Alabama, where the Old Spanish Trail got its launch in 1915, is the shortest and least-preserved section of the highway. Back in 1931, a writer for the Chicago Tribune complained that in "Alabama the concrete end." He observed: "A crew of Negro convicts, in black and white stripes and bossed by two foremen with rifles, keep the dirt level in dry weather, and they are sometimes there to push cars when rain turns the road into a sea of slick mud."
Mobile, the original headquarters of the Old Spanish Trail Association, offers many historical and cultural diversions.
Built between 1833 and 1838, by cotton broker James R. Roper, Oakleigh is a fine example of an antebellum mansion. This and other house museums in Mobile are must-see stops along the Old Spanish Trail. Downtown, the venerable Battle House Hotel, the site of the first Old Spanish Trail Association convention, is currently undergoing restoration.
Originally, the Old Spanish Trail crossed Mobile Bay on the privately financed Cochrane Bridge. In 1940 the Bankhead Tunnel burrowed directly under the Mobile River, shortening US 90 by 7.5 miles. The 3,389-foot tunnel is still the principal entry into the old city and its dizzyingly steep descent continues to thrill motorists.
Not all is old in Mobile. West of the city, along a modern four-lane highway, are the rambling Ranch-style motels of the 1950s and 60s. Look for the Bama and Olson motels and the neon diving beauty announcing the Beverly Motel.
Unfortunately, nothing remains of the Old Spanish Fort Tourist Village — a US 90 roadside icon east of Mobile. However, the tour of the U.S.S. Alabama Battleship hasn’t changed much since the 1960s.