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Topock

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Where Route 66 crosses the Colorado River

Topock was the point where Route 66 crossed the Colorado River. After crossing the harsh and arid Black Mountains or the Mojave Desert, travellers came to a spot with plenty of water.
It is best known for its bridges across the Colorado River, especially the Trails Arch Bridge (1916 - 1947 US 66 Bridge), a historic site.
Drive The Historic Route 66 Back Country Byway all the way to Kingman.

Topock AZ

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About Topock, Arizona

Facts, Trivia and useful information

Elevation 456 ft (139 m). Population 1,790 (2000).
Time zone: Mountain (MST): UTC minus 7 hours. Summer (DST) no DST⁄ PDT (UTC-7).

The "modern" Topock is a small village, an unincorporated community in western Mohave County, on Route 66 in northwestern Arizona, next to Golden Shores. Neither of these towns have any Route 66 context, they are much more recent. (Map of Topock).

"Classic" Topock is to the south of these villages, right beside the River and next to the bridges (Here).

Topock's History

photo of Capt. Mellon

Captain John A. Mellon Credits.

The Colorado River valley has been inhabited for the more than 10,000 years. It was the home of the Mojave people; whose name which is a deformed version of "aha", water, and "macave", along or beside.

The Mohave lived south of what is now Hoover Dam along the Colorado River well beyond Parks Dam.

Arizona was part of the Spanish colonies in America but it was never settled. After its independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico "inherited" the territory but after its defeat in the 1846-48 War with the U.S., ceded it to America.

Capt. Lorenzo Sitgreaves explored the area in 1851 and Lt. Edward "Ned" Fitzgerald Beale surveyed a wagon route from Ft. Smith in Arkansas to California, passing just north of what is now Topock during his journey.

The Atlantic & Pacific Railroad (later the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad) reached the area in 1882 and built a bridge across the Colorado River north of Topock. (Read more below). In 1890 a definitive bridge (Red Rock Bridge) went up at Topock.

At that time, there was a steamer paddleboat service in the Colorado River and one of its veteran officers was Captain John "Jack" Alexander Mellon (1841-1924). He had come to the Colorado River from New Brunswick in 1863 and worked for George Johnson's Colorado Steam Navigation Line. His surname, deformed to "Mellen" became the name of the railway station.

There was a ferry landing next to the station. A post office opened there from 1903 to 1909. But by 1915 the station was named "Topock".

The Name: Topock

The word Topock (TOH pahk) is also found in San Bernardino County, California and is a Mojave word "tuupák" derived from the verb "Tapák-", "to drive piles".

Another version says that it comes from "ahatopok" which means "bridge", for the railroad bridge built there in 1890.

In the 1910s, the National Old Trails Highway (N.O.T.) laid its route from California to Kansas, and the road crossed the Colorado at Topock, first using a ferry but by 1916 the historic Trails Arch Bridge was built.

The 1930s N.O.T. roadmap spelled it "TOPOC" and pointed out that it was a "small village with good accomodation in all lines. Topock Bridge connects Arizona and California".

Route 66 was aligned along the N.O.T. in 1926 using the same bridge and during the 1930s many farmers escaping the "Dust Bowl" drought, crossed it westbound seeking jobs in California, as starkly portrayed in John Seteinbeck's 1939 book "The Grapes of Wrath". The movie based on the book, included a shot of Route 66's bridge across the Colorado River.

In 1952, Route 66 was realigned, bypassing Sitgreaves Pass and Oatman. Instead it ran along level ground close to the railroad, to Kingman through Yucca.

Interstate 40 crossed the river in 1966 and replaced U.S. 66 in this area. The small settlement of Topock was bypassed as few cars left I-40 at Exit 1.

What is now known as Topock (and has the post office with that name) is next to Golden Shores a resort town, 5 mi. north of "old" Topock, haven to sun-seeking retirees and others fleeing the cold winters in the north.

Where to Stay in Topock

Accommodation close to Topock:

>> Book your Hotel in neighboring Needles or in Kingman

More Lodging Near Topock along Route 66

Motels and Hotels close to Topock, Arizona

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>> Check out RV campground at Topock

Weather in Topock

Topock's low altitude gives it very hot summers. The area has a "Subtropical desert climate". Dry and hot, with severe thunderstorms during the summer monsoon season.

Rainfall is scarce, only 4.6 in. per year with only 23 rainy days per year. Hardly ever snows though, in 1949, 12.2 inches of snow fell in the area.

Summer average high (Jul) 109°F (42.8°C) and average low 84°F (28.9°C). Winter average high (Jan) 65°F (18.3°C) and average low 44°F (6.7°C).

Route 66 and Topock, AZ
Location of Topock on Route 66

Tornado risk

As Topock is west of the Rocky Montains, there are virtually no tornados there.

Tornado Risk: read more about Tornado Risk along Route66.
 

Getting to Topock

You can reach the town driving along Historic Route 66 in Arizona from Kingman and Oatman, to the east or Topock or, along I-40, and also from Las Vegas, Nevada, by US 95

Map of Route 66 in Topock

, Arizona.

The map below shows the different alignments of Route 66 near Topock; the color key is for Topock only, and is the following:
(for the other parts of the map, check the color key of the map of the corresponding city)

Pale Blue: the current alignment of Route 66 through Topock.
Green: The 1952 to 1979 alignment into Kingman
Red: I-40, where it covers the old roadbed of Route 66.
Black: the 1926 to 1947 US 66 across "Trail Arches Bridge".
Blue: The old 1947 to 1966 alignment of Route 66 that no longer exists (bridge removed).

See Route 66's alignment in Arizona Map

  Click to See the "Lupton to Williams" alignment (Eastern Part of US 66 in Arizona)

Remove or restore State shading
 

Google Maps. Terms. Icons.

Route 66's alignment in Arizona: the Historic Route 66 through Topock

Route 66 logo

Route 66 across Arizona

U.S. Route 66 was been designated an All-American Road and National Scenic Byway in the state of Arizona.

The section of Route 66 that runs from Seligman all the way to Topock, is the longest remaining section of Route 66 in the entire U.S.A.

Click on the following link for a Full description of Route 66 across the state of Arizona.

Below you will find plenty of information on The Historic Route 66 Back Country Byway in Topock

Sights and Attractions in Topock, Arizona

What to Do, Places to See

The Colorado River Bridges town

Topock with the historic "Old Trails Arch Bridge" is where Route 66 crossed the Colorado River linking Arizona with California.

Historic context, the classic Route 66 in Topock

In 1946, just after World War II ended, and just as the large flow of veterans began their new lives along the Western Coast, many of them moving west along Route 66, Jack DeVere Rittenhouse wrote his book, "A Guide Book to Highway 66". It gives us an insight into what it was to drive along the Mother Road during its heyday.

Rittenhouse mentions the following about Topock: "Gas; grocery; few cabins; garage for light repairs; limite facilities". Then came the steel Colorado River bridge and in its midpoint the Arizona California State Line.

All of these places have long since gone due to the changes introduced by the different bridges built to get across the Colorado River and the old Mobile and Conoco gas stations are gone:

Topock Then and Now

A view of "Old" Topock postcard

Old postcard showing Topock at the Railroad underpass, Route 66,  Arizona
Old postcard showing Topock at the Railroad underpass, Route 66, Arizona, by

The same underpass nowadays:

Topock today AZ
View of Topock today
Static Image by Google Street View
Click on image for Interactive Google Street View
PG&E Topock compressor station

Instead there is a natural gas compressor station there, next to the old Arch Bridge. Built to pump the gas from gas fields in Texas, to northern California.

It is their pipeline that saved the old bridge: it carries the gas pipeline across the Colorado River.

Nowadays there are no visitor services at Topock. There is a restaurant, bar, gift shop, and swimming pool at Topock66 Resort and Topock Marina used by boaters to refuel, both of them located on the north side of the railroad, next to the Topock Marsh area.

The bridges in Topock

Four bridges were built at Topock:

  1. The Red Rock Railroad Bridge (later 1947-66 U.S. 66 Bridge).
  2. The Trails Arch Bridge (1916 - 1947 Road Bridge).
  3. The New Red Rock Railway Bridge (since 1945).
  4. The Interstate Bridge (since 1966).

Red Rock Railroad Bridge

The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, (AT &SF) which controlled the Atlantic and Pacific Railway (A&P), built its line across Arizona from Kingman (1882) towards the Colorado River to reach Needles, California. They built a bridge and completed it on August 3, 1883, reaching Needles.

In the meantime, the rival railroad Huntington and the Southern Pacific (SP) laid a line from Barstow to Needles across the Mojave to block any advance of the A&P into California. An interchange was built at Needles linking both lines as a point where cargo was transfered from one to the other.

But A&P was determined to reach Los Angeles and began building a line parallel to the tracks of SP. This forced the hand of SP and led to a negotiation and the sale of the Mojave line to A&P in Oct. 1884.

The following year it linked to its Barstow - Needles Branch via Cajon Pass to San Bernardino and Los Angeles, reaching the Pacific coast. A&P was absorbed by AT & SF in 1897.

First bridges: destroyed by floods

The site for the first bridge was a "Eastbridge", 3 miles south of Needles. There the local workers drove pilons into the soft river bed to support the wooden bridge they would build across the Colorado River. The bridge, completed in August 1883 was washed away by the spring flood season.

A new bridge was built in 1884, and again in 1886 and 1888. The floods and the unsuitable location for the bridge site (sandy clay soil) led the engineers to relocate the bridge further south.

They chose a point further south, beyond the marshes and the mouth of the Sacramento Wash, at a narrow spot at Beal, CA, facing Mellen Arizona (now known as Topock) where there was a solid rock foundation for the bridge. There they built a steel cantilever bridge, the Railway Red Rock Brige.

The steel cantilever bridge

The bridge cost over $460,000 which is more than $10 million 2016 dollars) and was America's longest cantilever bridge.

Cantilever bridges

A cantilever bridge uses cantilevers which are structures that extende horizontally, from a supporting point, at one end. These cantilevers can range from simple beams to steel or concrete frames. Steel cantilevers can span more than 1,500 ft. (460 m) and are easily built.

It could carry 3,000 lbs. per linear foot, but trains and their cargo increased as time went by so the bridge was reinforced in 1901 to carry heavier loads.

To carry even heavier trains, a support pier was added in the middle of the span thus the bridge was no longer a cantilever bridge.

It spanned the river alone until 1916 when, a few hundred yards downstream, a new bridge was built for automobiles.

New Red Rock Railroad Bridge

The heavy military cargoes during World War II led the AT&SF to plan and build a new bridge just north of the original one.

It was completed in February 1945: a high level double-track bridge. This bridge is still in use today.

Trails Arch Bridge

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

Trails Arch Bridge Topock

The Topock Bridge, Arizona & California, by Thad Roan

The cars that drove along the roads of the 1910s, crossed the Colorado River using the Needles Ferry. But a flood razed the ferry in 1914 so the cars crossed the river using the railroad's Red Rock Bridge: planks were laid across the tracks and the cars crossed between trains.

There was a bridge on the Ocean-to-Ocean route at Yuma, but the Los Angeles to St. Louise National Old Trails Highway also required a bridge across the Colorado River

Grapes of Wrath

There is a scene in the 1940 movie "The Grapes of Wrath", shot from Califorina, showing the Joad's truck crossing the Trails Arch Bridge.

Tropock Bridge, in a trailer image from Grapes of Wrath

The Topock Bridge, in the movie "The Grapes of Wrath"> by Credits

The shot shows the midpoint state line with the "Arizona" sign and it also shows how narrow the bridge was.

Old Arch Trails Bridge Trivia

The bridge links actor Henry Fonda, who crossed the bridge, westbound in "The Grapes of Wrath" and his son Peter Fonda who starred in the movie "Easy Rider", which opens with the old bridge as a backdrop.

So in 1914, the states of Arizona and California and the Bureau of Indian Affairs of the U.S. Government agreed to build one. San Bernardino County agreed to design it and pay for any extra costs.

They chose a site located roughly halfway between the Utah-Arizona border and Yuma.

It was built in steel by the Kansas Structural Steel Co. and usde an innovative construction method:

The bridge

It is steel arch bridge which was built using a "cantilever system" where the arch was built in two halves assembled on the ground on each side of the river.

Both sections were then hoisted into place and linked together with a ball-and-socket central hinge. It measures 800 ft. (243 m) long and its span is 600 ft. (182 m).

It was the longest arch bridge in America until 1928 and weighed 360 tons which was very light for a bridge.

The bridge was completed on Feb. 20, 1916 and carried the traffic of the N.O.T., and in 1926, U.S. highway 66 was aligned across it. The bridge continued to carry traffic until 1947 when the neighboring Red Rock Bridge replaced it.

In 1948,its deck was removed and a natural gas pipeline was laid across it, a pipeline that is still in use.

Viewing the Bridge

Get a good view the old Arch Bridge from this vantage point (Map and Directions), there is a concrete billboard and a parking space. The Billboard says "Welcome, Turn Right Next Exit" with a Route 66 shield.

Route 66 Red Rock Bridge: automobiles

The Trails Arch Bridge was a narrow bridge and only one lane crossed it. The carrying weight was also low (11 tons) and trucks were now carrying heavier loads. A new bridge was needed.

Just at that time the railroad had completed the "new Red Rock Bridge" so the "old" bridge was modified to accommodate U.S. 66 trafic.

The tracks were removed and Route 66 was realigned across i in 1947.

The old cantilever bridge had a second life which would last until 1978.

Interstate I-40 Bridge

The Interstate system launched in 1956 reached the Colorado River in 1966 and a new bridge was built to carry it across the river: a four laned steel girder structure supported by concrete piers.

The old Cantilever bridge was abandoned and closed to traffic.

It was finally dismantled in 1978 and you can see its plaque at the nearby Needles Museum.

The Alignment of Old Route 66 from Kingman to Oatman

route 66 shield Arizona

The Historic Route 66 Back Country Byway

Back Country Byway

This section of Route 66 from Kingman to Topock through Oatman has been designated a Back Country Byway, within the BLM (Bureau of Land Management).

The road is legally accessible by any vehicle under 40 feet in length. The part of the road passing through the mountains is a very narrow two-lane with no shoulders, extremely tight switchbacks and many steep drop-offs. Wide vehicles and vehicles over 30 feet in length should use extreme caution when driving this road.

Read more at the Official BLM website By clicking you will leave our Website. Come back soon!

The Road from Kingman to Oatman

Leaving Kingman

Until the early 1940s, the road left Kingman along 2nd St. southbound. It ran to the east of the later alignment, now sandwiched between the tracks (See map). Later the road was realigned and imporved, taking another course until 1979 when it was bypassed by I-40 (See map).

Jack Rittenhouse drove along Route 66 in 1946, collecting information which he included in his book "A Guide Book to Highway 66", a great resource for those keen on learning more about US 66 during the post-war period. Oddly, Rittenhouse describes this 5 mile segment from downtown Kingman to McConnico as "Sitgreaves Pass" (which in fact is located on the summit of the Black Mountains).

All alignments met at Cook Canyon and continued southbound. Close to Exit 44, Route 66's 1926-1952 roadbed headed west and continued (now buried under I-40) to the other side of the interstate. You can drive it on the western side of I-40 by crossing the highway at Exit 44 at McConnico.

It is here that the Historic Route 66 Back Country Byway begins. You can now follow it all the way to Oatman, for 23.3 miles. (See map), and from there to Topock

In 1952, the Topock - Oatman - Kingman alignment was replaced by the one that passed through the town of Yucca in 1952. This newer alignment met the Kingman section just north of Exit 44.

Across Sacramento Valley

West of Kingman and to the east of the mountains lies the Sacramento Valley. An intermittent stream (Sacaramento Wash) flows occasionally along its sandy bottom meeting the Colorado River at the Topock marsh area.

The railroad and I-40 opted for this more level route to reach California. While Route 66 followed another course, across the Black Mountains.

Black Mountains

They are a mountain range that was formed some 15 to 20 million years ago when lava flowed thickly over a base of Precambrian granite.

They run with a north-south alignment and measure 75 miles long (121 km) and some 10 mi. wide (16 km). The highest point is Mount Perkins with 5,456 ft. (1.663 m).

Route 66 was built across the Black Mountains instead of following the route adopted by the railroad, which had easier gradients because it followed the National Old Trails highway which in turn was used to move ore out of the mines at Oatman and Goldroad.

The steep climb from east to west began at the foot of the mountains at 2,268 ft. and climbed up to Sitgreaves Pass (3,595 ft) over a distance of 9 miles. West of the pass, the road then dropped into Oatman, falling 915 ft. in a winding course along 4 miles.

Towards the Black Mountains

Not much has changed since the days of Rittenhouse, who mentions a gas station on mile 8 (from Kingman) -gone- an abandoned "Fig Springs Camp" at mile 18 -gone- at the point where the Gold Hill Grade climb begins, the climb to Sitgreaves Pass, which Rittenhouse calls "Gold Hill Grade".

Gold Hill Grade

It was the steepest gradient along the whole of route 66, with hairpin turns and an even steeper grade on the western side. Rittenhouse suggested that the westbound driver "should... keep his car in second gear going down".

On the way up US 66 passed by Cool Springs Camp (mile 23) with some cabins and gasoline.

Cool Springs

Originally established by Floyd and Ada Spidel in the 1940s, it is 20 miles west of Kingman. (Map with directions).

During the golden days of Route 66 it was a stop on the road before facing the tough winding climb across the Black Mountains towards Sitgreaves Pass.

It crumbled into disrepair when traffic fell off in 1952 when Route 66 was realigned through Yucca.

Purchased in 1997 by Ned Leuchtner he restored it to its former appearance and reopened in 2004. Stop at its gift shop and get some great views of Squaw tit mountain behind it. (see a photo of it View of Cool Springs).

One mile west is Ed's Camp which in Rittenhouse's time had fuel and was established on the N.O.T. in 1919 by "Ed". (Street View).

As the road climbs, you will notice some steps cut in the rock, on the left side of the road, in the middle of a curve: Shaffer Fish Bowl Springs. See the Street View. Park (with care) and go up the steps to the "fish bowl". A spring in the dry mountains.

Sitgreaves Pass

During Rittenhouse's time there was another gas station and ice cream parlor at Gold Hill Summit (Sitgreaves Pass) (mile 27). On the summit.

At 3,595 ft (1.096 m) it offers a great view east and west. Park and enjoy the scenery.

Goldroad

Mining Ghost Town

The road winds downwards, and two miles west of the sumit, it had "garage, no cabins, cafe or other facilities here". It was a mining community in those days, with 718 residents.

As an interesting remark, he noted that there was a tow truck that would haul those whose vehicles could not make it up the road, eastbound; they charged $3.50.

Now it is abandoned, with the ruins of some buildings visible among the bushes, it is a real ghost town. Although mining is still going on in Goldroad, it is private property so please don't trespass.

Jose Jerez discoverd gold there in 1900 and dug the first shaft shortly after. He sold it in 1901 for $ 50,000. The mine produced $ 2.3 million by 2007 and closed in 1916. It reopened in 1922 and closed again in 1949. In 1992 the Addwest Minerals reopened it.

After Goldroad, the road took a winding course westwards. Ahead lies the Negro Head mountain. Then it took a southbound course towards Oatman.

To the left, beyond Oatman is the Elephant's Tooth Mountain.

Oatman

The road descended swiftly into Oatman, which in Rittenhouse's day had "Everett Hotel; two small tourist courts; Bill's garage; limited facilities... and the old Arizona Hotel.", he pointed out that its boom days had now ended as there were many closed stores. He noted the "plank sidewalks, old sidewalk awnings".

What to do and see in Oatman: it is a "wild west gold mining town" with The Historic Route 66 Back Country Byway. Don't miss the Gunfights and Burros in town and The historic Durlin (Oatman) Hotel.

Onwards to Topock

Beyond Oatman the Route drops with a easy gradient into the Colorado River Valley. Rittenhouse pointed out 3 miles west of Oatman a trailer camping spot on the right side of the road, and 2 miles south, "Water fauced on the roadside... for cars that need water on the climb driving east".

Don't miss the impressive peaks to your left, Boundary Cone and Wrigley Peak.

There was, in those days, a burned gas station 2 miles ahead, on the left. He mentions the volcanic rocks in the area and finally, the enticing willows along the Colorado River, when the road reaches Topock.

Topock

Topock , at mile 58 from Kingman, had "Gas; grocery; few cabins; garage for light repairs; limite facilities". Then came the steel Colorado River bridge and in its midpoint the Arizona California State Line.

In the map above, we show the 1926 to 1947 alignment across the Trails Arches Bridge in black, 1947 to 1966 alignment across the now gone "Red Rock Bridge" in Blue, and the later 1952 -1979 alignment to Kingman via Yucca, in Green.

Topock was Mile post 1 of Route 66 in Arizona.

 

> > See the previous segment Williams to Kingman

> > See the next segment Topock to Needles

Outdoors, National and State Parks

The Black Mountains to the east of Topock are part of the Warm Springs Wilderness Area.

Topock Marsh and the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge

Topock Marsh was created by the backwater that flooded the lowlands north of Topock after the construction of Parker Dam.

There are several boat launches with access to the Colorado River such as the Topock Marina, Arizona (exit 1, I-40) and Park Moabi (across the river in California).

Topock Marsh is ideal for canoeing or kayaking. Reach the water at: North Dike, Five Mile Landing and Catfish Paradise.

It is a great bird watching spot too. Read more at the Official Havasu National Wildlife Refuge website By clicking you will leave our Website. Come back soon!

Sources

Image Used as per Google Street View Image Api Updated Dec. 31, 2014.

Jack DeVere Rittenhouse, (1946). A Guide Book to Highway 66.

Historic Route 66 in Arizona All-American Road, National Scenic Byway, www.fhwa.dot.gov.

Image by Vítězslav Válka adapted under its CC BY-SA 3.0 CZ License

Map Icons by Nicolas Mollet under its CC BY SA 3.0 License