On the surface it’s just another Route 66 town with some Mother Road icons struggling to survive and others melting into the earth. Needles is the Route 66 gateway to California, straddling the Arizona border and the Colorado River. Yet, it can’t seem to blossom into a tourist destination. But look a little deeper and you will discover an exciting history which includes Native American inhabitants, supplies moved by river transportation, the lore of Route 66 and now modern rebuilding projects.
Just east of town and in eyeshot of Route 66 lies an ancient Native American site known as the Topock Mystic Maze. With directions supplied by a docent at the Needles Regional Museum, we negotiated a dusty, bumpy road and after a few wrong turns came upon an overlook with a marker so weather-worn it was mostly unreadable. The area before us was reminiscent of the famed ripened grain crop circles of England and 25 other countries only this maze was created by the removing the black top layer of sun-baked rocks , thus exposing the lighter-hued earth beneath. The creators used this method to form a field of mazes. Walking to the edge of the maze field, we were shocked to see that it extended into the distance, reportedly covering 500 acres of desert land.This area of parallel contours was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Its intricate patterns are said to be 600 years old. It would seem that the artwork would be better understood by a viewer hovering above it rather than from ground level. Was it intended to impress an extra terrestrial or, perhaps, heavenly spirits? Pondering the possibilities adds to the visit.
Another geoglyph or intaglio which had eluded us for years is called “The Twin Intaglios.” We therefore asked for a second set of directions from the Museum docent and leaving the maze headed out to find the twin intaglio site. From Route 66 east we found Highway 95 on the east side of the Colorado River outside of Bullhead City. Following the directions we drove on a small residential road which abruptly terminated between two homes. Continuing on to a gravel field we were ready to give up when we spied a barbed wire fence which, it turns out, surrounded the intaglios. Again, the twins were etched by scraping off the dark desert varnished rocks to expose light earth beneath. The twins are difficult to discern from ground level as they too must have been created for viewing from above.
In the Avi Casino Hotel some fifteen miles west of Laughlin you can see an aerial photo of the twins in one of the main hallways. That photo brings out the intricacies of the artwork.
Nestled in the shadow of needle-shaped peaks and flush up to the cool waters of the Colorado River, Needles is home to some 5000 residents. It proudly salutes Route 66 with signs, retro cafes and stores selling memorabilia.
The El Garces Railroad Depot on Front Street is the under renovation, albeit a very slow process. We once were able to tour the depot which boasts a former Harvey House along the Santa Fe Tracks. Our tour guide was a Harvey Girl in her youth and had many spicy stories to tell. Across from the station is the Needles Regional Museum, 949 Front Street.
Needles was founded in 1883 with the construction of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway which crosses the Colorado River nearby. The Fred Harvey Company built the historic station which was named in honor of a Spanish missionary. After the station closed in 1988, it fell into disrepair and may have been razed but for a group of preservationists who, for years, have been attempting its renovation. It is progressing at snail’s pace.
We left Needles with renewed respect for the lore, history, heritage and adventure this town offers.