Route 66 The “Mother Road” of America
In 1925 Congress passed legislation that created the East/West artery that linked Chicago to Los Angles. During its early formative years, Route 66 had several different passages. It was not until Eisenhower saw the German Autobahn that Route 66 became the major highway linking America through support of government funding.
In the 1939 novel, Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck named Route 66 as the “Mother Road”. As an American epic odyssey Steinbeck told of the Joad family as they traveled from Oklahoma to California during the post Depression “Dust Bowl” days. This Pulitzer novel served as my compass in my recent journey down Route 66. My father was a native Texan, and traveled west as a child with his family to settle in California during the height of the Dustbowl, much like the Joad family.
After WWII my family would often travel Route 66 from California to visit my Mother’s family. We lived near LA and our driveway was on Route 66. Along the way, my father would often point out places where his family “camped out” on Route 66. Before WWII, he was in the CCC and had helped build some of the facilities in National Parks near Route 66.
Route 66 is a slice of American history, told by Will Rogers in his museum on Route 66, by President Eisenhower as he passed legislation to strengthen American commerce by creating a national transportation highway system and by many stories.
Today Route 66 is being preserved as a national monument and oversight by the National Parks Service is keeping a true American shared heritage road that draws many from all over the world. As a traveler on Route 66, you will hear many languages spoken as you enter the diners, hotels and attractions along America’s highway, the Mother Road.
Now that Route 66 has been designated as a national monument and federal matching funds are available, many road icons are being refurbished. The Spaceship gas station now houses the local chamber of commerce.
For years, restaurants, hotels and gas stations met the needs of travelers across the U.S. from East to West. The purveyors of curios, collectibles and snake oil were quite prolific along the highway selling to gullible tourists. To attract the eye of motorists, the buildings were adorned with bright colors. The really sharp salesmen would put a large object such as a horse or buffalo out front. The really good ones would make the entire building in the shape of a whale, Teepee or a Dinosaur. This would ensure the children would drive the parents crazy to stop, much like I did as a child. Fast food did not exist. You stopped, ordered and then the food was cooked and served. Picnics at a wayside park or on the hood of a car were the preferred restaurant if you were to make your destination on time.
When Eisenhower became president soon after WWII, he passed a bill that created the national interstate system. This spelled doom for Route 66. Today, travelers can go for thousands of miles on an interstate and see nothing but the McDonalds and gas stations just off the road. Towns along Route 66 fought the building of the interstate. I can remember traveling on interstate 40, having to get off and drive through town on Route 66, only to get back on the interstate just on the other side of town.
Below is some of the artwork along Route 66. Because Route 66 has been deemed a national monument, many icons along the way are preserved as a national treasure and qualify for federal dollars to pay for restoration.
Route 66 is well promoted in Europe and other countries. A large number of tourists on Route 66 are not from the U.S. As I was taking some photos this morning, a large tour bus stopped full of people from Germany. Soon another group from the UK stopped.
Many of the businesses on Route 66 flourished because they met the needs of the travelers. Such providers as Cline’s Corners were an icons that sold food, groceries, ice cream and trinkets for kids such as MiniTonka moccasins. They still flourish today and bigger than ever. It is now a large truck stop, restaurant and still has the trinket store.
On the other end of the spectrum is Route 66 Casino. Built on the edge of the Hopi Indian Reservation and adjoining Route 66 highway, offers very little to travelers.
Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico
The Acoma Pueblo Indians (pronounced ak-o-ma) have occupied this pueblo on top of a 380 foot Mesa west of Albuquerque, NM since 1080 AD. They have survived attacks from their Indian enemies, Spanish and Americans. As the Spanish Conquistadores approached the high Mesa, the sun shined on the Adobe village and they appeared to be made of gold. The village was attacked several times over a 250-year period. The last attack was successful. The Acomas were able to sustain life on the Mesa because they had water pools, gardens and animals in abundance. To this day, 13 ancestral families live on the Mesa with no electricity, or running water.
The white ladders signify a Kiva. This is the heart of the Acoma religion place of worship. The religious leaders are all male and only males can enter the Kiva during the worship service. However, the Acoma culture is very matriarchal. As an example, only the women can own property. If a divorce occurs (very rare), the male must leave the village.
They have a church built by the Spanish. Their services are a mixture of Catholicism, Acoma, and ancestral heritage. I was able to take pictures of the outside of the church but not the inside or the graveyard. The graveyard is very interesting. It is layered with graves buried on top of each other since early Acoma civilization, accounting for shallow graves stacked on top of each other, more than 40 feet deep. Only leaders/church leaders can be buried and this is the last layer. The Acoma Pueblo Nation are a proud people, very quiet, help each other, have a sense of the greater community and family rather than self.
Monument Valley Arizona/Utah
Route 66 does not go to Grand Canyon, it parallels the canyon and in some places, especially Peach Springs AZ, you can look north and see the overhang into the canyon. I have seen the canyon several times and so on this trip, I wanted to go to Monument Valley. Below is my “Home away from home”. I felt I could see Geronimo riding across the night sky or the Great White Buffalo. The Navajo Indian Nation owns Monument Valley and it is a centerpiece of the reservation. I found the Navajo lands to be very safe, friendly. The Navajo lady below spins raw wool from their sheep into yarn that is used to make blankets and other necessities.
Many “Western” movies were made in Monument Valley. With little imagination, one can imagine John Wayne in the movies. Notice below, the helicopter in the photo from the filming of “stagecoach”.
I was in Monument Valley the night of the “Blood Moon”. Above is a picture of the moon rising between two of the monuments. You can compare the size of these monuments with the cars, but it is still some distance to the nearest one. I am high on a cliff, very very uncomfortable with height, but the view is priceless.
Winslow AZ is known for the song by the Eagles Take it Easy starting out with the lyrics “Standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona”. Before this song, Winslow was known as the home of the La Posada Hotel and Gardens. Before Route 66 the railroad was a primary means of long distance transportation from East to West. Several railroad towns had upscale accommodations, both restaurants and hotels. Known as Harvey Houses, Fred Harvey introduced fine linen, silverware, china, crystal and impeccable service to railroad travel. MGM made a movie “The Harvey Girls” starring Judy Garland. Today, La Posada hotel remains and the restaurant Turquoise Room serves some of the finest cuisine on Route 66 or any rail town restaurant.
The food along Route 66 is boundless. Chicago dogs, Chicken Fried Steak in Oklahoma and Mexican/New Mexican throughout the west can best be described as Road food extraordinaire! My favorite is Mexican but I often strayed into other culinary delights. Here is one of my favorites, a Black Angus burger, topped with a whole Hatch green chilie accompanied by real French fries.
Buildings along Route 66 in the early years were designed to catch he eye of the driver, the children and others that might be snagged in to buy their wares. Such are the two wigwam motels on Route 66. Pictured here is the one in Holbrook AZ. The other is located in Ontario, California. The old cars are relics that family members parked rather than trade-in. The individual Tee Pees are traditional motels with all of creature comforts that most travelers expect, with a bit of yesteryear nostalgia!
Here is a picture of Hackberry General Store, Hackberry AZ I remember stopping here when I was a child because it was the only place to buy gas in more than 60 miles, either direction on Route 66. Today, it is more of a tourist attraction but does serve a small community as a general store.
Calico Ghost Town California
In 1884 silver was discovered on a hill near present day Yermo California, 30 miles from Barstow CA. Within 6 months there was 18 registered mines and 100 + miners. The town of Calico was born and survived, even today. At its most robust times, there were over 100 families, 260 miners, 18 saloons and 10 brothels. More than $22 million annually was removed as silver and the towns of Daggett and Yermo sprang to life as silver ore processing was needed.
In 1922 a large mining corporation bought the mining interests south of Calico and continued to mine for borax, silver and copper. After several years of strip mining, the natural resources were gone.
The town of Calico was sold to Knox Berry Farms and it was repurposed as a Ghost Town Park. In the late 20s and early 30s my father and his brothers played here as boys. When it opened as an amusement/historical park we visited Calico. My father told me that the road to/through town was added and improved, the buildings had new roofs, but otherwise, everything was the same.
Look especially at the "Otherside" building. It I'd made of whisky bottles and rammed earth. In the late 1890s Calico burned, but this building and the school/church survived. Calico was quickly rebuilt because silver in large amounts was being mined.
I hope you have enjoyed my revisit to Route 66. I appreciate you taking the journey with me. I drove 4,600 miles roundtrip, spent 4+ weeks on the road, gained a pound or two and despite the thunderstorms I drove through, I had NO ISSUES with my Oliver Travel Trailer. It performed exceptionally well.
Route 66 is not about the destination, but rather the journey itself