Saturday, August 31, 2013

Get Your Kicks on Route 66

Of all the roads crisscrossing the United States, few have the intrigue of the Mother Road: Route 66 which, as it happens, actually isn’t a road anymore. Route 66 was first established in 1926 and it symbolizes important aspects of many eras in American history: it's road trips, family vacations, Americana, heading to California in search of a better life... Personally, I love 66, what it was in the past as well as what it is today; driving portions of Historic Route 66 and state roads still designated as 66 was a major trip highlight. There are other roads that are longer, others that are older, plus it's just not a continuous road, but there’s just something about 66--lasting to this day--that makes it special. Although the road was officially decommissioned in 1985, it lives on in so many ways.

                                                                                  My favorite Route 66 map

Route 66 originally ran from Chicago to LA (Santa Monica technically) which isn’t even cross-country or anything and yet there is something about it, not just because of the song (pardon the video) which isn't exactly accurate and points if you know why, the TV shownbsp;or associations with Okies and Arkies (no offense to anyone considering those derogatory terms which, apparently, they might be). Route 66 today is a combination of motels, tourist attractions, restaurants, and empty stretches of highway, some things dilapidated, others looking like they did fifty years ago (I hope), while many are modern versions of old attractions.

I was lucky enough to drive portions of 66 in most of the states it passes/passed through (I'm pretty sure I skipped Illinois and I know I missed Kansas but whatever, 66 is barely in Kansas). Driving Route 66 turned out to be an extended and special part of my trip. While I often deviated from its course and there are many places where it simply doesn't exist, meeting up with it--especially after miles of Interstate--was like returning to an old friend.

                                                           Elvis slept here. No, really.
Representatives of Holbrook, AZ's large dinosaur population

In some places, the road is marked Historic Route 66 and there are real attempts to preserve the road's history. Often these areas are main streets of tiny towns, many of which have likely seen a rebirth (certainly in tourism) due to renewed interest in and in preserving Route 66. I-40 might be right next to towns like Elk City, Holbrook, and Winslow but at least there are thriving local businesses. Would many of these places even really exist in the same way without Route 66? Would they merely offer a Walmart, McDonalds, gas station, and Holiday Inn to those on the highway in need of a break? While many of these places have those Interstate adjacent amenities, I think and hope travelers appreciate the local character. Maybe I'm overdramatic but I've seen enough places without character to appreciate those that are unique. In some ways I like ubiquity as much as the next person but if every place looks and feels the same, why go anywhere?

Those poles mark the original road
Stay tuned for the full post on Meramec Caverns

                                                           This chair is in need of a giant.
I tried to do a few 66 things every day during my travels along that route. I ate at funky diners, toured caves, stood on street corners (not like that), and went to museums. One thing I didn't do was stay in an old motel and now I really wish I had. Something for the next trip, I guess.


Route 66 isn't always the most scenic or the most interesting and it's never the fastest. And yet, it has that mystique that sets it apart from other roads. I love it all: the kitschy souvenir shops, the many Route 66 museums--most of which offer a lot of the same "information" and similar memorabilia--but are all worth visiting nonetheless, the crumbling gas stations, peeling signs, signs proclaiming historic significance, funky motels, freshly painted murals, giant rocking chairs, maps creeping along the sides of buildings, and so, so much more.

I'll be covering many of my stops along Route 66 so be prepared to read a lot more about it (please?). Route 66 is the quintessential road trip road and, as someone who loves road trips, I couldn't help but long to experience some of the glory of that road, and someday to experience it again. Route 66 may not be what it once was but it's still special and I give my thanks to everyone who has helped keep 66 and its spirit alive.