From its starting point near the shore of Lake Michigan, Route 66 weaves its way through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and ends in Santa Monica, California. There’s a monument near Santa Monica Pier indicating it’s ending (or beginning) point.
My friend, Wes Holden, and I drove from Independence, Missouri, to San Diego, California, way back in 1968. We were only 18 years old, fresh out of high school, and it was an adventure neither of us are likely to forget. Imagine, if you will, two city boys with very limited knowledge of the big world outside their hometown. We were young and green, and the open road was beckoning us like the Sirens of Lesbos called to Jason.
In those days, Route 66 was a bit different than highways are today. You had to pay attention because, when you arrived in one of the many towns along the way — and there were many in that 1,500 mile journey — the highway went right through it. It usually made several turns so you could get a tour of the downtown area before reaching the city limits and returning to a straighter alignment as it continued across the countryside and headed toward the next town.
And there was a reason for that meandering pattern. The Mother Road was an artery of commerce for countless small businesses in those days. Tourist shops, restaurants, motels, and Trading Posts dotted the roadside like sprinkles on a cupcake. An unending flow of traffic provided a steady supply of income to those businesses, and it continued to do so until the Interstate Highway System realigned a large portion of Route 66, thereby putting the majority of those businesses off the beaten path and, in most cases, out of business.
But the summer Wes and I traveled the Mother Road those businesses were still thriving. It was summer, and it was hot in the states of the Great Southwest. From Independence, we drove straight through for 19 hours until we arrived at Flagstaff, Arizona. This is an oasis in the desert with cool breezes flowing through the tall pine trees. After a few hours sleep we were back on the road again.
Eventually, the tan, desert cactus was replaced by the tall, green Royal Palms of southern California, and we saw the beautiful blue of the Pacific stretching ahead of us to the horizon. We had made it. At 18 years old, it felt like an accomplishment of monumental proportion.
If you’ve ever wanted to take a trip down Route 66, there are many parts of the original alignment still being used. But if you do make the trip, there are two items you simply must have. In fact, I purchased both of them from Amazon earlier this summer, thinking we would make the trip this year. That didn’t work out, but I still have them, and I’m ready to go next summer.
One is a book is called The Route 66 Adventure Guide by Drew Knowles. The other is a set of 8 state maps called Here It Is that show the actual alignment of the old highway and what areas are still in use. It has great instructions on weaving through all those little towns and staying on the Mother Road. Both are great products for someone planning on taking a trip down Route 66.
There's so much more to tell, but you need to see it for yourself. So, get your kicks on Route 66.
It's a trip in your own Wayback Machine.