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Cruise Through Historic Americana on Route 66

Published by Bill Lehane, Writer

Country: United States

The Experience

For many Americans and visitors alike, hitting the open road across the United States is a dream idea for a holiday. And what better way to experience this voyage than to drive down historic Route 66, dubbed the Main Street of America or The Mother Road as it was once the United States' main highway. Home of neon signs, decaying truck stops in the middle of nowhere, and all kinds of kitschy cafes, motels and gas stations—historic Route 66 is the ultimate place to experience the best in Americana.

Some 2,448 miles long, Route 66 stretches all the way from Chicago in the east to the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, California in the west. Hitting eight states in all, the road travels through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Route 66 acts as a kind of physical timeline for 20th-Century America, having been the main crossing point between east and west from the 1920s up to the 1960s, and only finally decommissioned in full in the mid 1980s.

Along the way you'll find a tapestry of the different landscapes that make up the diverse United States—the urban streets of Chicago; the awe-inspiring void of the Grand Canyon; the billboard-festooned vista of many a small town; the Native American flavour of the Southwest; and the golden blue skies of California.

Rolling down Route 66 New Mexico, look out in particular for Albuquerque's Central Avenue, which at 18 miles is the longest commercial stretch of Route 66. Heritage rules mean that Albuquerque's Central Avenue retains much of its original character, and many old neon signs, billboards and stores remain in place.

Highlights of a cruise through Route 66 Arizona include Arizona's Painted Desert and Two Guns, Arizona (now uninhabited but once the site of confrontation between the Navajos and the Apaces in the 1800s). There’s also the Meramec Caverns along Route 66 Missouri (reputedly the hideout of Jesse James), Glenrio, Texas (a virtual ghost town), and the world's first McDonalds in San Bernardino, along Route 66 California (a symbol both of the economic opportunities Route 66 created as well as perhaps of the decline of family-owned diners).

Of course, many of the highlights will come from places you happen upon by chance that capture the charm of the great highway. A road so beloved it has its own preservation associations in each of the eight states it passes through, historic Route 66 is sure to remain as a signpost for the history of 20th-Century America well into the 21st-Century and beyond.




When to Go to Route 66

The summer is the best time of year to tour historic Route 66 because you will have a full choice of tour guide options, as well as all the best weather.

The best place to start is, of course, Route 66 in Chicago where the road begins and also the starting point for guided tours.

Arriving from elsewhere in the US, Southwest Airlines has an extensive network of short-hop flights, although check online booking engines to make sure to get the best deal. For international visitors, dozens of airlines fly from overseas into Chicago O'Hare International Airport.

Odds n' Ends

You won't find Route 66 on any regular road map as it has since been replaced by the many Interstate highways that crisscross America. You can get a special Route 66 map or Route 66 guide book here.

If you haven't got your own car or motorcycle, budget for at least US$1,000 in rental costs for a two-week trip. Whichever vehicle you’re using, get ready to keep it well maintained for the long road ahead. On certain stretches of the western part of historic Route 66, gas stations can be as much as 100 miles apart.

And while there’s no shortage of places to go, check online for daily updates of events and other happenings along the route.


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