Top Ten U.S. Road Biking Routes

Route 66, Arizona
  |  Gorp.com
Arizona's famous OK Saloon
Vintage cars at the famous OK Saloon on Arizona's Historic Route 66 (Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona)

Arizona both is and isn't what you expect it to be. Most of the pictures coming out of this land project the familiar arid and eroded elegance of the Grand Canyon and surrounding scrubland, and not the rolling greens of the extensive national forest around Flagstaff and east of Phoenix. But then again, part of what makes Arizona unique is the parched appeal of vast vistas under an open sky.

In the midst of one treeless low-foliage zone is an authentic stretch of the original, legendary Route 66, now just a ghost of its former self. One of the first great east-west American highways, Route 66 brought opportunities for faster travel and trade to a great swath of small-town rural America between Chicago and Los Angeles. It also settled quickly and comfortably into the shifting sands of American lore as the "Mother Road" by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath and in a song by Bobby Troup.

However, in the years since its 1938 completion, much of the original road has been "improved" into nonexistence. Much of what had once thrived along the road has also passed into memory, some abandoned towns leaving only their ghostly remains behind. That said, one particularly long stretch of the original path has kept the weeds at bay in northwestern Arizona, preserving with it a land frozen in time, complete with the architecture and feel of an early-20th-century American mining town.

Historic Route 66 from Seligman to Kingman is a gentle rolling strip of pavement that nevertheless loses almost 2,000 feet of elevation (heading west). You could of course do the trip against the grade in which case the buttes and hills won't seem like much. In addition, the best local resources (hotels, shops, etc.) are in Kingman, and you will probably want this at the end of your trip. Regardless of direction, the 90-mile ride is like a trip back to the 1920s and 1930s. You can almost imagine (and may in fact see!) cars from those decades making the sprint to one of the road's bookend cities for a shopping spree or day trip.

Most locals do travel that distance since there is not much else in the way of food or accommodation along the way, something that you will need to take into account. If you have an extra day once you have reached Kingman, head further west toward Oatman. The rough route is narrow and the terrain much more challenging than the previous ride, but you will enjoy the 10 or so miles to a genuine ghost town and abandoned gold mine.

If you are going to stretch your pedal into a relaxing weekend endeavor, plan on reserving ahead in the only real halfway option: the lodge at Peach Springs in the Hualapai Indian Reservation. (You may also ask in Peach Springs about permits for backcountry day hikes in the reservation lands.) You might get lucky and find an old-style motel along the way or a small open convenience store, but don't hedge your bets. Be prepared.


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