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Along historic Route 66 and other back roads

By “LoDown” Dan Parker

Gettin’ some kicks

Motoring the Mojave’s Mother Road

Ludlow, Calif., Apr. 20—This year, the Thunder Press crew headed for the River Run took a look at a pre-event forecast—one that predicted rain, wind and even some snow—and left a bit early. The benefit was two-fold: the good weather held during the ride toward Nevada, and there was time to get off the Interstate and get some kicks on Route 66. Once off Highway 99 near Bakersfield, California, it was a crisp pop over the Tehachapi Range—which was dusted with snow on the upper peaks—before a quick descent into the Mojave and the town bearing that name. With plentiful gas, inexpensive motels and great food at the likes of Barbie’s Primo Burgers (best for items like the combo breakfast burrito for less than $4 before 11 a.m.), it’s a nice time out or overnight spot.

Past Barstow at Ludlow, we topped off the gas and jumped on the section of two-lane old Route 66 that crosses the train tracks there and heads south for Needles, California. This is pure joy and literally a trip back in time. Many who migrated west in the 1930s took this desolate road toward better times. This is the great Mojave Desert (in Arizona, it’s Mohave County after the tribe of that name), and what looks like an empty void is actually teeming with life. This the land of sage, yucca, chuckwalla, snakes of all stripes, white woolly daisy, tarantula, cougars, coyotes and much more. Volcanic extrusions make for haunting vistas.

Rolling the Electra Glide along, the only sign of civilization (other than the blacktop) was the distant train track and an occasional locomotive trailing a long line of railcars. Out in the desert they don’t even blow their lonesome whistles, passing almost like ghosts of another era. Just past the turnoff to Joshua Tree National Monument, the train track is re-crossed and the tiny town of Amboy—population four—looms as an attractive oasis, replete with its own faux cop car. The famous Roy’s Motel and Café sign still stands tall.

Once in Laughlin, it was a short hop on rally Saturday across the Colorado River to head southeast for Kingman, Arizona, and one of the longest remaining continuous stretches of Route 66 for a trio of great stops. The first pause was at Mother Road Harley-Davidson for a check-in with dealership owner John Morotti and his great crew. Among those making Thunder Press feel at home were Sales Manager Russ Faltersack and Tony Campbell, the outfit’s general manager. Although not an official stop on the Saturday poker run (it was on Friday, however), the dealership was nevertheless in full rally mode with live music, food and other attractions.

The “Info Lady” (a.k.a. Denise Wilkins, the tourist information supervisor at Kingman’s Powerhouse Visitor Center) then gave us directions to the historic section of downtown Kingman and the Route 66 Museum, housed in the Powerhouse. In the parking lot there, restored and custom vehicles caught riders’ attention when the train was passing nearby. But the jewel of the display was an assemblage of custom bikes built by Denver’s Choppers back in the 1960s and ’70s in SoCal.

This history of Kingman is inextricably woven together with that of Route 66—a fact acknowledged in the old Bobby Troup song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” that has been recorded by artists as diverse as Perry Como and Mick Jagger. The lyrics name Kingman as one of the main stops in the 2,400 miles between a Chicago start and the California coast end-point of old 66. Nearly-native son Andy Devine (he was born in Flagstaff), star of many classic western movies like Stagecoach and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and others over a 400-film career, has been honored by having his name attached to the portion of Route 66 as it passes directly through the historic section of downtown Kingman.

From there it was back north to the tiny wayside village of Chloride, reputedly the oldest mining town in the then-Arizona territory (Arizona wasn’t admitted to the Union until 1912). Another option, one we have evoked in the past, was to stay on old 66 out of Kingman and head up the steep road to Oatman, another old Arizona mining town. Famous for the rather aggressive feral burrows that ply their trade on the town’s main drag (don’t walk around with any loose carrots in your pocket unless you want it picked), Oatman is a popular stop during the River Run.

But we hadn’t previously been to Chloride and wanted to see something new. Silver and other ore were discovered here in the 1860s and mined in earnest from the 1870s on. Now less than 60 miles south of Hoover Dam and some 50 miles east of Laughlin, Chloride is a living ghost town that gives riders a look back at the wild and woolly times of 19th century mining in Arizona. In those days, travel wasn’t by Harley but by the Santa Fe Railroad and Butterfield Stage lines coming from Kingman.

With a peak population of 50,000 back in the boomtown days, the 250-or-so souls who reside in Chloride today provide only a ghostly glimpse of the old days. In these times, local folk-art compilations of found objects—like rusty car parts, bent buckets and old bottles—line the fences there and help illustrate the town’s self-described artistic “quaint and quirky” nature. On Saturday night, locals come to the VFW hall for country music and line dancing. This particular afternoon, River Runners like Boone came to fill a poker hand and maybe take a chance on the $1 chili.

These days the high point of the year in Chloride comes on the last Saturday in June and the Old Miners Day. The mock gunfights, antique jumbles and bake sales draw many visitors. You might want to check Chloride and historic 66 the next time you’re in this neck of woods. You won’t soon forget the ride.

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