by Brett Leveridge
Route 66, which runs roughly from Lake Michigan to the Pacific Ocean, has been called the Main Street of America, the Mother Road, and the Will Rogers Highway. Whether you live nearby and are looking for some sightseeing ideas for a quick road trip, or you need a virtual vacation, these images from Route 66 offer a few minutes to relax, de-stress and return to a simpler time.
Established on November 11, 1926, Route 66 covers some 2,448 miles before it ends just short of the Santa Monica pier. Though the road was decertified as interstates became the preferred way to motor long distances, local Route 66 associations have managed to see much of the Mother Road preserved as local and state roads. With a little careful planning, you can still travel 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles (or vice-versa, of course), with only occasional detours onto I-40.—Brett Leveridge
Former miner Henry Soulsby opened his service station along what was to become Route 66 in 1926; his son, Russell, and daughter Ola chipped in and eventually took over the operation of the station. From the late 1950s forward, I-55 diverted much of the traffic away from 66, so Russell picked up the slack by also operating a TV and radio repair service out of the building. When new EPA regulations rendered the station's underground gas tank unfit for use in 1991, the flow of gasoline finally came to a halt, and in 1993, Russell retired his repair business, too, finally selling the station in 1998 to current owner Mike Dragovich, who has plans to turn the dormant operation into a museum. Soulsby's affords motorists a small trip back in time, serving as an appealing photo opportunity.
There are many caves and caverns that serve as tourist attractions across the U.S, but Meramec Caverns has the added benfit of prime location: It's right off historic Route 66 near Stanton, Missouri, and the folks who operate this attraction have long relied on painted barns for advertising, a old-school plus in my book.
The caverns were developed commercially in the 1930s by a man named Lester Dill. After serving as a paid guide at nearby Fisher's Cave, Dill began to search for a cave of his own to develop. He finally decided to lease Salt Petre Cave, a few miles away. Dill felt that the cave's proximity to Route 66 would make it a success and he was right. In the early days, patrons drove their cars right into the cave and many of the early visitors found that if they left their windows open while they toured the caverns and rolled them up before they departed, they could travel, in those pre-air conditioning days, in cool cave-air comfort for a few miles!
Some say that the folks at Meramec Caverns created the bumper sticker. In the early days, they tied a little promotional Meramec Caves sign to each visitors bumper and, eventually, those signs were backed with adhesive.
If you're motoring along Route 66 near Foyil, Oklahoma, take State Highway 28A south for three and a half miles and you'll encounter an engaging little roadside attraction called Totem Pole Park. Created by folk artist Ed Galloway from 1940 through 1963, the totem pole that gives the park its name stands 90 feet tall and is surrounded by smaller poles, picnic tables and a museum and visitor's center, all created by Galloway and covered with a vast array of symbols and icons, ranging from an Indian chief to a lobster.
All the park's art objects are made of stone or concrete, reinforced with steel rebar and wood, and though the park had for a time fallen into disrepair, it's now maintained by the Rogers County Historical Society.
This unique barn, constructed by local farmer William Harrison Odor in 1898, has, since the beginning, been one of the Mother Road's most popular attractions—it's said that more photographs have been taken of the barn than any other attraction along Route 66—but with the rise of the interstate highways, traffic along Route 66 fell off and the barn was allowed to fall into disrepair. When the 1980s saw a renewal of interest in America's Main Street, however, local volunteers restored the barn and it's been a popular stop ever since—so popular that the owners of Pops, a popular retro-styled eatery that debuted in 2007 and boasts more than 600 varieties of soda, opted to locate their shop just a stone's throw down the road from the barn.
At the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Oklahoma, you can experience the history of the Mother Road, from the Dust Bowl days to the Big Band era and the rockin' and rollin' 1950s, via an audio tour that guides you through the museum's exhibits, photographs and videos. You can also pick up Route 66 souvenirs at the museum's gift shop.
In the small town of McLean, along Route 66 in the Texas panhandle, is located the first Phillips 66 service station in the Lone Star State. The station, which opened for business in 1930, has been closed for many years, and for a long time, the little cottage that housed the station sat unused and deteriorating. The Route 66 Association of Texas decided to refurbish it, however, giving it a fresh coat of paint, and donating some equipment of the era, along with an old delivery truck (also freshly painted) and an drive-up rack as was once used for oil changes and such.
Today, the little station looks much as it did the day it opened, with two pumps out front that look ready to dispense fuel and a classic Phillips 66 Petroleum sign roadside. It's a quite a nice added touch to this 66 town and well worth a look.
Just west of Amarillo, Texas, is the famous Cadillac Ranch, a large work of art in the middle of a cow pasture. The work, which comprises 10 Cadillacs imbedded at an angle in the ground, was begun in 1974 by Ant Farm, a group of artists headed by a millionaire by the name of Stanley Marsh 3.
I say "begun" because this is a work of art that that is never completed. Visitors are encouraged to flex their own artistic muscles by spray-painting the cars (you have to bring your own paint), and periodically, the automobiles are repainted a solid color, creating a fresh palette for traveling artists to leave their marks on.
Another Route 66 must-see is Tee-Pee Curios in Tucumcari, New Mexico, a venerable trading post that opened in the late 1930s as a gas station and grocery store and has operated as a curio shop since the mid-1950s. This inviting little shop proudly offers the jewelry and artwork of local artisans, right alongside the rubber tomahawks and made-in-Taiwan Indian warbonnets traditionally found in such establishments.
The front section of the building is shaped like a teepee, and there's a great old neon sign, too. I've included very few commercial establishments among my recommendations, but who could pass up a classic souvenir shop like this one?
Holbrook, Arizona's Wigwam Motel (also known as Wigwam Village) is a semicircle of 15 concrete teepees that first opened to the public in 1950. The original Wigwam Village was constructed in 1937 in Cave City, Kentucky, by architect Frank Redford (though the rooms are actually shaped like teepees, Redford disliked that word, opting for "wigwam" instead). Chester E. Lewis, traveling through the area, liked the design of the motel and made an arrangement with Redford to open his own motel in Arizona (there were at one time seven Wigwam Motels scattered across the country; only three remain, in Cave City, Holbrook and San Bernadino, California).
Each teepee is 21 feet wide at the base and 28 feet high and has a private bathroom, a television, and an air conditioner.
There are so many classic drive-in eateries across the country that I could give them their own gallery, but I limited myself to just one: The Snow Cap Drive-in on Route 66 in Seligman, Arizona. Juan Delgadillo opened the drive-in in 1953, and he brought to the operation a unique sense of flair and an unmatched sense of humor. The menu featured Hamburgers without Ham, Cheeseburgers with Cheese and Dead Chicken. Ask for a napkin, and Juan would thrust a fistful of wadded-up tissues your way (though, eventually, you'd receive a clean one). Outside the restaurant is a white '36 Chevy, decorated with plastic flowers and a Christmas tree.
Juan passed away in 2004, but his drive-in is still going strong, run by his daughter Cecilia and son John, who strive to ensure that the fun-loving spirit their father brought to the Snow Cap lives on.
The unofficial western terminus of Route 66 is the Santa Monica pier, made up of two adjoining tiers, one built in 1909, the other in 1916. The pier has long featured amusement park rides, including a state-of-the-art, solar-panel-powered Ferris wheel and a 1920s carousel, as well as shops, entertainers, a video arcade, a trapeze school and restaurants. The far end of the pier is also a popular fishing spot.
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