Skip to main content

Route 66 Wednesdays; The Oatman Highway and the Legend of Bloody 66

Continuing eastward from California, the Colorado River, and the Colorado River the course of US Route 66 entered Arizona.  The more modernized alignment now occupied by I-40 traverses through Yucca to Kingman bypassing much of the Black Mountains.  However, between 1926 to 1952 US 66 was aligned directly through the Black Mountains on what is known as Mojave County Route 10 or the Oatman Highway.

Back in circa late 2011/early 2012 I picked up Mohave County, Arizona and Clark County, Nevada in my work territory.  While working in Bullhead City I heard a tale of some crazy old alignment of US Route 66 up in the mountains which went through the ghost town of Oatman.  One early morning I decided to go have a look and found one of the coolest little mountain towns in Arizona along with the infamous "Bloody 66" along the Oatman Highway over Sitgreaves Pass.

Early US Route 66 simply followed the previous alignment of the previous National Old Trails Highway between Los Angeles and Santa Fe with one major exception.  The National Old Trails Highway was routed through Yucca whereas US Route 66 was routed through Oatman.  Oatman at the turn the 20th century was a prospering Gold Mining community with several small suburbs like Old Trails and Gold Road.  Mining around Oatman began back when claims were staked in 1863 and by the early 20th century it had become a boom town.  At one point Oatman had several thousand residents living in the canyons of the Black Mountains.

Fire burned down much of Oatman in 1921 and the biggest mining company the United Eastern Mines shutted in 1924.  According to conjecture I've heard over the years the road through Oatman was chosen for US Route 66 simply because of the money that was still there.  I find that concept surprising given that by 1926 the major mining company in Oatman was gone.  The remaining mines were shuttered in 1941 during World War II given that gold was deemed to be non-essential and much like Vulture City in Maricopa County the town of Oatman began to decline.

Unlike Vulture City, the town of Oatman was located US 66 which is likely the reason it never became completely abandoned.  By 1953 US 66 was shifted through Yucca and Oatman began to rely on tourism to survive.  Oatman today is filled with lots of well cared for old buildings, old highways, and even feral mining donkeys that come to pester tourists for food.  The town of Oatman along with the Oatman Highway are an absolute blast and must see for anyone interested in history or anything road related.

The 1927 State Highway Map of Arizona shows the alignment of US Route 66 through Oatman:

1927 Arizona State Highway Map

The map of Arizona in 1951 shows the last stand of the Oatman Highway as part of US 66:

1951 Arizona State Highway Map

The new and improved US 66 was routed through Yucca by 1953, the 1956 state highway map shows the alignment:

1956 Arizona State Highway Map

But what does the Oatman Highway look like?   Access to the Colorado Arch Bridge is now cut-off by I-40.  Traffic must exit off of I-40 exit and travel underneath the railroad tracks to rejoin the original alignment of US 66 on the Oatman Highway.

The Oatman Highway is a north/south road to Oatman and becomes east/west again from the top of Sitgreaves Pass.  Entering Arizona the alignment of US 66 would have have passed through the Topock Marsh along the Colorado River on the Oatman Highway.

In Topock/Golden Shores the Oatman Highway junctions Mohave County Route 1 and continues north.  Topock dates back to the 1890s when it was a railroad stop that was built near the location of the Red Rock Rail Bridge which crossed the Colorado River.  I'm not certain what the story with Golden Shores is, but I know it is a far more modern community that appears to be retiree oriented much like a large chunk of Mohave County.

Exiting Topock/Golden Shores the Oatman Highway becomes significantly more haggard as it approaches the peak known as the Boundary Cone.  The Boundary Cone is a 3,432 peak in the Black Mountains which is easily observable from the California side of the Colorado River.  My understanding is that the Boundary Cone was an religious site for several of the tribes along the Colorado River.

The Oatman Highway junctions Oatman Road/Mohave County Route 153 directly south of the town of Oatman.  There are a couple decaying buildings south of the town near this sign which were actually part of the mining suburb Old Trails.

There isn't much parking in Oatman, really the best you get mid-day is an ungraded dirt lot.  I tended to like to visit in early mornings when the crowds weren't in town, there are plenty of weird little US 66 shields like the one painted on the road.

A look down the Oatman Highway in an early morning really illustrates how few people really live in Oatman these days.  According to the 2000 census there was just over 100 people left in Oatman, most property owners live in Bullhead City.  Oatman really tends to spring to life after 9 AM when all the shops start to open.

I always thought this wooden US 66 shield was amusing to look at.

I bought an Oatman Highway street blade last year, I am fairly certain it is the one in the above picture.  The back side of the blade was black just like mine is.

I used to visit Oatman frequently, there are a ton of US Route 66 shields to be seen all over town.  The Oatman Hotel actually dates back to 1902 and survived the fire from 1921.

It isn't uncommon to be mobbed by feral burros begging for food in Oatman.  The burros are descendants from pack animals from when the mines in Oatman were abandoned in 1941.  The burros typically stick close to Oatman but I've seen them as far south as AZ 95 just north of Lake Havasu City.

Continuing north on the Oatman Highway one of the original mine shafts can be toured on certain days.

The climb to Sitgraves Pass on the Oatman Highway is narrow and traverses the reactivated Gold Road Mine.  Back in 2012 this section of the Oatman Highway had really active mine trucks which were ripping up the long decayed asphalt.  The Oatman Highway was resurfaced over Sitgreaves Pass was repaved I believe back in late 2015.

Sitgreaves Pass is a 3,550 foot summit in the Black Mountains.  The view of the Oatman Highway both the east and west side of the summit is really nice to look at.  There used to be an ice cream shop at the top Sitgreaves Pass and apparently back in the heyday of US 66 drivers could pay people to take them down to Oatman.  Apparently driving the Oatman Highway was known for deadly wrecks and thus why it was often called "Bloody 66" much like La Bajada Hill in New Mexico was.

Descending the eastern slope of Sitgreaves Pass the Oatman Highway crosses Ed's Camp.  Apparently Ed's Camp is an old motor lodge where travelers would pay to sleep the night in their cars.  I'm to understand that the camp is occupied and the owner doesn't take very kindly to people trespassing on his land.  Apparently the Cactus Cafe was named after two stray Saguaros which grew at Ed's Camp but are an overall rarity in the Black Mountains.

East of Ed's Camp is the Cool Springs Gas Station.   Cool Springs was the site of an older gas station that underwent restoration a couple years ago.  I don't have any photos from 2011 or 2012 so I substituted some from 2016 when I returned to the Oatman Highway with the Challenger.

The Oatman Highway continues eastward from Cool Springs before disappearing underneath of I-40.  From there traffic must either take I-40 or travel under the Interstate to reach Kingman.


Popular posts from this blog

Old US 101; the San Juan Grade

While researching maps for California State Route 183 I noticed something interesting on the 1935 County Highway maps for San Benito and Monterey County.  From what it appeared it seems that there used to be a state highway running from US 101 south on San Juan Highway, through San Juan Bautista, south over the San Juan Grade to Salinas.  It turns out what I discovered was an a very old alignment of US 101 which was replaced by 1932.

The information relevant to the history of US 101 over the San Juan Grade is as follows:

-  The San Juan Grade was built in 1915 which presumably replaced Old Stage Road from Salinas to San Juan Bautista.  Presumably this was part of alignment adopted as Legislative Route 2 from San Francisco south to San Diego in 1909.  This history can be seen on 1931 edition of the California Highways and Public Works Journal and on

1931 Highways and Public Works Journal

CAhighways on LRN 2

-  By 1926 the San Juan Grade became part of US 101.  The San Jua…

The Tioga Pass Road

Last Summer the Tioga Pass Road over the Sierras in Yosemite National Park opened late due to the heavy snow pack during the previous winter.  Approaching the start of July the Park Service finally had cleared Tioga Pass, I headed up shortly after the 4th of July holiday during a lull in the tourist season.

The Tioga Pass Road runs from the Big Oak Flat Road east to US Route 395.  The Tioga Pass road is largely within the boundary of Yosemite National Park but is also partially on California State Route 120 east of the Tioga Pass entry station to US 395.  The Park Service maintained portion of the Tioga Pass Road serve as a implied connection between the two segments of CA 120.  The Tioga Pass Road is the highest road mountain pass in California with Tioga Pass which lies at 9,945 feet above sea level.

The Tioga Pass Road is very old with the eastern section up Lee Vining Canyon to the Tioga Mine being built in 1883.  The connecting section of the Tioga Pass Road from Big Oak Flat R…

California State Route 49, The Golden Chain Highway (CA 16 north over Yuba Pass to CA 89)

After completing California State Route 124 I took CA 16 to the eastern terminus to start my first Trans-Sierra route; California State Route 49/Golden Chain Highway over Yuba Pass.

As stated I joined CA 49 from the eastern terminus of CA 16 in Amador County.  CA 49 actually begins in Madera County to the south in Oakhurst at CA 41.  CA 49 is about 295 miles long and travels most of the traditional 1849 Gold Rush Country north from Oakhurst to CA 70.  If you want history and old towns then CA 49 is one of the best routes on the West Coast to see both.

To the north of CA 16 the next major junction is Signed County Route E16 in Plymouth which is on Shenandoah Road.  E16 is a 33.2 mile route which travels northeast to US 50. 

Plymouth dates back to the 1850s and is mostly known for a winery that dates back to 1856.  These photos are from Main Street looking west.

CA 49 generally is very rural and doesn't deviate much from when it was first signed back in 1934.  While CA 49 isn'…