Take a Trip on Route 66

A large Route 66 logo is photographed upon an empty road.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.

There are plenty of big city or foreign travel destinations to venture to this summer, but there are many lesser-known places to explore in the USA. You can learn a lot about a city, state, or country by taking road trips in your vehicle. If you are longing for the open road this summer, consider traveling along the preserved sections of Route 66.  

What is Route 66?

In 1925, the U.S. government sought to connect state roads through 22 interstate highways. The government left the states to build the routes, so some roads were more developed than other routes. From 1926 until the 1960s, Route 66 was the main road to travel from Chicago to Los Angeles. The road, also known as U.S. Highway 66 or U.S. Route 66, was created to join the main streets of rural and urban districts to a national access road. The famous route stretched across eight states and was 2,448 miles in length. Some of the cities along the once-popular route include Chicago and Springfield in Illinois; St. Louis, Springfield, and Joplin in Missouri; Tulsa and Oklahoma City in Oklahoma; Amarillo, Texas; Tucumcari, Albuquerque, and Gallup in New Mexico; Holbrook, Flagstaff, and Kingman in Arizona; and Needles, Barstow, San Bernardino, and Santa Monica in California. The 1930s saw rural inhabitants of Dust Bowl states forced to migrate westward to California after droughts devastated their land. The migration sped up business development for food, vehicle repair, and motels along Route 66. The popular nickname the Mother Road stuck to the route after John Steinbeck referred to it as such in his 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath.

Music and television increased awareness and desire to travel on the historic route. Nat King Cole was the first of many to record Bobby Troup’s Route 66 song, and a television series of the same name appeared on network television from 1960 to 1964. In the 1950s, more traffic began emerging on the country highways, and heavy traffic prompted the federal government to create a safer and wider highway system. The states of Route 66 appealed to the government to install Interstate 66 but denied acceptance. The government bypassed and decommissioned Route 66 on June 27, 1985.

What are the best places to visit along Route 66?

If you drive along the remaining path of the former Route 66, you can visit several nearby national parks, most recognizable, the Grand Canyon National Park between Seligman and Kingman, Arizona. In 2007, the Hualapai community opened the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass-floored steel horseshoe-shaped bridge that extends 70 feet over the canyon and 4,000 feet above the Colorado River. Ticket prices are as steep as the view. The Petrified Forest National Park contains a section of the famous Route 66. The park rests on Interstate 40 near Holbrook, Arizona. The Mojave National Preserve is home to Joshua trees, sand dunes, volcanic cinder cones, and desert tortoises. The preserve is north of the former Route 66 between Interstate 40 and Interstate 15 in California. East of Canyon, Texas, you can find the Palo Duro Canyon State Park featuring canyon walls up to 800 feet. The park is south of the former Route 66, and you can access it by exiting off the Interstate 27 freeway.

Despite being decommissioned, some cities preserved sections of what was once Route 66. The following locations are merely a handful of the intriguing stops along historic Route 66.

Lou Mitchell’s Diner (Chicago, Illinois)

This 100-year-old diner is located on Jackson Boulevard, the former Route 66 starting point, and is a favorite destination among hungry travelers.

Oklahoma Route 66 Museum (Clinton, Oklahoma)

This museum showcases vintage cars and artifacts from the heyday of Route 66 and shares the history of the famous Mother Road with customers.

Conoco Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Café (Shamrock, Texas)

A perfect opportunity for architectural photography rests in Shamrock, Texas, at the Conoco Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Café.  The 87-year-old building is a favorite stop among old Route 66 travelers. The building still serves meals at the café and operates as a visitor center, chamber of commerce office, and community center.

Big Texan Steak Ranch (Amarillo, Texas)

You might have heard of a restaurant that offers guests a free meal if they consume a 72-ounce steak. The Big Texan Steak Ranch is the dining establishment you are looking for. The landmark restaurant opened in 1960. A total of 10,186 guests (11 percent of attempts) have successfully completed the 72-ounce steak challenge over the last 63 years.

KiMo Theater (Albuquerque, New Mexico)

A Pueblo Deco picture palace, the 95-year-old KiMo Theater hosts movies, concerts, and performances in downtown Albuquerque. The preserved décor and unique style send customers backward in time while enjoying an evening performance.

Wigwam Motels (Holbrook, Arizona and San Bernardino, California)

Route 66 displays two Wigwam motels in California and Arizona. The cozy motels built in 1949 and 1950, respectively, provide a creative way to house overnight guests with Native American tents consisting of steel and concrete. There were originally seven locations across the country, but only three remain.

If you enjoyed this travel article, you may appreciate reading about how you can travel more frequently.

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About Joey Hinojosa

Joey Hinojosa graduated with a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism and a master's degree in mass communications. He began working at Empower Brokerage in early 2022 and enjoys being creative in his writing, photography, videography, and other projects.

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