One of the most iconic road trips in America is to follow the course of Route 66, which was once an important road connecting Chicago with Los Angeles on the West Coast. While the route is no longer an official part of the American road network, the spirit of Route 66 lives on, and it is a road trip that is attempted by thousands of people each year. Its popularity is indicated by the fact that there are still signs along many of the roads tracing the course of the route to tell people that they are on the roads that were once a part of the historic Route 66.
The History Of Route 66
First opened in 1926, Route 66 was one of the most important corridors leading from east to west across the United States, and the road first came to prominence in 'The Grapes of Wrath' by John Steinbeck, which traced the journey of farmers leaving the midwest to look for their fortune in California. The road became a part of pop culture, and has appeared in several songs, books and television shows, and was also featured in the Pixar movie 'Cars.' The route was officially decommissioned in 1985 after larger multi-lane highways were built to connect the cities on the route, but over eighty per cent of the route is still present as a part of the local road networks.
Located at the start of the route for those going from east to west, the district of Joliet in Chicago was home to one of the most distinctive appearances of Route 66 in popular culture, when it was immortalized by the film 'The Blues Brothers,' with the main character called Joliet Jake, and his brother Elwood named after a town a little further down the road. Today it is home to some wonderfully preserved historic buildings dating from the heyday of Route 66, and one of the iconic stopping points for anyone completing the route is the original 'Steak & Shake,' a burger joint that is certainly not for the health conscious!
The Route 66 Museum, Clinton, Oklahoma
There are several museums that can be found along the roadside of this historic route, but one of the most interesting and well established museums is that to be found in Clinton. Tracing the history of Route 66, and particularly looking at the dirt roads that made up much of the route during the early years, this is an interesting look at how America grew and developed along with its transport infrastructure. It also features many other aspects of the heritage of the 1950s and 1960s, and offers a wonderful atmosphere, and a welcome break from life on the road.
The Grand Canyon
Although it is not strictly on the old Route 66, it is just an hour north of the route and is probably one of the most spectacular sights that can be included on the trip. For those traveling from east to west, arriving at the Grand Canyon is a sign that they are getting closer to the west coast, and it has some wonderful rock formations which make for an amazing panorama, particularly on a clear day. The canyon is usually accessed by turning north at the town of Williams, which was also the last place along the old route to be bypassed by an interstate highway.
This site is believed to be around 50,000 years old, and is where the Canyon Diablo Meteorite came to earth in an area of Arizona which would most likely have been open grassland during that era. Visitors stopping off from Route 66 will find an interesting little museum looking at the history of the site and how Daniel Barringer finally convinced people that it was indeed a meteorite crater. It is certainly one of the best preserved meteorite craters in the world, and is well worth the fifteen minute detour to visit the site.