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US 95 Vegas to Blythe, Part 5: US 95 in Needles, Old US 66, and AZ 95

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[US 66 crossing the Colorado River into Arizona east of Needles.] Needles gets a special section nearly all to itself as it also features past and present alignments of US 95. US 95's modern day routing is along Interstate 40 and then south to exit the city at the termination of present-day Business Route 40. Originally, US 95 was co-routed with US 66 (I-40's ancestor in this region), and all of this alignment within Needles city limits is still present. Most of it is signed either or both BR 40 or Historic Route 66.

From Needles, US 66 continued east into Arizona generally along or parallel to I-40. The original US 66 Colorado River crossing can be seen in the postcard at right from the 1960s; the railroad crossing is in the background.

The earliest inhabitants of this settlement on the Colorado River (nowadays probably most famous for its temperature highs on weather reports, as well as the traffic death of comedian Sam Kinison on 10 April 1982) were the Mohave Indians, who likely lived in the river valley for several millenia and exist in modern times as the Fort Mohave Indian Tribe, named after the fort established locally in 1853 by Army Lt. Edward F. Beale. Evidence of their existence persists in the form of many intaglios, petroglyphs, pictographs and various stonework sites.

The city itself was founded in 1883 with the construction of the railroad over the Colorado River, named after the sharp peaks "needles" on the southern end of the valley. It was first established on the Arizona side in February, but was transferred to the California side in October. A prominent railroad stop, it serviced passenger and freight lines offering multiple amenities and courtesies to travelers and train crews. With the advent of US 66 in 1928, Needles successfully changed its face to meet the needs of the emerging automobile enthusiast and maintained its preeminence during US 66's heyday and twilight, and damming of the Colorado River during the 1950s enabled new agricultural development as well. During its design phase US 66's replacement I-40 was originally planned to bypass the city, but fierce community opposition to this potential loss of travel dollars led to its current routing straight through Needles more or less just as US 66 did, and today Needles maintains its historic role as a friendly stopping off point between Barstow, CA and Kingman, AZ for truckers and travelers along the modern highway.

There are two separate alignments in Needles to follow and we will do both of them, along with a look at the strange case of AZ 95.

SB US 95 and EB I-40. This alignment is administratively postmiled as I-40.

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Distance sign and control cities.

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PM 137. Numbers like this on a postmile really drive home how large a county San Bernardino is, larger than some states. It is the largest county in the continental United States at over 20,000 square miles, making this milecount even more noteworthy given that I-40 only gets within 50 miles or so of the western edge (its western national terminus is in Barstow).

There is just about nothing of consequence between the US 95 separation and Needles, so one wonders what co-routing US 95 and US 66 (I-40) accomplished.

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Needles city limits.

There are two separate alignments in Needles to follow. We'll do the oldest first.

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Fork 1: Old US 95/US 66 (BR 40)

Our clue to where to start Fork 1 is given by this prominent Historic Route 66 signage along the Interstate.

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Exiting on River Rd Cutoff.

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This junction leads several directions. Straight ahead -- contrary to the sign, which is wrong -- is Park Rd leading to River Rd, which is a curious segment cut out of the larger alignment of the Needles Hwy running between Needles and NV 163. NV 163, as mentioned in Part 3, feeds the Colorado River resorts at Laughlin. Traveling back to Needles, River Rd will turn into the Needles Hwy, but traveling away towards Laughlin, it will *also* become the Needles Hwy. Bizarre. Incidentally, though we didn't have time for this trek on this journey, there is a road coming off the Needles Hwy that will go straight to the "three corners" junction of California, Nevada and Arizona. It can be accessed by following River Rd to become Needles Hwy north, then heading east on Soto Ranch Rd to its end and turning left (east) along the river. This may be private property, so this routing may not be traversable (I still have yet to try this and would appreciate any input from anyone who has).

Historic Route 66 does not follow the River Rd. Instead, the old alignment parallels the freeway heading east as the unsigned National Trails Hwy alignment, and so do we.

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EB National Trails Hwy (old US 95/US 66). The road is moderately well maintained and most of the roadside business has taken appropriate touristy advantage of the famous old alignment.

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The National Trails Hwy (here signed on the street sign as Historic Route 66) joins the Needles Hwy shortly after this brief independent alignment.

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EB Needles Hwy.

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Old US 95/US 66 will cross I-40 not once, not twice, but three times (only two are exits). This is the first time, at the River Rd/W Broadway exit. Note how the present-day US 95 is not signed on the freeway shields.

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Confusing, isn't it? This is supposed to be Needles Hwy, but the sign calls it River Rd on the top and Needles Hwy on the bottom. To make it more of a headache, I-40 marks the name change between W Broadway to the south and Needles Hwy to the north, despite the fact that the bottom sign implies no name change (if not two names at once) despite the top one!

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Crossing I-40, with a nice view of the Needles "skyline." This is the western end of BR 40.

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Coming around on Broadway.

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Present-day western Needles on EB W Broadway, going under the freeway this time. A moderately sleepy community, it still manages to offer the majority of modern conveniences to its residents.

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Detour: AZ 95

This "exit" on BR 40 just after the freeway undercrossing goes two ways: right to follow W Broadway towards Needles' historic downtown, or straight ahead to become the Needles Hwy again.

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[AZ 95 'trailblazer' in Needles.] If we go straight ahead, we intersect K St at this interesting and obviously not Caltrans-issue sign showing the way "TO AZ 95" (enlargement at right). Several of these signs, which were paid for by Arizona DOT and erected by them under permit (with one exception on I-40 which we'll demonstrate), dot Needles to show the through route. This oddity is due to a quirk of AZ 95's old routing through the Arizona towns of Topock and Golden Shores, the alignment of which was a former county road taken over from Mohave County and maintained by ADOT until it was discovered that there was no clear title to the land and the abutting owners wanted beaucoup bucks for the right-of-way. Rather than pay them off, ADOT gave the alignment of AZ 95 between Courtwright Jct and I-40 back to Mohave County in the 1990s (present day county-route MohCo 227) and routed AZ 95 into California with the agreement of Caltrans, through Needles and east along I-40 back over the stateline to rejoin AZ 95 at I-40 exit 9. Note that many maps still (incorrectly) sign AZ 95 through Topock. More about AZ 95 in a second. We turn left.

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Crossing the bridge over the Colorado River into Arizona. As CA 195 lost its original alignment to US 95, so did the original AZ 95 which predated US 95 by many years. Unlike many situations where a US highway failed to meet AASHTO routing standards and was "downgraded" to state highway, AZ 95 is a situation where a state route was actually promoted, and rarer still kept its number. US 95 was commissioned in Arizona in 1945 and actually signed and extended down to San Luis and the Mexican Border in 1961. This was done simply by handing US 95 AZ 95's old routing south of Quartzsite, and then using the then-new I-10 to connect up the dots. US 95 and AZ 95 do indeed meet to this day in the middle of Quartzsite, and here is a picture. AZ 95 is one of the few Arizona state routes to have a spur, which we'll make reference to at the CA 62 junction in Part 5.

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Crossing over the River. It's lousy with personal watercraft during the summer.

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Arizona state line.

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Suddenly our signage changes to "HWY 95."

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This used to be followed by the first AZ 95 shield (shown here in 2005) but this shield is now gone.

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Distance to Bullhead City and jct AZ 68.

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Mile 227.

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Courtwright Jct and the old alignment of AZ 95 ("Topock/Golden Shores"), now county road again.

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First AZ 95 shield nowadays. We turn back.

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Incidentally, I mentioned an exception to the ADOT signage, and this is it, along I-40. Although Caltrans permitted the AZ 95 signage along city streets, ironically they did not want it posted on I-40 for fear of confusion with US 95. For this reason, this is the only sign along I-40 hinting at the routing subterfuge. Even on a cursory look, however, it doesn't seem quite like other signs along I-40 even though it's in "California button copy" (never mind the fact Arizona was actually the last state to specify it). The clue that ADOT made this sign (which Caltrans erected, unlike the others in Needles) is the different colour of the backing and the steel segments of the sign.

Now that Caltrans and ADOT are both junking their button copy for the modern retroflective crap, this sign might be redone at some point.

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Crossing back. Correspondingly, there is no California state line sign except for this "Welcome to Needles." We turn left on to Needles Hwy, and then go back to our BR 40 "exit" to continue the old routing.

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Fork 1, Continued

Back on W Broadway/BR 40 (old US 95/old US 66), with an unconventional business route "marker."

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Paralleling the freeway on the right.

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Some more AZ 95 signage as we enter the downtown area.

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[Downtown Needles in the 1960s (thumbnail). Click for an enlargement.] Downtown Needles, along EB W Broadway. The earliest alignment of US 66 actually runs one block north, along Front St, but this is no longer continuous with the through route. When US 95 was co-routed on this alignment, US 66 had already shifted south to Broadway, and that is where BR 40 still runs.

There isn't a lot of difference between today and the 1960s, as shown in the postcard at right.

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Looking to the left, we see the "Welcome to Needles," er, monument and signage for the El Garces train station restoration.

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The El Garces train station was built on the ashes of the old Needles rail depot, which burned down, and was completed in 1908. Named after a Spanish friar who visited the area in 1776, El Garces was the flagship of Fred Harvey's network of railroad stops dotting the American southwest. Unlike today's full-service passenger rail lines, railroad passengers in those days had to fend for themselves as far as amenities were concerned and much gouging of passengers occurred by the less scrupulous who took advantage of the effective monopolies at train stops to charge obscenely high prices. In this environment, Fred Harvey's friendly and reasonably priced restaurants quickly became welcome sights along the major railroads. They were particularly famous for the Harvey Girls, specially trained and "finished" women who worked in the restaurants as hostesses. They had to exhibit good "moral character" (viz., no floozies), have at least an 8th grade or equivalent education, display good manners and etiquette, and agree to a six month posting during which they were not to marry (!) and had to obey all other company rules. Less couth male riders would try to get glimpses of the gentle Harvey Girls relaxing in their gowns as the railcars rolled by. After their contracts were up, many married railroad men. The top floor of El Garces served as their dormitory.

In 1949, El Garces Station was closed as a Harvey House but remained as offices for the Santa Fe Railroad until 1988. As expected, after its closure it deteriorated rapidly under the combined effects of time and vandalism. A community drive to save El Garces and restore it is presently underway, and you can contribute to the cause.

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Continuing downtown.

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Someone has been posting up these very nice (if inaccurate -- the ACSC would have actually used painted enamel, not embossing) replica US 66 shields, this one facing WB. I am impressed that this one has not been ripped off (yet).

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Coming up on the Needles wagon at A St and Broadway.

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[Earlier Needles wagon paint scheme (1960s?). Click for an enlargement.] Needles' famous wagon, seen on just about every travelogue of old US 66. This more folksy exterior replaced the older style, which used red letters (and less of them, apparently) on off-white as shown in the 1960s postcard on the right. A popular landmark, it remains well-maintained to this day.

Notice how little of the surroundings have changed from the postcard's time to the present.

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Old US 66 on Front St merges with Broadway here to curve back to I-40.

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End BR 40 and junction I-40, again. This is where the old and new US 95 alignments meet. We'll come back to this exit.

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Fork 2: I-40/US 95 Freeway

Let's rewind and briefly trace the (comparatively bland) modern freeway alignment. Here we are cosigned on the freeway just past the River Rd/W Broadway (not the Cutoff) exit.

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Exit for J St and downtown.

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Overhead signage for US 95 on E Broadway and for two alignments of old US 66, Five Mile Rd and Park Moabi Rd.

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Exit E Broadway/US 95.

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More Route 66 signage.

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Our two Forks now unite again. Note the control cities on the sign in the background. We turn right to follow US 95 and old US 66.

Continue to Part 6

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