There are two Route 66 alignments from Kingman, Arizona southwest to the California border. The pre-1952 alignment along the Oatman Highway is by far the most beautiful, providing numerous photographic opportunities, legendary Route 66 icons, and a peek at the wild old west in historic Oatman, Arizona. The later alignment, bypassed Oatman, allowing travelers to move through more quickly via the Yucca Bypass.
Though the earlier route is more scenic, it travels through notorious Sitgreaves Pass, once, the most intimidating portion of Route 66, with its steep grades, narrow road, and sharp hairpin curves. Though regular vehicles should have no problem, visitors should be aware that the highway does not allow vehicles over 40 feet, so, if this is you, think about coming into Oatman from the south through Topock, an easier route. Another consideration for big rig RV’s or vehicles pulling trailers, is that parking is extremely limited in Oatman. Get there early or you will never find a place to accommodate your parking needs.
On occasion, Oatman Road will close just south of Kingman due to heavy rains and melting snow coming off the mountains. During periods of heavy participation, it might be wise to check road conditions prior to travel.
In any case, if you can take the Oatman Road, it’s well worth the trip. However, if bypassing Oatman is the better choice for you, the post 1952 alignment through Yucca, Arizona provides a small peek at a few Route 66 era signs and dusty tourist accommodations.
When Route 66 was first built in the 1920s, several supporters worked to have the highway parallel the railroad through the Yucca, where many of its supporters lived. However, Oatman was at its peak as a mining community and had more clout. So, even though it made the drive more difficult on those old Model-T’s, the original route took the hazardous journey up Sitgreaves Pass, bypassing Yucca.
In the end, it all came back around, when in 1952, Route 66 was straightened out and headed through Yucca, this time bypassing Oatman.
The area around Yucca and its lack of water and other natural resources have long caused the region to be sparsely populated. However, this didn’t stop the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (affiliated with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway), which barreled through in about 1881. The railroad built a station and a section house and before long, ranchers came to Yucca to ship their cattle, and area miners to ship their ore. The small settlement soon became a busy way point for cargo and passengers, and was officially established in 1883, but, it was slow to grow. In 1905, a post office was established.
At about the same time, tungsten was discovered to the east of Yucca, though little was done about it until 1915, when it began to be actively mined. The veins were then worked from 1915 until the decline of prices in 1919 made production unprofitable. However, the mine would be worked intermittently for years. This production brought more people to the area.
In 1913, a segment of National Old Trails Road, the precursor to Route 66, was added from Needles, California to Kingman, Arizona along the Sacramento Wash through the Yucca area. Portions of the road are still in use today, as evidenced by the Old Trails Road Interchange along Interstate-40, approximately one mile north of the Yucca townsite. In 1924, a one-room school was built, and later expanded. The building still survives today.
In December, 1942, during World War II, an Air Force Gunnery School was established in nearby Kingman, with a sub-base in Yucca. However, when the war was over, these people left the area, and, at about the same time, ranching and mining began to decline.
The only thing that saved the town from becoming a “ghost”, at that time, was the rerouting of Route 66 in October, 1952. Yucca thrived through the 1950s as tourist courts, cafes, and service stations, including a Whiting Brothers truck stop, sprouted up. Making things even better for small town Yucca was when the Ford Motor Company purchased the old Air Force grounds and established the Arizona Proving Grounds for testing vehicles in June 1955. Employing dozens of people, the future looked bright for the community. Today, the grounds, which include an oval five mile high speed track, a low friction test track for testing skidding and breaking, and an 18 acre paved vehicle dynamics area for testing cornering and steering, are still operational but are owned by the Chrysler Corporation,
The Yucca Fire District was established in July, 1962 to serve Yucca and the surrounding area, which encompasses 125 miles.
Unfortunately, Yucca’s heydays wouldn’t last. In the early 1970s, Interstate 40 replaced the section of Route 66 going through Yucca. Though exits from the Interstate were built to Yucca, it wasn’t enough to keep the old services open. Soon, one more of the many Whiting Brothers Complexes “bit the dust”, as well as several other service businesses. For the last several decades Yucca’s population has continually declined. Though it still boasts a school, a post office, a convenience store, a restaurant, bar, and a population of about 125 people, it appears that once again, it could become a ghost town. However, there are efforts to revive this desert city, including a new land development.
Of vintage Route 66, all that remains are a few fading signs and the ruins of old businesses. But, there are a couple of other quirky photo opportunities including a semi-truck perched high on a pole on the east side of Interstate 40, just north of Exit 25, which was once associated with a garage next door; and a golf ball looking building, south of Exit 25, west of the interstate, that was once associated with a land development company that went bust.
Yucca is located 24 miles southwest of Kingman, Arizona; and 38 miles east of Needles, California.
Beyond Yucca, there is little to see along the steaming desert highway other than dozens of large billboards enticing you to visit Lake Havasu to the South. Settle in for the next 25 mile stretch until you reach the wide Colorado River at Topock.
As you begin your journey on south of Kingman on the Oatman Highway you will see little more than a dozen ram-shackle houses and hundreds of yucca plants, as you wonder when the road will begin its ascent into the mountains ahead. However, before you know it, you’ll take a peek behind you to see that the elevation has fallen below, as you come upon the small road side stop of Cool Springs Camp. Gleaming in its appearance today, you might be surprised to learn it wasn’t so long ago that this wonderful camp had gone completely to ruin.