Route 66 Sitgreaves Pass: Mother Road’s Wild Ride

Suddenly, the road has narrowed and taken the form of an angry, writhing serpent. This stretch of Route 66 winds through the Sitgreaves Pass, at 3,500 feet the highest point along the Mother Road. With its tightly coiled switchbacks, narrow track and modest, but sudden drops off the edge, it is also the most venomous.

This  is not the white-knuckle ride of China’s Guoling Tunnel, or Skippers Canyon Road in New Zealand. But the lack of maneuvering room, tight corners and razor-sharp edges make for a road that demands considerably more of my attention than the rest of 66. As if that were not enough, the pass has a hidden hazard lying in wait.

I watch my speed and ride the narrow, twisting ribbon as it snakes violently between sharply rocky hillocks, often with no shoulder to bail out on should things travel sideways. I exit a blind corner and stomp the brake pedal; just as they do in nearby Oatman, wild burros roam the road here, and three are suddenly in front of me.  The ground here is rocky and uneven, which makes the flat, paved surface of Route 66 an ideal thoroughfare for both machines and burros. Or maybe this small herd was forced onto the road between rocks and a drop, as they meander toward their destination.

As I spin the steering wheel around to get closer—no easy feat on this road—the leader bleats a sharp warning and the trio ambles up the rocks with all the grace of mountain goats. I watch them climb, then resume.

With the crest of the pass far behind me now, the road glides lower in elevation as its kinks unwind. Near the segment’s exit, I come upon an old stone structure on my left: Cool Springs, a restored gas station—now a gift shop—that guards the western gateway to the Sitgreaves Pass. Bench tables outside the station offer up a chance to unwind. I stop briefly, before heading east toward the high desert of the Colorado Plateau.

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