If you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way, take the highway that is best
Get your kicks on Route sixty-six
Kingman, AZ | Seligman, AZ | Flagstaff, AZ
Holbrook, AZ | Winslow, AZ | Gallup, NM
Santa Fe, NM | Santa Rosa, NM | Amarillo, TX
It was not our intention to do the Mother Road. We started in South Padre Island in January 2019 with the goal of Grand Canyon in mid-August. We roamed through central and west Texas, then through south AZ and up to Las Vegas before we realized that our journey east to Grand Canyon would be spent on I-40, aka the interstate that displaced Route 66. And while we weren’t in a ‘Vette convertible like Tod and Buz, we managed to throw back and enjoy our trip through history.
We started in Kingman, AZ. Kingman is a “we’re on our way somewhere else” town about an hour from Grand Canyon West and that glass walkway you’ve heard about. But scratch out at least a week because there’s a lot to see in the area and unique experiences to be had.
We stayed at the Kingman KOA (see our TA review here). Our first night in we roamed around looking for some dinner and a bar, and found Canyon 66. What attracted us was the retro signage, and what made us commit was the airbrush art depicting various 50s and 60s entertainers. Amazingly, the owners do not think this is as cool as Neal and I did – they don’t even mention it on their website. WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE???
Kingman has a wonderful Route 66 museum that you will spend hours in, so plan accordingly. Filled with history, first hand accounts, and a highly entertaining film. One interesting factoid: When migrants fleeing the Dust Bowl arrived at the California border, they were turned away. Sorry, California’s full up, move along. And these were American citizens. Afterward we had burgers and onion rings at Mr. D’s Route 66 Diner – a kitschy retro 50s eatery with memorabilia on the walls and a definite throwback feel. Kingman also has a pretty good downtown with a few shops and a terrific pub.
About a half hour west of Kingman is Oatman, and it is not to be missed. First let me tell you about the drive:
We took the road through the mountains instead of the highway and it was MAGNIFICENT. My pics don’t even come close to the depth and enormity of this land. The road is skinny and no guardrails, with a dropoff right there – on wrong move and you’re jelly. At one point we came around a curve and OMG! The mountain view was so overwhelming I got vertigo and had to look away.
In literally the middle of nowhere there was an oasis: Cool Springs. Stop and get a drink (non-alcoholic as of this writing and you really don’t want to drive that road impaired anyway), go potty, and chat with the charming owners.
Oatman’s claim to fame (besides being a cute cowboy town) is that they have packs of burros that roam the streets, including sweet Walter who was only 5 days old.
Clark Gable and Carole Lombard honeymooned in the Oatman Hotel, and the restaurant has pretty good food. So when you have lunch, cough up the couple of bucks and go upstairs to see their suite. (PS, get extra “donkey ears” with your meal because those things were the cat’s ass.)
The last excursion in our Kingman odyssey was the populated (200+-) ghost town of Chloride, named after the silver chloride this little mining town was founded on. There was a visitor’s center that doubles as a general store and a restaurant/bar/motel that served up a darn good lunch. They are barely hanging on and only because a handful of people like me want to visit and drop some money on them for souvenirs etc.
Next stop: Seligman. Pronounced “Seh-LIG-man” (I was mispronouncing it and a local corrected me). It’s famous for being the town that the movie “Cars” was based on (so they say) and the birthplace of Route 66, not because that’s where 66 originated but because it was the residents of Seligman who made Arizona declare it a historic highway. It’s a tiny little town with maybe 500 residents and the most iconic Route 66 downtown you’ve ever seen.
We stayed at the Seligman Route 66 KOA (see our review on Trip Advisor), which was off in the sticks with mountain views and a busy train track running alongside it. It’s somewhat rustic but so is everything else out in that neck of the country. Tons of Europeans there, of course, because they love our American history and think we’re pretty cool despite what the cranks on the internet say.
Everything in Seligman has a history, nothing is brand new or modern. From the Black Cat Saloon to Delgadillo’s Snow-Cap, each building has a story – ask one of the people who work there and they’ll give you a history lesson. Make a visit to the Seligman General Store for souvenirs and convenience items, and have dinner at Westside Lilo’s Cafe for German comfort food.
Seligman is highly economically depressed and relies on tourism to keep it going. Fortunately bus loads of foreign tourists flock to it every day and drop dough on kitschy memorabilia. The way people live in different parts of the country is fascinating. Not one person in Seligman sits in a cubicle for a living. They make stuff and haul stuff and do things that the rest of us don’t know how to do. I like being me, but there’s a part of me that wishes I was them. They don’t even have a grocery store but they do have a tight knit community and a lot of warm welcome.
TA review of the Pizza Joint
TA review of Road Kill Cafe
On to Flagstaff, which needed its own page: https://nealanddeejayrv.com/flagstaff-az/
The only reason you’d go to Holbrook is because it’s close to the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. We ended up there because we had some time to kill before our reservation at Grand Canyon and figured, why not.
We stayed at the Holbrook KOA. See our TripAdvisor review here.
Holbrook is a depressed one-horse town with bad Mexican food, which I didn’t think was allowed in Arizona. There is a large Native American population, which you’d think would lend itself to Native American food options but it doesn’t. They don’t take advantage of their Route 66 history, so don’t expect museums or kitschy gift shops. In Holbrook you’ll buy rocks and petrified wood, and you can’t swing a cat without hitting a purveyor.
Petrified Forest is interesting for about 15 minutes unless you’re really into geology. It’s what you think it is: a large area with petrified (turned to stone) wood stumps with interesting mineral designs. Worth seeing but you won’t spend a lot of time at it.
The Painted Desert, on the other hand, is magnificent. The whole thing is a 30 mile loop that takes you through both areas and puts you back on I-40. There are a few stops with things of interest – the Painted Desert Inn and Agate Bridge – but mostly you just gawk at the beauty and vastness of the park. At the overlooks you can see for miles, nothing but nature and desert and land formations.
I know I harp all the time about dinosaurs but it’s true: in congested areas you can’t even imagine a 40 foot tall monster living there with all his pals, but out west you can definitely picture it. It really changes your perspective and brings history up close and personal. It also changes your perspective about climate change and gives you a damn fine education on the subject.
Winslow is about a half hour from Holbrook, and of course you must go stand on the corner. The town revolves around the song “Take It Easy” and Eagles music plays nonstop in all the stores. It’s good for an hour of touring, including lunch at the diner. I admire a nothing little town that’s smart enough to capitalize on a pop cultural happenstance and become a tourist attraction. (Mystic, CT did the same thing – the town that Julia Roberts built.) And no kidding, there were packs of tourists there buying Eagles and Route 66 memorabilia and enjoying the day.
Gallup is another town that isn’t destination-worthy. When we left Grand Canyon we plotted a route to South Padre Island, TX for the winter, and this was just one of the stops on the way. It’s pretty depressed and has the highest crime rate in NM. Tons of what they call “trading posts”, basically Native American craft and souvenir shops which you can get all over NM and AZ and by the time you get to Gallup you’ve seen a million of them. The landscape is beautiful, like much of the southwest. If you’re doing Route 66 or traveling down 40 you might as well stop, but Gallup is definitely not a destination.
We did have a drink at the historic El Rancho hotel bar. It’s western themed (of course) but focuses on movies and stars from the 30s and 40s. If you found yourself in Gallup needing a hotel, this is where you’d want to stay.
We also ate at Genaro’s on the recommendation of pretty much everyone we talked to, and they weren’t kidding. It’s a small family restaurant tucked away in a residential neighborhood. Their specialty is a stuffed sopapilla, but those are way too goobery for me so I had crispy tacos and a sopapilla on the side, which was perfect. Get extra red sauce to take home.
Our RV park was a pleasant surprise – USA RV Park. I was expecting a run down blah, can’t wait to move on, but it was clean and well-kept with great amenities including a nightly chuck wagon dinner with some of the best smoked ribs I’ve ever had. There is a guy who is a local wood carver and his masterpieces are all over the park. The office doubles as a (you guessed it) trading post with all kinds of Native American stuff you can buy. See our TripAdvisor review here.
Note that I haven’t included photos – that’s because there’s not a lot to see.
SANTA FE, NM
Santa Fe is also deserving of its own page: https://nealanddeejayrv.com/santa-fe-nm/
SANTA ROSA, NM
Wide spot in the road (pop. 2000+-) with a third-world grocery store that you have to make sure you carefully check the expiration date on everything you buy. They don’t take good advantage of their Route 66 location like other small towns along the road do. It is, however, home to one of the best tacos I’ve ever eaten.
Sun & Sands diner, we wanted to stop and have a beer and the owner gruffly informed us that she wouldn’t serve us alcohol unless we were eating. So fine, even though we weren’t hungry we ordered tacos – 2 for Neal, one for me. And DAAAAAAAAMN! A fresh fried flour tortilla with abundant ground beef filling and fresh veggie toppings – it was amazing.
New Mexico food is hit or miss. It’s its own culinary genre, much like the difference between Mexican and Tex-Mex. Green chile is a thing on everything, and their red sauce is actually more of a gravy because it’s a beef/pork base. They’re more about the flour tortillas than corn, and your heat comes from the condiments and not the dish itself. When it’s good it’s extraordinarily good and the best thing I ever ate (Burrito Victoria, I miss you desperately), but frequently it’s underwhelming and an acquired taste.
Their claims to fame in Santa Rosa are the Blue Hole, which is a natural pool that SCUBA divers are all excited about, and the Billy the Kid museum, which was very interesting and worth the drive. What they should also play up is that right smack in the middle of the arid high desert, Santa Rosa has a puzzling number of lakes and natural springs. Every place else in NM is drier than Al Gore’s wit, but Santa Rosa has a number of fishing and swimming holes.
Our RV park was fine – Santa Rosa Campground. Mostly it’s for overnighters on their way somewhere else because there’s no reason why you’d want to come to Santa Rosa specifically except to dive the Blue Hole. The bath houses are tired and run down, but SUPER clean (which is all I really care about). There’s a restaurant on site that does pretty good chow but get there early because they run out of things toward closing time.
The best restaurant in town, in my opinion, is Diego’s Pizza inside Joseph’s Bar & Grill. Go in on the bar side and that’s where you’ll get your pizza. Joseph’s “grill” offerings are underwhelming. Also, Joseph’s is the only real bar in town; restaurants sell beer and liquor but you have to order food with it. At Joseph’s you can just get a drink.
Our last Route 66 stop, a nice wrap-up for the Mother Road: https://nealanddeejayrv.com/amarillo-tx/
One last thing I want to share:
The red chile sauce in New Mexico is LIFE. Neal joked that my blood type became salsa roja because I ate it on EVERYTHING. So here is the definitive recipe for it, courtesy of Made in New Mexico (pay them a visit, they have all kinds of unique NM items in their online store and recipes for things you need to eat right now):
3 Tbl Spoons Olive Oil or Shortening
1/2 cup Red Chile Powder
2 Tbl Spoons Flour
2 Cups water (beef or chicken stock)
1 Tsp Salt
1/2 Tsp Pepper
1/4 Tsp Cumin
1/2 Tsp Garlic Salt
Use olive oil or melt shortening in a sauce pan, blend in flour and cook flour until light brown – approximately 4 minutes. Have your Red Chile powder already mixed with water. Add it to the flour over a low to medium heat. Chile powder burns easily so be careful with the heat levels. Cook to your desired consistency. Add salt, pepper,cumin, garlic salt & other spices according to taste.
Want to get sucked into more Route 66? Check out the Roadtripper’s extremely detailed guide to the whole shebang, from Chicago to Santa Monica.
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