Last Updated on August 6, 2022
Out of Route 66’s 2451 miles, in my opinion Arizona is home to the route’s best miles. Not only does it have some unique attractions, it also has my favourite stretch of road! When you are doing a road trip such as Route 66, it’s not so much the ‘destinations’ which are the highlights, you have to embrace the whole road and the complete journey. The Sitgreaves Pass is definitely an awesome drive that’s not to be missed!
The Sitgreaves Pass, also known as the Oatman Highway, is approximately 50 miles in length, winding through the Black Mountains. It is slow going, with some of the winding sections slowing down to 20mph. But believe me, you wouldn’t want to be driving much faster than that. In a lot of places there’s only a few wooden fence posts and a piece of chain between you and the drop over the edge of the mountain!
Now, if you’re driving Route 66, I’d hope that you’re sticking to the old road as much as possible. But if you’re travelling East to West on I-40 (Interstate 40), you’re going to want to take exit 44 for McConnio, just after Kingman (1hr 40 from Las Vegas!). The Sitgreaves Pass will then take you the rest of the way to the Arizona/California border. Putting you back on the I-40 at exit 1 (Topock) just before you reach the Colorado River, where the state line lays.
The very first part of the Oatman Highway just takes you through McConnio. As you reach the edge of town, you are greeted with a stretch of desert, heading straight for the mountains. This is where the fun begins!
Cool Springs Cabins
As you reach the mountains, you’ll come to ‘Cool Springs Cabins’. This is a classic Route 66 gas station built in the early 1920’s. With the introduction of the Interstate, the Cool Springs Cabins became another victim of the decline of Route 66, closing its doors in 1966. The old gas station stood in ruins until it was restored, opening once more in 2004. It’s no longer a working gas station (although there are old fashioned pumps on the forecourt). It is open 7 days a week as a museum and gift shop.
If you’re after a ‘loo with a view‘, Cool Springs Cabins has a fancy porta potty in the car park, complete with an outside sink and mirror! It’s been a while since my visit, so I hope it’s still there!
Some people wonder if Cool Springs is where Radiator Springs in the Disney Pixar Cars movie, based on Route 66, got its name from. However there are a couple of locations along the route with ‘Springs’ in the name but the name isn’t taken from one particular town.
Schaffer Fish Bowl Spring
An unexpected surprise along the Sitgreaves Pass is the Schaffer Fish Bowl Spring. Unless you know it’s there, the chances are you’ll drive right past it! The Fish Bowl Spring isn’t signposted, but it’s located between mile markers 30 and 31. The section of road looks like this (in the image below). I’m standing next to the Fish Bowl. The road in the shot is the direction you’d be coming from travelling East to West.
You’ll need to keep an eye out for a set of stairs leading up the side of the mountain on the left hand side of the road. This is easier said than done, as they do blend in a bit with the surrounding rocks!
Once upon a time, the Sitgreaves Pass was the road to and from gold mines that were discovered in the area. A man named Schaffer came across a natural spring (which in a desert is obviously a bit of a lifeline!). So he created the bowl to collect the water for passing travellers and animals. Someone then came along and put a couple of goldfish in there!
There were a lot of bees and wasps flying around the Schaffer Fish Bowl Spring during my visit on a hot August day, so please be careful!
Oatman Route 66
If you’ve braved the Sitgreaves Pass, you’ll be rewarded with the little ‘Wild West’ village that is Oatman Arizona! Oatman was once a little mining town, servicing the nearby gold mines. But without the helping hand of the popularity of Route 66, Oatman could have ended up as an empty desert ghost town.
At first look, Oatman looks like a typical tourist town, in other words, not historic. There are lots of souvenir shops, ‘cowboy’/leather shops, murals, billboards that you can stick your face through for a photo etc. BUT what makes this place unique, is the wild burros (a type of donkey) that come and visit the town each day.
They were originally brought to Oatman to be used in the mines as well as hauling items around the town. When the miners left, they released the burros into the mountains and can still be seen today.
These guys have a mind of their own and are brilliant to watch. They’ll stick their heads into the shops (much to the annoyance of the shop keepers!) and wander down the middle of the road without a care in the world!
The Oatman burros are said to be the inspiration for the cow/tractors in the Cars film. They are friendly enough. I may have stroked a few of them, but *disclosure* there is a sign saying that they are wild animals and may bite and kick. So stroke at your own risk!
Burro food can be bought in a couple of the souvenir shops, which is probably the main reason that they return to the town daily! Some of the younger baby burros have stickers on their heads instructing people not to try and feed them. These are still on a milk diet. Don’t be the idiot that spoils it for everyone by trying to feed them.
There is a public toilet in Oatman. My Mum informed me that they were in fact long drop compost toilets. Beggars can’t be choosers!
This part of Route 66 isn’t recommended for larger vehicles, such as RVs. With any rural driving, make sure the weather conditions hasn’t/won’t be affecting your route.
You can find my full 16 day Route 66 itinerary here.