Sometimes I still found myself dreaming about our travel through Route 66, and I can’t help but go back to open the folder on my Mac dedicated to this amazing journey.
Does it ever happen to you? Missing a travel you already did and wanting to do it all over again?
Route 66 was a dream, our dream, one of those travels you fear you’ll never actually do because you consider them to be “too much” (and I mean about its cost, too). I was even a little scared to do it, actually: I feared that I had built too high expectations on the States, of idealizing them too much. On the contrary, they revealed themselves to be even better than what I would ever have expected.
The dream came true and it was much better than the dream itself.
Route 66 is THE travel on-the-road. The archetype of road.
A road full of history and stories, a 2451 miles long open-sky museum that tells 90 years of American history and hopes. That’s the reason why it shouldn’t be done just to tick an item on a list nor by running fast one place to another taking random pictures only to say “I’ve been there!”. It HAS to be lived, listened to, looked, felt: it must be caressed with your wheels and with your heart.
What Route 66 actually is?
The U. S. Route 66 was wanted by Cyrus Stevens Avery, a rich man of Tulsa, and was born in 1926 for many reasons: it was needed to simplify the growing automotive traffic, to reach the small towns which struggled to collect first-necessity goods, to get to the west and its impetuous economic growth that in those years represented to many the chance for a better life (and the get-away from the Great Depression that stroke the US), to escape the Dust Bowl, the serie of sand storms that from 1931 to 1939 flailed the States due to the ecologic disaster which fell upon the Great Plains, because of intensive cultivations and wild industrialization.
At the beginning it was supposed to be called Route 60, but this name got chosen for the road that links Atlanta GA to the West, so Avery chose Route 66 because it sounded good. Avery was so sure of the importance of this road for the US, that he inaugurated it in a big way: in 1927 he created the Bunion Race, a marathon that started from Los Angeles CA and went all the way to New York NY going by Chicago IL and going through the whole Route 66. So on the fourth of march 1928 275 started the race, but the journey revealed itself to be too rough, even for the organizers, so only 53 participants got to NYC. The winner was Andy Payne, a 19 year-old Cherokee which was awarded the final prize of 25,000$.
The next decade saw the “the Okies”, farmers from Oklahoma, leaving their land following the route 66 to get to California with the motto “California or bust”, fleeing the Dust Bowl. John Steinbeck told about this period in his book “The Grapes of Wrath”, where he referred to the Route 66 as the Mother Road: That’s how this road became a legend. By 1938 builders finished to asphalt the whole road, an exceptional work for the times that revealed itself of vital importance during WWII, when supplies departed from Chicago IL to the soldiers stationed in San Diego.
After the war millions of americans moved from the east towards the west to find fortune in California, the new Eldorado. Tis way the Mother Road became a symbol of adventure, travel and hope: a home for travelers, adventurers, desperates running from crisis, men and women in search of fortune. One of them, Bobby Troup, wrote a song during his travel to the West and he called it: Get your kicks on Route 66 , which then sold as soon as he arrived to LA to Nat King Cole, who in 1956 made a worldwide success out of it.
In these years of economic recovery the population went up big, and with it car production. Given its fame and utility, Route 66 was traveled daily by thousands of people and at some point traffic and accidents on this road reached an unacceptable number. In 1956 the McDonald Plan, a federal law strongly wanted by Eisenhower, decreed the closing of the old routes and their transformation to 4-lane Interstates. The job took almost twenty years to complete, but it slowly killed the Mother Road. Yet in its last years the Route 66 lived its finest season: in the ‘60s the CBS dedicated it a tv serie that spoke about two travelers who crossed it on an old Corvette, car which became a symbol to Route 66. When in 1985 the works for the interstate were over, Americans didn’t forget their Mother Road: the press started talking about it, street signs were brought back up, and many people, mainly visitors, started crossing ita gin. Since 1994 Route 66 is a national monument and is under federal government’s protection. Many association were born to its defense, among them the National Historic Route 66 Federation which also commits to help the economy of the little towns in decline since the road’s official closure.
The Harley itinerary on Route 66
Knowing Route 66’s history planning the itinerary and watching to the images had, to us, a special flavor. We so decided to follow the original path, the Historic Route 66.
Following it properly is not easy: soon the indications are missing, some bits are closed, others only open to pedestrians o bicycles, and, something that astounded us, many Americans don’t even know about it thing that makes asking for directions not always a solution.
But trying to find it is worthy, because you can come across the many and famous roadside attractions only on the historic route and also… what sense makes going through the I-40 just to get from one little town to the other? The street guilty of Route 66 closure, of the abandoning of its little settlements, of the ruin of all those people who gave their life for the shops and attractions along the Mother Road?
The ideal thing to do would be booking no hotels in advance, but just stop when you want in one of the many motels along the road or in one of the many big or small towns that you go through, unfortunately in high season (from june to august) the risk is to find no vacancies so you need to be ready. We booked everything before and organized the trip stop by stop, choosing to stop – just for this first time – in cities.
We made a few deviations from the Route 66, but in this post I’ll only tell you about the basic itinerary, the stops where we chose to stay for the night/s. It is just a hint, I will tell you better in later posts, State by State.
Chicago, Illinois (3 nights)
Here the Historic Route 66 starts (or finishes), between Michigan Avenue and Adam Street, and here our adventure started. Three nights (which weren’t enough for our program) to at least truing to discover the main things about the Windy City, the big city that we liked the most among the ones we saw.
From Chicago To Springfield: 205 miles – Illinois (1 night)
Springfield, Illinois, is the city of Abraham Lincoln. A small and beautiful city, which offers many to be seen and, mainly, makes you discover the famous President’s story. You should really stop here!
From Springfield, Illinois, to St. Louis, Missouri – 99 miles (1 night)
St. Louis is one of USA’s “music cities” the one with the Blues’ street, of the Gateway Arch and (American) Budweiser beer.
Here we made something that we really wanted to do: seeing a country concert! Luck wanted that it wasn’t just any country concert but one of our favourite country singers’!
Also here we misjudged the timing : we arrived in the afternoon, had issues on our bike and the next day we had to spend half a day – the one that we were supposed to spend to see the city – to get the bike fixed. A piece of advice? You should spend at least 2 nights here!
From St Louis To Springfield, Missouri – 250 km (2 nights)
This one was to us a personal stop, here we have the american part of our family. The city itself doesn’t offer much except for a cute center, Fantastic Caverns, Silver Dollar city, and a thing that I think is the cutest: Showboat Branson Belle.
From Springfield, Missouri, to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – 298 miles (2 nights)
Oklahoma City was a surprise. The typical city that you underestimate and yet it surprises you. We got lost among its skyscrapers, charmed by the Cowboy&Western Heritage Museum, moved by the National Memorial. This also is not to be missed!
From Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to Amarillo, Texas – 280 miles (2 nights)
I’ll go on and admit it: Texas is the State that we were waiting forward to get to… and we didn’t get disappointed, on the contrary! Even if Amarillo isn’t the most beautiful city of the State, we fell in love with it: the infinite plains, the cowboys, the steaks, the canyons and Route 66! Everything like I imagined, only better.
Here in Amarillo we were lucky: we got to see a real Rodeo! If you get here in the weekend you’ll most certainly find one, the outskirts of town are full with ranches that host this show.
From Amarillo, Texas, to Santa Fe, New Mexico – 298 miles (2 nights)
Santa Fe isn’t one of Route 66’s classical stop, usually you go straight to Albuquerque.
Near Santa Rosa (more or less) the Route splits in two: the older part goes up to Santa Fe, the mor recent one goes to Albuquerque. We chose to take the long way and see both cities, and I’m glad for this choice because Santa Fe is a unique city, one of the places that makes you tink “something like that can only be seen here”.
From Santa Fe, New Mexico to Albuquerque, New Mexico – 75 miles (2 nights)
Albuquerque is the city of “Breaking Bad” and that’s what most of all made us stop here for a tour of the serie’s locations, thus discovering that the city also has a very peculiar Old Town and an interesting museum on American natives, other than the biggest 4th of July celebration in the whole State (here I saw the most beautiful fireworks I’ve ever seen, I got moved!)
From Albuquerque, New Mexico to Flagstaff, Arizona – 341 miles (2 nights)
Flagstaff was our base camp to the Grand Canyon, give or take an hour and a half ride from there. The city is 1120 miles above the sea (and believe me, you wouldn’t notice it if you don’t see the altitude sign) and is Pioneer’s city – to whom a museum is dedicated – with a nice center and the Railway Museum.
From Flagstaff, New Mexico to Los Angeles, California – 466 miles (3 nights)
Side note: as you can see the distance between the two cities is big. We actually stopped in Las Vegas (267 miles from Los Angeles), but it is a detour outside the Route 66. An advice I can give you is not to do all that distance in one ride, but stop halfway or pass by Las Vegas, since it is pretty close.
Los Angeles was, to us, a bit of a disappointment, saved by Santa Monica (not only the Pier, which is great, but Santa Monica itself) and even more by the Universal Studios, which are, to say the least, amazing, expecially for movies enthusiasts. Three nights are enough if you have full days (3 at least) at your disposal.
Maybe the problems with L.A. are 2: that you came filled with expectations, and also the fact that usually it is the last stop of your travel and that’s why you can’t really enjoy it. We, for example, when leaving Las Vegas had a feeling of sadness thinking that we were traveling towards the end of our journey, and that sadness we couldn’t help but feeling the whole time (except in the Universal Studios, where it is impossible to be sad). It surely is a city to be visited. As this is a travel that has to be done, at least once in a lifetime… Actually, not done: lived.