OldWestNewWest.com: History & Travel Magazine

Monday
Dec 18th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
Home Travel Adventure Seekers You Can Still Get Your Kicks on Route 66, the West’s ‘Mother Road’

You Can Still Get Your Kicks on Route 66, the West’s ‘Mother Road’

Hits smaller text tool iconmedium text tool iconlarger text tool icon
Ever since Bobby Troup penned the lyrics to his 1946 hit song, "Get your Kicks On Route 66," people have been doing just that.

Actually, the Route 66 mystique began a decade earlier with John Steinbeck's epic novel, Grapes of Wrath. The book and movie were anything but enticing but it launched the Route 66 fascination that continues today.
 
national_route_66_museum
Then in 1960, the TV series Route 66 hit the airways and became an immediate success as Todd and Buz tooled down the Route in their snazzy Corvette thrashing villains along the way. How much more enticement would America need to hit the Route?

Flash forward to 1994. My wife, Mary Lou, and I went looking for the fabled route around Chicago and couldn't find it, but thanks to a clerk at a truck stop, we were able to get a map. This took us on a journey that would change our lives forever. Here's what we found.

Route 66 was rapidly disappearing. It had already disappeared from standard maps. Building after building was boarded up and abandoned - in fact, entire towns were shuttered. Stretches of the legendary road had been removed and replaced with cornfields. What had happened?

US Hwy 66 was bypassed by a series of high-speed highways that carried motorists at 70 mph down 10 lanes instead of 50 mph along two. Of course, everyone wanted to get to wherever they were going as quickly as possible, so onto the turnpikes they went.

It was de-commissioned as a federal highway over a period of years with the last stretch disappearing from the records in 1984. So, it is no longer US Hwy 66 but a series of state, federal, county and city roads with various names.

In the end, there were no customers along the "Main Street Of America." Many towns simply dried up.

Mary Lou and I took nearly a month to drive the entire Route 66 and when we got to our home in Los Angeles, I sold my business and we went to work to rescue it.

blueswallowneon
We worked with the federal government to issue grants to Route 66 business owners so they could get going again, and we began publicizing it in an effort to make it a tourist destination. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.

Today, it is a wonderful way to experience early roadside Americana. Many of the businesses and all of the towns are up and running again, and welcoming travelers.

I am often asked what areas of the Route, I think are the best, and all I can say is it's what interests you. Here's a "mini-tour" to acquaint you with our country's most famous road.

Route 66 (Steinbeck called it the "Mother Road") starts in Chicago. That's because most travelers, in bygone days, left the East and traveled West. So let's begin our tour in the windy city.

Illinois

Lou Mitchell's Restaurant has been a Chicago institution since 1923, and it's a great way to start your trip - not only because it's near the beginning of the Route but it has one of the best breakfasts you'll find anywhere.

Get a look at the beautifully restored service station when you get to Odell. Then it's on to Pontiac where you notice the exceptional murals throughout the community.

Next comes Springfield - an exceptionally restored Route 66 city that is full of Lincoln era stuff - not the least of which is the recently-opened Lincoln Library & Museum. Don't miss having a corn dog at the iconic Cozy Dog Drive In.

From Springfield, you will be traveling through the heartland of America complete with bucolic barns and amber waves of grain.

Missouri

Across the Mississippi River is St. Louis. Of course, you can't miss the arch, but the city is chock full of restored Route 66 properties, too. For example, you'll want to sample the very best frozen custard there is at Ted Drewes.

The country west of St. Louis is a nice mix of scenery and vintage Route 66 establishments. Make a point to stop and look around Lebanon and Carthage.

Kansas/Oklahoma

Route 66 cuts through a brief 12 miles of Kansas then moves into Oklahoma, the best state to see original Route 66 places.

Towns like Tulsa, Stroud and Clinton are the high points. Don't miss POPS in Arcadia and the Route 66 Museum in Clinton.

Texas

The Route traverses the panhandle which offers you the art deco U-Drop Inn in Shamrock, and the Big Texan Steak Ranch and Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo. While here, I suggest you take a side trip to Palo Duro Canyon, often called the second Grand Canyon.

New Mexico

There is no better Route 66 city than Albuquerque for restored Route 66 buildings and neon. Tucumcari is the home of the famous Blue Swallow Motel - beautifully restored in every detail. Another exceptional photo op.

Arizona

You will not want to miss four things: The La Posada Hotel in Winslow; the wonderfully restored town of Williams; The Powerhouse Museum in Kingman: and the mules wandering freely through Oatman.

California

wigwamrialto
Here is where everyone was traveling down Route 66. Sadly, there is not a lot left that pertained to Route 66 in the Los Angeles and San Bernardino areas. But, you will particularly enjoy the town of Amboy in the Mojave; the Route 66 museums in Barstow and Victorville; and Barney's Beanery in Los Angeles.

If you intend to drive the Route, I highly recommend you get the EZ66 GUIDE For Travelers, the Route 66 Dining & Lodging Guide and the Route 66 Adventure Handbook. They are available at our Web site
www.national66.org .

There's still a lot to see of Route 66.

Although many of the original properties have deteriorated and even been removed, others have been restored and are doing very well, thanks to the renewed interest in Route 66 partly created by the National Historic Route 66 Federation. Tourists from all over the world come to experience this unique American treasure.

If you are intrigued by the idea of exploring today's Route 66, you can enjoy it a section at a time, maybe adding a section or two of the old Mother Road to your vacation plans.

I think you'll find some interesting places to see and some tasty breakfasts and lunches. Be sure to share some of your adventures with us. Happy motoring!

Editor's note: David Knudson is the Executive Director of the nonprofit organization, the National Historic Route 66 Federation.

Tags:
 
Travel
Banner
Banner
Banner