Kingman gets its kicks
Kingman, Ariz., does not claim to be extraordinary. In many ways, the 28,000-resident community is like any other small Southwestern town that grew up in the shadow of the Grand Canyon. But, it can — and does — boast that it is home to the largest remaining continuous stretch of Route 66, a claim that attracts travelers from all over the world. Because of Route 66’s tourism appeal, the town is seeking to preserve the roadway while honoring its history and celebrating its influence on the community.
Located in northwest Arizona, Kingman boasts picturesque views of western mountain ranges from its position in the Hualapai Valley. The town often serves as a refuge for campers, hikers and Grand Canyon-oglers. But, many come to Kingman for Route 66. “There is quite a bit of interest, especially from travelers who are coming from Europe,” says Josh Noble, director of tourism for the Kingman Area Chamber of Commerce, which is located on the historic byway. “And, a lot of travelers that are coming from the east side of the country especially enjoy Route 66 because the land is so different than where they’re coming from. And, there is the nostalgia.”
The historic 2,400-mile road, which was completed in the late 1930s and was part of a national highway system that linked Chicago with Los Angeles, travels through eight states. But, as interstates became a more efficient way of traveling, some of “the Mother Road,” as John Steinbeck named it in “The Grapes of Wrath,” was decommissioned, bypassed by larger roadways. In some places, signs marking its route have disappeared, making the road hard to follow, and some sections have fallen into disrepair. However, Noble says that the 130-mile section that twists and turns through Kingman is in good condition. “Back when they put [Route 66] in, they followed the lay of the land,” says Noble, a Kingman native. “So, wherever it was easier to put the road is where they put it down — in the valleys along the ranges instead of just cutting through the mountains. So, it does have a lot more curvy nature to it.”
Those characteristics keep tractor-trailers and large recreational vehicles off Kingman’s stretch, making it appealing to nostalgia-seekers. “It is pretty well-traveled,” Noble says. “You don’t have a lot of 18-wheelers going down the road. So, a lot of people do enjoy to bypass I-40 for that section and take the scenic route [along] Route 66.”
To honor Route 66 and celebrate its influence on the community, Kingman hosts annual rodeos, parades, drag races and air shows that attract even more visitors to the historic town. “All of Kingman’s events are basically centered around travel in some aspect, whether it’s the old days with the rodeo, [or] horse and buggy, [or] nowadays with Route 66 and the street drags,” Noble says. “All of them are basically planes, trains and automobiles.”
The Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona also organizes an annual Fun Run, a three-day classic car trip that travels along Route 66 from Seligman to Topock. This year, more than 800 classic car enthusiasts participated. “[The event] brings out a lot of locals and a lot of people from outside the community,” Noble says.
With all of Kingman’s events and the 100,000 people that stop by the visitor’s center each year, the community’s passion for Route 66 is evident, and residents are compelled to preserve its legacy. “Route 66 is basically an atmosphere,” Noble says. “Traveling Route 66 is kind of right out of the past, and you just cannot duplicate the experience you have driving on the old scenic byways like Route 66 by going on a road trip on your general interstate. A lot of that has affected the flavor of Kingman and what Kingman is about.”