How to drive back in time
Almost 60 years of iconic road trips for Route 66 came to a close in 1985, when the American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials shuttered it with decertification and a vote to remove all signs.
Though not designated Route 66 ’til 1926, the path itself was first forged by a Navy-led camel caravan back in 1857. Wagon trains, cattlemen, and finally automobiles followed, and it was the automobile that led to the great American road trip and the Americana-inspired nostalgia surrounding any such journey.
Stretching through eight states and three time zones, this trip down memory lane can still be traversed, if you’re willing to make the trek sans the original signs. There are plenty of surviving pitstops along the route to make the whole thing worthwhile, or you can simply explore the attractions of your nearest section of the Mother Road.
If you’re starting on the west coast, drive the Arroyo Seco Parkway in Pasadena, then you’ll continue up towards Barstow and The Harvey House Railroad Depot. The railroad was originally called the “greatest civilizing influence in the West” for its transportation of food to the region, and the depot now houses the Route 66 Mother Road Museum — an ideal spot to rev up your nostalgia for the trip ahead (get it?).
As you head deeper into the desert in Arizona, head towards the Petrified Forest National Park, where you’ll find the technicolor badlands of the Painted Desert. If you can’t get enough of the otherworldly magic, stay the night at the Painted Desert Inn. If you’re looking for a different, but equally unique place to rest your head, check out the Wigwam Village Motel #6, where you can stay in a 28-foot high teepee with original, hand-made hickory furniture after roaming the vintage automobiles dotting the property.
Pueblo of Santo Domingo is a traditional dwelling that has resisted the outside influences brought to the area long ago by Spanish colonization, and now has a museum and cultural center for visitors. When you’re ready to check out a more modern city, head to Albuquerque and stop by the Barelas-South Fourth Street Historic District, where you’ll find varied architecture and popular dining options like the Red Ball Café.
On your way through the great expanse of Texas, The Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Café is — you guessed it — begging you to drop in. The pink and green Art Deco structure was once the first commercial business on Route 66 in Shamrock, TX, and now houses a visitor and community center.
The oldest and largest folk art display in Oklahoma, Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park houses massive stone and concrete poles carved and painted with birds and cultural symbols of Native Americans. The largest is a red sandstone behemoth measuring 90 feet and sitting atop a turtle, while other totems include the Arrowhead and Birdbath versions.
Ready for some memorabilia? The Old Riverton Store once sold food staples like fruit, bread, and penny candy to locals and travelers alike, and now continues to serve deli sandwiches, as well as all the Route 66 memorabilia your heart desires.
Drive across the Meramec River U.S. 66 Bridge, which was key to developing the area in the Depression and beyond. Then, catch a show at the Gillioz Theatre. Restored and finally reopened in 2006, the theatre now hosts everything from Star Wars movies to Jenny Lewis concerts and Demetri Martin stand-up.
At the end of the road comes Illinois — but before you celebrate with some deep dish in Chicago, check out one of the historic oil stations in the state, which were once central to the route. The Standard Oil Gas Station in Odell now serves as a welcome center for the city, and Ambler’s Texaco Gas Station serves as a similar entryway into the quaint town of Dwight. Ok, now you’ve earned it — top it all off with a lip-smacking meal at Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant, where staff will give you complimentary donut holes and Milk Duds while you wait to slide into a booth and have a seat at one of the original tables.