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You Can Still Get Your Kicks on Route 66 – America’s Mother Road
Route 66 is a slice of Americana that takes us back to another era, and there are so many historic, fun and quirky sights to see along the way. So it’s hardly surprising that songwriter Bobby Troup immortalized the “Mother Road” in his legendary song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” that has been performed by singers as diverse as Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones and John Mayer.
When Route 66 was established in 1926, it stretched for nearly 2,500 miles through eight states, allowing motorists to hop on in Chicago and travel all the way to Santa Monica, California. As the highway became more and more popular, so did the gas stations, diners, motels, tourist attractions and other small businesses that popped up along the way. Things changed, though, when President Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act in 1956. As these controlled-access highways started being built, large stretches of Route 66 were bypassed, and the historic highway was eventually decommissioned.
Luckily, this didn’t mean the end of Route 66. Today, there are state associations that are dedicated to preserving, protecting and promoting their stretch of the Mother Road. So when you’re ready to hit the highway, these associations can provide you with a wealth of resources, including maps, lists of points of interest and information on special events that celebrate the road also known as “America’s Main Street.”
Route 66 starts in Chicago and travels for 420 miles through the state. The Route 66 Association of Illinois sponsors a three-day motor tour each year that gathers aficionados together in their “cool cars, new cars, vintage cars or motorcycles, bicycles, roller skates or whatever rolls you down the road” to form a procession and take a leisurely drive along Route 66 to see the sights and hear the tales of this legendary road. The association’s 28th annual motor tour will take place on June 9-11, 2017.
In the “Show Me” state, Route 66 travels from St. Louis to Joplin. The Route 66 Association of Missouri will hold its 28th annual motor tour, titled “Down by the Riverside,” on September 8-10, 2017. On June 25 through July 16, 2017, the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis will present a special exhibition on Route 66. And in St. Robert, Missouri, plans are underway to create a Route 66 Neon Park to provide a home for restored, orphaned Route 66 neon signs so people can enjoy them and learn their history in an outdoor, park-like setting.
About 400 miles of Route 66 cross Oklahoma, traveling through quaint small towns and big cities that contain antique shops, cool old buildings and “a smorgasbord of restaurants sure to ruin anyone’s diet.” On June 4, 2017, the city of Sapulpa, located southwest of Tulsa, will host the Route 66 Blowout, a car show and festival that is now in its 27th year.
Route 66 travels through 178 miles in the Texas panhandle, offering interesting sights to see like the restored vintage gas stations in McLean and Vega, the 1950s-era MidPoint Café in Adria and the Cadillac Ranch public art installation outside Amarillo. And if seeing all of those sights makes you work up an appetite, you just might want to take on the legendary 72-ounce steak challenge at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo.
Here’s an interesting fact: In 1937, the north/south section of New Mexico’s portion of Route 66 was rerouted to create an east/west alignment, making a spot in downtown Albuquerque the only place in the country where Route 66 actually crossed itself. Today, there are many ancient ruins and monuments to explore as you travel along NM 66, and history buffs are invited to “grab a cup of nostalgia” and join the New Mexico Motor Tour on June 8-10, 2017 to experience the northern Santa Fe Loop of Route 66 as it was in the 1920s and 30s.
In Arizona, Route 66 roughly parallels I-40 which stretches across the northern portion of the state and offers opportunities to explore Petrified Forest National Park, Meteor Crater, Winslow (where yes, you can stand on the corner) and the Grand Canyon. On May 5-7, 2017, the 30th Annual Fun Run will take place, where more than 800 classic, custom and unique cars will travel about 125 miles along Route 66 from Seligman to Topock. The three days are packed with activities, including live music performances, drive-in movie nights, BBQ events, a street dance and the Kingman Show & Shine car show.
The California Historic Route 66 Association describes its stretch of Route 66 as being “like a 300-mile museum” because of the towns, historic landmarks and bridges you can visit along the way. California is also home to one of the many Route 66 museums located across the country. The California Route 66 Museum, located in the town of Victorville, is housed in a 5,000 square-foot building that formerly served as the Red Rooster Café. The museum is packed with memorabilia, including a fully-equipped vintage teardrop trailer and artifacts from a classic, kitschy Route 66 landmark that was once known as Hula Ville.
Ready to start getting your kicks on Route 66?
Go to our “Find a Park” search page to find great campgrounds to stay at along the way. It’s easy to refine your search for each of the eight states on the route.