With the exception of the Alcan Highway, there are few paved roads as exciting as legendary Route 66. However, as exciting as it is, with the addition of a detour or so a journey along the iconic old road can be greatly enhanced, and a near endless array of opportunities present themselves for future excursions.
These detours were the primary focus of a book I wrote, Route 66 Backroads. The primary shortcoming of this book was the fact that time and budget constraints often force the planning of a myopic journey along this highway and several of the detours outlined added one hundred miles or more to each deviation from Route 66.
With that thought in mind I have been giving thought to another book, one that is both a guide to Route 66, to the attractions found with the slightest of detours, twenty-five miles or less, and to seasonal wonders found with these detours as well as great places for stretching the legs after a long day on the road. The one exception would be Catalina Island, a never never land accessed via a drive from Santa Monica to Long Beach followed by a pleasant ferry ride across the Gulf of Santa Catalina.
In giving thought to this project the first detour to come to mind was the home of Abraham Lincoln, the recreated Mr. Lincoln’s neighborhood, and a museum dedicated the 16th president and his world located just blocks from Route 66 in Springfield, Illinois. With a twenty mile drive on state road 97, you can round out the Abraham Lincoln experience with a visit to Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site, an historic village transformed into a time capsule from Lincoln’s early adult years.
After exploring St. Louis, a brief detour from Route 66 in Hazelwood and Bridgeton that would be worthwhile is a visit to St. Charles just across the Missouri River a drive of less than twenty miles. Specifically, I would suggest the unique historic district with vestiges representing two centuries of history.
Missouri, as with Illinois, presents the opportunity for a wide array of diverse detours. A few that come to mind would be the Cave Restaurant in Richland just north of Laquey, Onodaga Cave State Park near Leesburg, and Harry Truman’s birthplace about twenty-five miles north of Carthage.
Kansas would be a challenge. Not because there aren’t things to see with a short detour but because of my unfamiliarity with the immediate area off of Route 66.
Detours in Oklahoma could be a book in itself. Guthrie, just north of Oklahoma City, with one of the largest, continuous historic districts on the National Register, would have to be included. Likewise with the Black Kettle National Grasslands, Red Rock Canyon State Park, and Lake O’ Cherokees.
In Texas the list would have to begin with Palo Duro Canyon State Park even though it would push our detour mileage limit by just a bit. This wonderland of rocky spires, hiking trails, and awe inspiring vistas could easily be a vacation destination in itself.
My primary issue with New Mexico would be in showing restraint as most every road connected to Route 66, paved or unpaved, leads to a marvelous destination in less than twenty-five miles. The fact that the pre 1937 alignment loops through some of the most historic and scenic landscapes in the state, merely magnifies this dilemma.
There is Las Vegas with its magnificant Plaza Hotel, Madrid, Cerillos, the sky city of Acoma, and Pecos National Historic Park to name but a few. With the slightest of fudging in the mileage allowed for the detour we could add El Morro National Monument, Window Rock (actually in Arizona), and the Zuni Pueblo.
|Hualapai Mountain Park near Kingman.|
Arizona, like New Mexico, has near endless possibilities for little detours with very big rewards. There is the drive through the Petrified National Park and near Flagstaff, a great opportunity for a small hike through stunning landscapes at Walnut Canyon National Monument. Of course there is always Meteor Crater, the Johnson Canyon Railroad tunnel, White Horse Lake south of Williams, and the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge on the Colorado River.
I would be quite remiss if Haualapai Mountain Lodge and Hualapai Mountain Park were not included. Located less than twenty miles south of Kingman this pine forested island in a sea of desert has it all, especially for the summer traveler looking for a break from the heat. Fine dining, a small motel, rustic cabins, and miles of hiking trails are just a few of the areas many charms.
The desert from Needles to Barstow in California presents a wide array of opportunities but with the exception of Mitchell Caverns, none would be suitable for the months of summer when most folks take to Route 66. For those who prefer the months of fall or winter, I would have to include the beautiful hike to Amboy Crater.
Another great summer detour is accessed from Cajon Junction. The charming village of Wrightwood nestled among the towering pines is a welcome respite, especially after a desert crossing.
The metropolis of Los Angeles, and its surrounding communities, offers more than enough detours for at least a vacation or two. Farmers Market is just south of Route 66 on Fairfax Avenue and just a few blocks to the south of this is the amazing Peterson Automotive Museum.
Hmm. I may have talked myself into another project.
Do you have a favorite detour along Route 66?