Article & Photos by Bonnie Simonian
Back in the 50’s, a young family with 4-year-old twin girls traveled from Texas to southern California on US Hwy. 66. For thousands of people, Route 66 symbolized the “road to opportunity” and a better way of life. This young family was my family. My mom, dad, sister and I made the journey out west in a 1952 Buick with passenger window air-conditioning and a burlap water bag draped over the front bumper. Some 50 + years later, I was blessed to have the opportunity to take a portion or segment of this journey again. This time it would be on motorcycles with my husband and friends.
US Highway 66, commonly referred to as Route 66, officially was born in 1926 but was not completed until about 1938. It became the first continuous paved highway across the nation extending thru 8 states from Chicago to LA -a total of 2400 miles. This fabled highway became known as the “Mother Road” with its motels, filling stations, diners, and Indian trading posts. Mom and Pop businesses thrived in their heyday before the interstate bypassed them. By the 1970’s nearly all segments of the original Route 66 were supplanted by this four-lane highway. The final segment of the original road was overtaken by Interstate 40 at Williams, Arizona in 1984. Today, it is mainly a tourist attraction and living museum attracting a new generation of travelers.
Our 1600 mile, 4 day journey would begin at the official end of Route 66, California (The Golden State). This state claims about 320 miles of this historic route with tons of great roadside attractions and bikerfriendly stops.
My husband and I were lucky to have two experienced tour guides as friends who offered to escort us on “America’s Main Street” thru California, Arizona and our final destination the Grand Canyon. Our tour guides, David Peters and Donnie Owens, are true iron butts with over 600,000 riding miles between them. To put that into perspective, that’s about 25 times around the world.
So get comfortable and kick back in your favorite chair as we cruise together on “The Historic Route 66”.
Day 1-Fresno Ca.-Laughlin, NV (425 miles)
On a early Friday October morning with forecast of rain, my husband and I saddled up on our Harleys and left our home town of Fresno (central California) to meet our tour guides, David and Donnie a short 30 minutes down the road. We soon hooked up with our friends, discussed the days itinerary, and the journey began. 4 friends + 4 Harleys +4 days = Hog Heaven.
This is where legend meets legend – the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle and the Historic Route 66. Traveling thru the Mojave Desert, we first entered Route 66 at Barstow and rode to Newberry Springs our 1st official stop. Built in the 1950’s, this famous restaurant was the location of the 1988 film Bagdad Café, and our destination for lunch. We were personally served lunch by the owner Andrea Pruett and asked to sign guest book # 21. Thousands of visitors from around the world stop at this popular attraction.
After a crash course in Route 66 history, we continued down the road near Ludlow for gas. We met a couple with their bike and trailer, traveling from Delaware with their 2 dogs. By now the desert heat had reached the 90’s and this chick had no problem stripping down to her black bra. I was interested in the dogs. The guys were interested in the v-twins. Once the guys regained their focus, we headed down the road.
Our next stop was Roy’s in Amboy. A California company plans to totally restore this place back to its original 50’s heyday. Nearby, you’ll see the gigantic Amboy crater that rises from the ground 250 feet high and is 1500 feet in diameter. This 10,000 year-old cinder cone became a national-natural landmark in 1975. You’ll also want to check out the Amboy shoe tree east of Amboy at Bridge 80. We then passed thru the towns of Essex and Goffs. As we looked towards the horizon, mile long Santa Fe freight trains neatly parted the massive, wide open desert floor appearing dwarfed in size. Chasing our shadows with the setting sun, we briefly leave Route 66 for 95 north and arrived at Laughlin Nevada just before nightfall. We ended the day with drinks and dinner at the Boiler at the Colorado Belle-great ambience and awesome steak. Too beat to gamble, we all agreed to hit the sack early at the Tropicana Express- $69 bucks a night with covered parking for our bikes.
Early Saturday morning, we left Laughlin and crossed the Colorado River to Bullhead City, Arizona for gas. Hey, not everyone has a city named after their husband! Just kidding. The no-helmet law applies here. How appropriate!
Arizona has the longest rideable stretch of Route 66 with a total of 386 miles. We headed to the old gold mining town of Oatman, AZ, known for wild burros that roam the streets. This old wild-west town is a biker’s paradise. As we rode into town, we noticed that the bikes outnumbered cars 2 to 1. We met a group of about 25 bikers from Germany and Canada traveling the old hwy. No matter what language we speak, we are all brothers and sisters of the road-a wave and a smile are universal!
We especially enjoyed the 1902 Oatman Hotel restaurant and bar, made famous for two guests who spent their wedding night in room 15. That would be Mr. Hollywood, Clark Gable and his wife Carol Lombard. The walls, doors, and ceiling of the restaurant and bar are covered with thousands of dollar bills signed with names of past visitors. Now, that’s a gold mine! If you are prospecting for souvenirs, t-shirts, and funky gifts then this biker-friendly town has it all.
To stay on schedule, the four of us saddled up and headed out of town towards the beautiful Sitgreaves Pass (Elev. 3500ft). This winding mountain road with rugged desert scenery is located on Route 66 between Oatman and Kingman, AZ. At the bottom of the hill, we stopped at the newly restored Cool Springs Cabins made of boulders from the surrounding mountains. This small gift shop and museum welcomes bikers year-round.
Next stop, the Huckberry General Store that was featured in the 1969 film “Easy Rider.” This old silver mining town has tons of Route 66 memorabilia and a nice museum. A 1957 red and white Corvette is permanently parked outside in front of the store with a sign that boldly reads “Corvette Parking Only.” Bikers seem to have no problem cutting this old cage some slack. Respectfully, we parked our bikes nearby for a great Kodak moment. When inside, I noticed the sign “we ship” and decided to buy a momento of our trip – a very cool, neon Route 66 clock for our Harley garage back home. This is a popular stop for biker groups.
By now, we all had worked up a big, biker appetite. The guys asked me to lead us down the road for lunch at the Haulapai Lodge in Peach Springs-perhaps better known as Radiator Springs from the Disney movie “Cars.” We came in empty and left on full after eating good road grub at the Diamond Creek Restaurant.
David and Donnie couldn’t wait to take us to Seligman to meet Angel Delgadilo known throughout the world as the “Angel of Route 66.” Angel’s famous barbershop, gift shop, and museum are a favorite stop on Route 66. Next door is the family owned and operated Sno Cap Drive-In world famous home of good humor and practical jokes. While here, treat yourself to possibly America’s best burger and milkshake. I did. The producers and directors of the 2005 Movie “Cars” interviewed Angel about the history of Route 66 and mentioned him in the movie credits. This animated movie portrays the people and places of this historic hwy with cars as fictional characters. Go see this movie! Before we left, I was fortunate to have Angel autograph my Route 66 book and snap a picture with him in his historic barbershop. Drop in and say “Hello” to this kind, gentleman and enjoy the stories about his beloved Route 66.
Next door, check out the Rusty Bolt with its funky mannequins, souvenirs and Harley-Davidson merchandise. Return to the 50’s is housed in an old gas station with lots of goodies. Whether you are on 2, 3, or 4 wheels don’t miss this famous roadside attraction. Cars and bikes are welcomed here.
With approaching darkness and the threat of rain showers, we pointed our Harley headlights towards Williams, Arizona less than an hour away towards the over-priced Railway Hotel ($200.00 bucks a night). At that price, the sign should read “kids and bikes stay free.” It was difficult to park our bikes outside in the pouring rain for the night.
Day 3- Willliams AZ- Wickenburg, AZ (325 miles)
Clad in layers and leathers, we greeted the clearing skies but the freezing early morning temperatures had left a heavy frost on our bikes and windshields. We decided to wait about an hour to allow the warmth of the morning sun to do its job and melt the ice on our bikes. When the temperatures reached a toasty 38 degrees, we carefully headed out for the Grand Canyon about 60 miles or 1 hour away. The ride-rule was “no whining” but I got to tell you it was freakin’ cold. We gassed up and took the 64 towards the entrance of the Grand Canyon National Park. The fee is 25.00 per vehicle or if you are a senior over 62 you can buy a lifetime pass to all parks in America for a ten-dollar bill. What a deal!
As soon as we parked our bikes in the park, a tour bus full of foreigners swarmed us like we were rock stars. Foreigners dig motorcycles especially Harleys. The paparazzi had arrived. We enjoyed our 15 minutes of fame. I couldn’t wait to unpack my own camera and get out on a viewing area and take pictures. Reality suddenly hit me – I was looking at one of the great natural wonders of the world. As I looked up to the heavens above in appreciation of arriving safely, my mother’s famous words came to mind.
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths that you take but by the moments that take your breath away.” This was one of those moments, and an emotional one I might add.
The canyon is 217 miles long, 18 miles wide and about 1 mile deep. The beautiful Colorado River splits the park in north and south rims and is about 60 miles NW of Flagstaff. Helicopter Tours are given daily and are a great way to see this breath-taking canyon. Donnie and David reminded us of our schedule for the day, and soon escorted us from this living geological history lesson that has over 5 million visitors a year. We waved to our fellow brothers and sisters of the road and exited the park. We topped off our gas tanks and made a brief stop at the Grand Canyon Visitors Center. I couldn’t wait to phone home to my 3 daughters to announce our safe arrival. My grandkids, Mason, Mikayla and Alexis answered on speaker phone and asked if I went to the place where dinosaurs once lived in the Grand Canyon Caverns. Before I could answer the next question was a great one, “grandma did they have dinosaurs when you were a little girl? I think I lost service at that point.
It was easy ridin’ to Bellemont Arizona-home of the Grand Canyon Harley-Davidson dealership. The town’s fame is due in part to the “Pine Breeze Inn” made famous by the classic, biker film “Easy Rider.” Here, we enjoyed a “cook your own” burger at the H-D Roadhouse Bar & Grill right next to the dealership. This is a must stop for hungry, thirsty bikers.
From here on interstate 40, we headed towards Flagstaff and traveled south on Hwy 89A to Sedona via Oak Creek Canyon. This is one of the most beautiful rides in America! The resort town of Sedona is 140 miles and at least 3 hours riding time from the Grand Canyon. For a moment, you’ll feel like you just landed on another planet with all the beautiful red rock formations and southwestern scenery.
We gassed up and scooted on down to the old town of Wickenburg for our last night (60 miles north west of Phoenix). We headed south on 17 and west on the Carefree Hwy near Phoenix and then north on 60. We found a Super 8 Motel for 69 bucks a night with a parking spot for the bikes right outside our room. Just around the corner on old Frontier St., we ate at the Mecca Restaurant and Cantina-Authentic Mexican Food. This was a great choice-good food and awesome Margaritas. After dinner, Donnie and David wanted to gas up because they wanted to leave at 7:00 am sharp for our long journey home.
Day 4-Wickenburg, AZ -Home-Sweet-Home- Fresno, CA (575 miles)
On our final day, 4 friends, 4 Harleys after 4 days and over 1000 miles we seemed ready for the journey home. With helmets, goggles, gloves in place we fired up our Milwaukee machines and headed thru Hope, took the turn-off to Parker then crossed the Colorado River and went west on 62 (this is a great road). We rode thru the outer edge of Joshua Tree National Park thru the Mojave Desert and Twenty-nine Palms. Out in the middle of nowhere, we noticed a large, wooded monument of the 6 Flag Raisers of Iwo Jima from WWII. This 20 ft. high desert memorial captured an image of heroism for all of to remember. We stopped, snapped a photo and bowed our heads for all who have so bravely served our country. “God Bless America.”
On our last day, we took only 1 break and that was for lunch at Applebee’s in Yucca Valley. We headed north on 247, then north on 395 at Victorville to the 58 at Bakersfield. As we rode thru the high desert, we met some very strong winds that made riding difficult. Oh sorry, no whining allowed. Then I won’t mention that my butt, back and wrists were starting to hurt along with the sand and dirt in my eyes and ears as we rode hard from tank to tank. We knew that we were going to have to kick butt to get home before dark. As we entered Bakersfield and got on the 99N, it was a straight shot home, about 2 hours.
Kingsburg was the last town that we all would be together in. We made our final stop for gas and said our good-byes. We thanked these two great men, Donnie Owens and David Peters for patiently guiding us on an unforgettable journey. Without an experienced guide, you’ll want to do your homework and buy a good Route 66 map with lodging, dining, and most importantly gas stops.
This 1600 mile, 4-day ride was an educational and sentimental journey. It allowed for me to travel down memory lane and revisit my childhood journey out west on this old 2-lane hwy, all documented in our family album. It gave all of us a greater appreciation and understanding of past generations whose lives were touched by Route 66.
So, with a saddlebag full of memories, my husband Dennis and I headed in the darkness of night towards Home-Sweet Home where all began.
Check out this site for more info: www.national66.org