Most people have heard of America’s Route 66 – the kitschy signs, the quaint tourist traps, the food, the scenic landscapes. Route 66, affectionately named “The Mother Road” by John Steinbeck and commonly known as “America’s Main Street”, has been featured in songs and television shows through the years. We recently went on a road trip from California to Kentucky and decided to follow Route 66 for much of our trip.
When we first set out, we didn’t have a set travel plan except to get to our destination as quickly as possible. The purpose of our trip was to visit family in Louisville, KY. We knew there would be brief stops here and there, however we did not realize how captivated we would become with Route 66 and its rich history. This post is Part 1 of several I will share about our adventures and time exploring America’s Main Street during our June 2017 trip.
Since being established in November 1926, Route 66 has an interesting history and was nearly wiped out of existence in June 1985 when it was officially decommissioned and removed from the United States Highway System. Originally, Route 66 started from Chicago, Illinois and ran through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, before ending in Los Angeles. The complete distance encompassed a total of 2,448 miles (3,940 km). The Interstate Highway Act, signed into law by President Eisenhower in 1956, signaled the beginning of the end for the original Route 66.
In many places, the original Route 66 path was incorporated into the newer highways built in the late 1950s and into the 1980s. However, in many other places, bypasses were built that meant most folks no longer travelled the original Route 66 unless they had a reason to do so. If you’re familiar with the premise of Disney’s original Cars movie (2006) and the struggles of the fictitious town of Radiator Springs after the bypass highway was built, you will realize that this story has played out too many times along The Mother Road through the years.
While several of the beloved places along the historic route from Chicago to Los Angeles are still around today, many others have closed leaving behind neglected shells of their buildings and the remains of decaying billboards as the only evidence of their place along Route 66. As we have faster routes and freeways/highways available for cross-country trips in the United States, what will become of Route 66 for future travelers? Songs are not going to be written for the I-40 or the I-70. Thankfully, there is renewed interest in historic Route 66 and there are efforts to preserve and maintain this legendary road that crosses America.
As I mentioned earlier, we took a trip from San Diego, California to Louisville, Kentucky in June. Yes, we could have taken an airplane instead of a car. However, Louisville is not typically known for being a popular tourist destination nor is it a “hub city” for any U.S. based airline. Therefore, two round-trip tickets were going to be more than we wanted to spend. So, we decided to go old school and drive cross-country to Kentucky. We rented a 2017 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid from Hertz to save on fuel costs and to spare putting the trip’s mileage on our car. The decision to drive also meant we could bring our Chihuahua, Trinity, along with us.
We packed snacks and drinks so we wouldn’t need to stop too often for food. Our rental car was equipped with Apple Car Play, which was great for navigation, and Sirius XM Radio, which meant commercial-free music and entertainment throughout our trip. We also brought along our travel mascot, Monkey, so we could take some fun photos along the way. Since our focus was getting to Kentucky as quickly as possible, our plan was to drive pretty much straight through, with a brief stop about halfway to sleep for a bit. Heading east, my only request for a stop was a place I’d seen on the “Pork, Pasta and BBQ” episode of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins & Dives called The Cube BBQ in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Hours before dawn on June 21st we headed out and hit the road. The first eight to nine hours of our drive we drove east and then north from California and into Arizona. When we got to Winslow, Arizona our path finally intersected with historic Route 66. Interstate 40 took the place of Route 66 in many places when it was built.
We stopped in Winslow briefly and shared a picture of Monkey on Instagram.
This post to social media changed the nature of our road trip – from this post we learned about some places along Route 66 that we would not have known about otherwise. We decided we’d be sure to see as many of these as we could along the way – if not heading east, then definitely heading west on our way home. While my husband was driving, I used the cellular plan on our iPad Pro and found an article about some of the Route 66 places that inspired locations for the Cars movie and Cars Land at Disney California Adventure. With our revised plans in place, we continued our drive heading east from Arizona into New Mexico and made a pit stop in Gallup, NM.
As you are driving along Interstate 40 (Route 66), one thing you will probably notice is the numerous billboards advertising upcoming places to stop. These billboards build the anticipation for miles before the exit. However, we noticed that many of these roadside destinations did not live up to all the hype promised in the billboards. In fact, in several instances, the roadside attraction either was not as grand or exciting as promised, or had closed long ago. One exception we discovered to the anticipatory billboards was the Hotel El Rancho in Gallup, New Mexico.
We stopped in Albuquerque, NM for a quick dinner break and I sampled some of the BBQ from The Cube. It was about 6:00 p.m. and many of the favorite menu items were sold out. I had the pulled pork, mashed potatoes, and green beans. All of it was very delicious. I’ll share more about our stops in New Mexico, Texas, and other places along Route 66 in future posts.
On day two of our cross-country trip, we entered Illinois and left our Route 66 travels as we headed toward Louisville, Kentucky. We spent the next two days visiting and catching up with family. Our visit was good, albeit brief, and then it was time to head back home. For the return route, we opted to go south for a bit through Tennessee before heading west on Interstate 40 through Arkansas. We reconnected with historic Route 66 on I-40 at Oklahoma City in Oklahoma.
Even though our goal was to get home as quickly as possible, we allowed some time in our schedule to stop at some of the Route 66 sites that we had learned about and that had piqued our interest. We stopped at several of the places that were used by Disney Imagineers for inspiration when creating the Cars movie and Cars Land. Each of these brief stops were interesting and I’ll elaborate on these locations in future posts. During our trip, I shared our travels on Instagram with photo collages of our progress.
We drove 4,340 miles round-trip over the course of four days, with much of it being along Historic Route 66 for a total of 31 hours of driving east and then 31 hours of driving west. It was a lot of time in the car, but the scenery we saw and the places we explored were amazing. In addition, driving cross-country allowed us to stay within our travel budget compared to if we had flown round-trip.
When we got home, we realized this trip turned out better than we had expected. Seeing my husband’s family was memorable and our adventures while taking an old school road trip were beyond measure. We’re captivated by Route 66 and are already planning future trips when we can take our time and explore even more!
Have you explored historic Route 66? What are some of your favorite spots? When was the last time you went on an old school road trip?
Updated August 31, 2017
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Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”