The day started at sunrise (6:30) in the deserts of Southern California and, with the possible oversight of a stop at a diner, took on all aspects of the classic American roadtrip from there. After a short drive across the border into Arizona the road led along the Colorado River and Lake Havasu. Following a short hike in the Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge I actually made an attempt to find the bridge in the town of London Bridge – an authentic bridge from the Thames River that was bought & transported to the Arizona desert in the 1960s – but it may be a good thing that this bit of Americana eluded me.
From there the path led along the quintessential road trip route of America: Route 66. With the advent of the Interstate Highway system the “Mother Road” mostly disappeared, but in places it has been revived, and at least in Western Arizona it is a throwback to 1950s America. The hotels that are left have neon signs, the gas stations sport vintage advertising and pumps, Burma-Shave messages line the road, and the stores aim to capture the roadside-stop mystique from yonder years.
In addition this route has waaaaay more than its share of roadside attractions, and one particularly noteworthy one was the town of Oatman. A gold mining town in the early 1900s, when the mines shut in the 1930s the town started dying, but it has resurrected itself as what Wikivoyage accurately describes as “equal parts touristy kitsch and real, honest-to-goodness Wild West atmosphere”. Burros whose ancestors were owned by miners have now gone wild, but they come into town each day to block the only road, poke their heads in car windows, and search out the carrots that local merchants sell by the bag. The downtown has been re-imagined as a wild west town, in no small part due to a 1960s makeover during the filming of How the West Was Won. Despite the revisionist history, a number of the townsfolk struck me as best described as “grizzled”, and there was a charm to the place that I enjoyed but couldn’t quite figure out. Outside of town there are still active mining claims, and a few of the “no trespassing” signs had an unmistakable “trespassers will be shot” undertone. Overall, I left the town liking America just a little bit more for being home to a place like this one.