Get Your Kicks On Route 66

A road trip across the famous Route 66 is a rite of passage for many a traveller and a holiday unlike any other

Historic Route 66 was one of the original highways in the United States and begins in Chicago, Illinois. Its traditional starting point is on the shores of Lake Michigan and it was established on November 11th, 1926.

Although not much of the original road remains, portions that passed through Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, and Arizona have been designated as a National Scenic Byway called ‘Historic Route 66’. Route 66 has entered into folklore through songs, poems and films and is the embodiment of those finest elements of the human condition – freedom, discovery, and the need for adventure and excitement.

Route 66 originally ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending at Santa Monica, California.

In Steinbeck’s 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family travelled Route 66, heading from their dust-clogged Oklahoma farm, seeking the prosperity they dreamt of finding in California.

1) ILLINOIS

Stroll along the shores of Chicago’s Lake Michigan and explore the attractions of the Windy City’s eclectic sights and sounds. The bluesy city of Chicago is famous for its music scene, so a visit to one of the many bars or clubs is a must for music fans.

Rosa’s Lounge, is hailed as the best blues bar in Chicago by The New York Times, and always has a well-stocked calendar of performers so you are bound to catch a great act no matter when you visit.

2) MISSOURI

The famous ‘Chain of Rocks’ bridge that crosses the Mississippi River is now open only to pedestrians and cyclists, but is part of the original Route 66. The bridge features a unique 220 bend to allow riverboat captains to align their tows with the current and slip between the bridge supports.

Although the bridge’s design aided river traffic, the bend was to eventually prove a problem for truckers as their vehicles and loads became longer and wider over time.

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3) KANSAS

The original route passes briefly through the state of Kansas for thirteen miles on its was between Joplin, Missouri and Miami, Oklahoma.

Although Kansas has the shortest stretch of the original route remaining between its county lines, they are some of the best preserved, as are the sights along the way.

Baxter Springs is one such town that has a memorable historical highlight. It features the now-closed Café on the Route, which is located in the old Crowell Bank and was the scene of a robbery by the infamous Jesse James in 1876.

4) OKLAHOMA

Oklahoma holds the country’s longest section of Historic Route 66 and is centrally located along the route, providing plenty of easily accessible attractions. Travel through the land where the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians lived and hunted bison, or visit the famous Route 66 Museum, which has undergone a major renovation.

Encounter the myths, images, and history of the iconic route and experience the dust bowl period of the 1930s as many travelled the road, away from drought and despair, towards more fertile land.

5) TEXAS

Is this the way to Amarillo? The Cadillac Ranch of Amarillo is widely considered the most famous work of art along Route 66. It was created in 1974 by a group of artists called the Ant Farm to represent the evolution of the automobile brand and involves ten Cadillacs planted nose down into the soil, facing west, allegedly at an angle corresponding to the pyramids.

The cars have been painted many times – pink to mark breast cancer awareness, white for a television commercial, and once back to their original Cadillac colours for a Route 66 event. But it is normally just days before fresh graffiti appears.

6) NEW MEXICO

There is still a lot of original Route 66 in New Mexico, though most is right next to its replacement modern highway – so the surviving route here is not quite as atmospheric as the long stretches in neighbouring Arizona. However, one highlight is Albuquerque.

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This city is famous for its annual hot air Balloon Fiesta, and it is arguably the ballooning capital of the world, and makes for a great stop off along the way.

7) ARIZONA

Driving across the Colorado Plateau in Arizona takes you near the city of Flagstaff, where you can see the famous Barringer Crater, created by a meteorite strike 50,000 years ago. The crater measures 1.5 kilometers across and was used for training purposes during the NASA Apollo Space Programme.

And let us not forget the Grand Canyon, which is a detour of just 80 kilometres off Route 66, a veritable must-see.

8) CALIFORNIA

Finally, after completing your journey, you will have reached Santa Monica Pier.

In 2009 it was designated as the official end of Route 66, although, historically, Route 66 ended just north of this famous landmark, which first opened in 1909.

The pier features a sign stating: ‘Santa Monica 66 End of the Trail’, and in true mythical Route 66 fashion, this is said to symbolise that the Mother Road only ended when the sea stood in its way.

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Happiest in the snow, Carlton is an ex-police officer and prison governor who has migrated to the world of adventure travel via motoring journalism. Carlton drives boats and pickups with more enthusiasm than skill, and is currently working on his first novel in addition to his prison memoirs.