by Jennifer Fischer
The Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, boasts the familiar Caddies buried nose-first in the dusty ground.
Old Route 66 breathes the charm of a time gone by. What started as a convenient bridge between east and west turned into a new reason for going.
No road captured America’s love for motoring more than the Old Mother Road herself – Route 66. She belongs to a simpler time, when the doors of the West opened for so many people and the storied highway wound her way into the hearts of American travelers.
The “Main Street of America” joined two metropolitan areas – Chicago and Los Angeles – and breathed life into all the remote and underpopulated cities in between. Unlike the Lincoln, the Dixie, or other highways of the day, Route 66 moved diagonally. Its twisting, meandering path linked hundreds of rural communities, leaving trails of opportunity in its wake.
MORE THAN A HIGHWAY
Life became easier for those who opted to eke out their living in the weakened economies of Kansas, Oklahoma, West Texas, and New Mexico. Farmers discovered a more efficient way to transport their grain and produce. Unemployed laborers found work with road gangs laying the winding ribbons of asphalt. Truckers prospered. And, above all, highway commerce was born. Roadside businesses nourished budding economies for the tiny communities. Previously unknown towns appeared on maps, and the romance of Route 66 was born for generations of charmed travelers who followed her seductive path.
Restaurants, travel motels, service stations, and neon-blazing tourist attractions dotted the 2,448 miles of magic through three time zones and eight states. Travelers could enjoy a quick plate of good, home cooking before venturing back out on the road. Some might rest for a spell in a tepee-shaped Wigwam Motel before gassing up at the local Phillips 66 and disappearing over the horizon.
Business owners worked together and essentially rebuilt their towns so people were compelled to stop instead of simply passing through. For close to 50 years, the original Route 66 remained America’s celebrated Main Street. Novelists, songwriters, and poets immortalized her boundless charm and allure. Road-borne Americans rambled along her crumbling pavement with backseats full of wide-eyed children taking in the unique and wondrous sights. The passage itself was the destination.
By 1970, Old Route 66 was almost entirely bypassed by modern, four-lane highways. She ultimately gave way to the interstate system in 1984, when the last vestige of the original road was overtaken by Interstate 40 at Williams, Arizona. Looking at a road map today, the delicate, wavy line that was once Route 66 appears frail and broken by the mighty interstates that cross its path.
SEEK HER SPIRIT
If you get the chance to travel this legendary byway, take time to do a little homework before you go. Pick a unique stretch of the Old Mother Road. Savor the sights and sounds as you bump along the faded asphalt. Explore a quiet town that was once a horn-honking metropolis. Find a neon-trimmed burger joint and treat yourself to an egg cream or a steaming cup of joe. And, by all means, seek out the people in these towns whose lives and legends are the lore of Route 66. Through their stories, the magic lives on.