There's no better way to celebrate the true roots of America's Main Street than the annual Historic Route 66 Fun Run in western Arizona coming up May 1–3.
When Angel Delgadillo and his friends organized the first Fun Run in 1988 to commemorate the new Arizona Historic Route 66 Association, they had no idea it would become an annual event that draws more than 800 vehicles of various makes, models, and color schemes. Some are downright zany, like the stagecoach on a pickup chassis. Event registration is open to all street-legal vehicles—essentially anything with wheels that runs.
The Fun Run is sort of a road rally without a time clock on the longest remaining stretch of the historic two-lane Route 66, which spans 158 miles from the Interstate 40 Crookton exit west to the Colorado River. Most of Route 66 was converted to interstates by 1985.
"People are so happy we saved a little bit of history," says Angel Delgadillo, fondly known as the "Guardian Angel of Route 66." He's a year younger than Route 66, which turns 94 this year. It was Angel's idea to designate Arizona's section of Route 66 as a historic highway and create an association to promote its nostalgia. Today, you'll find Route 66 associations in every Route 66 state as well as eight foreign countries.
Steve Clifford, who grew up watching the Route 66 TV series, says this is his favorite segment of the Mother Road, and he hasn't missed a single Fun Run. "There's a romantic feeling of driving along that road that's indescribable," explains Clifford, who celebrates the romance with his black 1962 Corvette.
Friday: Where to Start Your Drive
Leave Interstate 40 at Crookton Exit 139 to begin your drive into the past. To paraphrase Sally from the animated movie Cars: You don't drive on Route 66 to make time—you drive on it to have a great time. Drop your speed to 55 and watch for the first replicas of the small red Burma Shave signs featuring whimsical poems.
The Fun Run officially kicks off in Seligman, the inspiration for Radiator Springs in Cars. Stop by Angel Delgadillo's Route 66 Gift Shop to pick up your Mother Road Bucks and Route 66 passport. Friday night features a parade followed by live music at Delgadillo's Snow Cap Drive-In and the Black Cat Bar. The Delgadillo Orchestra, with Delgadillo and family, performs regularly. Cars line up Saturday morning and start heading west at 10 a.m.
Saturday: Sight-Heavy Journey to Kingman
Most participants drive only 70 miles to Kingman on Saturday, but there's plenty to see along the way.
First stop is the Grand Canyon Caverns, a 1950s-era time capsule dotted with life-sized dinosaur sculptures. Hear live music and grab a hot dog.
Travelers soon enter the Hualapai Indian Reservation and the community of Peach Springs. The Hualapai ("People of the Tall Pines") usually celebrate the Fun Run with traditional dances and a pit barbecue with fry bread.
Between tiny Truxton and Valentine, you'll find Keepers of the Wild Nature Park, a wildlife sanctuary that is home to 150 rescued wild and exotic animals. Just a few miles past Valentine, the Hackberry General Store is a true cornucopia of Route 66 nostalgia with rusted-out cars and an outhouse. Music also is on tap here.
Just outside of Kingman on the north side of the road, an old A-frame landmark has been revived and named the Route 66 Antares Road Visitor Center. You can't miss the giant, 14-foot-tall green head named "Giganticus Headicus," as well as artist Gregg Arnold's other quirky metal sculptures. And again, there's live music to add to the fun.
The all-day Kingman Show and Shine event features music, family activities, and vendors, wrapping up with the car judging before the evening street dance. The long list of car award categories includes everything from Best Route 66 Cruiser to the Grapes of Wrath Award for vehicles that evoke visions of Dust Bowl migrants. Results are announced during the Show and Shine Awards Ceremony in Oatman on Sunday. Also while in Kingman, stop by the Powerhouse Visitor Center and Route 66 Museum to learn about Mother Road history.
Sunday: Cruise the Curves to Oatman
While the Saturday drive to Kingman showcases wide-open spaces, the Sunday drive to the California border features a long series of hairpin curves through the Black Mountains.
Because of a few realignments, the path out of Kingman requires a few turns if you want to avoid a short I-40 detour.
From the Powerhouse Visitor Center, take the first left onto Andy Devine Avenue. Drive about 4 miles to a stop sign, turn right to go under the interstate, and take a quick left onto Oatman Road. Just before heading up the switchbacks in the Black Mountains, check out the Cool Springs gas station, which has been transformed into a gift shop.
At Sitgreaves Pass, look for a brass cap embedded in the ground at the pullover spot to the right. It commemorates Beale Wagon Road, the precursor to Route 66 and I-40 named for explorer Edward Fitzgerald Beale, who was known for experimenting with camels as pack animals.
Almost a mile after passing mile marker 29, watch for rock stairs leading up a steep hillside on the left. Pull over and climb the steps to check out Shaffer Fish Bowl Spring, where natural springs seep into a concrete tank filled with a dozen or so tiny goldfish. The green tint doesn't look tasty, but this was a lifesaving water source for early settlers.
Nestled in the midst of these harsh volcanic mountains is quirky Oatman, where wild burros show up for treats from visitors during the day, then head for the hills at night. Here, you also can enjoy mock gunfights and—you guessed it—more music.
Just outside of Oatman, hang left at the fork to continue west to your final destination of Topock/Golden Shores on the Colorado River. The Show and Shine Awards Ceremony starts at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Park at the Topock66 Spa and Resort, dip your toes in the river, grab something refreshing, and salute your trip down memory lane.