The Mother of all Road-Trips – The Most Famous Highway in the World
A true slice of American Pie, ‘Historic’ Route 66 is synonymous with nostalgia. The name alone conjures images of greasy burgers, root beer floats, full-service gas stations, neon lights and convertibles. It is an American Icon unlike any other, representing freedom of the road, independence, the American dream, and is a 2000 mile tribute to America’s love affair with automobiles.
By any other name
Shortly after its commission in 1926, it was nicknamed The Great Diagonal Way because the stretch from Chicago to Oklahoma City runs Northwest-Southeast. It was dubbed The Main Street of America by the US Hwy 66 Association. John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath refers to The Mother Road, a title which prevails today. And many know it as The Will Rogers Highway.
You can find the Eastern terminus at the East entrance to Chicago’s Grant Park. As you drive watch for the 20 ft. space man holding a rocket in Wilmington Illinois. You’ll be needing a pit-stop about the time you reach McClean, so stop at the oldest truck stop on the route. Dixie Truckers Home has been open for nearly 70 years, closed only one day, due to a fire.
In St. Louis you might stretch your legs with a walk across the Chain of Rocks Bridge over the mighty Mississippi River. No longer open to motor vehicles but a unique engineering treasure with a 24 degree bend in the middle.
Springfield, Missouri is the place where the beloved highway was named on April 30, 1926, and a plaque commemorating the event stands in downtown Park Central Square. Interestingly, on the Missouri State Highway map issued in 1926 the road is labeled Route 60.
Kansas has the fewest miles of any of the eight states graced by the revered roadway. Then to Oklahoma which boasts the most miles of Route 66. Bring along a can of spray-paint and add to the decades of layers of graffiti on the 10 Cadillacs planted in the sand at ‘Cadillac Ranch’ Amarillo, Texas.
In downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico you can actually stand at the corner of Rte 66 and Rte 66. A change in course created a place where the route actually crosses itself. Cruise through Arizona, past the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, then you’re on your way to the Western terminus, at Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, California.
The celebrated highway gave birth to a number of other truly American icons. Route 66 saw the inception of the Motel. Meramec Caverns in Missouri began the trend of advertising by painting barns along the road, which grew to the modern ‘billboard.’ Fast food was conceived on route 66 and the very first McDonalds opened along the way in San Bernadino in 1945. Also on 66 was the invention of the ‘drive-thru’ which is credited to Red’s Giant Hamburg, Springfield MO. When Red retired in 1984, a crowd gathered and waited in line for hours to get a last Giant Hamburg.
Eight states, three time zones, and 88 years of road-trip bliss. About 80% of the hallowed thoroughfare is still drivable today. Much romanticized, a symbol of freedom.
The fourth annual ‘Birthplace of Route 66’ Festival and Car Show will be in Park Central Square, Springfield Missouri, August 8, 9, 2014. Classic cars, live entertainment, food vendors, and more celebrating America’s Main Street.