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Route 66: RVing Along The Mother Road

It was John Steinbeck who named Route 66 “the Mother Road” and for countless tens of thousands from roughly 1926 through the early 60’s, it was THE way west, a 2,000 plus mile journey through eight states.

In the 1930’s, when Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath, it was the road refugees from the dust bowl used to flee their dried up farms in Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. But in the ensuing years, it was fun, adventure, tourism and the classic road trip experience the lured most folks and local communities built thriving businesses that served them – motels, drive-in restaurants, gas stations, tourist shops and hokey made-up attractions like the world’s biggest ketchup bottle, or the world’s biggest rocking chair to lure the tourists in.

Many of the businesses have long since been shuttered when the interstates started siphoning off traffic. Their ruins are still along the route.
Many of the businesses have long since been shuttered when the interstates started siphoning off traffic. Their ruins are still along the route, as well as some of the vintage vehicles, like this old home made camper in Tumcumcari, NM .

Then, the interstate highway system bypassed most of Route 66 and interstates like U.S. 55 and U.S. 40 siphoned off the once-steady streams of Route 66 traffic. It was officially removed from the United States Highway System on June 27, 1985. Communities which once bustled with business shriveled up and almost died.

Over the past 20 years or so, many small towns have worked hard to restore as much as they can of the historic old route and while it meanders and stops and starts in many places, it’s once again possible to drive most of the route. It’s not a route for those who are impatient. There lots of stop signs, stop lights, road improvements. small towns and photo ops along the way.

To adequately do the entire trip from Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif., you really need about three weeks.

Giant statues are all along the route. This one in Texas is "the world's only second amendment cowboy statue."
Giant statues are all along the route. This one in Texas is “the world’s only 2nd amendment cowboy statue.”

You don’t have to do it all at once, of course. You can do segments or whatever areas you want, spending whatever time you want.

Jennifer and I have been on it all week. As I write this, we’re about to cross into Arizona.

We started in Chicago and have slowly made our way down the iconic highway, also known as the Will Rogers Highway and the Main Street of America.

In some places, like this stretch or roadway in southern Illinois, the original road is no longer drivable but is evident along a newer stretch of Route 66
In some places, like this stretch or roadway in southern Illinois, the original road is no longer drivable but is evident along a newer stretch of Route 66

We found ourselves with lots of other Route 66 pilgrims. But here’s the weird thig: Except for two women from Pennsylvania, every other Route 66 tourist we met was from Europe. We met people along the way from England, Finland, Norway, France, Germany and Dubai.

I asked a trio of Finns we met at the Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo, Texas, why there were so many Europeans out here. “Because in Europe, we have nothing like this,” said one of them. “We can drive across most countries  in a day. There’s nothing like this and we have heard so much about it.” The three Finns were a father and two sons said Route 66 has been on their bucket list for years.

Jennifer, hanging out with Marilyn, James Dean and Betty Boop
Jennifer, hanging out with Marilyn, James Dean and Betty Boop

A couple of days ago, back in Illinois, we met 29 motorcyclists from Norway. A Chicago comany specialzes in Route 66 tours by motorcycle. It provided brand new Harleys for the Europeans. They were delighted to see Tai, our Norwegian Elkhound.

“Look, an Elghund,” one of the cyclists said to his wife, poitning out Tai. He confirmed what we had heard before, that in Norway, Tai is known as an Elghund. Elg means moose. Americans, hearing the name, somehow though it was Elk. Hence Elkhound. But Tai is actually a Moosehound.

The Polka Dot Drive in  Braidwood, IL
The Polka Dot Drive in Braidwood, IL

You’d never know it when we camped at a KOA west of El Reno, Okla. Next door to the campground was a big fenced in area with two bison. Tai tried barking them down. He thinks he’s a BuffaloHound.

Tai, the BuffaloHound
Tai, the BuffaloHound

The photos illustrating this post were all taken with my iPhone 6 Plus smartphone. I started out using my Canon 5D Mark III DSLR and had some great photos along Route 66 from our start in Chicago up to the Missouri border. But just before we crossed the Mississippi into St Louis, while we were out of the vehicle having dinner, thieves somehow got into our locked RV and stole that camera, along with my video camera, our computers, and much more.

There are statues of pop culture figures everywhere,  like the fictional Blues Brothers, who hearlded from Joliet and Elwood, IL, outside the Polka Dot Drive In
There are statues of pop culture figures everywhere, like the fictional Blues Brothers hanging out at the Polka Dot Drive-In

But we were not going to let them stop this trip. So, until I can get a replacement camera shipped out to me, I’ve been using the iPhone.

Helping us find all the fun stuff along this route are two guidebooks that I can highly recommend. The first is the Route 66 Adventure Handbook: Turbocharged Fourth Edition, by Drew Knowles. We also like the Route 66: EZ66 GUIDE For Travelers – 3RD EDITION, by Jerry McClanahan and The National Historic Route 66 Federation.

The Gemini Giant once lured customers to the Landing Pad Restaurant in  Wilmington, IL. Alas, the restaurant is now closed but the giant remains
The Gemini Giant once lured customers to the Landing Pad Restaurant in Wilmington, Ill. Alas, the restaurant is now closed but the giant remains

These books give lots of fascinating history and details on the route, which, after traveling it, Jennifer and I think should be on every RVers bucket list.

There are lots of campgrounds along the entire route.

We left the route  at Albuquerque, headed south on U.S. 25 to I-10 and then into Tucson, where we are to get an Internet satellite system for our Roadtrek CS Adventurous XL.

Here are some of our photos. Hope you enjoy…

There's a Fran Lloyd Wright building in Dwight, IL on Route 66 that has these magnificent Tiffany-style windows depicting the five senses
There’s a Frank Lloyd Wright building in Dwight, IL on Route 66 that has these magnificent Tiffany-style windows depicting the five senses
Outside the Cherokee Trading Post in western Oklahoma
Outside the Cherokee Trading Post in western Oklahoma. On the wall in the background is a mural depicting the tragic “Trail of Tears” that displaced so many native Americans.
The Trail of Tears mural
The Trail of Tears mural
A father and his two sons from Finland are among many European Route 66 pilgrims we encountered.
A father and his two sons from Finland are among many European Route 66 pilgrims we encountered.
Tourist bring spray paint to put their own graffit on the sunken Cadillacs at the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX. They din't even bother to clean up their litter.
Tourist bring spray paint to put their own graffit on the sunken Cadillacs at the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. They  toss their empty cans on the ground don’t even bother to clean up their litter.

 

Old gas pumps are on display on many towns
Old gas pumps are on display on many towns

A beautiful mural  along Route 66 in New Mexico

The "World's largest Rocking Chair" near Fanning, MO
The “World’s largest Rocking Chair” near Fanning, MO
Many cities have murals depicting life on the Mother Road from a bygone era
Many cities have murals depicting life on the Mother Road from a bygone era
Yes, there is a Vaccum Cleaner Museum - "the word's only" along Route 66 in St. James, MO
Yes, there is a Vaccum Cleaner Museum – “the world’s only” along Route 66 in St. James, MO
Lots of trading posts are on Route 66. This is in western Oklahoma
Lots of trading posts are on Route 66. This is in western Missouri
And right next to the Mule Trading Post is the Mule Tobacco Barn, with a giant farmer statue
And right next to the Mule Trading Post is the Mule Tobacco Barn, with a giant farmer statue smoking a corn cop pipe
You see a lot of this along the route
You see a lot of this along the route
And this...
And this…

 

Barbecue is big  in every community. This is the Hick in Steelville, MO

A couple of hours off the route on US 25 south of Albuquerque is the Elephant Butte State Park, where RVs can camp free on the beach.
A couple of hours off the route on US 25 south of Albuquerque is the Elephant Butte State Park, where RVs can camp free on the beach.
Off the route in Hitch, NM, this RV dealer has an interesting display. That's also where the RV Man statue that is the featured image was taken
Off the route in Hitch, NM, this RV dealer has an interesting display. That’s also where the RV Man statue that is the featured image was taken

4 thoughts on “Route 66: RVing Along The Mother Road”

  1. Deborah Skinner

    Definitely a trip for the bucket list. We have seen parts of the mother road in some of our western travels – but would love to just take in the whole thing some day. We could be like Tod and Buz – but in our RT instead of a Corvette.

  2. Just an FYI:
    When Route 66 was first laid out in 1926, everybody knew it would go through the capital of New Mexico and indeed it did. Route 66 followed the Old Pecos Trail from Santa Rosa through Dilia, Romeroville and Pecos to Santa Fe. From Santa Fe it went over La Bajada Hill and down into Albuquerque. From Albuquerque it went south to Los Lunas and then west on what is now State Road 6. That was the way it was aligned and constructed and that was the way it was supposed to stay – forever. But it didn’t. But why was it moved? In 1937 the then governor of New Mexico, Governor Hannett lost the re-election. Hannett blamed this on the politicians in Santa Fe. In one great last act of defiance before the new governor was sworn in he vowed to get even with this Santa Fe ring. He had until January to institute his revenge. And he did! He decided the best way to get even was to re-route Highway 66 to Albuquerque and bypass Santa Fe altogether. This new alignment would bypass the Santa Fe businesses and Santa Fe politicians. It was a race against time. With no time off for the workers, including Christmas, he had to build a road through the virgin landscape fighting the elements, the vegetation and anybody and anything that got in his way. There was no time to buy the right a way so the road cut across both public and private land with no regard for the ownership. Though the road was not quite finished by the time the new governor took office in January, bad weather conditions prevented him from contacting the work crews to stop the project. By the time the new governor met with the work crews it was too late. The new road had been finished and cars were already driving the new route that cut off more than 90 miles of driving distance between Santa Rosa and Albuquerque. Santa Fe had been bypassed! The new alignment was really a better route from an engineer’s standpoint. It was a more direct route that cut out some treacherous road conditions. It was also quite a bit shorter. This is the route that would be followed by the new Interstate years later. Now you know the whole story!

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