the 30-mile marker. After you reach the summit, the downhill drive is just as exhilarating, with plenty of twists and turns along the way. As you breathe that final sigh of relief, you’ll roll into Oatman.
The Old West
Located just 28 miles from Kingman, Oatman was founded in 1906, to support the nearby gold mining camps. Today the town celebrates its rough and tumble past and retains a distinctive wild west flavor by holding daily gunfights in front of the Oatman Hotel. Scheduled for 1:30 and 3:30 every afternoon, these entertaining shootouts close down the road, so just sit back and enjoy, because you’re not going anywhere until they’re through.
Although Oatman isn’t exactly the height of accessibility, some of the sidewalks are doable, and many of the stores feature level access. Parking is extremely limited, so best bet is to snag a spot in the lot on the right, as you first enter town. There’s also some street parking, but to be honest you have to fight the burros for it. Yes, I said burros.
Years ago, the miners used burros to work the goldmines, and today their descendents roam the streets of Oatman. Take an apple or two to feed them and you’ll be the center of attention. That said, there are a lot of them, so be careful where you roll.
After you leave Oatman, continue along the Mother Road for another 26 miles, until you reach Topock. Here you can rejoin interstate 40 and head on into California. All total, this little Route 66 detour is just 140 miles long. And although it certainly can be done in one day, it’s better to give yourself plenty of time to explore and stop along the way. So consider making it a two-day trip, with an overnight stay in Kingman. After all, when you’re talking about Route 66, it’s the journey that matters. So take your time and enjoy the Mother Road.
Known as the guru of accessible travel, Candy Harrington is the author of several accessible travel guides including the classic Barrier-Free Travels; A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers . Her newest title, 22 Accessible Road Trips; Driving Vacations for Wheelers and Slow Walkers features 22 driving routes across the United States with information about wheelchair-accessible sites, lodging options, trails, attractions and restaurants along the way. A great resource for Baby Boomers, couples, families, or anybody who wants to hit the road. Candy also blogs about accessible travel issues at Barrier Free Travels.
Note: At A Traveler’s Library we wrote not long ago about the DVD of the classic road trip show, Route 66 , but don’t depend on those DVDs for guidance to follow Rte 66. You can find out why when you read the review. We also reviewed On the Road Histories in California.
All photos by Charles Pannell, used by permission of Candy Harrington.