Main Street of America, Mother Road and Will Rogers Highway – officially known as U.S. Route 66 was one of the original roadways that made up the U.S. Highways System. It is also the inspiration behind more than a few road trips. Although no longer officially part of the Highway System it is still open for adventure. Here’s some history and some tips for taking a trip down America’s Memory Lane.
The original highway stretched 2448 miles, starting in Chicago, IL. and ending in Santa Monica, Ca. Rt. 66 was officially opened on November 11, 1926 although portions had been in operation long before that date, with the original wagon trail surveyed in 1857. History is repeating itself that that respect as it was removed from the U.S. Highway System in 1985, but many sections are maintained by states and re-designated State Route 66.
This history lesson is important if planning your own Rt 66 Road Trip. Because it was once major thoroughfare it is dotted with attractions & iconic destinations designed to cater to and attract travelers. However, due to no longer being an official U.S. Highway some sections are in disrepair and even difficult to travel.
1. Obtain an “Unofficial, Official” Rt. 66 Map.
As it is no longer an official highway the original Rt. 66 is no longer shown on many maps, although this is changing with sections being designated State Route 66. Many of the historical preservation organizations dedicated to the road’s history offer unofficial maps. If using GPS be sure it includes the entire highway and remember it will try to re-route you to other more direct replacements.
2. Make sure to schedule enough time.
A normal trip from Chicago to LA takes approximately 4 days. However, this is on modern interstates designed to be driven faster and straighter from point A to point B. Rt. 66 does not go directly from point A to anywhere, nor is it a wide open 4 lane road. You will be winding through a mixture of terrain and often going out of your way to follow it. Plus, you will want to stop and see the sights that make the road so iconic.
3. Speaking of sights, make sure to hit the classics.
Rt. 66’s most important transportation period was in the 1930’s moving depression era settlers west. It’s most memorable period was following WW2 as travelers did so for pleasure. Many of the restaurants, motels and attractions were built to cater to the later group and you will want to experience many of them as well. A night in the Wigwam Hotel, a drive through burger at Carl’s or a stop at the Cadillac Ranch are what the road trip is all about.
4. Side trips are worth it too.
While Rt. 66 does not pass directly through Vegas or the Grand Canyon it is close enough to make a side trip possible. Although it is possible to see both during a single trip most travelers decide to pick one and save the other for its own adventure. Just make sure you add time and plan the route accordingly.
5. Gas up when possible.
Finding fuel stops along the way is not longer as difficult as it once was, the revival of the highway has made it more profitable to maintain modern facilities especially near either end. However, there are sections in the western desert areas where fuel is a bit farther apart- sometimes more than 100 miles between fill up points. It is recommended that you map fuel points and fill up when possible and ALWAYS do so before heading into the remote desert sections.
For more help planning your Rt. 66 Road Trip, and suggestions on what to see, check out this YouTube video.