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U.S. Route 66: The Main Street of America

722704 17136690 U.S. Route 66: The Main Street of AmericaWe already mentioned some interesting routes of the world, but for citizens of USA there is only one that everyone should go to: Route 66. One of the most known roads in United States of America, a part of once important U.S. Highway System, U.S. Route 66 transcended from being a main artery of our country into a big tourist attraction.

Originally built in 1926. it connected Chicago, Illinois and Los Angeles, California, while passing through many other states: Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. If it were still possible, driving through whole lenght of the route would take some time, since it was 2,448 miles long (or 3,940 km if you use metric system).

Unlike any other highway in North America, Route 66 became an iconic in popular culture (animated movie Cars in recent history), gaining fame all over the world, despite the fact that, for the most part, it isn’t used anymore as it is not a part of modern Interstate Highway network.

route66map U.S. Route 66: The Main Street of America

Started shaping up even in 19th century!

Future “Mother Road“ (yes, Route 66 had a lot of different nicknames) started shaping more than few decades before it’s official construction. Even in 19th century, people realised they need good transporting lines (although then they used wagons for those purposes). Military sparked the idea, but it was private companies that built road system that consisted of three highways connecting Chicago almost all the way to the Los Angeles.

Fort reno oklahoma 1891 U.S. Route 66: The Main Street of America

It is said that main concept for such a valuable connection between East and West came from two gentleman: John Woodruff of Springfield, Missouri, and Cyrus Avery of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Their idea was in air for some time and it wasn’t fulfilled until 1926 when it was completed for public use. Still, it wasn’t quite finished and construction workers could have been seen on the route until 1938, when final piece of the road was paved.

Not everything went according to plan!

343215 8246 U.S. Route 66: The Main Street of AmericaThe same long and problematic way Route 66 came to actually be, when we have in mind how it took government long to put the plan in motion, it was not effortless job in other important matters too. Big question was about the name that this new highway should bare. There were couple of highways done at the same time as “ Will Rogers Highway“ and, because of the fact that all of the roads were marked with some number, it was quite popular to give them round numbers – it just sounded better.

Mr. Avery wanted to give the name Route 60 for this Chicago to L.A. line, but he was not the only want to want that title for his highway. Group of people from Kentucky sparked heated argument about why they should be entitled for the number 60. Avery didn’t give up easily and without proper fight, but in the end he settled for name Route 66, because he thought it had some ring to it and would be something that is easy to remember.

The other important dispute supporters of Route 66 had couple decades later, when Interstate Highway plans surfaced. By then, old road became damaged and dangerous for driving and so instead of investing in repairs, president Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered construction of new highways, inspired by sophisticated ones he saw in Germany and the rest of the Europe.

Interstate 40 map U.S. Route 66: The Main Street of America

It changed everything…

Demise of the Route 66

OldalignIL U.S. Route 66: The Main Street of AmericaBusiness was great at that time all along “The Main Street of America“, but with new plans, old line would be almost completely bypassed and so it would lose much of its traffic. That would mean a lot of “out of business“ signs for, until then, booming business (gas pumps, motels, dinners etc). They didn’t give up and struggled to convince government that they are making a big mistake, but in the end they’ve lost the war, even though some communities managed to win small battles and save some parts of the original road, leaving them in use even until today.

Whiting bros U.S. Route 66: The Main Street of AmericaThat sad story isn’t just about closed “mom and pop“ business, typical only for this piece of road in the US, and numerous families suffering from losing their income, it was about throwing away heart and soul of important  part of American social and cultural history. Like it was noted somewhere “making good time was more important than having a good time“. Anybody driving all the way from start to finish on famous old road, can easily understand why.

Driving on the Route 66 today

It is definitely an adventure trying to drive along the old Route 66 and nice way to spend about ten days of your vacation, because there is much to see! One shouldn’t start without a good plan: vehicle must be in excellent condition (doing a check up is a must, especially for vehicles with lots of mileage), exact driving route should be chosen either on map or some better mobile GPS app (there are several choice to be made since road has been realigned several times through history), some good music and of course several hotel or motel bookings – to catch some shut-eye.

Route 66 U.S. Route 66: The Main Street of America

Either driving from Chicago to Los Angeles or vice versa, it is recommended to plan some stops on your way because Route 66 has a lot to offer! Bigger cities, like the mentioned two start/end points, or St. Louis, Oklahoma City or others, all offer various landmarks and interesting locations. We should mention Sears Tower in Chicago, or Jefferson National Memorial in St. Louis.

Coleman Theater in Miami OK U.S. Route 66: The Main Street of America

In Miami, Oklahoma you should check out Coleman Theater if you have a chance, too. Those cities offer different sightseeing opportunities, so if you have time, check guides like wikitravel.

round barn U.S. Route 66: The Main Street of AmericaThere are so many different little places outside of the big cities that will caught your eyes, too. Perfect representatives of small business and buildings with recognisable (we will say also weird) architecture along the Route 66 can be seen absolutely everywhere while traveling. Some that we should mention: Afton Station (restored 1930s D-X filling station now serves as a museum with couple of incredible vintage cars in its garage), U-Drop Inn (restored 1930s Art Deco cafe), Clanton’s Cafe, Wagon Wheel Motel (the oldest continuously-operated motel on Route 66), the Shrine Mosque (actually not related to Islamic religion, but Masonic organisations), Seaba Station, the Chandler Armory (Art Deco military building, a museum that explores the construction and history of the road), the Rock Cafe etc.

chain bridge U.S. Route 66: The Main Street of AmericaThere are even more interesting sights, considered a part of the road, like Sidewalk Highway (very narrow part of the road with only one lane) near Miami, Oklahoma, the Rock Creek Bridge, Chain of Rocks Bridge, and some that are a little out of the way of the route like: the Leaning Tower, Meteor Crater (with it’s museum, located near the Route 66).

Of course, near Route 66 there are also some great places that could be visited like Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam or Las Vegas, Nevada. There is really lots and lots to see! While many businesses do not work today, some remained open all these years, and other got renovated recently, so you can actually stay in, eat an have fun, while you travel.

Cadillac Ranch U.S. Route 66: The Main Street of America

Some of the locations and scenes are so powerful that even those who are not nostalgic in their nature, can turn emotional.  Seeing places turned to ruins and even whole towns abandoned can be a really sad sight on our history. Those deserted places serve as a perfect examples of downsides of the “so-called -progress“ we crave so much, not caring for some values that we already have.

Route 66 attracted considerable attention after… An animated movie?

Cars poster 3 U.S. Route 66: The Main Street of AmericaRoute 66 might have lost its main purpose, but Interstate Highway Systems never managed to take fun away from it. Even more, cult of the iconic road grows everyday and so the concern for preserving The Mother Road is also stronger. Support even came from unlikely source: animated movie “Cars“! Its story revolved around the Route 66 and fictional city of Radiator Springs (it is said that it is inspired by Galena, Kansas), which decayed considerably after Interstate Highway bypass. After the premiere of the movie interest for the road spiked and in the end even led to some real actions towards revitalisation of famous locations.

In recent years, government decided to fund restoration of scenic parts of the Route 66 and today works are well under way. Like we mentioned, construction workers have already returned former glory to some locations.

Have in mind that driving along the route at the moment is tricky and adventurous. Roads are in bad shape in some parts and multiple road signs and markers went missing, presumably stolen by souvenirs hunters. It certainly would be great to see it restored completely one day, like many locations along the way, even if the main purpose of it would be to be a mare tourist attraction.

magnolia U.S. Route 66: The Main Street of America

Do you plan to travel following Route 66 trails? Did you already completed such an adventure, what part of it was the most interesting to you? Leave your comments bellow and please, LIKE or SHARE this article if you liked it!

  • Alley Keosheyan

    Really enjoyed this article. As a former resident of Northern Arizona it did my heart good to see interest in Route 66 rekindled, especially among young people, following the success of “Cars.” Please drop by the Grand Canyon Store on the corner of Route 66 and Beaver St. if you’re ever in Historic Downtown Flagstaff!

    • Nikola

      Hello Alley, I am really glad you liked the article!
      It’s incredible how that animated movie had such impact on popularity of Route 66, I personally never expected it. Route 66 certainly deserves that attention!

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