Decades after being officially decommissioned, Route 66 still has a magnetic draw to many from around the world. The name itself almost seems magical. We have gotten to travel along long stretches of the old Mother Road and seen many of its sights, but some of the most memorable experiences are of its wide open spaces with empty highway disappearing into the horizon. Here we enjoy a moment out of the car on one of those lonely parts in Southern California.
What is now lonely bands of little traveled asphalt, abandoned buildings, and sleepy towns was once a thriving highway. Route 66 was a highway that helped spur the growth of the American West and captured the imagination of the world with the freedom that the open road brings. And today it is an opportunity for travelers step back in time and live an era of Americana that is quickly disappearing.
Begun in 1926, Route 66 connected the US Midwest to the West Coast. Beginning in Chicago, IL it stretched 2,448 miles, passed through 9 states and ended in Santa Monica, CA literally at the end of the continent and touching the edge of the Pacific Ocean.
It didn’t take long for it to play a prominent role in both culture and history. Route 66 was integral in John Steinbeck’s 1939 literary classic “The Grapes of Wrath,” as the fictional Joad family made their way from the Depression era Dustbowl of Oklahoma to California. It was a fictional tale, but it reflected the real life journey that so many desperate “Oakies” made heading to California looking for a chance for work and a better life.
By the 1950’s, times were better and Route 66 was no longer a road of escape, but instead a pathway to freedom. Post World War II was a boom in the US, and with the combination of increased incomes and leisure time Americans hit the road like never before in history and Route 66 was there to enjoy. It once again worked its way into popular culture with the hit song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” and the 60’s television show “Route 66.”
While Route 66 was in its heyday and Golden Age in the 50’s, its demise was already being planned. It was at that time that the modern, more efficient, and faster Interstate Highway System was being developed, and it the plans were made into reality, Route 66 began to slowly disappear. Some sections saw the new interstate being built along side the old road, some sections directly on top of it. Once known as the Main Street of America because Route 66 literally ran right through hundreds of small towns across the west, the interstate now bypassed all of these towns. Many of these once thriving towns became shells of their former selves as they became simply stops for gas or a place to grab a fast food meal to be eaten in the car. America had become in to much of a hurry to have time for towns like these anymore.
An era officially came to an end in 1984, as the final portion of Interstate 40 was completed near Williams, AZ and with that the last stretch of Route 66 was taken out of use. Route 66 was officially decommissioned as a highway and no longer existed. But Route 66 does still exist today in the minds and hearts of travelers from around the world who come to catch a glimpse of its former glory.
If you are looking for an unique place to stay while traveling along Route 66, check out our post on the Wigwam Motel.
Amboy, California January 2015