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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

The sidewinder is one twisted road on Route 66 in Arizona USA

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

The Oatman Highway is a two-lane road that was one of the earliest alignments of Route 66. This eight-mile stretch through the Black Mountains is known as The Sidewinder. It has 191 curves, turns and switchbacks. The switchbacks through the mountains are awe inspiring. It is advised not to drive anything over 12 metres (40 feet) long on this road as the hairpin turns are just too narrow.

a road curves and switches back as it weaves its way through the Black Mountains of Arizona. Distant mountains can be seen in the background under a cloudy sky

Slow is definitely the speed you want to go along the sidewinder. The Arizona scenery is incredibly beautiful.

The steepness was a hinderance in the early 1900s and some cars then often had to make part of the journey in reverse. Gravity meant the fuel would not have been able to be pumped to the engine with the grade of the road. Not all vehicles made the journey safely and there is still a few examples of those on the mountainside, reminding drivers to take it slowly and carefully.

an orange car has crashed over the side of a desert mountain and left to decompose on the steep slope. Its doors and trunk are open and no glass remains in the windows

Today it is a celebration of making it down the sidewinder safely, to stop at Cool Springs. This is an old roadhouse/gas station/campground built in the 1920s that has been purchased by a Route 66 fan, Ned Leuchtner, and restored in 2005.

the cool springs museum and gift shop is a single story dwelling made of large rocks. It has a collection of route 66 memorabilian outside, including three old gas pumps

Ned operates a small museum and shop to buy souvenirs and a cold drink. According to a sign at Cool Springs, this was a lifesaving water source for the Mohave and Haulapai Indians. In the 1850s Ned Beale and his camel brigade watered their camels and horses here. In the 1920s it was a gas and water station for Route 66 travelers. It is awesome that someone has taken the time, patience and money to restore not just the building but the memories. You can purchase your own memory here!

three shelves of various route 66 ceramic mugs, all in different shapes, designs and colours.

The current road follows alongside the wagon trail road, and in some places you can still see the wagon wheel markings etched into the earth.

Sitgreaves Pass is a perfect spot to stop and enjoy the scenic views over three different states - Arizona, Nevada and California.

Sitgreaves Pass on the Oatman Highway looks off into the distance, past rugged Black Mountains, a windy road and desert shrubbery. The sheer escarpments are a pale brown, compared to the dark mountains.

The view getting from every part of this road makes the journey worthwhile.

against a backdrop of the Black Mountains winds the old  Route 66. Through 191 twists and turns the sidewinder finds its way from the valley floor to Oatman

Bob Walton from Desert Wonder Tours was my tour guide on this trip. Bob has a family history in the area, dating back to the 1800s. He shares his family history and details of the area when you take one of his awesome tours. Bob's passion and love for the area is infectious and infuses you with admiration for both the pioneers and current residents.

map marking the location of Oatman in USA

Happy Travels!

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