by lyle e davis
"Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything. From the Interstate, America is all steel guardrails and plastic signs, and every place looks and feels and sounds and smells like every other place." -- Charles Kuralt, On the Road with Charles Kuralt
"Life doesn't happen along the interstates. It's against the law." -- William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways
Time was when a body could motor along the highways and byways of this country and take in some mighty fine scenery. Listen to the song of a meadowlark . . . savor the fresh aroma of new mown hay . . . hear the lowing of cattle.
Unless you live in a rural area, that’s not very common anymore. Still, it can be done, if a body has a mind to do it.
What say we take a tour of these United States . . . take some of the old highways . . get away from the freeways, or Interstates . . for they are called by different names in different parts of the country.
For many of us, the decertifying of the famed Route 66 on June 27, 1985, was the moment we made that sometimes woeful transition from the US Numbered Highway System. Today, someone could go from Chicago to Los Angeles without seeing landmarks like the Blue Swallow Motel, Roy's Cafe, or Lucille's Service Station. US 66 was replaced by five Interstate numbers in addition to numerous state routes: I-55, I-44, I-40, I-15, and I-10.
No single official highway number currently carries traffic between Chicago, IL and Los Angeles, CA, despite the fact that a single highway number linking those two cities had been a priority since US route planning began in 1925.
Now, over a decade after its de-certification, US 66 is back as "Historic" Route 66. Business blooms where it had once withered in the Interstate's shadow. People still want to travel that single number, that storied two-lane highway and see what America was like before homogenization.
Let’s take a look at what lies on Route 66 between Chicago and Santa Monica. Perhaps we’ll get lucky and travel some of those twisty old two-lane roads, see neon lined motels, and recall a time when most gas stations had service bays instead of food marts.
It’s 2,448 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, via the old Route 66.
US-66 is the most famous highway in the US. This routing left Chicago, went through St. Louis, Tulsa, Amarillo and Flagstaff, among some of the larger cities. But it also passed through a lot of smaller hamlets, villages and cities. Various bypasses were built at many towns along the way, and some towns have as many as 4 different alignments of US-66 in and around them.
The route inspired a song recorded by half the known population of North America, a TV show, movies, and countless books.
US-66 in Illinois is still pretty much intact. From Chicago to Joliet, to and through Bloomington-Normal, Springfield and Litchfield, then St. Louis, it was the most famous route in America until the Interstates took over.
Illinois has posted an "Historic US-66" route from Chicago into St. Louis, as have the other states that US-66 passed thru. Illinois' Historic Route 66 follows a routing that was US-66 for part of its life.
You start at Jackson and Michigan in Chicago, go west along to Ogden Avenue, then to Harlem Av. US-66 then heads south a mile or so to Joliet Road. US-66 went west from here to Joliet. Joliet is only 44 miles southwest of Chicago. Once a small town flourishing in the Illinois prairie, Joliet now boasts a population of 108,000. Throughout the years, Chicago's western suburbs have extended their reach to include Joliet - a vibrant and cosmopolitan suburb. After you leave Joliet, expect to go through Bloomington-Normal, Springfield and then St. Louis.
Who knows? If you were to stop in Bloomington-Normal, you might get to meet Twila Coffey. And, if you play your cards right, she might introduce you . . . maybe even let you hold Kane.
That’s “Coffey’s Kane” who won “Best of Breed” back on April of 2002 at the Springfield Rabbit Show. That same year Kane got 1st place at the Illinois State Convention and Bloomington-Normal Rabbit show. That’s pretty heady stuff in Bloomington-Normal. And not just anyone gets to pet and hold “Coffey’s Kane.”
In the St. Louis area the road had been relocated several times. It crossed the Mississippi River at the Chain of Rocks Bridge from 1937 until 1957 when it crossed into St. Louis' downtown on the Veterans Bridge.
While going through Missouri, take a breather and visit Rolla. Rolla, Missouri, is a great place to live and to raise a family. A quiet, comfortable place, but with top educational and cultural opportunites. From forested hillsides, crystal clear springs and streams to fields of prairie grass and wildflowers and breathtaking 20 mile views, Rolla, in the Ozarks of Missouri, has it all.
The beauty of the Ozarks drew the first settlers here in 1818, and it remains much the same, preserved for today's and furture generations to discover for themselves. The University of Missouri has a campus at Rolla. It’s a pretty town. One you would never see from the freeway.
There are several museums dedicated to US-66 (Clinton OK, Baxter KS, Vega TX), and even a US-66 Hall of Fame in McLean IL. During the early 1990's it became very fashionable to retrace old US-66. Most states along the way of the old US-66 posted signs along the old pavement identifying it as "Historic US-66".
Kansas uses different signs, and also paints "66" shields on the
pavement for the few miles it ran there. There’s only 13.2 miles of Old Highway 66 in Kansas . . . but there’s a lot of history there. One such example is just west of Riverton. Be sure to stop and see Kansas 66's most famous landmark-the sole remaining Marsh Rainbow Arch bridge just west of the junction of Kansas 66 and
This 1923 beauty was almost lost to short-sighted bureaucrats, but was saved by the fantastic efforts of the Kansas 66 association and friends. Long a favorite 'hang-out' for the local kids you’ll be tempted to walk across it yourself.
Once into St. Louis you then pass through Springfield, Carthage, Joplin . . .to the Missouri-Kansas State line at Galena. Traveling through Kansas you’d pass through Galena and Baxter Springs as you next entered Oklahoma.
While in Oklahoma, Route 66 would visit such wide-awake towns as Miami, Afton, Vinita; stop here just long enough to get a hamburger, maybe some fries and a cold drink at the world’s largest McDonalds. But before you get to Vinita for that all important McDonalds hamburger . . . you’ll pass through Miami, Oklahoma, home of the Impossible Dreams Kennel. Debra Cannon runs the operation. She’s a single mother of two daughters and she loves animals. Always has. Now she has Yorkies, Schnauzers, Pugs, Shih Tzus, Pomeranians, Papillions and Poodles.
Oh . . . and if you’ve a mind to, you may want to stop by and pay your respects to Ma Barker and her boys. She, the leader of an outlaw gang from the 1930’s, and her progeny are buried at the Williams Timber Hill Cemetery. (That’s just across the road a bit from the Impossible Dreams Kennel.)
Above, one of
Debra Cannon’s Pugs.
Then it’s back on the road to Claremore. . . the big town of Tulsa. . .then on to Sapulpa, Chandler, Edmond, and Oklahoma City. Ahead of you was Texola . . . which told you Texas was just on the horizon.
Oklahoma has a good chunk of the route as OK-66, and there are still many original US-66 shields and markers along the way in OK. Authentic US-66 markers collect thousands of dollars at antique stores, and the fake ones are grabbed up faster than you can blink.
Once into Texas you’d want to visit Claude. Take a stroll around the town and catch a whiff of its history. Before modern water and sewerage systems, Claude's residents went to the courthouse square for water at the public trough, which was shaded by a cottonwood tree. One early resident recalled that the old wooden courthouse "always smelled of tobacco and disinfectant." We’re pleased to report it smells better today.
Claude has gained a reputation in the movie industry; three motion pictures, The Sundowners (1960), Hud (1963), and Sunshine Christmas (1977), have been filmed there.
Moving on to Amarillo, then Ontario. You’d get all the way to Glenrio and then look forward to crossing into New Mexico.
At last! You’ve made it. Didn’t you always want to visit Tucumcari, New Mexico? After that, look out for Santa Rosa, Romeroville, Santa Fe, Albuquerque . . . keep on going till you hit Lupton. Try to pause for a few minutes and take a side trip to Clovis, New Mexico. Take in the rugged beauty of The "Bluffs of Llano Estacado,” called the Caprock by locals.
Photo, below left, looking up to the top of the caprock. Clovis is on top of the caprock.
Early settlers hauled firewood and cedar post from the caprock for use on the High Plains. Just west of Lupton you’ll cross into Arizona. While in Arizona you’ll travel through St. Michaels, Navajo, Winslow, Flagstaff, Peach Springs, then Kingman. While in Arizona, don’t miss visiting the Navajo Nation. Ages of history here . . . fine art work as well.
Visit a hogan, the Navajo’s idea of comfort in the desert. Take in their art work. Magnificent. Once you hit Kingman you can almost smell the salty breezes of the Pacific Ocean that is wafting its way to your nostrils from California. Once in California you have the thrill of traveling through Needles (which is great fun in the summertime when it gets to 110 degrees. Regularly.)
In the Needles area you’ll find elevations range from a low of 500 ft above sea level to well over 7,000 ft at Kingston Peak. Depending upon the time of year, you can usually view bighorn sheep ascending steep cliffs, or you can always be serenaded at night by the howling coyotes, or enjoy the beauty of the spring wildflower bloom, the spectacular summer thunderstorms and sunsets, the pleasant hiking weather in the fall or the occasional dusting of snow in the winter, you are sure to enjoy your visit. The Mojave Desert is the closest neighbor to Needles.
Daggett, Ludlow, (There used to be t-shirts in the local store stating; "Ludlow, famous for absolutely nothing." That store is now closed, following an earthquake which destroyed much of the business community in 2000).
Named for William Ludlow in 1883, Ludlow was a water stop for the Central Pacific. Water was hauled in from Newberry Springs by tank cars. As the Route 66 alignment followed the rails, Ludlow became a busy rest stop along the highway. It is no longer very busy.
On to Barstow, Victorville, San Bernardino, San Fernando and . . . wait! Do I hear music? Do I hear the sound of surf pounding on the beach? Is that thick stuff we’re driving through smog? We must be in Santa Monica. We’ve made it!