Immortalized in the anthem penned by Bobby Troup, Kingman in western Arizona is a bit of an enigma. On the map, it appears to be in the middle of nowhere and yet for the adventuresome traveler it is in the middle of everything.
It is a stop for travelers on the road to somewhere, and it is one of the most overlooked destinations on legendary Route 66. It is a treasure trove of history and a time capsule of a century of societal evolution with Route 66 as its portal.
Iconic Route 66 sweeps across the wide Hualapai Valley from Hackberry over the course of the National Old Trails Highway, and this road in places followed in the ruts of the Beale Wagon Road made famous with the camel corps of the 1850s. Where the two-lane gives way to the four lane, on the north side of the road, a row of concrete pillboxes stand as silent monuments to when the Kingman Army Airfield was the largest flexible gunnery training school in America during World War II.
Scattered throughout the sprawling industrial park that rose from the airfield are other vestiges from what was once a part of America’s arsenal of democracy during World II. There are the monuments to tragedy under the old control tower, the airfield museum housed in the former machine shop, and hangers built for the big bombers.
The past and present collide where Route 66 and its cousin I-40 cross paths. Here the monuments to the modern generic era dominate the landscape.
As the journey westward continues, the modern intertwine with roadside relics. A towering, modern hotel overshadows its 1960s counterpart, the last remnant of the Hobb’s truck stop masquerades as a Penske Truck Leasing office, and Lomeli’s Garden Arts has given Mr. Bell’s Flying A station a new lease on life.
The Walgreen’s Drug Store swept away the Imperial Motel, a vintage Texaco station, and the classic City Café. Just across the road, the Siesta Motel with one-half built in the 1920s, and one-half in the 1950s, still provides lodging but only by the week or month.
Before the old double six impersonates I-40 by ripping through El Trovatore Hill rather than sweeping around it like the early alignment signed as Chadwick Drive does, there are two neon landmarks from the glory days of legendary Route 66. The Hilltop Motel, with “the Best view in Kingman” is a veritable time capsule from 1954.
Across the road, the 1939 El Trovatore Motel is rising like the mythical Phoenix from the ashes of abandonment and neglect. Once again, its sixty-foot tower with neon letters lights the desert sky.
The savage cut through the heart of El Trovatore Hill is a portal into the world of territorial Arizona. Framed by a stunning skyline of towering buttes and mesas are the vintage hotels, and the stylish but sturdy stone courthouse.
If Kingman were to have an historic heart, it would be at the corner of Fourth Street and Andy Devine Avenue. The America Kitchen dominated the now vacant lot next to the Hotel Beal in 1927. That is where a clash of tongs left one man dead, and started the others on the path toward the gallows in Florence, Arizona.
One block to the south is the pre 1937 alignment of Route 66, and the National Old Trails Highway. This is where Clark Gable and Carol Lombard turned north in their rush to get a marriage license before the courthouse closed on that spring day in 1939.
It was in this intersection that frontier era rancher Tap Duncan met his fate in the 1940s. It was here that Pamela Anderson was arrested for indecent exposure during a Playboy photo shoot.
At the west end of town, the past and the present flow together seamlessly. The Kimo Café that opened in 1939 now hides behind the garish colors of Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner, and across the road, the territorial era powerhouse shelters a repository of Route 66 history, a gift shop, and information center.
Kingman, a time capsule and a destination, a diamond in the rough and a tarnished crown jewel, is but another part of the American story, the Route 66 edition.