Before you start anticipating how sheerly epic your two thousand miles will be, it's best you first knew one tiny detail - of Route 66, there are two.
Two roads the same name, but of very different natures. The first road's body is a series of interstate expressways, intended to quickly deliver you from Point A to Point B. Along this zippy track unfortunately, there is comparatively little to see. For it's a young road, commissioned in fact, as recently as '84. It's not the Main Street through the Midwest winding, full of boutiques and bars and motels. It's not the National Old Trails Highway, on the dusty tracks of which America was founded.
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It's not the Historic Route 66, and that's the one you want. Now, a simple itinerary won't do for good ol' HR66. You need a mega itinerary. To give you an idea of what to expect from each stretch of the route, let's break down by state.
The route begins in Illinois! It's-
Wait! Before we speak of the route, there's a world you ought to become familiar with. 'Alignment'. It's the word everyone uses to describe a spot on the Mother Road. So when you say you're looking for an alignment, there's never any confusion about what you're looking for.
Plan out a perfect road trip to Illinois
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The route begins in this state. It's unfortunate that much of the original route's body has been replaced by the newer Route 66, but there are at least six fantastic stretches of the old road that retain their character. Check out the gas stations restored to their original 1950s/60s look! The Red Brick Road in Auburn is perhaps the only stretch of 66 with its original paving. You'll stop at the Ariston Cafe, thought to be the first restaurant on the route; and have beer at Luna Cafe. On the way, you see some weird, gigantic monument, mostly 'muffler men' (you'll see what that means), and the World's Largest Catsup Bottle. These startling sights ought to prep your mind for the unexpected though you'll never be prepped enough! Oh, and in Springfields, check out the house and law office of Abraham Lincoln.
Now, the 300 miles of 66 between Illinois and Kansas host some of the country's most scenic eye candy. But first, which motel do you sleep at? The historic Wagon Wheel? The historic Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven (and seriously, how is that not in a Bollywood movie)? The historic Boots Court or Munger Moss? The correct answer is - all of them. As for the sights? Walk onto the old Chain of Rocks Bridge. Have frozen custard at Ted Drewes. Stop at the 4.6 mile Meramec Caverns cave system. Stretch your legs at the park like area near Hooker Cut near Devil's Elbow (which used to be a seriously dangerous section), but only once you've finished appreciating the bluffs over the Big Piney River which come before. Visit the Jesse James Museum in Stanton. Waynesville, Missouri has some Civil War era architecture. And Carthage is pretty Victorian. Wheeee!
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You wouldn't expect the shortest stretch of the route, only 12 miles, to be so intensely packed with things to do! But kicking things off with the Eagle-Picher smelting plant, and swinging you by an old viaduct, Kansas shows it has punches to throw. Watch out for three kooky looking old building near Main Street at the old Galena Business District. Once, this town has 30,000 people; now, it has barely three thousand. If the clues still aren't piling up high enough for you, check out the 1951 International boom truck next to the old KanOtex service station. Does it seem familiar? It should! It looks exactly like good ol' Mater! Come on, ladies and gentlemen you're officially at the very city the story of which inspired the fictional Route 66 Radiator Springs community in the hit Disney movie 'Cars'.
Of all the states that the old Route 66 used to run through, Oklahoma has the most of the preserved original track. Now, listing every attraction along a 400 mile stretch just isn't reasonable, so let's stick with top picks, eh? They just happen to be lots of museums. Start off with the Vintage Iron Motorcycle Museum, follow up with the Car Museum at Afton Station. The world's largest totem pole can be found in Ed Galloway's Totem Pole Park. Further on, the JM Davis Arms & Historical Museum is the world's largest privately owned museum. Will Rogers is actually buried at the Will Rogers Memorial Museums. The beautiful vaudeville Coleman Theatre is a relic from the roaring 20s. There's been enough written about the Blue Whale, so let's just moving right along. The Spanish colonial Campbell Hotel has 26 differently themed rooms. Eat at the Rock Cafe. Check out the only wooden round barn in the state - Arcadia Round Barn. Roger Miller fans should check out his museum. And we're done. Whee(w)!
If you plan to stay back at Oklahoma, check out the hotels for accomodation.
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New Road crosses Texas through an area known as the Panhandle. Here, Amarillo has one largest livestock markets in the country. The U-Drop Inn service station is another beautiful building you ought to recognise from the movie 'Cars'. The 90 feet tall Giant Cross can see you coming from twenty miles off. There's water tower that looms more than the tower at Pisa does. For some reason, at a ranch in Conway, a bunch of Volkswagen Beetles have buried their heads in sand. You may notice some Cadillacs doing the same in Amarillo. It's an epidemic, for sure. And the The Midpoint Cafe is right in the centre of the Route 66 between Chicago and LA.
While New Mexico doesn't quite offer the long unbroken stretches of old Route 66 driving that the next state does, it is significant for three reasons. First, much of the 'kitsch' of the old highway is still preserved here - vintage neon signs and old trading posts. Two, it goes through some rather well preserved Pueblo Indian reservations - all scenic. And third, it's a testament to the enduring concept of American Dream as seen in the many Mom-n-Pop type establishments that pepper the roadside. Attraction-wise, check the Acoma Pueblo Village, the cliff dwellings at the Bandelier National Monument, the springs at Blue Hole near Santa Rosa, the remnants left behind at the Casamero Anasazi Ruins, and the seventeen miles of petroglyphs along Petroglyph National Monument.
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Kick off one of the longest stretches of the original Mother Road with a visit to the Oatman ghost town, a remnant of the old Wild West. Pop in at Hackberry for some colorful photography. At Valentine you'll find an old boarding school once used to teach Hualapai Indians. Native American culture can be studied at the Rock Art Canyon Ranch's incredible petroglyph collection, where you'll also find one of the state's oldest bridges - the Chevelon Canyon Bridge. And finally, at Holbrook, you'll find the house made entire of petrified wood - the Agate House. Yes, you can admit it to yourself: you're feeling exhausted now, and checking off these attractions is become a bit of a chore!
Woohoo! Time for the last leg of the trip! 315 miles of the original Route still to go though, and not easy driving at that! There's the punishing Mojave desert (you poor biker), which passes immediately through the mountains that MADE it a desert. Thankfully, it's greener and cooler here. Unfortunately much of the Californian Route 66's old attractions have been torn down. But you're also quite likely glad for the fact. You just want this last led of the trip to be done already! And for good reason! The beaches of Santa Monica await you! Still, to get there you'll have to go through USA's hottest city, Needles; the Amboy Volcanic Crater; and the Calico Ghost Town. The really fun bit is the Bottle Tree Ranch (the name is very, very literal). And finally, past Cajon Pass, is LA.
And now that you're all excited for the trip, settle down for some important tips. Whether renting a car or renting a motorcycle, stick to national rental agencies. And if you want cheaper rates, consider driving from west to east. For heaven's sake, please don't inflict your trip with RVs, for half the fun is meeting people, who will almost certainly be found in the vintage motels. Winter is a bad time, and summer is worse, but spring and fall are equally nice. Don't expect your money's worth If your itinerary is only two weeks long; four weeks is best, though three will tide you along. Still, to rush this trip would be a mistake.