We Got Our Kicks On (Historical) Route 66
Hello Everyone! So sorry for the long absence, our RV adventure has been thrilling, awesome, inspiring, and fun, with meeting new friends and seeing our beautiful country. So much so, it’s been hard to find time to edit and post, if I can give an excuse! Our trip to date, departing from the East Coast, has been almost 4,000 miles:
Towards the beginning of our trip while passing through Oklahoma City on I-40W and up until we arrived to our first big destination in Williams, Arizona, we rode about 900 miles where our GPS showed icons for numerous roadside attractions, noting they were part of the historical “Route 66” highway.
Back in the day, maybe some of you remember experiencing the original US Route 66 on a business or family roadtrip.
The GPS icons and history kept us entertained as I tried to snap photos of some of the roadside “attractions” while cruising past them along the I-40 corridor that overrode or road alongside the original Route 66 for the most part. A few of my photos are actually in focus enough, and I thought I’d share them with this interesting history (sorry it’s so long!).
Being one of the most famous roads in America, a paved US Route 66 was completed on November 11, 1926, running from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending at Santa Monica, California, for a total of 2,448 miles (3,940 km).
Over its 60 years of existence, US Route 66 received many nicknames:
“The Mother Road”
“The Great Diagonal Way”
“The Main Street of America”
“The Will Rogers Highway”
US Route 66 was an important highway for many reasons. During the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, it served as a major paved path for those who migrated west.
By the 1950s, US Route 66 had become a major highway for vacationers, with the road passing many nearby national parks/monuments, recreational areas, and tourist attractions. Passing through numerous small towns, US Route 66 also created the rise of mom & pop businesses, including gas stations, restaurants, souvenir shops, motor courts, all readily accessible to passing tourists. This sharp increase in tourism then gave rise to hundreds of roadside attractions, including teepees, “local” tours, ice cream stands, Indian trading posts, anything to grab your attention to get you to stop. Super-tacky and eclectic was the norm. Some are still standing today that were “icon’d” on our GPS. Many of these are now defunct, little ghost town shops. Others are still alive and attract!
The Big Texan in Amarillo opened in 1965 and advertised a free 72 ounce steak dinner to anyone who could eat the entire meal in one hour. They still do today! Try you luck and join the almost 3,000 people to date who have defeated the challenge. (Poor stomachs!)
Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas – 10 Cadillacs from 1949 to 1963 buried nose down.
Not to be outdone…..
Bug Ranch, Conway, Texas – Five VW Bugs buried nose down
Forgot to note what location these were at but definitely attention-getters.
Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Groom Texas – 190’ tall & can be seen for 20 miles (breath-taking)
A defunct Britten truck stop had installed a “Pisa-style” water tower in Groom, Texas, to get motorists to stop
The beginning of the decline of US Route 66 came in 1956 when President Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act. As new bypasses were built, more and more towns were passed by, leaving many of the mom-and-pop businesses and area attractions unable to survive the lost revenue.
In 1984, Williams, Arizona was the last town/state to see its final stretch of the US Route 66 highway decommissioned with the completion of their I-40 bypass. The following year, US Route 66 officially ceased to exist and was removed from the US Highway System.
When the highway was decommissioned, sections of the road were disposed of in various ways. Some sections became state roads, local roads, private drives, or were abandoned completely and left to the elements.
Many preservation groups tried to save and even landmark the old motels and neon signs along the road in different states by creating Route 66 associations; the first was founded in Arizona in 1987, followed by the other US Route 66 states.
To celebrate Route 66’s history, this monument was erected in Tucumcari, New Mexico, in 1997. Tucumcari was bypassed by I-40 and has mostly fallen to despair with many abandoned motor courts still standing, awaiting preservation.
In 1999, President Clinton signed a National Route 66 Preservation Bill which provided for $10 million in matching fund grants for preserving and restoring the historic features along the route.
Since then, the National Park Service developed a Route 66 Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary describing over one hundred individual historic sites to visit.
Over the years, the US Route 66 experience was also publicized by pop-culture artists through song, books, and television that you may recognize, including:
— The Song, “Get Your Kicks on Route 66”, written by Bobby Troup and first recorded by Nat King Cole in 1946, and later by many other singers.
— A TV series in the 1960s called “Route 66”.
— The book and film, “The Grapes of Wrath”, in which the Joad family is evicted from their small farm in Oklahoma and travel to California on US Route 66.
— “Cars”, the Disney Pixar film, is set in “Radiator Springs”, a composite of multiple real towns located on US Route 66. Part of the film’s storyline revolves around how the once vibrant town that fell into decline after it was bypassed when Route 66 was superseded by the new Interstate.
Looking for and trying to photograph the attractions was a lot of fun. We did take a break and stopped in Flagstaff, Arizona, that was also by-passed by I-40 to have lunch at the Galaxy Diner.
Pretty cool retro decor, great food, and reasonable!
What fun it was to follow the history for something to do as we cruised across the country. When we arrived to our destination in Williams, Arizona, this charming mountainside town continues to this day to ‘live’ in the 1950-1960’s with the nostalgia and history of Route 66. It added a lot of fun to our visiting this area.
The town of Williams was determined to not let US Route 66 die. Many buildings and businesses survived the I-40 bypass, including several motor courts and eateries.
There are murals throughout the town.
Some of the town greeters…
You can even ride a zipline at 30 mph to the tune of “Get Your Kicks on Route 66”!
Every day this next sign is placed somewhere on the Rt 66 loop for location of the evening’s street gunfight. (One every night throughout the summer.)
And when the sun goes down, all the neon lighting is aglow, just as it was along US Route 66 back in the 1950’s.
There is so much more Route 66 nostalgia in Williams that I didn’t photograph, along with a ‘western town’ eatery set-up that was pretty neat.
The Grand Canyon Railway is stationed on the Route 66 loop in Williams and also housed a hotel and our campground. The railway has been running tourists back and forth daily to the Grand Canyon since 1901. For train buffs, there were many photo ops of the station and different rail cars to capture.