The Famed Route 66

The Famed Route 66

Is there another road in the United States that has been memorialized in pop culture more than Route 66? Bobby Troup's "Route 66" is one of the most well-known songs in the world. The highway served as the location for animated autos in the popular Pixar film "Cars," and John Steinbeck referred to it as the "Mother Road" in his classic "The Grapes of Wrath." Route 66 is iconic — a symbol of a changing America. Route 66, sometimes known as "America's Highway" during its heyday, was traveled by millions of people between Illinois and California. However, by the 1970s, Route 66 in popular culture had become hopelessly out of date. But wait a minute, let's go back in time and speak about Route 66's origins.

In the 1920s, merchants Cyrus Avery and John Woodruff envisioned a "superhighway" connecting Chicago and Los Angeles. It would aid in the movement of industry from the East to the West. After the government enacted a plan for national roadways in 1926, Route 66 was officially designated. Route 66 was designed to be more than just a short route from east to west; it was also intended to connect the main streets of rural and metropolitan cities. Route 66 would provide many tiny villages with their first significant road access. Hundreds of thousands of people wanting to escape the hopelessness of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s saw Route 66 as a symbol of possibility.

The same national highway plan that gave birth to Route 66 also contributed to its demise. The highway system required an update following World War II. Route 66 was in such disrepair that it could no longer handle its own traffic. Highway designers started constructing more direct routes between cities. They did it by diverting, bypassing, or otherwise realigning Route 66. Route 66 was decommissioned as an official United States Highway in 1985. Are you ready to travel along Route 66? Let's take a look at what the road was like in its peak, including the towns it passed through and the anomalies you'd come across along the route.

Route 66-Point to Point

Route 66 ran from Chicago, Illinois, to Los Angeles, California. It was originally roughly 2,400 miles long. However, due to all of the many variations of the road over the years, knowing the exact miles is impossible. The route passed through eight states, including Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Route 66 does not appear on modern maps because it was deactivated. In fact, in certain places, the physical road is unpaved and nearly impassable. However, you can still drive on some of the original road. Route 66 parallels the interstate highway in various states. In some places, signs will refer to it as "Historic Route 66."

Historic Route 66 is now designated by the National Scenic Byways Program as passing through four states: Illinois, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona. Driving Historic Route 66 from end to finish takes about five or six days due to its length of approximately 1,410 kilometers. Perhaps you're asking why anyone cares about an old, decrepit road. Why are there so many organizations and museums dedicated to preserving Route 66's spirit? There are numerous explanations for this. Route 66 is a genuine slice of Americana. Because this road passed through so many small villages, hundreds of strange little trading posts, motels, and attractions sprouted up along the way. Although Route 66 has passed into obscurity, many of these rest spots have remained, locked in time like ghost towns.

Route 66 is an important part of American history. It depicted the growth of the American highway from unpaved dirt to superhighway. It served as an economic and social link between the West and the Midwest, allowing millions of people to relocate and change their lives. Route 66 contributed to the transformation of the West from a wild frontier to a contemporary community. Route 66 also passes through some of America's most gorgeous countryside. The longest drivable portion of Route 66 is in Arizona, where you can marvel at the Grand Canyon or the red rocks of Sedona. Archaeological sites in New Mexico contain remnants from early settlers and Native Americans.

You may still drive most of Itinerary 66 today, from Illinois to California, but you must plan your route carefully. Don't rely on regularly placed "Route 66" signage to direct you. If you're going to make the trip today, Route 66 experts recommend getting customized maps. These customized maps show you where you can still drive your car or motorcycle securely. They also point out many interesting places along the journey. On the following page, we'll go over all the strange, wacky, and fantastic things you might come across while driving Route 66.

Notable Stop-Overs

Probably no other road in the world has as many unusual and interesting views as Route 66. It's said to be part of the old highway's allure. If you're thinking about taking a trip down Route 66, here are some unique sites you shouldn't miss.

Hackberry General Store (Arizona)

Located at mile marker 80 on Historic Route 66, this general store is jam-packed with any kind of Route 66 memorabilia you can imagine. There are vintage gas pumps and automobiles out front, although it's no longer a filling station. Inside you can shop for souvenirs or pick up some Route 66-branded root beer.

Twin Arrows (Arizona)

An old trading post east of Flagstaff, Ariz., the Twin Arrows are just like they sound: Two giant yellow and red arrows -- actually old telephone poles -- stick out of the roadside asphalt.

Meteor Crater (Arizona)

Between Winslow and Flagstaff, Ariz., lies a gigantic crater left by a meteor impact more than 50,000 years ago. Remarkably well preserved, the crater is 2.4 miles in circumference and 550 feet deep.

The Cozy Dog Drive-in (Illinois) 

This historic eatery in Springfield, Ill., is the home to the original hot dog on a stick. Established in 1949, the drive-in continues serving customers today.

Giganticus Headicus (Arizona)

Right on Route 66 in Walapai, Ariz., for no discernable reason, stands a 14-foot tiki head.

Blue Swallow Motel (New Mexico)

Known as "The Friendliest Hotel on Route 66," W.A. Huggins built this motel in Tucumcari, N.M., in 1939. Still featuring the stucco exterior and detached garages of the era, the Blue Swallow continues to operate today.

Cadillac Ranch (Texas)

Driving down Route 66 in Amarillo, Texas, you'll see a strange sight -- 10 old Cadillacs, nose-down, sticking out of the ground. Texas millionaire Stanley Marsh commissioned the installation in 1974 to honor America's love for the open road. Today the cars are rusted and covered in graffiti, but still a popular attraction.

Wigwam Motel (California)

Built in San Bernardino, Calif., in 1949, the Wigwam Motel's 30-foot teepees attract tourists from all over the world. Each teepee is about 25 feet in diameter with two windows. This motel is a great example of the fanciful tourist attractions once designed to host Route 66 travelers.

Winslow (Arizona)

Immortalized in the Eagles song "Take It Easy," Winslow features a statue in honor of the famous ditty. The statue stands on the corner -- a man holding a guitar, bringing to life the line, "Well, I'm a standing on a corner / in Winslow, Arizona / and such a fine sight to see."

Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona)

Designated as a National Landmark in 1906, the Petrified Forest is 52,000 acres of desert. You can look for dinosaur fossils, visit archaeological sites and check out the remains of petrified trees. The Painted Desert surrounds the park with color.

Stewart's Petrified Wood (Arizona)

And speaking of petrified wood, this attraction in Holbrook, Ariz., is an odd little souvenir store. The outside area of the shop features several giant dinosaur statues with mannequins in their mouths.