Route 66 is a fascinating enigma. For those fleeing the dust bowl it was a road of desperation. In the era before the interstate large portions of the iconic highway were white-knuckle drives with larger than life reputations for death and destruction, the result of narrow bridges, minuscule shoulders, heavy traffic, and all manner of highway hazard. From Chicago to Santa Monica the roadside gave the illusion PT Barnum had established the world’s biggest sideshow promoted with colorful billboards encouraging you to stop and see a live Indian or albino buffalo.
Today the old double six, segmented and broken, is an American legend that lures travelers from throughout the world who come to drive what remains, to experience life at a slower pace, to rediscover that quintessential American experience that is the road trip. Mini vans may have replaced station wagons and sanitized politically correct roadside attractions where the Green Book for the Negro Motorist is no longer a necessity for many travelers may dot the roadsides but the essence of Route 66 is alive and well.
However, for those who truly seek this essence, those places where the past and present flow together seamlessly Route 66 is merely a portal. With just a short detour north or south of the iconoclastic highway there is coffee shops where the locals gather as they have since 1950 and the gas station attendant will still check your oil.
Route 66 enthusiasts tend to be myopic in their quest for America before the generic age. Sadly, in so doing some of the best attractions, historic, natural, and those designed to part one from their money are missed, and overlooked.
In Arizona, a journey of less than one hundred miles separates Route 66 from the Garden of Eden and a village so remote mule trains still deliver the mail. In Missouri, a similarly short drive can transport you to the family vacation paradise of Branson or a pristine wood unchanged from the time of Daniel Boone where the silence is broken only by a trickling brook, the sounds of a songbird and the wind whispering through the trees.
One of the most beautiful drives in America begins less than an hour from where Route 66 ends in California. In New Mexico, you can visit a wonderful little village that has been perched on a towering monolith of stone for almost a thousand years in the morning and be back on Route 66 in time for lunch.
The homes of Presidents Grant, Lincoln, and Reagan are just north of the highway in Illinois and to drive along the banks of the mighty Mississippi is to experience the world of Mark Twain, French pioneers, American explorers such as Lewis and Clark, and lost Native American civilizations.
It would be a safe assumption that Route 66 has inspired more ink to cover paper with its praises than asphalt to pave it. Yet little about the wonders awaiting discovery with short detours on the roads less traveled is written or published.
It is my hope that you find the drives in this book enhances your adventure on Route 66. Additionally, as you travel I pray that you have the time for a side trip or two, to take a journey on the back roads of Route 66 and rediscover the Main Streets of America.