The iconic Route 66 stretches 2,400 miles from Chicago to the Pacific coast near Los Angeles. This historic route, though changed over the years, is still a tourist attraction that draws thousands of travelers each year on an adventurous route that crosses 66 percent of the United States.
In 1926, Route 66 became the first federal highway system. Rather than building a new highway, segments of existing roads were combined to create a scenic route that crossed most of the U.S., passing major attractions like Disneyland, the Grand Canyon, and the Mojave Desert.
As travelers hit the roadways, towns and cities along the way saw a large increase in tourism. This helped build a strong base for many of these towns, which created lodging, restaurants, and shops that catered to the weary travelers who were passing through or looking for new opportunities following the Depression.
With the advent of WW2, road travel along Route 66 continued to grow. Many military members and their families headed west to training bases in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. Route 66 was the perfect way to travel. But all these vehicles started to take their toll on Route 66. Bridges fell into a state of disrepair, and potholes and crumbling pavement made sections of the route hard to travel. With repairs priced at more than $450 million, the government opted to instead adopt a plan to construct newer, faster interstates that would cost $500 million.
As the new interstate system was built, it absorbed some of the sections of Route 66. In 1985, Route 66’s final section of original road was taken over by I-40. In some areas, states put up signs to alert drivers to the original path of the historic route. As a whole, however, Route 66 no longer exists unless you know where to look.
Planning Your Trip Along Route 66
Because many cities and towns do not mark where Route 66 once passed, it’s important to purchase Route 66 maps that you can rely on during your journey.
Route 66 started in Chicago and continued through several towns before crossing into Missouri. Through Missouri, the route traveled through a number of towns, including Eureka, Springfield, and Carthage, before heading into Kansas and then into Oklahoma. In Oklahoma the roadway passed through small towns and large cities like Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Eventually, the road crossed the Texas border and passed through McLean, Amarillo, and Glenrio.
After Texas, Route 66 crossed into New Mexico. The roadway continued into Arizona, passing popular destinations like the Painted Desert before continuing into California. In California, Route 66 wound through Barstow, Pasadena, and other towns and cities before coming to an end in Los Angeles.
Sites You Don’t Want to Miss
Some of Route 66’s original restaurants still operate today, and they make a great place to stop in for a meal. Some boast the same décor they had in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Many of these restaurants are on the National Register of Historic Places and are well worth the wait for a filling meal before you hit the road.
Watch for other historic gas stations, inns, and natural wonders, like the Chain of Rocks Bridge across the Mississippi, that are scattered along the original path of Route 66. Your journey may take longer driving Route 66, but there is so much more to see and a lot of history to explore. You simply need to take the time and rediscover the fun in a leisurely cross-country drive.