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London Bridge is (Not) Falling Down
I woke to the sound of a long, drawn-out train whistle. Even though our campground was a fair distance from the train tracks, the sound had reached my ears several times during the night. Rather than being annoyed at having my sleep disturbed, I found the whistle strangely comforting—it resonated deep inside of me, and spoke of movement, dreams and freedom.
In the morning light, I could see this train in the distance:
While Ben and I made preparations to leave the campground, Genevieve and Sebastian had their own little adventure with Genevieve’s doll “Julie.” Julie first climbed a number of trees.
Since tree-climbing can be exhausting, Julie then settled down for a nap in her tree-bark bedding, next to a "fire":
Our campground was located directly on Route 66. We were soon heading toward the Arizona border.
We had read about a “license plate tree” that was not too far down the road. There was no description of the tree, and I think we had conjured up images of a large tree with license plates dangling from it. Oh, those “expectations!” I think that we were all a bit disappointed to find a 15-foot tree trunk (someone had cut off the top long ago) with license plates nailed along the base. Genevieve suggested that the name should be changed to “license plate post”.
Nevertheless, the “tree” was unusual, with its license plate decorations. The kids and I took some time to walk around the tree and identify all of the different states we could find.
We passed through the town of Needles. The “welcome wagon” stood at the west side entrance.
The old “66 Motel” looked like it has been well maintained.
The neon sign out front definitely spoke of a different era.
This road-side house was now the Women’s Club of Needles.
Other buildings had been abandoned.
Next to Phillips Excavating, Inc. were these amazing critters--not mentioned in any guidebook, but possessing a huge “Wow” factor:
The road ahead:
In the distance, we could see the pokey tops of the pinnacles after which the town of Needles had been named.
The border between southern California and Arizona is marked by the Colorado River. Route 66 used to cross the river at different places over time, including an arching steel bridge that was used until 1966. The steel bridge is still there, but it now carries a pipeline instead of a road. The only option for vehicles is the Interstate 40 bridge.
The white steel bridge:
Welcome to Arizona!
The pinnacles that we could see earlier were actually located in Arizona. We got a closer look from the freeway:
We broke away from Route 66 and headed south for a side-trip to see the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. This bridge had been constructed in London in the 1830’s. When it was replaced by a concrete span in the 1960’s, the stones were put up for sale. A U.S. businessman bought them in 1968 for $2.46 million, and spent three years and another $4.5 million shipping them to the U.S. and rebuilding the bridge in Arizona over a diverted portion of the Colorado River.
The tune “London Bridge is Falling Down” had been embedded in our memory cells when we were babies. We jumped at the chance to take a short detour and visit this famous bridge!
During the 45 minute drive, we marveled at the variety of textures and shades in the gray sky above us:
This large rock formation looked like a pair of mittens.
The land in the distant hills appeared serene, but the uplifting sweeps and knobby formations evidenced much change and movement in the past.
Coming into Lake Havasu City, the signs to London Bridge are not well-marked. We backtracked and finally found the right road. A few of the palm trees needed extra bracing from the wind:
Here it is . . . the London Bridge!
Maybe it was the pavement, or the lack of a certain indescribable “charm” or “je ne sais quoi,” . . . but the bridge wasn’t quite as spectacular as I had imagined it. (I think I had envisioned towers or some type of drawbridge.)
We drove over the bridge and parked so that we could take a stroll along the top. There is a nice sidewalk that leads to the bridge along a channel of water.
With a lower perspective, we could more fully appreciate the arched design of the bridge:
Many swallows had built nests under the top edge:
At the bridge entrance:
Crossing over the London Bridge:
We could see a small “English village” area that had been constructed on the far side:
The water below was shallow, and there was a sign warning us not to jump.
A bird flew down and gave us the eye:
On the other side stood a sculpture of the two men who had brought London Bridge here, Robert McCulloch and C.V. Wood, Jr.:
The English village area was named “the City of Londonland”, and we rested at the fountain in the middle.
Crossing back over the bridge:
Overall, we were glad that we had made a special trip to the bridge. Perhaps this visit was a lesson on having “expectations.” If we had just “happened” upon the bridge, without prior knowledge or any type of mental buildup, I bet we would not have experienced any type of letdown about how "ordinary" (dare I say "mundane") the bridge appeared.
While we were leaving the Lake Havasu City, we stopped at a red light. Next to me was a sloped area covered in rocks. One surprising benefit from traveling is that it has sharpened my eye for details. I sat and looked at the wide variety of rocks, with their grays, pinks, speckles, ridges, lines, and textures.
Back on Route 66, we headed north on the portion known as Oatman Highway.
The road dipped and curved its way toward the Black Mountains.
Near the mountains were fields of cholla, a bulbous cactus plant.
We skirted the mountains. On the other side was more desert, with some interesting rock formations.
As we grew closer to the town of Oatman, we passed multiple bushes with Christmas decorations.
We carefully crept through a pack of burros.
A sign welcomed us to Oatman.
We had heard that Oatman was a bit “touristy” but a nice place to stop and get something to eat or drink. We motored along, checking out the rustic or abandoned houses.
Erosion had created a beautiful pattern on this hill:
There was some time of mine on the side of the hill:
Then we rounded a corner and came to a halt:
Where had all these people come from? We had gone from the peaceful solitude of desert life to a full-blown tourist mecca! Our senses were a bit jolted by the traffic and hoards of people.
Views of Oatman as we cruised along the main street:
We weren’t hungry or thirsty, and we weren’t interesting in shopping. We would have to be creative with parking since all of the obvious places were already jammed with cars. After a brief hesitation, we decided not to stop.
The road continued onward, winding up to the mountain pass.
There were a few mines along this stretch of the road.
This mining sign warned us not to trespass on either side of the road for the next 1.2 miles.
The craggy hillsides were fascinating.
The road was pretty narrow in some places.
Our guidebook said that “near Milepost 30” was a “wide spot on the shoulder” with a “place to park”; there, we would find 30 rock steps leading to Shaffer’s Fish Bowl Springs, with a “view of the switchbacks downhill”—so “tremendous” that it is often photographed. Okay, we were ready! We wanted to hike those steps and see that view!
Near the top of the summit, we passed milepost 29. At the summit was a wide parking area, so we pulled over. Was this the spot?
I didn’t see any stairs, but I took a photo of the view.
We passed Milepost 30, and I spied another place to pull over in the distance.
Was this the spot?
While it had a nice view of the valley, there were no rock steps and no switchbacks to see.
Somehow we must have missed it. How could that be? Ah, well.
We continued on our way.
This next stretch of Route 66 involved steep downhill grades and hairpin turns. There is a rumor that back when this road was “the” way to get to California, some westward drivers were so intimidated by this section that they hired local people to drive their vehicles up and over the top of the mountain.
Amidst the soft desert browns, the yellow leaves on this bush sang out to us:
A road-side home:
The Cool Springs Camp building:
Cool Springs Camp was once a popular stop on Route 66. It provided gas, famous chicken dinners, and small cabins for staying the night. When Route 66 was diverted around the Black Mountains in the 1950’s, however, Cool Springs began a steady decline. A fire burned Cool Springs down to the ground in the 1960’s, leaving only the stone pillars. The land was purchased in 2001, and the new owner completely rebuilt the station into a museum and small market.
The road descended into a wide flat valley.
Across the valley, and over a small set of hills, we entered Kingman, Arizona. Our first stop was the wonderful Route 66 Museum, housed on the second floor of a former electrical power plant called the Powerhouse.
Each of us really enjoyed this museum. Not only did it offer a lot of information, but the displays were eye-catching and thoughtfully put together.
A map near the entrance showed the route that we had taken today from Needles, California to Kingman, Arizona.
The museum exhibits took us through the history of Route 66. We started by learning of the Great Migration of settlers who flowed west along existing Native American footpaths in the early 1800’s. In 1857, the government hired a team of men to survey the land and develop a route for the increasing number of Euro-Americans traveling West.
A large diorama showed a man and a woman (who was in the later stages of pregnancy) heading West with all of their belongings piled high in a wagon.
The next diorama had a family and an old flatbed truck, loaded with household items.
The surrounding walls were covered with photos and other information about the Midwestern drought and resulting “dustbowl” that sent 200,000 people to California over the Mother Road in the 1930’s during the Great Depression.
During this time, Route 66 was also part of President Roosevelt’s economic recovery program, and thousands of unemployed men were hired as laborers on road gangs; as a result, the entire road was paved from Chicago to Los Angeles by 1938.
A third and final diorama depicted Route 66 in its glory days, during the 1950’s. The star in the scene was a pristine, sparkling 1950 Studebaker Champion.
Other props reflected the nostalgia of leisurely family trips by car, quirky roadside attractions, and the rise of fast-food burger joints.
In 1957, President Eisenhower created the National Interstate Highway System and set in motion the demise of Route 66. The new interstate was focused on speed and efficiency, with straighter map lines connecting one major city to another. Parts of Route 66 were buried under the new super-highway; other parts were left untouched, but in essence abandoned by subsequent drivers.
In Arizona, Interstate 40 opened in 1984, bypassing the small towns that had served the Route 66 travelers. Many of those towns were devastated economically by the loss of business and have never recovered.
A short movie, called “158 miles to Yesterday” told the story of how a barber in Seligman, Arizona started a campaign to revitalize the Mother Road in the late 1980’s. As a result of his efforts, Arizona was the first state to designate the road as “historic Route 66.”
The museum gave us a greater appreciation and understanding of Route 66, and I highly recommend it!
Our campground was on the northern end of Kingman. As we drove through the town from the south, we saw many structures that reflected the old Route 66 spirit.
As usual, the desert landscape had a train rolling along nearby.
The campground had a small playground, which provided some entertainment after dinner.
After the sun completely disappeared, we sat down as a family and played some rollicking fun sessions of the card game “spit.”
The eyes of my children let me know that they were happy.
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