Photo by Jim Hinckley.
Dusty Trails, Forgotten Rails, And An Old Road Signed With Two Sixes
March 28, 2017 Leave a comment
This morning I have what is hoped to be an exciting post that will encourage an Arizona adventure or two. First, however, I would like to thank the sponsors behind Jim Hinckley’s America, the multifaceted project that now includes a video series and Kingman, Arizona historic district walking tours developed in partnership with Promote Kingman, a Friday morning Facebook live program, the blog, a YouTube channel, photo gallery on Legends of America, and a podcast. And, of course, there are the presentations and books, including a new release, Route 66: America’s Longest Small Town . The entire project is built around my gift for telling people where to go, and a desire to provide the information needed to make those adventures memorable and enjoyable.
So with that as the introduction, I would like to thank the folks at Grand Canyon Caverns, Promote Kingman, and the Route 66 Association of Kingman. Of course I would be quite remiss if I didn’t thank folks like you who through contributions to the Jim Hinckley’s America tip jar, as well as with comments, book purchases, and attendance at events that make all of this possible.
The post office in Gold Road, Arizona on Route 66 courtesy Mohave Museum of History & Arts
Now, lets talk transportation history, specifically the trails, rails, and highways across northern Arizona. Route 66 garners the lion’s share of attention, especially the 150-plus miles in western Arizona, the longest remaining uninterrupted segment of that highway. However, intertwined with that iconic highway are literally centuries of transportation evolution and history and tangible links to every era abound.
In Truxton there are signs indicating that Route 66 roughly followed the course of the Beale Wagon Road across the valley. The Beale Wagon Road established in the 1850s was made famous when the survey party utilized camels as part of a military experiment authorized by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, the future president of the Confederate States of America. However, much of the Beale Wagon Road followed a centuries old Native American trade route across northern Arizona, a trail followed by the Father Garces expedition of 1776.
As an interesting historic footnote, the Garces expedition has a connection to several sites along Route 66. Ed’s Camp in the Black Mountains along the pre-1952 alignment of Route 66 is located at Little Meadows, site of a Garces encampment. The springs at Hackberry were also a campsite.
Following the ruts of the Beale Wagon Road were the rails of the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad, latter the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railroad. Two major obstacles to the construction of the railroad in the early 1880’s resulted in the bankruptcy of the Atlantic & Pacific. One was the chasm of Canyon Diablo, known by Route 66 enthusiasts as the site of Two Guns. The second was Johnson Canyon.
Johnson Canyon necessitated construction of a tunnel, a venture that proved quite daunting. Upon completion it was deemed an engineering marvel but construction had cost several lives. The railroad camp constructed above the tunnel also had a reputation for death and violence.
Modified in the late 1890s with the addition of a riveted steel ceiling after a devastating fire, and again in the era of WWI when the floor was lowered to accommodate larger trains, the tunnel was utilized into the 1950’s when a double line was built through a canyon to the north. The tunnel, a bottleneck for traffic, was such a vital installation the army established an anti-aircraft gunnery emplacement above it in WWII.
Another historic link in the evolution of transportation in northern Arizona is located between Holbrook and Winslow. Spanning the stunning and majestic chasm of Chevelon Canyon is a beautiful old bridge built in 1913. This was among the first highway projects authorized by the newly minted state of Arizona in October 1912. The state of Arizona recently restored the bridge which made for a tremendous photo opportunity when the Historic Vehicle Association recreated Edsel Ford’s 1915 odyssey along the National Old Trails Highway in a century old Model T.
From Lupton to Topock, the Route 66 corridor in Arizona provides access to fascinating time capsules and intriguing historic sites. I suppose that is why the old double six is still viewed as the highway to adventure, the Main Street of America.