O4ju21hS Route 66
Route 66

Route 66 — the Mother Road in a Day

Car: Dodge Challenger SXT

Drive: Route 66, from Seligman to Oatman, Arizona

Pix: Dawn Green


Route 66. Surely the most enthused about, written about and sung about — road on the planet.

Its narrative is well told. Running from Chicago to Los Angeles, Route 66 proved a veritable escape route for middle America fleeing the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Even after World War II, the restless pursuit of the American Dream continued to lay wheel tracks down its well-worn asphalt. 

While no longer possible to travel the full length of its original 3939km, various stretches remain that offer the magic of the “Mother Road”, as it became known.

One such deeply-evocative example is the 200km loop from Seligman to Oatman, in Arizona.

Dodge Challenger SXT
Dodge Challenger SXT.


We rolled into town late afternoon on the back of a six-hour, 560km haul from Palm Springs in California, ominous dark clouds following.

Big cars, big breakfasts and big spaces allied with the openness that such a drive takes you, no country quite does big like America – and that’s coming from someone who calls Australia home, no speck on the map itself. 

Our wheels? A 2015 Dodge Challenger. Before you start congratulating me on my erstwhile choice, a confession.

It’s not the halo SRT-8, but it’s little bro, the SXT Plus. Still, there’s plenty to like: a recent refresh bringing legendary, 1971-inspired body (muscular looks, Coke bottle hips); 8-speed auto replacing the old 5-cog slusher; restyled, spacious interior and capacious trunk (boot).

And, while short of the bent-8 muscle and grunt of the SRT, the Pentastar 3.6-litre V6’s  227kW and 363Nm and ability to cover 0-100km/h in 6.5 seconds isn’t too shabby, either. 

The early part of the drive took us through Joshua Tree National Park, just an hour north of the Coachella Valley in Twentynine Palms.

Covering some 321,320ha, Joshua Tree comprises two desert ecosystems: the Colorado and Mojave deserts. The road through could well be a racing circuit, supermodel bum-smooth and just as perfectly curved. 

We re-join Highway 10 to point east, before veering on to 60 at Brenda which takes us north-east to meet 93, leads to 40 and eventually Seligman — our destination.

Sitgreaves Pass Arizona
Sitgreaves Pass, Arizona.


It’s typically big sky, broad horizon stuff most of the way and the Challenger takes it in loping stride.

Point of interest. We pass through a place called Nothing (true!) and stop at a roadside van for a slab of the most amazing pulled beef smoked in situ.  

After checking in to Seligman’s Supai Motel, a genuine Route 66 lodgings built in 1952, we park the Dodge and set off on foot in search of yesteryear.

It doesn’t take long to find it. Seligman is the birthplace of the Route 66 Association and Historic Route 66. As such, this small town carries its connection with chest-swelling pride. 

Sun-seared 50s and 60s Caddies and Chevvies sit parked outside what would have once been busy gas stations and burger bars. They’re not abandoned, rather smartly-placed period props.

It’s a scene frozen in time, but not nearly as stiff as the menagerie of stuffed and mounted wildlife on display in the appropriately-named Roadkill Café.

We’ve sought shelter and sustenance when the storm that had been brewing dumps down.

If the aforesaid wildlife isn’t enough of a give-away, a menu that lists Splatter Platter, Swirl of Squirrel, Big Bagged Stag and Highway Hash makes a statement that this is going to be a dining adventure like few others. 

Wide open road
Wide open road.


The Doors’ 1971 classic Riders on the Storm pulsing from a well-preserved Wurlitzer jukebox makes for a fitting, if cliched, soundtrack as we eat to the beat.

We’ve gone conservative and ordered buffalo wings and sticky ribs. They – and a splash of the local amber brew – are going down a treat, but when the rain finally stops it’s time for a stroll down memory lane.

Angel and Vilma Delgadillo’s Route 66 Gift Shop and Visitor’s Centre (complete with old-style barber shop) is closed along with, it seems, just about everything else.

That’s a real pity, because Angel is the man who jump-started the grass-roots movement to revive historic Route 66 in Arizona.

With no one about, Seligman is eerily like a ghost town. But there’s still much to see.

There’s Olsen’s Chevrolet dealership and garage, originally built in 1936; the Rusty Bolt souvenir shop, its roof and frontage bizarrely adorned with dress-up dummies; Seligman Sundries, circa 1904, which has served variously as a theatre, dance hall, trading post, community centre and remains complete with a working, old-style soda fountain; the Snow Cap Drive In, built in 1953 by Juan Delgadillo and family who still operate what is a bona fide Route 66 icon.

After a pretty ordinary breakfast, it’s check out of the Supai and off on Historic 66 through Hackberry, Kingman, Sitgreaves Pass and Oatman.

Old Route 66 through Seligman
Old Route 66 through Seligman.


We’re hardly begun the drive when into sight looms a sign for the Grand Canyon Caverns, the largest dry caverns in the US of A.

Located 60 to 90 metres below the surface, you can take a tour by dropping 21 stories underground.

Sounds interesting and we’re up for it, the only hitch being a lengthy wait for the next tour. Next time.

We push on past Peach Springs, tribal capital of the Hualapai Reservation, Truxton and Valentine. Then, “down the road aways” (local speak), and in the proverbial middle of nowhere is the Hackberry General Store. 

With the owner’s 1956 two-tone Corvette parked outside, the rusting gas pumps and old Mobilgas Pegasus sign on the rusty iron-sheeted façade, this is a place Lightning McQueen would have found impossible to drive by on his way to Radiator Springs.

Inside are a couple of booths where you can sit down, crack a Coke, chomp down a hot dog and take in the stacks of Mother Road memorabilia. 

Further on, the city of Kingman unveils more Route 66-infused nostalgia, none more so than pink-and-turquoise Mr. D’z, another original roadside eatery with a long history of welcoming travellers and locals alike. 

Leaving Kingman, Route 66 – which for the duration of the drive has been arrow-straight and pancake-flat – now starts to climb and contort over craggy, mountainous terrain spiked with saguaro cacti straight out of a Gary Cooper western. Welcome to Sitgreaves Pass. 

The story goes that in the old days, westbound travellers often would pay a local to drive their vehicle over the pass rather than risk it themselves.

Breathtakingly steep and narrow and studded with hairpin bends, its pavement cracked and crazed, only a couple of rusty, steel cable ‘guard rails’ hang between us and seemingly infinity. 

That may be but, around midday on this particular Saturday, it’s devoid of traffic; an opportunity to slip into the role of Okies heading west in our imaginary beaten-up Model T with little to our name but big opportunities hopefully ahead.   

Oatmans main street
Oatman’s main street.


Make it through safely and there sits the former gold mining camp of Oatman, its dusty street patrolled by wild burros demanding a hand-out from tourists kind enough to spring for bags of fodder (used to be carrots) sold by the local shops.

In 1939, giants of the big screen Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their wedding night in this tiny town’s only hotel (circa 1902) after having married in Kingman. 

Oatman is our last stop before Vegas. What a contrast – a one-saloon town to the capital of hedonism, where you go from hand-feeding hungry burros to feeding the insatiable one-arm bandits. 

It’s also end of our as-planned Arizona Historic Route 66 drive. Should you, too, want to do what best remains of the Mother Road in a day, then our little jaunt from Seligman to Oatman comes highly recommended.

And Did the Dodge Challenger do it justice? It did indeed.

The big two-door coupe with its bountiful 459-litre trunk proved commandingly capable as a grand tourer, not just in cruise mode but showing prowess whenever the black stuff twisted and turned.

The smooth-shifting, eight-speed auto helped return respectable mpg numbers and the interior proved not just comfy and roomy, but its cool, retro-look dials and red leather trim, complete with perforated seat centres and exposed stitching, made for an accommodating and pleasant place to spend the best part of a day. 

The big V6 was never short on response or urge; ride quality, given the tall, 20-inch rubber, surprisingly compliant; the steering well-weighted despite its electric power; and grip and balance impressive for a big unit some 5m long.

Just the set of wheels to get our kicks on Route 66.


Dodge Challenger SXT

Basic price: $29,995

Engine: 3.6-litre DOHC 24v V6

Power: 227kW @ 6350 rpm

Torque: 363Nm @ 4800 rpm

Transmission: 8-spd auto

Weight: 1739kg

Drive: Rear-wheel

0-100km/h: 6.5 secs


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