Route 66 means a lot of things to a lot of different people in America. In fact, It’s probably one of America’s most written about roads and has become it’s own cultural icon of sorts. To date, there’s been a TV show and songs written about it, in addition to tons of memorabilia that ranges from commemorative maps to reproduction street signs. The road is even featured in Disney’s movie, Cars. There’s no question that Route 66 holds a special place in many American hearts. So what is it about Route 66 that makes it so special? Why is a Route 66 Road Trip so deeply entrenched in American Culture? We spent a day on America’s Mother Road last fall, and I can tell ya, it’s was a great peek into the days of yore.
Route 66 has a long history in America’s Automotive Culture. In its glory days Route 66 extended from Chicago, IL, to Los Angeles, CA. Sadly, it now lies in disrepair. Most of the old route has been replaced by the Interstate highway system. There are some small groups of very dedicated Route 66 road trippers that have mapped out the entire route and continue to use it today. Doing so requires quite a bit of trip planning and a whole lot of patience. Route 66 is no longer marked on major maps after it’s decommissioning. Surprisingly there are a few parts of the road that have been preserved rather well, and still thrive. One of those stretches runs through Arizona, and that’s where we got our kicks on Route 66!
As usual, we didn’t really plan on taking Route 66 through Arizona, it just kinda happened. We were on our drive from Las Vegas to Flagstaff to see the Grand Canyon, when we stopped in this teeny tiny little town called Chloride, AZ. We stepped into a gift shop, and a friendly local mentioned taking Route 66 on our way to Flagstaff. Turns out you can drive about 70 miles of the old road without even making a major detour off the Interstate. They were even kind enough to give me a little map. It’s moments like this, that make me certain the universe always has a Rambler’s back :-)
We arrived in Kingman, AZ and popped off the interstate to began our drive along historic Route 66. The town of Kingman is one of the few places that really focuses on it’s Route 66 roots, so there were lots of signs and markers letting us know exactly where we were. At first, Lauren and I were worried that America’s Mother Road had turned into America’s Tourist Trap. I’ve never heard of a road having it’s own shopping district.
Once we drove 3-4 miles out of town though, the scenery immediately changed back to to the familiar AZ desert, and we started to relax. We started to get a feel for what driving across country in the 50’s and 60’s must have really felt like.
It’s one thing to take a road trip in todays modern cars on these roads, but imagine being out in the middle of nowhere in a car that gets about 10 MPG, with no GPS, no cell phone, and a really bad map. The majority of the route was just one lane in either direction with no lighting and nothing around. Occasionally we’d pass a small out cropping of buildings or a deserted town that was a window into the past. There would be old cars parked in front with a few old signs that have survived decades of neglect. In many ways they have been abandoned as much as the old road has.
In many ways driving this road was a window into how much our world has changed. It was a stark reminder of how we’ve lost our appreciation for the simple things in life as we’ve “progressed”. Instead of taking a slow and deliberate drive through small towns when we travel, we now just hop on the interstate, set our cruise control, and go as fast as we can. There used to be a time where a road trip was about visiting local businesses, stopping at roadside attractions, and getting to know your fellow travelers. On this stretch of road, it felt like we’d traveled back to that time.
One of my favorite attractions on the whole road though, were a set of whimsical “old time” advertisements that were re-created and placed along the road. There were 4 groupings of them, all with different little rhymes, for a company called Burma Shave. The signs were all a recreation of an advertising campaign that they originally ran in the 1920’s and was so successful, it continued well into the 60’s. It was probably the starkest reminder of a simpler time.
Sadly, our nostalgic road trip along Route 66 came to a quick end in the town of Seligman, AZ. We could have continued to the town of Ash Fork a few miles down, but at this point the sun was setting. It was time for us to jump back on the Interstate and back into the 21st Century. Thankfully, Seligman had fully embraced it’s historic Route 66 roots, and had an entire part of the town dedicated to the old road.
It was great to find that there were people, and even whole towns, that are interested in preserving this little stretch of road and America’s history. Without them, all we would be left with is a bad TV show and an old song to remind us of what road tripping once was. As for us Ramblers, no matter where in the world we are driving, our hearts will be getting their kicks on ole route sixty-six.
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