John Steinbeck christened it the Mother Road, and everyone from Nat King Cole to Van Morrison has crooned the catchy tune celebrating the 2400 mile cross-country journey along this most famous of highways. Route 66 is tenacious—almost 90 years after its creation and three decades after it was declared obsolete, this old road lives on in the collective sentiment as a symbol of adventure, freedom and opportunity.
For the most part, it’s a broken down dream, a piecemeal byway lined with fleabag motels, dusty storefronts, seedy bars, out-of-service gas stations, and half-lit flickering neon signs. Nonetheless, every time we near a section of the Mother Road, we’re drawn in, and I begin to hum “If you ever plan to motor West, Travel my way take the highway that’s the best, Get your kicks on Route 66….”.
In late October, our route took us through Williams, Arizona—a small town that proudly proclaims the distinction of being the last holdout on Route 66 bypassed by an interstate. Left to wither on the vine—like every small town along the route when four-lane divided highways left them in the dust—much of the downtown has seen better days. But there’s a revival going on, and unlike many other towns that went belly-up along the venerable old route, Williams appears to be thriving—1950’s era motor courts, mom & pop cafes, scruffy bars, and Indian curio shops share the street with a mix of new businesses (most with a retro twist); and of course, there’s a plethora of shops over-stuffed with Route 66 memorabilia and souvenirs. It doesn’t hurt that Williams is also the gateway to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, but many people visit simply for the nostalgia of a simpler time—wishful thinking though that may be.
We lunched at the new and attractive Kicks on Route 66, and after making two circuits of the main street to peruse all of the attractions, stopped by South Rims Wine & Beer Garage for a flight of local beers. Had we known that the sketchy looking 1912 Sultana Bar was written up in Gourmet Magazine as one of the best bars in America (seriously??) we would have ventured in. If you’re into Route 66 memorabilia, you’ll love Williams. You’ll find everything to decorate your home, your vehicle, and yourself—from tea towels to license plates to stick-on tattoos—emblazoned with the beloved Route 66 insignia.
About the campgrounds: We found two convenient places to stay along I-40, which also happens to be old Route 66. In Needles, California, Fender’s River Road Resort is a fine little park on the banks of the Colorado River. For the very reasonable price of $14 a night (with Passport America) we had full-hookups, laundry, and good Verizon coverage. We especially appreciated the use of a lovely deck overlooking the river, where we enjoyed G & T’s and unwound after our almost 300-mile drive from Lone Pine.
Another 175 miles the next day brought us to Williams and the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park. Although it’s basically a big parking lot, it’s a very nice parking lot, and is conveniently located just two blocks from downtown Williams and the historic district. It’s a bargain at $23 (with Passport America) and includes full hookups, laundry, use of the amenities at the nearby hotel, and good Verizon coverage.
Next Up: An Unexpected Adventure In Navajo National Monument