When you peel out of the Gold Road gate you'll lean left into the first of many rising curves climbing to Sitgreaves Pass. If you scan the cliffs before you pick up steam, you might see a band of Desert Bighorn sheep on the lookout.
The first few curves and the double hairpin above Gold Road are a warm-up for the next six miles of twisting rollercoaster road. A motorcycle at speed here will swoop and dive like a nighthawk.
If you want to play, take time for an easy pre-run back and forth over the pass, out to where the road straightens at Cool Spring Station. Check out the scenery and the wildlife, and look for little bonuses like pavement wrinkles in some of the turns you can use as berms.
Most of the hazards can't be scouted - they pop up at random, like a 400-pound burro taking up half the road, or a short-cutting semi taking it all, or a crowd of bicyclists oblivious to what's coming up behind them. This stretch is almost entirely short radius blind curves.
The road is cut into the canyon-sides, so one shoulder is rock going up, the other is boulders and cactus going down. Hard riding is duelling with live steel. There's a medevac chopper 30 miles east, in Kingman. If they're not available, ground transport time is one hour minimum from impact to ER. Try and stay out of the scenery.
Coming out of the second hairpin you can open it up and accelerate uphill on a gentle right-hand curve, then brake and downshift for a dip and a left-right dogleg. Bring it upright and roar up another 300-yard straight, with the exhaust booming off the canyon walls, into another dip and dogleg. The next straightaway hangs along the cliffside above a 200-foot deep gulch. You'll have a couple of seconds to enjoy the scenery before a rock face turns you into another left-right-straightaway.
Dip and Dogleg. Some people just relax and get lost in the scenery.
An acute left and a short steep straightaway run up to a big overlook below the pass, with a view 3,000 feet down to the Colorado River, and west over the desert mountain ranges of California and Nevada. There are two more overlooks higher up, one on each side of the pass.
The eastward viewpoint looking down Meadow Creek Canyon was a gas station til 66 was re-routed in the early '50s. Truckers used to stop here to check their brakes and air lines before aiming their big rigs downhill. Despite the precautions, the downgrades saw some legendary brakeless descents. Nowadays this overlook is probably the best place in the mountains for seeing and hearing wild burros. The long lonesome cry of a jack burro echoing through the rocky canyons is a haunting call of the wild you won't forget.
There are five more miles of swooping downhill curves eastbound from the pass. The winding road follows a course that was once an ancient Indian trade route from the Pacific coast to the Hopi pueblos in New Mexico. In 1859, the U.S. Army built a wagon road over the route for California-bound emigrants, and tried out the experimental "Camel Corps" desert pack-train here. The wagon road was graded and improved for automobile travel with the development of the Gold Road mine in the early 1900s, and became part of Route 66 in the '20s.
Jeep and pack trails take off from the pavement and head into the backcountry, branching off and eventually leading to abandoned gold mines. Some of the mines are so remote they still have ore car tracks running into the tunnels.
Hard-core prospectors still head out on these old trails, bouncing over the rocks and ruts in jeeps, ATVs, and motorcycles to search the backcountry for gold. Now and then they find some. The gold is out there, but it takes hard hunting to get it.
Fire agate has also been mined from the rocks on both sides of the canyon. Rockhounds get out to hike and climb the washes looking for gem-quality stones, especially after summer flash floods.
It's rough country off-road; and if anybody's getting rich here, they're keeping it quiet.
Old cabin at Ed's Camp.
Ed Edgerton, proprietor of Ed's Camp and the Kactus Kafe, was one of the last of the old-time desert prospectors in Mohave County. Ed's gone now, but his sprawling roadside camp remains, on the north side of Old 66 at mile 32. There's a "For Sale" sign out there these days. Across the road from Ed's are a couple of new houses - watch out for their kids.
The curves continue for a couple more miles, til you run through a last series of esses and find yourself looking across a wide desert valley from Cool Spring Station. From here, it's a fast run over the open road to Kingman.
Cool Spring Station. Behind it is Thimble Mountain, a landmark visible across the desert.
Before we leave the River Range behind, there's one more thing worth seeing - a government wild burro round-up. They say there's still plenty of cowboys out there, but you can't see 'em from the road. So we'll get off-road and catch the action.
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