We’ve been looking for longer hikes as part of our current training scheme and my research indicated a couple of good hiking trails in Kingman, Arizona, only about 100 miles south of us. We’ve traveled through Kingman on Route 66 on several occasions previously, but never really spent any time there and most certainly didn’t realize there were any good hiking opportunities. We were pleasantly surprised.
We left late morning from Las Vegas and arrived in Kingman in time for lunch and a short afternoon hike. We headed to Hualapi County Mountain Park, but the rough 4x4 road entrance deterred us. Instead we opted for an easier, shorter trail we found on All Trails and enjoyed a pleasant, albeit brisk walk in the desert terrain on the Little Hualapi Trail.
An old windmill still churned and clattered, but its driveshaft had been disconnected, clanging along with each turn of the vane. A solar panel had replaced the windmill for generating power for a water pump to fill the old cistern used for watering horses.
A quick stop in the late afternoon at the historic Kingman Powerhouse Visitor Center netted us several Kingman brochures and maps of other local hiking trails. The Visitor’s Center, by the way, is a pretty interesting place with friendly, informative locals at the desk, a gift shop and the Historic Route 66 Museum on the second floor. More about Kingman a little later.
We spent a pleasant night in Kingman at the local Quality Inn. Though clean and tidy, it’s a rather tired motel today, but I’ll bet it was quite a nice place in years past. We were pretty impressed that we stayed in Room #285, once occupied by Route 66 co-star, Martin Milner. A plaque on the door proved it. Claude van Damm’s stunt double also stayed in this room once. I doubt they’ll mount a sign for our visit, but hey, you never know.
We rose bright and early, raring to go on our long hike. When we discovered it was 37F with 40mph winds, we headed back to bed for a couple hours. The temperature did rise a couple of degrees, but the wind was still breezy when we headed out onto the first trail. Kingman is about 1,300’ higher than Las Vegas, which I guess accounts for the temperature disparity.
We chose the White Cliffs Wagon Road Trail for our first hike of the day. This trail meanders alongside ‘the old ore wagon route used in the late 1800s to bring ore from the Stockton Hill Mines to the railroad in Kingman.’
The round trip on this trail was only about three miles and we decided to head to the Cerbat Foothills Recreation Area for a longer hike. The Monolith Gardens Trail, a series of loop trails through Mojave Desert vegetation and monolithic volcanic rock formations, sounded intriguing.
Other than the windy bluster, the day was perfect for hiking. The sky was a crisp, clear, cerulean blue. The desert terrain was dry and rocky. Cacti, mesquite, yucca and creosote peppered the landscape. In the distance, the monoliths stood tall and mysterious awaiting for our approach.
The trail was up and down over rolling hills, but overall fairly easy walking. We stubbed our toes occasionally, but nothing catastrophic. Though well-marked, we got sidetracked off the trail a few times and relied on our All Trails app to put us right again.
When we climbed to the top of a ridge line, we began our descent into the ‘garden’. Before us lay an delightful maze of towering rocks, stacked rock towers and tall volcanic columns. The path wandered among and between the rocks giving us a unique view of these ancient giants. Some forms seemed to be crowding others as if trying to get a leg up to climb to the top of the ridge. Our imaginations got a pleasant work out.
The desert here was just springing into Spring, but not yet sprung. A few wildflowers were in bloom and we noticed one lone yellow poppy. The recent rain had turned the spines of the barrel cacti to bright red, providing a bit of dramatic color contrast to an otherwise drab desert scape.
Scrub jays, hummingbirds and swallows darted across our path. A black-tailed jack startled us as we wended our way around some rocks. Lizards sunned themselves on warm rocks. An Arizona gray squirrel eyed us warily as we passed by. The season’s first butterflies fluttered by, clearly anxious to spread their newly found wings.
From the Kingman Historic District website: “Admission is free, the scenery is wonderful. Shade is elusive, watch for rattlesnakes, and carry plenty of water. This is open range country so don't be surprised if you see cattle.” We did, indeed, see some cattle.
Back to downtown Kingman... it’s a pretty historic little town. Though the local newspaper is the Daily Miner, Kingman was not established as a mining camp, but rather as a railroad stop along the Atlantic & Pacific (A&P) Railroad line. According to the Kingman history brochure, Lewis Kingman, for whom the town was named, was a surveyor for the A&P. The first train pulled into town in October 1883.
More interesting was the story of Lieutenant Beale and his experimental Camel Corps. In the late 1850s, he surveyed the 35th parallel and built Beale’s Wagon Road, which many settlers used to move West, and which subsequently became part of Route 66 and the route for the Transcontinental railroad. Now the interesting part … “Beale used camels for the [experimental] Camel Corps imported from Tunis as pack animals during this expedition and on another in 1858 through 1859 to extend the road from Fort Smith, Arkansas to the Colorado River. The camels were capable of traveling for days without water, carried much heavier loads than mules, and could thrive on forage that mules wouldn’t touch. But the camels scared horses and mules, and the Army declined to continue the experiment with camels.” Who knew?
Beyond the Historic Route 66 Museum, there are several other small museums to visit. A walk along Beale Street provides a look at historic town buildings including the Hotel Beale. The Visitor Center is located on Andy Devine Avenue aka Route 66. Do you remember Andy Devine? He was a character actor in a plethora of Westerns. Though he was born in Flagstaff, he grew up in Kingman and in fact, his dad owned the Hotel Beale. Small world, huh? Each September, the town recognizes their native son in their Andy Devine Days festival.
All in all, Kingman turned out to be a pretty interesting little town with some fine hiking possibilities… many of which we have yet to explore. I think we’ll return at some point… maybe next September so we can hang out with Andy.