Explore Route 66: A Guide to the Mother Road’s History and Must-See Stops

2023-03-19 07:00:00

Image: Morten Andreassen

Brief History of Route 66

Route 66 was established with the intention of connecting the eastern United States with the west. Many times it is said that it joins the two coasts of the North American country, but it is not really like that, because although one of its ends does coincide with the Californian town of Santa Monica on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, the other is located in the city of Chicago (Illinois), next to the immense Lake Michigan. And from there to the Atlantic coast there are still about 1,500 km.

Also known as “The Main Street of America» (The Main Street of America) or «The Mother Road» (The Mother Highway), among other names, Route 66 became part of the United States Federal Highway network in 1926. However, it was not signposted until the following year and its paving was not completed until 1938, Therefore, many of its sections were initially made of dirt and gravel.

Throughout its almost 100-year history, its layout has been modified on different occasions. In addition, in the 50s of the last century, most of its route became alternative when highways were built that relegated Route 66 to the background. So much so, that even in 1985 it was officially discontinued from the United States Highway Network.

However, although at present it is no longer possible to follow Route 66 uninterruptedly along its original layout (only approximately 80% has been preserved), it is true that it still maintains sections as they were many years ago, taking us back to the way living in the United States in the middle of the last century. That is why the tourist interest of Route 66 has grown exponentially in recent times and some of its sections have been declared “Historic” (“Historic Route 66″).

Although, touristically speaking, Route 66 can be done in both directions, the most normal thing is to travel it from the east to the west, that is, taking Chicago as the starting point and Los Angeles as the end of the trip. In this way, the itinerary of Route 66 runs through eight of the 50 states that make up the North American country. In the recommended sense these are Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. However, in practice there are usually nine, because many travelers deviate from the route and pass through the city of Las Vegas, in the state of Nevada, before entering California.

Where does Route 66 start and end?

Officially, Route 66 begins in Chicago, at the intersection of Jackson Boulevard and Michigan Avenue, and ends at the Santa Monica Pier, very close to Los Angeles. If it is done in its entirety, it is easy to cover more than 4,000 km, so if it is done in one go, it is best to use a minimum of 14 days, at an average of close to 300 km per day. Then, of course, the design of the route depends on many things, because the possibilities are numerous, as are the points of interest. It is true that you can go two or more times and take it more calmly, spending more time at the stops. Similarly, you can do only part of the itinerary, and not necessarily start in Illinois and end in California. It is important to remember that the maximum speed allowed is 55 miles per hour (a little less than 90 km/h) and even in some sections it is reduced to 35 mph, so it is advisable to travel slowly, taking into account the strict that some agents of the authority of the United States can become with this issue.

How to do route 66?

There are different companies specialized in renting vehicles to travel Route 66 in one direction («one-way“), without the need to return them to the same place where they are collected. The offer is very wide and there are different types of vehicles to rent. The route can be done by motorcycle, car or motorhome, and the real thing is that the vehicle chosen is “made in the USA” to fully soak up the experience and culture of the country.

How to do route 66 on a motorcycle?

Regarding the price, for example, the trip for two people when doing Route 66 on a motorcycle on a Harley-Davidson from the Touring family for 14 days is around 4,000 euros per person, including, in addition to the motorcycle, a double room, insurance and travel assistance. If it is for two people and two motorcycles, also in a double room, the price of the package amounts to €5,250 per person. It must be taken into account that the costs of gasoline and maintenance are not included in the amounts quoted.

Other ways to do Route 66: by car or bus

On the other hand, if we prefer to do the route in a Ford Mustang-type car and organize ourselves with the issue of accommodation and others, the price of renting the vehicle alone can be around 2,000 euros for two weeks.

Another cheaper way to travel the route is using buses from Greyhound Lines, a well-known interstate company whose motto is “A lot more travel for a lot less money» (many more trips for much less money). Traveling in this way for 16 days and with accommodation in a double room including breakfast, you can find packages for about 2,000 euros per person.

The summer months, between July and September, are the most recommended for traveling Route 66. Although it can be hot at some points, the days are longer and the probability of rain is less.

What are the most emblematic places to visit on Route 66?

During the nearly 4,000 km of Route 66 there are many points where it is worth stopping and different urban centers that should not be passed by. It is clear that in many cases the sites that are visited will depend on the cities or towns in which you spend the night, but there are some very emblematic places that must be known during the trip and that we are going to list for you. They are the following:

Hall of Fame (Ill.)

In the city of Pontiac, still in Illinois and less than 200 km from the starting point in Chicago, is the “Hall of Fame Museum”. It houses thousands of historical memorabilia from the glory days of the “Mother Road”. The large mural with which one of its exterior walls is decorated is one of the most photographed things on Route 66. Thanks to the multiple images exhibited in this museum, you can learn what life was like when Route 66 was the most important highway from United States.

St. Louis and the Gateway Arch (Missouri)

The city of “Saint Louis” it’s usually the first or second stop after starting the trip on Route 66 from Chicago. Located on both sides of the Mississippi River, it brings together culture, history, music and sports. During the visit you can enjoy a baseball game of the “Saint Louis Cardinals”walk or bike around the “Forest Park”or meet the iconic “Gateway Arch”. This huge arch allows you to walk up to its highest point, located 192 m above the ground, and from there enjoy a good view of the city.

Caves of Meramec (Missouri)

The Meramec caves are another point that cannot be overlooked when doing Route 66. It is a set of more than 6,000 hidden caves in an extension of more than 40 km² and according to the objects found in them it has been confirmed that they were inhabited by different pre-Columbian cultures. They were also used by the Union forces during the Civil War (1861-1865), and even served as a refuge for the famous gunman Jesse James and his gang after the aforementioned war. These undeniably beautiful caverns were formed from the erosion of limestone deposits over millions of years.

Ed Galloway Totem Pole Park (Oklahoma)

To reach it you have to deviate about 6 km from the route. At this historic site in the United States, you can admire 11 totem poles made by a sculptor named Ed Gallaway between 1937 and 1948. They are a sample of Oklahoma folk art, and include figurative images of Native American men and birds. They are all made of concrete and one of them holds the record for being the highest in the world. For its realization, 28 tons of cement, six tons of steel, and another 100 tons of stone and sand were used. In this way Gallaway got the height of this giant totem to be close to 28 m.

The Blue Whale (Oklahoma)

Another unusual attraction along the route is the Catoosa Blue Whale, a large “sculpture” made in 1972 in a roadside pond. The place is surrounded by trees and there is a well-equipped picnic area where you can eat outdoors. It is also possible to take a bath to cool off from the heat in summer.

Rancho Cadillac (Texas)

Just 15 minutes by road from the Texan town of Amarillo is one of the most emblematic and peculiar places on Route 66. It is known as “Cadillac Ranch” and it is in the red desert of Texas. It is a sculpture of the so-called “public art” made up of 10 half-buried Cadillacs painted with graffiti. The cars are in formation, with the front part buried and the rear projected into the sky. The truth is that they attract a lot of attention. In addition, visitors are encouraged to use spray paint and freely decorate the cars.

Santa Fe (New Mexico)

The capital of the state of New Mexico is a city worth visiting. Founded in 1610 as a Spanish colony, it is famous for its architecture and its panoramic views of the Sierra de la Sangre de Cristo. The Spanish influence is felt in its large square in the center of the city and in the winding streets of its historic quarter. The different adobe constructions also reveal its past.

Sandia Peak Cable Car (New Mexico)

Located on the outskirts of the city of Albuquerque, this cable car has a 4.5 km route with views of deep canyons and impressive landscapes. Once at the top, from the platform you can enjoy contemplating the Rio Grande Valley and the Land of Enchantment. The surrounding forest is impressive, as is the sunset seen from above.

The Painted Desert (Arizona)

The variety of colors of this northern Arizona desert gives its name to this extensive and beautiful territory. It is an area of ​​dry and barren lands that has rocks of multiple shades, from pinks and oranges, to grays and violets. It is recommended to visit the Painted Desert at sunset and thus enjoy the sunset that enlivens its wide palette of colors.

Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

It is said that Arizona is the best preserved section of Route 66 if one takes into account what it was like in the mid-20th century. Once you arrive in the city of Flagstaff, you have to deviate a little over two hours north to reach the “Grand Canyon National Park”. It is a place somewhat off the itinerary, but the truth is that it is a natural wonder that is worth visiting. The “grand canyon” formed by the Colorado River at some points is 29 km wide and more than 1.5 km deep. The truth is that the landscape is impressive, which means that the place is visited by more than six million people annually.

Motel Wigwam (Arizona)

Located in the town of Holbrook, this well-known motel offers its guests the possibility of sleeping in independent rooms shaped like teepees. These were the cone-shaped tents used by Native American peoples in the past. The motel was built in 1950 and is listed on the US National Register of Historic Places.

Santa Monica (California)

The end of the route and an ideal place to relax contemplating the Pacific Ocean from its impressive beach. On the pier is the famous amusement park «Pacific Park» and the historic merry-go-round «Praise Hippodrome». A visit to the city aquarium or the «Muscle Beach»an open-air gym founded in 1930 and where scenes from many movies have been filmed.


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