Historic Route 66 – the highway that spawned a dozen movies, a TV show, and a hit song, can still be traveled today. With a little advanced planning, you can travel the historic route and still drive along some of the original sections of the infamous highway. What makes this road different? Why do thousands of people still trek across the country using Route 66 when more modern highways could be utilized instead? What makes Route 66 so special?
In the summer of 1926, the 2,448 mile long Route 66 was born – at least on paper. The throughway was designated as a principle artery between Chicago and Los Angeles (Santa Monica at Ocean Avenue). It purposely was designed to utilize existing bits and pieces of existing road to link small towns and communities along the way in a zigzag design rather than a linear course that modern day highways follow. By 1937 the entire route was completely paved. It became particularly popular with truckers, whose industry was just beginning to overtake railways.
Route 66 Gains Recognition
In 1939, John Steinbeck penned The Grapes of Wrath novel and proclaimed Route 66 as the “Mother Road”. This successful book and the subsequent movie based upon the same book, along with the trek of thousands of Americans fleeing the dustbowl to California served to immortalize Route 66 in the public’s mind. It came to symbolize the “road to opportunity”. Tourism began to flourish and entrepreneurs realized that there was gold to be found in hotels, motels (or tourist camps as they were originally named), gas stations, diners, and garages. Business sprung up all along the route and major companies used the outlet as a means to test new marketing efforts and business designs. Bizarre roadside attractions appeared to lure travelers off the beaten path. Many attractions became very popular and word of mouth continued to entice travelers to visit them as they became legends in the public eye. Route 66 became a national attraction and millions flocked to it.
By the mid-1950’s, motorists began lobbying for improved transit – citing Route 66 as an example of how “good life could be”. In 1956, the United States passed the Federal Aid Highway Act allocating funds to build a nation-wide grid of Interstate highways modeled after the infamous Autobahn in Germany. Residents wanted divided highways that offered safe travel at greater speed. By 1970, virtually all of Route 66 was paved over with modern divided highways. In 1985 it was decommissioned.
Today Route 66 includes sections of I-55, I-44, I-40, I-15, and I-10. Bits and pieces of the original route remain, some marked off as private property but still drivable for those adventurous travelers willing to take the risk. Along the route you’ll find “Historic Route 66” swaths and thousands of preserved or remodeled historical attractions. Some of these attractions include the giant hat at the El Sombrero Restaurant (Albuquerque, New Mexico), the Wigwam Motel (Holbrook, Arizona). Starting in Los Angeles, here are some of the strange or interesting attractions you’ll encounter along the way:
Starting at Santa Monica you’ll need to first visit the Historical Marker that marks the “end” of Route 66 before beginning your journey. Route 66 continues through Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, and Pasadena and into Arizona where you can visit the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff and the Meteor Crater. Just outside the Petrified Forest National Park, Route 66 continues into New Mexico where you’ll find lots of historic Route 66 relics. Albuquerque and Tucumcari both have many original hotels and motels including the infamous Blue Swan in Tucumcari. Route 66 crosses Texas through the Panhandle. Palo Duro Canyon and the infamous Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo are must sees. In Oklahoma, more original sections of Route 66 exist than in any other state. The National Route 66 Museum, an original Philips 66 gas station, the Blue Whale, and the Round Barn are all found on this swath of road. Route 66 passes through Kansas in a quick 14 mile section of road – don’t blink or you’ll miss it. In Missouri, the Mother Road passes through Joplin, Springfield, Branson, and St. Louis. Finally, Route 66 snakes through Chicago passing the Cohokia Mounds, the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle and the 30-foot “Rocket Man”,