The Main Street of America. The Mother Road. Will Rogers Highway. All names for the iconic and beloved US Route 66.
Route 66 is one of the very first highways in the US, stretching 2,880 miles (3,669 kilometers) from Chicago all the way to Los Angeles. The road crosses seven states and hits cities such as the other cities served by the route were, from east to west, Springfield, Illinois; St. Louis, Springfield, and Joplin in Missouri; Tulsa and Oklahoma City in Oklahoma; Amarillo, Texas; Tucumcari, Albuquerque, and Gallup in New Mexico; Holbrook, Flagstaff, and Kingman in Arizona; and Needles, Barstow, and San Bernardino in California.
First proposed in 1925, Route 66 was built in segments (often discontinuous ones) and was not entirely paved until 1938. During the 1930s, thousands migrated from Oklahoma's Dust Bowl to California via Route 66. This mass migration inspired John Steinbeck to write The Grapes of Wrath. In his novel, Steinbeck dubbed the road the "Mother Road" and the road came to symbolize both loss and escape.
Why this path?
The origins of the road actually go all the way back to 1857, when a naval officer in the service of the US Army Corps of Topographical Engineers was ordered by the War Department to build a government-funded wagon road along the 35th Parallel. (His secondary orders were to test the feasibility of the use of camels as pack animals in the southwestern desert.) This wagon road as well as three other auto trails known the National Old Trails Road became part of US 66.
But the mere length and history isn't what makes Route 66 so iconic and why people still have such a passion for it today. Nope. It's that traveling Route 66 will expose you to some true bits of Americana, times gone by when things were simpler - and kitschier. The idea behind the road was to link great cities together and to bring tourism to their towns. Motels cropped up everywhere along with drive-in and drive-up restaurants.
Route 66 gave birth to roadside advertising, a whole new way of marketing to travelers. Establishments each tried to outdo each other to attract business, coming up with some incredibly clever ideas.
Take this gem. The Wigwam Motel built in 1949 in San Bernardino. California, and sadly it's one of the last remaining motels of its kind, with individual wigwams for each motel room. Spacious inside, a bit of nostalgia is rekindled with each stay. Another still exists in Holbrook, Arizona.
The end of World War II saw a huge swell of automobile traffic and Route 66 became more popular than ever, carrying far more cars than it was ever designed to hold. Then in 1946, Nat King Cole invited everybody to "get your kicks on Route 66" which just added to the roads mystic. Suddenly, everybody needed to see the places Nat King Cole was crooning about. Listen to the song Route 66 and see more great photos here. The song has been recorded by many others since including probably the most well-known version by the Rolling Stones.
If you ever plan to motor west, Travel my way, take the highway that is best. Get your kicks on Route 66. It winds from Chicago to LA, More than two thousand miles all the way. Get your kicks on Route 66. Now you go through Saint Louis Joplin, Missouri, And Oklahoma City is mighty pretty. You see Amarillo, Gallup, New Mexico, Flagstaff, Arizona. Don't forget winona, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernandino. Won't you get hip to this timely tip When you make that California trip Get your kicks on Route 66.. Won't you get hip to this timely tip: When you make that California trip Get your kicks on Route 66. Get your kicks on Route 66. Get your kicks on Route 66.
From 1960-1964, there was a television series called — you guessed it — Route 66, which had two adventurers making their way across the famous road. So yup, even more people took to the road. Even kids now know about Route 66. The Disney movie Cars was originally titled "Route 66," and the fictional town of Radiator Springs is on Route 66 and the movie's plot deals with the decline of the road when it was bypassed by a super highway.
All this new traffic meant something had to give. The US federal government realized they needed wider, safer roads in place and so new high-speed, limited-access super highways took over, replacing the need for Route 66. In October 1984, the last segment was bypassed and the beloved Route 66 was formally decommissioned on June 27, 1985.
In recent years, the route has enjoyed a bit of a revival. Portions of the road that passed through Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, and Arizona have been communally designated a National Scenic Byway by the name "Historic Route 66," returning the name to some maps. Several states have adopted significant bypassed sections into their state road networks as State Route 66. The corridor is also being redeveloped into US Bicycle
Many private individuals, organizations, and towns have worked to preserve portions of the roadway, including some of the businesses along the way such as this spot in Seligman, Arizona. Among several museums dedicated to the route are those in Clinton, Oklahoma, and Barstow, California, each full of Route 66 memorabilia.
Get your kicks on Route 66
But it's not just these fun spots that make a drive across Route 66 so special. While many prefer to take the speedier super highways, a drive along Route 66 will take you through some truly gorgeous and different landscapes.
All this is why the American Association of Singapore has opted to take on the challenge of completing a virtual trip down Route 66. Join our challenge and be a part of our amazing journey. Using Google Maps Street View, you can see exactly where we are and even get virtual postcards along the way. Besides motivating us all to get of the couch, our journey also helps plant trees.
I've always hankered to see Route 66, but never made it there. Now, I feel like I'm sort of doing it — with friends in Singapore, no less I love that we get postcards and bits of history emailed to us along the way. I've already learned so much and we're just getting started! Plus, the Facebook community we're building as we travel the road is super special and motivating. Those folks can talk some trash, let me tell you.
Sample postcard and history from The Conquerer Challenge
At first glance, Stanton might not appear to have much to recommend it to someone taking in the sights and landmarks of historic Route 66, but this small, unincorporated community is up there with every other example of not judging a book by its cover. It has even apparently shrunk since Rittenhouse's 1946 Guidebook to Highway 66 - then it had a garage, a gas station, a café, a shop, and a few cabins. Now, the only business open year round is the gas station, although the famed Jesse James Wax Museum does a good trade in the Summer, when it is open daily, and at the weekends in Spring and Autumn. Like the town, it pretty much closes down in Winter.
Stanton is, however, close to the famous Meramec Caverns, where the James gang holed up to avoid arrest. The caves are natural limestone, formed more than 400 million years ago, and have been used variously for shelter by Indian tribes, to collect saltpetre for the production of gunpowder in the 18th century, and even as a venue for ballroom dances in the 1890s - the same area of the caves can still be rented today for private special events.
The wax museum is devoted to all things Jesse James - including photographs of the outlaw, plus several personal items and vintage firearms. You will also hear the legend of what was possibly the greatest feat of James' criminal career; officially, he was gunned down by Bob Ford, a member of his own gang, in 1882, but legend has him escaping and dying at the grand old age of 101 in Texas in 1951. It would make a fitting end to the tale of the modern-day Robin Hood, but family questioning and recent DNA evidence have sadly debunked this.
Together, we can make it all the way to the finish line — and each person earns an uber cool medal. I need to wrap up now: time to clock some miles.
Let's do this!