U.S. Highway 66, commonly called Route 66 and dubbed the Mother Road by author John Steinbeck, stretched from Chicago to Los Angeles. The road connected hundreds of small towns across the Midwest and West, providing a route for truckers to deliver goods and for citizens to escape the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Motor courts, fast-food restaurants and roadside attractions appeared along the highway, catering to travelers pining for a road trip. Plan your route carefully for a solo trip on Route 66, and allow time for fascinating side trips.
Route 66 Today
As the federal highway system evolved, most of the original Route 66 was bypassed by high-speed interstates. In 1984, Interstate 40 replaced the last section in Williams, Arizona, gateway to the Grand Canyon. Arizona is also where you’ll find the longest stretch of 66 still in use, where the road extends unbroken for around 160 miles from Ash Fork to Topock. In California, 320 miles of Route 66 exist, but they’re not continuous -- you have to make your way from section to section. The same is true in Oklahoma, where 400 miles of Route 66 span the state from its northeastern border to the Texas panhandle.
If you’re not used to solo travel, or need more than the radio or your favorite CDs in the changer, consider listening to an audiobook about Route 66. “The Complete Route 66 Audio Collection” includes stories from the road along with information about interesting sites and side trips. Or, consider a compilation of music appropriate for the trip, such as “Tucumcari Tonight” or a selection of the many versions of “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66.” The Roadside America app for iPhone directs you to the oddities along the route. NAVIGON is a souped-up GPS app that will not only get you from point A to point B, but will also guide you to gas stations, advise you of speed limits and provide emergency assistance.
Keep It Real
To get a real feel for what it was like to drive Route 66 in its heyday, keep an eye out for the vintage buildings along the way. Watch for the “house with a canopy” style of early gas stations such as the Soulsby Service Station in Mount Olive, Illinois, or the Miami Marathon Oil Company Service Station in Miami, Oklahoma. Book a night at the El Rancho Hotel, “Home of the Movie Stars,” in Albuquerque, New Mexico, or at the Wigwam Village Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. The Big Chief Restaurant in Wildwood, Missouri, built in 1929, is one of the few remaining full-service restaurants on Route 66. Take in a movie under the stars at the 66 Drive-In in Carthage, Missouri. Opened in 1949, the theater retains much of its original architecture.
Get a glimpse of Mother Road history at the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Oklahoma. Texas has only a short section of Route 66, but you’ll find the Big Texan in Amarillo, where a 72-ounce steak is free if you can eat it in one hour. The south rim of the Grand Canyon is about 50 miles north of Williams, Arizona. Consider leaving your car in Williams and making the trip to the attraction aboard a restored rail car on the Grand Canyon Railway. In California, stretch your legs with a hike to Amboy Crater, a volcanic cinder cone, and explore its 24-acre lava field.