Driving the Mother Road – Highlights of Historic Route 66

“…and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads, 66 is the mother road, the road of flight.” — John Steinbeck in “The Grapes of Wrath”.
Classic Cars and a Touch of Charm (AZ) [1]
Route 66 means different things to different people, but freedom is a common theme. For families like the Joads, it proved an avenue of escape from Dust-Bowl-stricken farms. For troops heading to the battlefronts of World War II, it provided a means to combat world tyranny. For countless American families, it held the promise of a new life out West or an old-fashioned family road trip. Known during its heyday as America’s Main Street, this byway holds a special place in the collective consciousness as the herald of a new era of travel.
Route 66: It’s More than a Road; It’s Her People. (AZ) [2]
Decommissioned in 1985, the route is fragmented and sections of it no longer exist. The Mother Road in Illinois, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona is enjoying a renaissance as part of the America’s Byways® collection, making large portions of the Route 66 adventure easily accessible and well signed. Traveling the designated route through the states between Illinois and Arizona is a challenging adventure, so pick up one of the many route-specific guidebooks or maps and hit the road.
Buckingham Fountain (IL) [3]
During the post-war economic boom, many young people felt restless and disillusioned. They sought solace on the open road away from the big cities and suburbia; pointing their car towards the West and driving with no particular destination. Follow in the path of these bohemian voyagers along the restored sections of this historic highway. The Illinois section of Historic Route 66 begins with the architectural wonders of the metropolitan “Windy City”. Chicago’s “Cultural Mile” on Michigan Avenue holds many treasures, such as glorious Buckingham Fountain (one of the largest in the world), Millenium Park (full of gardens, sculptures and host to many live performances) and more than a dozen museums and art galleries. The city also holds many works designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Giant Catsup Bottle (IL) [4]
Heading south through the rural farmland of southern Illinois, you’ll stop in at eclectic restaurants, motels, and roadside attractions, some of which have been around since the route’s inception. In Lincoln, stop by the Railsplitter Covered Wagon. Named the #1 roadside attraction in the U.S. by Readers Digest in 2010, the gigantic covered wagon offers visitors a one-of-a-kind experience. In Springfield, you can learn about President Abraham Lincoln at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library. The museum houses the world’s largest collection of artifacts and papers from Abraham Lincoln and his family. Several exhibits chronicle the life of the president. Founded in 1924 by Greek immigrant Pete Adam, the Artison Café in Litchfield is believed by many to be the oldest restaurant on Route 66. At the café, you can enjoy American favorites as well as traditional Greek dishes like baklava, a sweet pastry dessert. Just before your journey on Illinois’ Route 66 ends, look for the world’s largest catsup (or ketchup) bottle in Collinsville. Originally constructed in 1949, this Route 66 icon has been beautifully restored.
Blue Whale (OK) [5]
Oklahoma is at the heart of the Mother Road. Along the byway, you will encounter amazing architecture like Arcadia’s Round Barn, the Coleman Theatre in Miami, one of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome buildings, and the Oklahoma State Capitol. Keep your camera handy to capture unique roadside attractions like the Blue Whale in Catoosa, the Milk Bottle in Oklahoma City, and the Sand Hills Curiosity Shop in Erick. If you want to try a local food favorite, head to El Reno, the acclaimed Onion Burger Capitol of the World, for a pungent yet mouthwatering sandwich.
Historic Route 66 Roadsign in Santa Fe (NM) [6]
For the road-weary traveler, the nation’s interstate system tends toward monotony as the same fast food and hotel chains greet you at every exit. Your trip down Route 66 provides a break from the tedium for the cross-country explorer. Evidence of a departure from the routine abounds as you enter New Mexico. Admire the Art Deco Route 66 Memorial in Tucumcari. A tribute to the art and architecture along the byway, this piece sets the mood for the New Mexico leg of your journey. Also in Tucumari is the Tee Pee Curio shop, the perfect place to pick up a one-of-a-kind memento from your trip. Stop in at culturally diverse Santa Fe, a hub for artists and southwestern history. Just outside of Santa Fe is the Tesuque Flea Market. Discover exquisite beadwork, hand-thrown pottery, brightly patterned rugs, and much more offered by more than 500 vendors.
Historic Bridge Crossing the Colorado River (AZ) [7]
Natural wonders brought travelers from all over the country to marvel at the desert formations and wild expanses of the Western states. In Arizona, enjoy the natural beauty along the longest remaining section of the original route in the country. Take in the magnificent scenery of the Petrified Forest National Park, home to the largest collection of petrified wood in the world. Spend some time in Flagstaff, one of the best towns along the byway for reliving the original Route 66 spirit. A hub for such destinations as three national monuments, the red rocks of Sedona, and the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff is also home to museums, historic mansions, and classic hotels from the ‘30s to the ‘60s. Want more natural wonders? Head to the Grand Canyon Caverns in Peach Springs and explore the largest dry caverns in the U.S.

Give yourself a week or so to fully experience the byway. Resist the temptation to think of the end as your goal. Every city along Route 66 offers a little slice of Americana and each mile bears the evidence of kindred adventurous spirits who blazed the trail before yo

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