Gas prices are down — a little, anyway. But airfares are up. So perhaps an old fashioned road trip is in order this summer. And as road trips go, they don’t get any more iconic than Route 66, the broken highway that first connected motorists between Chicago and Los Angeles. It also links perhaps the most eclectic assortment of roadside attractions anywhere, ranging from inspiring to way out there.
The Mother Road
Route 66, also known as “The Mother Road”, “The Main Street of America” and “The Will Rogers Highway”, was commissioned in 1926, connecting existing roads as much as possible, and officially established in 1928. It is 2,448 miles long, crosses eight states and three timezones. It was not completely paved until 1937.
The 1950s saw the rise of Interstate highways. The route was fractured and, in places, has deteriorated. It was officially decommissioned in 1985, but long before that, much of it had been replaced by Interstates 55, 44, 40, 15 and 10.
Much of the old road is still drivable, however, and along the way, there is plenty to see. Some purists say traveling the Route from California to Illinois is bad form. However, whichever end is closer to where you live is probably a more salient concern when deciding on a starting point. For the sake of convention, however, this survey will be organized from east to west.
Bizarre and moving at the same time, the Trail of Tears Monument in Jerome is a collection of eclectic rock structures and metaphorical statues, created by artist Larry Baggett, who died in 2003. The monument is intended as a remembrance of all the Cherokee Indians who died during forced relocation in the nineteenth century. Baggett’s own enigmatic self- portrait statue greets visitors to his life’s work.
A section of the “old road” in the state is only nine feet wide, popularly called the “Sidewalk Highway” or the “Ribbon Road.” Just south of Miami, it is one of the oldest surviving sections of the original route, when motor traffic was sparse and, on the rare occasions when they would meet each other, polite drivers would pull over to let the guy going the other direction pass.
The Blue Whale is a giant cement water slide and diving platform, fashioned in the form of a grinning blue whale, in Catoosa. Swimming is no longer permitted at the attraction, but the iconic sea mammal still lures tourists and is kept up by local civic organizations.
Fronted by a giant soda bottle constructed artfully of spiraling tubing, Pops Restaurant, in Arcadia, northeast of Oklahoma City, is the perfect place to cut the dust from the trail. The burgers-and-fries food menu may be fairly ordinary, but the soda selection is the real attraction. Pops has more than 600 sodas to choose from, imported from all over the world.