Bypass I-40 on Route 66 [H-D Electra Glide Highway King Ride]

My last ride from Los Angeles to see my dad in Williams, Arizona, was literally a jarring experience. I was aboard the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Highway King. It’s a beautiful motorcycle that embraces an era that featured the last stand of Route 66, as it was replaced by Interstates. In Arizona, that meant I-40, and the jarring came courtesy of the third-world (at best) condition of the Interstate between Kingman and Seligman.

It has been brewing for years, and despite efforts of the Arizona Department of Transportation and the Federal Aid Highway Program, Interstate 40 is pock-marked with countless dangerous potholes and uneven pavement. On my way up into the mountains as I-40 heads east from Kingman, there were times when I thought the Electra Glide Highway King had suffered catastrophic wheel damage, as the jolts were so brutal. The speed limit is 75 mph, so the worst aspects of the deteriorating highway can catch you by surprise, especially if there’s any other traffic blocking your view ahead.

I’m not the only one who has noticed, as there are blog posts, forum discussions, and news coverage about this stretch of I-40 in both directions. There are two primary causes of the Interstate’s deterioration:

  1. There is a constant flow of fully loaded double-trailer semis with engines that put out upwards of a foot-ton (literally) of torque and are allowed to run 75 mph. That massive torque distorts the road on the uphill portions, while heavy braking of the superheavyweight loads ripples the downhill stretches.
  1. Extreme temperature swings in the area, from below freezing to well into the 100s, weaken the pavement, making it suspectable to the onslaught of the big trucks.

So, after suffering through the Kingman-to-Seligman stretch on the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Highway King, I made the obvious choice on the return trip. I hopped on Arizona State Route 66 in Seligman, better known by its previous name, U.S. Route 66. Google Maps calls it Historic Route 66 and Old 66. I’ll just call it Route 66.

I-40 down the mountain from the infamous Sultana Bar in Williams to Ash Fork is tolerable, but when I came to Crookton Road (Exit 139), the choice was easy—get off the 40.

While it looks like a long detour on the map, it’s not bad. Route 66 through Peach Springs is a 100-mile ride, while I-40 cuts that to 80 miles. According to Google Maps, I-40 saves 23 minutes compared to Route 66, though that’s not necessarily true.

Bypass I-40 on Route 66: Stagecoach Motel and Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Highway King

If you’re in a hurry, you might make up that 23 minutes if you don’t mind twisting the throttle. I-40 keeps the Arizona Highway Patrol busy, so you’re not likely to see them roaming the virtually empty Route 66, at least on a weekday. I casually cruised along at around 90 mph on the willing Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Highway King for most of the side trip, slowing down for the occasional small town and a few stop signs. The condition of the road is excellent and it lends itself to those sorts of desert speeds, not that I would ever suggest anyone exceed any speed limit, no matter how unnecessarily low.

Copper Cart Route 66 Motoporium

There is one thing that might slow you down along the way—cool stuff to check out. The first slow spot I hit was Seligman, which I love. It has the best collection of mid-century roadside architecture outside of Williams. Approached from the east, you have the Stagecoach 66 Motel, Copper Cart Motoporium, and the Roadkill Cafe/O.K. Saloon, among many others. Too many cars in the way thwarted my goal of a good photo of the don’t-miss Delgadillo’s Snow Cap—get the chocolate malt.

Bypass I-40 on Route 66: Roadkill Cafe

As you leave Seligman, settle in for a fast two-lane road with mostly vanishing-point straights and long sweeping curves. A bit out of town are reproductions of historic Burma-Shave signs. Popular in the heyday of Route 66, Burma-Shave signs were sequences of signs that revealed a short smile-enduing message in bites of a few words. There’s even a book about the 600 Burma-Shave jingles, as they were called. I was just getting up to speed, so I neglected to pull over for a photo or two, thinking I would see more later—oops.

This stretch of Route 66 is scenic, if you like desertscape and watching the distant mountains slowly approach—I do. With the lack of traffic, few curves, and smooth pavement, you have plenty of spare cycles in your brain to absorb the experience.

I rode past the Grand Canyon Caverns & Inn—I didn’t need gas and didn’t have time to take one of the tours of the caves. However, one of the tours is on my to-do list.

I was anticipating Peach Springs, as it’s the largest town on this stretch of Route 66. It’s the home of the Hualapai Tribe. Unfortunately, if there’s something to see there, other than a few fenced-off Route 66 ruins, I missed it. The best part of the stretch is that the road meanders a bit as it goes through a desert pass.

Bypass I-40 on Route 66: Thruxton Station

West of Peach Springs is a gem. Truxton is home to Truxton Station—a gas station and friendly auto repair shop. Across the street is the Frontier Motel. There’s no way the Sony α6000 was staying in the side cases—picture time.

Leaving Truxton toward Kingman, there’s another mountain pass with a few still-gentle direction changes. The entire time, the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Highway King earned its keep. The Milwaukee-Eight 114 never missed a beat, and the luxurious sprung seat protected me from the King’s short rear wheel travel. The handling on a road like this is beyond reproach, and the large windshield kept me nicely protected from the windblast at all speeds. For all the details on the bike, check out my 2023 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Highway King review.

Bypass I-40 on Route 66: Frontier Motel

Somehow, I missed the Hackberry General Store, which is certainly worth a stop. I hadn’t researched the ride—I just gave Route 66 a shot to avoid the running disaster that I-40 is. Next time, I’ll be more attentive.

After Hackberry, there’s a long sweeping lefthander at Antares. Just before that corner was initiated, I gave a wave to a train I was passing. I was roundly rewarded with a blast of the locomotive’s horn—a sound that stirs the imagination. Railroad tracks used by BNSF Railway trains are ever-present on this Route 66 stretch.

Bypass I-40 on Route 66 on the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Highway King

As you enter Kingman, Route 66 becomes Andy Devine Avenue, named after Kingman’s favorite-son actor—he was Roy Rogers’ sidekick Cookie in 10 movies, appeared in three iconic Westerns—The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, How The West Was Won, and Stagecoach—and had a seven-year run as Jingles on TV’s The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok in the 1950s.

Andy Devine Avenue runs past the Arizona Department of Transportation office just before I-40. I glanced over in contempt, but was also a bit thankful. If it weren’t for their poor stewardship of the freeway, I might never have ventured on the far-superior Arizona Route 66. Don’t miss it—it might save your life, if not your wheels.