TRAVELING route 66
ALL ABOUT YOUR AMERICAN RETRO ROAD TRIP
BY CHRISTINA GARCIA
A medley of unconnected roads, Route 66 was created to link rural lanes with one main artery and vice versa. It placed Chicago, Illinois, and Santa Monica, California, on a chain joined by rolling wheels and, eventually, drivable pavement. The new road would mean no more dead ends or lost paths. And 12 years later, New Deal policies finally saw the 2,400-mile stretch of Route 66 surfaced by men previously out of work during the Great Depression.
Immortalized in popular song, literature, and film, Route 66 felt better than other east-west trails — Route 40, for example — because of the relatively nicer weather. That natural blessing created a corridor of financial success for restaurants, shops, and service stations catering to travelers, but times changed.
Over the decades, other highways were built with more lanes, and Route 66 became obsolete. Although it was decommissioned in 1985, nostalgia trippers still sail by, stopping at the roadside diners and quirky attractions from another time. Antiques, art galleries, quirky installations, and ghost towns draw travelers every year too.
Not all parts of the road are still in service, and others are now private property, so plan ahead with a current map if you’re looking to travel the entirety of the famous Route 66.
ROUTE 66 IN POPULAR CULTURE
A symbol of hardship and opportunity for migrants traveling from the Dust Bowl to California, Route 66 became “Mother Road” in John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Grapes of Wrath.
Nat King Cole sent “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” up the charts in 1946. The song was written by Bobby Troup, a former pianist for Tommy Dorsey, and later recorded by Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones, and even Depeche Mode. Woody Guthrie wrote “The Ballad of Tom Joad,” named for a character in Steinbeck’s novel, in 1940, the year after the book’s publication.
Cars, Disney Pixar’s 2006 film, was based on the director’s travels across Route 66. A few decades earlier, Peter Fonda directed Easy Rider, a film released in the summer of 1969 after shooting on location in areas across the United States, including Route 66 in California and Arizona. The film was a global hit.
CRUISE THE TEXAS CORRIDOR ON ROUTE 66
Slicing through the Panhandle and marking the halfway point between Chicago and Santa Monica on the original drive, Route 66 created a few hidden gems to seek as you blast across the historic road.
Last year marked the first annual Route 66 Festival, taking place across the Texas stretch of the road at various locations over one week in June, culminating in an Amarillo bash. Amarillo hosted rodeos, Elvis impersonators, a Miss Texas Route 66 Pinup Pageant, cattle drives, and car shows over ten days of the festival. If you miss the fest, don’t worry. The biggest city on Route 66 is home to the Route 66 Historic District on 6th Avenue between Georgia and Western Streets. Stop by for antiques, art galleries, and architecture.
Bring the spray paint. You’ll need it at Cadillac Ranch, a must-see installation of ten Cadillacs manufactured between 1949 and 1963 and driven nose-first into the desert in Amarillo, Texas. Covered in graffiti, the paint job continually evolves as passersby add new scrawls regularly.
The Caddies have been painted all pink, gray, or black throughout the years, but pilgrims with paint cans are never far away. A relic of the 1970s, Cadillac Ranch, was created by artists from San Francisco who were part of the Ant Farm collective. Though located on private property in a cow pasture, visitors are encouraged. Combines and Volkswagen Bugs were buried similarly at nearby Combine City and VW Slug Bug Ranch.
If Texas ruins call to you, stop by the ghost towns at Alanreed and Glenrio. Hauntingly beautiful, each town’s crumbling cafes, filling stations, and motels suggest a world long gone. For a challenging side quest, try to locate Jericho, a small ghost town of farms and the odd abandoned car between Alanreed and Groom.
FOOD & FUN FACTS
You can’t miss the glowing green neon in Shamrock. Designed as a gas station, cafe, and store, the Art Deco-style structure called the U-Drop Inn was opened in 1936. After being largely abandoned, it later saw new life and renovation. Now a visitor center with a small eatery for guests to order sandwiches, classic American pies, and ice cream, the stop no longer offers gas but does have a Tesla charging station out back.
Grab a bite to eat at the Midpoint Cafe in Adrian. As its name suggests, this cafe marks the midpoint of Route 66 between Chicago and Los Angeles. It’s an excellent spot for food and nostalgia.
The Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo is well known for its 72-ounce steak challenge and offers a taste of classic Texan cuisine and a lively atmosphere.
Though technically across the border in Oklahoma, the National Route 66 Museum in Elk City provides insight into the history and culture of Route 66 and its impact on the region.
If you venture beyond the Lone Star State, keep an eye out for quirky roadside stops like Seligman Sundries in Seligman, Arizona, and local diners or motels like the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico, that add to the charm and character of this historic road.