FEATURES, TRAVEL Christian Science Monitor
The road goes on foreverr
Celebrating 75 years of America's legendary Route 66
By Ron Bernthal
Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Between Lake Michigan's urban shoreline in downtown Chicago,
and Santa Monica's trendy Pacific Ocean
beaches, Route 66 winds its way through the heart of
America, a 2,400-mile "Main Street" that may be the
nation's most famous thoroughfare.
Yes, that Route 66. The one the Dust Bowl refugees followed
from the blinding sandstorms and blowing
tumbleweeds of Oklahoma to the sunny skies of California.
The rutted, dirt-covered highway that John
Steinbeck called the Mother Road in "The Grapes of Wrath."
Woody Guthrie wrote about Route 66 in album-liner notes,
saying, "We followed the 66 Highway, the Will
Rogers Road, from Oklahoma to the Pacific Ocean.... Sometimes,
especially in summertime, the desert is
awful hot, and the tar pavement is hotter, and you can
see whole families caught and stranded out there
under the signboards and cactuses."
Today, Route 66 road warriors play the cassette of Guthrie's
"Dust Bowl Ballads" as they drive the
Oklahoma plains, passing through the small towns of Arcadia,
Foss, Elk City, and Texola.
Yes, that Route 66. The highway that so many soldiers
traveled on during World War II,
shuttling between training bases and home, perhaps taking
their last automobile ride
before shipping out of California for the Pacific theater.
In your head, play the big-band sounds of Harry James,
Glenn Miller, or Artie Shaw as
you enter the Ariston Café on Route 66 in Litchfield,
Ill., or while standing outside La
Posada Hotel in Gallup, N.M., and you feel the 1940s
era vibrating in your bones.
Route 66 is certainly a road that, as songwriter Bobby
Troup wrote, you could "get your
Yes, that Route 66. The main road west during the 1950s,
driven by thousands of
American families in new Fords and Buicks, as they discovered
the immense landscape of America's
Southwestern deserts for the first time.
On a warm summer night, travelers may want to check out
the neon motel signs in Tucumcari, N.M., or the
cars parked outside the Wigwam Village Motel in Holbrook,
Ariz., or the lines outside Ted Drewes' Frozen
Custard Stand in St. Louis. They instantly transport
you back to the 1950s.
Yes, that Route 66. The subject of a popular TV show of
the same name, in which two young men called
Buzz and Tod, driving the highway in a new Corvette,
taught America - and the world - that Route 66 is a
road filled with stories and adventures and dreams.
Route 66 celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, and
towns and cities all along its length are organizing
festivities to commemorate the occasion.
Ever since Oklahoma Highway Commissioner Cyrus Avery,
working on a special federal project, designed
the road and it received its "66" designation in 1926,
this highway has ingrained itself in the nation's psyche.
For Route 66 fanatics - and there are thousands of them
- this 75th-anniversary summer is special. It will be
spent visiting or revisiting famous Route 66 landmarks,
and catching up with friends working and living along
Travelers crossing on 66 for the first time will be welcomed
into each town as newfound family members, a
phenomenon that is unique to the legendary route.
Author and Route 66 "guru" Michael Wallis says that the
entire length of the road is like a "linear village,
[towns] connected to each other by more than just 2,400
miles of concrete."
For some travelers, a Route 66 trip may mean weeks or
months on the road, avoiding the parallel
Interstates, spending days in towns like Winslow, Ariz.,
or Springfield, Ill., or soaking up the solitude in
Glenrio, a ghost town that straddles the Texas-New Mexico
They may linger at various museums and historical sites,
like the Route 66 National Museum in Elk City,
Okla., where old photographs and memorabilia reflect
a large part of the American experience.
Other travelers, with less vacation time, may cover just
a segment of Route 66, perhaps the exquisite desert
stretch between Flagstaff, Ariz., and San Bernardino,
Calif., or the rolling plains of the Midwest between St.
Louis and Amarillo, Texas.
Some may concentrate their visit in one state, perhaps
New Mexico, where the July anniversary festivities
along Albuquerque's portion of Route 66 will be especially
But no matter how many days one is actually traveling
along historic Route 66, the highway is capped at
each end with a gorgeous seascape, a glimmering vista
of waves or whitecaps that bring the traveler
abruptly back to reality.
For Route 66 travelers, leaving the highway - and its
assorted roadside gems of retro architecture, quirky
characters, and stunning landscapes - means reentering
the 21st century, and, after a while, that may take
some time to get used to.
Fortunately, this rolling ribbon of memories will always
be there, a neighborhood Main Street that helps us
find ourselves - and our way home.
From cars to poetry: Route 66 celebrations
Here's a sampling of some of the upcoming 75th-anniversary
events in the eight states that Route 66
crosses. For additional events and historic information
on Route 66, contact the National Historic Route 66
Federation, PO Box 423, Dept. WS, Tujunga, CA 91043,
The Route 66 Association of Illinois road tour begins
with a festival in Edwardsville (June 8), and an
overnight in Springfield, and continues to Atlanta and
Pontiac (June 9), before ending in Chicago (June 10),
75th Anniversary Route 66 Motor Tour (Sept. 7) leaves
Sullivan, Mo., and drives along old Route 66 to
Claremore, Okla. A Route 66 75th Anniversary Party (Nov.
11), organized by the Missouri Route 66
Association, will be held in Route 66 State Park, St.
Louis, with classic cars, picnic, and a series of Route
66 speakers, (417) 865-1318).
Harley Davidson Route 66 Motorcycle Tour, with more than
1,000 bikes, will stop at Eisler Brothers
General Store, a Route 66 landmark in Riverton, in early
June, with festivities and picnic. Route 66
half-marathon (Nov. 24) covers the 13.2 miles of Route
66 in Kansas. Cowtown Days (Aug. 1-4) in
Baxter Springs provides free nightly entertainment, arts
and crafts, carnival, rodeo, car show, and
peddle-tractor pull, (316) 856-3131.
75th Anniversary Car Cruise (July 13-15) along Route 66,
with starting points at Miami and Erick, ends at
Warwick and Wellston. Cruise between the towns in informal
caravans, stopping at Route 66 landmarks
along the way for street parties, food, and special events.
Closing ceremonies and car show on July 15 at
Route 66 Traders Market in Yukon, Okla., (405) 258-0008.
The Hot Rod Power Tour stops May 8 at Amarillo's Tri-State
Fairgrounds as part of its cross-country
Route 66 trip. Mustangs, Corvettes, GTOs, and T-Birds
will be on display from noon to 8 p.m. "Texas
Alive for 75" moves along Texas' stretch of the Mother
Road, including Shamrock and McLean (June 27);
Groom, Bushland, and Wildorado (June 28); Vega and Adrian
(June 29); and Amarillo, June 30. Harley
Owners Group's Made in America Tour (June 30-July 2)
offers parties, food, and entertainment along
Amarillo's old Route 66, (800-692-1338).
Largest Route 66 anniversary festivities take place in
Albuquerque (July 20-22) during the National Route
66 Diamond Jubilee Festival at the state fairgrounds,
and along old Route 66 (Central Avenue) downtown.
Events include car and motorcycle shows, art exhibitions,
bus tours, poetry readings and book fair, and
evening "Flicks on Route 66" film screenings and Mariachi
Spectacular (800-284-2282). Gallup stages the
Fire and Ice Bike Rally (July 20-22), with motorcycle
rally, dances, food, and live music. Santa Fe offers
the Postcard Show (May 27-Sept 22) at Palace of the Governors
Museum; it features old postcards of
Route 66. Santa Fe's Museum of Fine Arts will have a
Route 66 Film Festival July 5-7; (505) 476-1250;
Tucumcari's Route 66 Festival (July 14) offers arts and
crafts show, chili cook-off, kids carnival, Route 66
movie revival, and street dance, (505) 461-1694.
Flagstaff Heritage Days & Route 66 Car Rally (June
23-July 5) includes a Route 66 Festival, Arizona
Dream Cruise, and car rally, (520) 774-9541. Flagstaff
Summerfest (Aug. 3-5) is a celebration of fine arts
and crafts, musicians, food stands, and Route 66 events,
Fourth annual California Route 66 Museum Wine and Memorabilia
Auction (May 11) on Route 66 in
Victorville; kids breakfast (May 12) at Kicks Café,
and parade of old vehicles from Victorville to the
opening of San Bernardino County Fair, the only fairgrounds
on Route 66. Sixth annual Birthday Jubilee of
California Route 66 Museum (Nov. 10), with car show,
barbecue, and live music, (760) 951-0436).
Seventy-fifth anniversary California Route 66 celebration
(Nov. 9-11) includes Route 66 cruise from Santa
Monica Pier to San Bernardino Wigwam, and ends in Victorville
Museum with barbecue, (909) 885-6324.
'Well, it winds from Chicago to L.A....'
This is a brief list of Route 66 landmarks found along
the 2,400 miles of highway, from Chicago to Santa
Monica, Calif. Most will be part of Route 66 75th-anniversary
celebrations this year.
Lou Mitchell's, on Chicago's Jackson Street, is a 1930s
diner-style restaurant. Stop here for a hearty meal
before starting or ending your journey across America.
Funk's Grove Pure Maple Syrup, a must-stop in Funk's Grove,
Ill., (309) 874-3360.
Dixie Trucker's Home, on Route 66 in McLean, Ill., since
1928, for food and fuel.
Ariston Café, Litchfield, Ill., has been run by
the same family since 1935; ask for owner Nick Adams.
At the renovated Union Station in St. Louis, check out
the spectacular waiting room.
Ted Drewes' Frozen Custard Stand, a classic Route 66 stop
just west of St. Louis. Ask owner Ted
Drewes for the special Route 66 "concrete custard cone."
Meramec Caverns, a Route 66 attraction since the 1920s,
near Stanton, Mo., (573) 468-3166.
At Munger-Moss Motel, Lebanon, Mo., owner Ramona Lehman
has lots of Route 66 stories, (417)
Prosperity Bed and Breakfast, outside Joplin, Mo., a renovated
1912 schoolhouse with great
atmosphere, (417) 673-0833.
Route 66 Drive-In, outside Carthage, Mo., features classic
66 architecture with a wonderful glass-brick
ticket booth (open summer only).
Eisler Bros. General Store, Riverton, Kan., on Route 66
Golden Light Café, on Amarillo, Texas' portion
of Route 66, is the oldest restaurant in town and offers
At Blue Swallow Motel, Route 66, Tucumcari, N.M.; you
can stay in a 66 classic landmark.
Central Avenue, Albuquerque, N.M.'s fabulous 18-mile,
in-town Route 66, is filled with old motels and
cafés, as well as the restored Kimo Theatre. Major
75th-anniversary celebrations will take place here July
La Posada Hotel, former Harvey House, the Winslow, Ariz.,
train station - now restored - features vintage
1930s furniture and decor.
Wigwam Village Motel, Holbrook, N.M., provides comfortable
tepee accommodations in a 1950s
motel, (602) 524-3048.
Inn at Four Ten, Ariz., great bed-and-breakfast within
a few blocks of historic Flagstaff, (800-774-2088).
California Route 66 Museum in Victorville is small and
interesting; near Roy Rogers and Dale Evans
Museum, (760) 951-0436.
Iron Hog Saloon, a former brothel and biker bar on Route
66 in Oro Grande, Calif., has great barbeque.