On November 11th, 1926, Route 66 was formally established as a direct route from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. Though Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985 and no longer appears on many modern maps, 85% of the route is still drivable and frequented by thousands of drivers each year who long for the freedom of this famous two-lane highway.
The History of Route 66
To fully appreciate the vitality of Route 66, it helps to take a brief look at the important roles it played throughout the Twentieth Century. Migrant workers and displaced farmers and land owners depended on Route 66 during the ‘Dust Bowl’ of the 1930s when massive dust storms caused major damage to agriculture. As people moved west to begin new lives, they slept in the motels, ate at the local restaurants and patronized many general stores along the way. For the small towns along route 66 this wave of modest consumers with basic needs became a primary source of revenue.
In the 1940s, Route 66 was used by the military to transport equipment and soldiers. Following the hardships of the Great Depression and World War II, in the 1950s families took Route 66 west to enjoy one of the country’s newest destinations, Disneyland. Because it intersected with many major highways in every direction, Route 66 became known as the “Main Street of America”, “Will Rogers Highway” and “The Mother Road”.
Route 66 Revival
Route 66 has a permanent place in American culture that will continue to evolve as future generations of drivers explore in their new ‘green’ cars. The efforts of individuals, state associations, and the National Historic Route 66 Federation have saved original arch bridges once slated for demolition and many historic landmarks and signage. In fact, long stretches of Route 66 in Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico and Arizona are now classified as a “National Scenic Byway”.
Route 66 crosses eight states in over 2,400 miles. After climbing the St. Louis arch, otherwise known as ‘The Gateway to the West’, travelers have a full array of one-of-a-kind landmarks and attractions, such as Oklahoma’s round barn, Amarillo’s Cadillac Ranch, the Grand Canyon and Painted Desert in Arizona, and sunsets over the Pacific Ocean.
GPS Navigation and Guidebooks
Drivers taking Route 66 end to end will encounter a few dead ends where the road is no longer drivable. Global Positioning Systems and numerous guidebooks dedicated to Route 66 show the easiest detours. Travel guides also offer historical context for many of the quirky personalities behind the businesses and landmarks, as well as recommendations on food and lodging choices. A portable GPS may not seem essential, but they’re especially useful when it comes to finding the nearest restroom or gas station.
People have different reasons for choosing Route 66 over the much faster Interstate. Whether seeking a respite from routine and responsibility or simply acting on a sense of adventure, drivers of Route 66 contribute to its legacy every time a new story is shared.