Motorcycle riders from all over the world come to America specifically to ride the famous Mother Road of our country. It’s a sort of pilgrimage to experience the sights and cities along the craggy ruts of the original Route 66 that opened the nation up to travel once established in the fall of 1926. Officially removed in 1985, the original route has been paved over and renamed, abandoned or eroded, but the parts that remain still carry adventurous travelers to a simpler place in time. For the folks that visit Laughlin during the River Run each spring, it’s a multiple-choice option to find the hipster dives along the remaining stretches of the old road since many are an easy day ride from the riverside party along Casino Boulevard in Laughlin.
Within spitting distance lies such fun spots as Kingman, Seligman and Hackberry, all situated along Route 66 in Arizona with Seligman being the furthest point at 106 miles away. Each presents its own flashback brand of whimsical 1960 flair. Kingman, the biggest metropolis among these three options, offers Andy Devine Avenue, named after the cowboy sidekick actor, Route 66 stamps in the streets and plenty of cowboy chic eateries and bars. There’s a lot to do here and the Mother Road H-D dealership always has a party going on during the rally, as well.
Just 23 miles northeast of Kingman lies the Hackberry General Store, which consists of an oasis that’s one big photo op with rusty, antique cars and kitschy stuff that’s fun to poke around in. Continuing southeast on rugged Route 66 you’ll cruise into Seligman and be immediately transported to the American Graffiti times of jukeboxes, convertibles and carhops. The entire one-block town is decked out in early 1960s décor and the murals make fun photo props. Be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to rummage through the shops, enjoy the history and grab a malt before puttin’ back to the nightlife in Laughlin. Keep in mind that the Mother Road is old and is to be respected, so trying to rocket down sections of her will pretty much beat the hell out of your motorcycle—if not your spine. It’s also noteworthy to mention that Arizona, unlike California and Nevada, does not require helmets for those 18 and older.
If you’re into a longer and lonelier ride, there’s Roy’s in Amboy or Newberry Springs, both in middle-of-nowhere California with Newberry Springs being about 150-miles west of Laughlin and the home of the Bagdad Café, named after the acclaimed film of the same name that was filmed there in 1987.
The most notable and common destination, however, is the small community of Oatman, Arizona. A mere 30 miles from Laughlin, this history-rich city of 135 residents is where all the cool kids head for a day of playing tourist. Originally named Vivian when gold was discovered, the boomtown was renamed to honor Olive Oatman, a white girl who survived an attack by Apaches after her family was slaughtered in 1851. Upon her return to civilization, Olive went to college and then toured the country lecturing on her ordeal as a teenager. Citizens renamed their town for her in 1908.
Tucked into the side of the Black Mountains, the old mining camp experienced its heyday after the opening of Route 66. Also known as the Will Rogers Highway, much of the road was dirt and gravel, but it became the first highway to be completely paved in 1938. Even so, the route was still dangerous as it wound its way across the country from Chicago to Los Angeles. Dubbed “Bloody 66” in some areas, nowhere was considered more treacherous than the Sitgreaves Pass on the east side of Oatman. Wrought with steep inclines and sharp hairpin turns, the original pavement over the 3,556-foot pass is still intact, though in gnarly condition, and is respected as a perilous route. Motorcyclists tend to view the narrow blacktop as a rite of passage as riders flock to the area to test their skills and check out the crumbling ghost town.
In anticipation of this year’s influx of tourists, maintenance crews had dutifully oiled the road before the rally, thereby upping the ante for motorcycle riders. We experienced our share of slipping through the swoops as the oil-slicked tar snakes heated up in the desert sun, taking our gaze off the beautiful vistas and drawing our full attention to keeping our wheels under us. We even obeyed the 10 mph-marked corners. As far as congestion goes, we’ve heard tales in the past of traffic being so backed up that crews blocked entrance into the town, causing riders to sit on their idling bikes until others left, making room for the next wave of visitors into the tourist-curious ghost town. Fortunately for us, none of that was going on and it was clear cruising as we crested the hills.
Once in town the free-range, carrot-mooching donkeys—who are descendants of original miners’ beasts from the 1800s—seemed to be the biggest traffic headache since they and their latest offspring were bugging pedestrians, blocking up the roadways and trying to catch a nap in the nearest shady spot, which also happened to be the only parking spot. We found the brazen beasts of burden kinda cool as they leaned in for pats and ear scratches, but others met some cranky asses and got nipped. One of the babies took a liking to the straw hat I had bungeed to my bike and I found myself having to protect it from being eaten, which was good for laughs from the guys who watched me argue with the critter.
The 74th Street Band was scheduled to play at the haunted Oatman Hotel and riders were mingling with the many mommies and daddies who were packing their little darlings through the various shops. During tourist season there are cowboy shootouts that erupt in the streets several times a day, but we didn’t see any holdups while we were in town. More than 500,000 visitors cruise through this ramshackle burg each year, and it’s a great place to spend an entire day just hanging out and soaking up the atmosphere of the Old West, but be sure to give yourself plenty of time to check out the other places that are a bit more off the beaten path, too. There are still lots of kicks on Route 66; you just have to flip that kickstand up and find them.