America’s Main Street is one of the nick names for Route 66. Will Rogers Highway is another name associated with this most historic of roads. It was in 1939 that immortalised Route 66 in John Steinbeck’s novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ which proclaimed Route 66 as the ‘Mother Road’.
It crosses three time zones and eight states: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.
The original route was favoured by trucks that were able to transport grain and produce for distribution. It’s predominantly diagonal course linked many towns and villages to the major cities of Chicago, Kansas and Los Angeles. It is the small towns that offer the attractions and museums in present day Route 66 Americana.
Starting point for Route 66 is Chicago, Illinois and it runs for 2448 miles (3665 km) to it’s end in Santa Monica, California. It originally ran through Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Approximately 85% of the original Route 66 can still be driven. Some of it has been incorporated into new highways and the old road runs parallel or has disappeared altogether. By 1970 almost all segments of Route 66 were bypassed by a modern 4 lane highway.
Tip: To appreciate it properly I would allow two weeks at least and I would visit outside of high season so spring or autumn. Accommodation rates will be lower and the road less busy.
There are many options to travel along Route 66 but almost all will have a one way rental fee to add on to the cost. You can even hire vintage cars or trucks if you want. Other options are by motorbike including Harley Davidson escorted or on your own. Motor Home (RV – recreational vehicle) could be an option for families. Another consideration is to take an escorted coach tour and then you get to see the highlights without the rental expense.
There are many websites that highlight towns and highlights by state but here is a list of 10 of the things you will only see on Route 66
- Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo TX. Go paint one of the planted Cadillac cars.
- Arguably the most beautiful stretch of Route 66 and see The Painted Desert, The Grand Canyon and the Petrified Forest all in Arizona.
- Oklahoma is home to Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park that holds the record for the largest concrete Totem Pole.
- Also in Oklahoma is the Milk Bottle Grocery. A tiny brick building standing on it’s own with a giant milk bottle on it’s roof.
- An unusual museum near Springfield Illinois is the Shea Gas Station Museum.
- In Chicago right by Union Station is one of the first stops on Route 66 called Lou Mitchell’s diner that still hands out ring donuts and Milk Duds (a chocolate covered caramel sweet) to people waiting in line to get a table.
- Tow Tater an abandoned 1951 International Boom tow truck that was the inspiration for Pixar’s Cars graces the forecourt of the Kan-O-Tex service station in Galena, Kansas.
- The fibreglass giants that appear along Route 66 known as Muffler Men made to draw attention to roadside shops.
- One such Muffler Man known as the Gemini Giant advertises the Launchpad Diner in Wilmington, Illinois.
- Why not see if you can get a reservation at one of the remaining Wigwam Motels near Holbrook, Arizona. Actually the rooms are more Tipis than Wigwam. Introduced in 1930 there are only three in existence now.
- Santa Monica Pier where the carousel that was featured in the Oscar winning film of 1973 The Sting is housed and the end of Route 66.
Of course you don’t have to do the whole of this iconic and historical inside into Americana. If you only visiting California and Nevada there are plenty of options to visit portions of the road as well as incorporating not to be missed sights such as the Grand Canyon in Williams or Flagstaff. Or if you are visiting Chicago why not venture into Missouri and visit St Louis.
How about considering these other road trips?