When you hear the words ‘road trip’ and ‘USA’ together in the same sentence what springs to mind? If you didn’t think of Route 66 then I’d probably be worried about your general knowledge of the world.
Arguably the world’s most famous road, Route 66 was built in the 1920’s to join Chicago in the country’s north-east with Santa Monica in the south-west – that’s almost 4,000kms of bitumen!
In the 1970’s however, massive 4 lane highways were built country-wide and almost completely bypassed the entirety of Route 66. The incredible role the road played in the creation of modern day America however has kept it in the hearts of locals and tourists alike.
We couldn’t drive through the States without experiencing Main Street America and getting our kicks on Route 66. So after a bit of research we found out that the original route’s most authentic section lies between Oklahoma City and New Mexico. On our westward-journey from Florida we made our way to Oklahoma, and the rest was history. This is what we found along the way:
There’s nothing amazingly unique about Oklahoma City, but we stopped by anyway to get a feel for it. The Botanical Garden right in the city centre is a great place to chill out, spy on turtles in the ponds and see the city skyline.
Route 66 Museum – Clinton, Oklahoma
This is the best place to learn about the history of Route 66 and American culture in the 20th century. It was created and is still managed by locals who have a strong connection to Route 66 and what it did for their lives. The receptionists who helped us at the front desk were daughters of two Route 66 construction workers!
Even if you’re not into history, you’ll love the artefacts and interesting bits of information you’ll pick up. Alex was in heaven drooling over 20’s gas pumps, 50’s Cadilacs and a very funky, original 1970’s Kombie.
Ghost Towns – Texola, Texas and Glenrio, New Mexico
When Route 66 was bypassed by a number of large highways, dozens of small towns were abandoned and forgotten, to this day exactly as they were in the 1970’s.
We stopped at a number of these ghost towns and contemplated how thousands of residents left almost overnight now that Route 66 wouldn’t bring them the business they’d come to rely on.
What was left behind in the name of progress is incredible. Large businesses like petrol stations, restaurants and hotels were evacuated in mass once larger highways stole traffic from Route 66. We left feeling sad for the amount of dreams that went down along with Route 66.
The REAL Route 66
We made our best effort to follow the original sections of Route 66, at times utterly surprised by how isolated and rudimental it is. Large portions of the road are unpaved – and these were the spots we had the most fun on. We drove past old car-yards packed with mid century Cadillacs and Fords and got ourselves lost a number of times.
Route 66 runs alongside highway I-40 for the majority of its passage through Western Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle. If you just take an exit off the highway you’ll find yourself on a dirt road beside donkeys and horses – what was once America’s busiest and most famous artery.
Palo Duro Canyon – Texas
Just off the Route 66 near Amarillo, Texas you’ll find America’s second largest canyon – Palo Duro. A quick side trip to visit the canyon is a nice way to have a break from the road and stretch your legs on some cool hiking trails.
Lighthouse Peak was our favourite hike, along with the CCC track that takes you straight down into the canyon from it’s rim. We truly enjoyed our day here as it was one of the first places on our way west where we felt like we were back in nature.
Cadillac Ranch – Amarillo, Texas
How can you get more American than half a dozen Cadillacs stuck into the ground in the middle of a corn field? Thats what you’ll find at Cadillac Ranch, and the best bit? You can graffiti your heart away and paint whatever you desire on these famous cars.
We had a blast painting away and taking photos at this striking tourist attraction. You could bring your own tin of spray paint, but you’ll find dozens of half empty cans all over the ground that you can use. We enjoyed Cadillac Ranch so much that we decided it deserved a clean up, picking as many of the empty cans off the ground as we could and placing them in Vanda’s rubbish sac.
Tucumcari, New Mexico – Route 66’s most iconic town
With all its original buildings standing and a handful of thriving businesses, Tucumcari is a great example of what a Route 66 town would have looked like 50 years ago. The town glows with neon-lit signs and has its fair share of original diners, retro bars and funky motels.
The Blue Swallow Motel is one of Route 66’s most famous icons. You can still grab an original room and immerse yourself in 1950’s American culture.
Santa Fe, New México
We finished our first section of Route 66 in Santa Fe as we plan to head north into Colorado and visit the mountains and deserts of Utah before returning south to Route 66 in Arizona. The city is New Mexico’s capital, and still retains many original buildings from when America expanded westward in the 1800’s.
The influence of the American Indianas and the Spanish Empire are evident in these buildings, the food and culture of the locals.
The section of Route 66 between Oklahoma City and Santa Fé isn’t as photogenic as sections in Arizona or California made famous by Hollywood. However, its here that you will see the authentic Route 66 – you’ll get a feel of what it would have been like 50 years ago and will learn why the route was so important to America and to the locals who depended on it.
We really enjoyed our Route 66 road trip and can leave the States knowing what true Main Street America culture is.