Travel Destinations

Monday, February 15, 2016

Happy 90th Anniversary to Route 66!

Route 66 Road Sign Route 66 90th Anniversary Road Trip
California Route 66 between Victorville and Barstow.
I’ve become a little obsessed with how people in the past went on vacation.  Travel is such an important part of our lives; it’s how we get through the workday, knowing our hard work not only keeps food on the table and a roof over our heads but also provides us with the privilege of seeing how other people live on this great earth and touching and feeling and seeing history.  Travel is fairly easy and quick nowadays, but it didn’t use to be.  One particular type of vacation that fascinates me is the all-American road trip.  This is something we still enjoy today, but we can buzz from one destination to the next using our wide, multi-lane interstates.  It wasn’t always so quick, like when families hit the road and traveled along Route 66.  We kicked off 2016 with a short Route 66 road trip through California and Arizona to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Route 66 and get a glimpse of what it was like for families of the past to get their kicks on Route 66.

California Route 66 Barstow to Needles Route 66 90th Anniversary Road Trip
California Route 66 between Barstow and Needles.
Route 66 didn’t necessarily start off as a pleasure route.  The United States government was trying to figure out a better way to create a network of roads across the country and created a plan for a uniform highway system.  Plans for some interstate highways were approved and the numbering system that we still use today, odd numbers for north-south and even numbers for east-west, was adopted.

Hackberry General Store Arizona Route 66 90th Anniversary Road Trip
Hackberry General Store along Arizona Route 66.
Cyrus Avery, an American Association of Highway Officials (AASHO) committee member, wanted a highway that went through his state of Oklahoma, so he planned a highway that would travel from Chicago to Los Angeles.  The plan was approved and U.S. Highway 66 was born on November 11, 1926.

Highway 66 first became a household name when it was a big part of the Trans-American Footrace, also known as the not very glamorous sounding Bunion Derby.  This was a multiday race in 1928 which started in Los Angeles and finished in New York City. 

Dust Bowl Migration Exhibit Kingman Powerhouse Route 66 Museum Arizona Route 66 90th Anniversary Road Trip
Dust Bowl Migration Exhibit at Kingman's Powerhouse Route 66 Museum.
Highway 66 became a popular road in the 1930s, but not just for leisure travel.  During the Great Depression, government dollars were spent on road building, including paving the unpaved portions of Route 66, which helped provide jobs.  The entirety of Route 66 was paved as of July 1937.  Route 66 was then used for the Dust Bowl migration immortalized in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.  Highway 66 became a symbol of hope for people to head west for a better life.

Western HIlls Motel Flagstaff Arizona Route 66 90th Anniversary Road Trip
Hotels with neon signs beckoned travelers to stop, like the Western Hills Motel in Flagstaff.
After World War II, new cars started being manufactured again, people had money, and pleasure travel boomed.  Highway 66 was an extremely popular route for vacationing families to take and the roadside towns, hotels, cafes, and gas stations flourished.  The song (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66, written by Bobby Troup in 1946, was first recorded by Nat King Cole as the King Cole Trio.  The song was a hit, and Highway 66 became known as Route 66 from then on.

Kingman Arizona Route 66 90th Anniversary Road Trip
Arizona Route 66 through Kingman.
Route 66 became hugely popular, which meant it saw a lot of traffic.  As a two-lane highway with no divider, it also became very dangerous and received monikers like Bloody 66, Bloody Highway, and Death Alley.  Portions of the road received nicknames like Dead Man’s Curve and Devil’s Elbow.

The Federal-Aid Highway Act was passed in 1956.  This bill would create a highway system through the United States that would bypass cities and towns and rather go around them.  As freeways were built in the late 1950s and the 1960s, the demise of Route 66 and the towns along it began.  The last town along Route 66 to be bypassed was Williams, Arizona on October 13, 1984.

Hackberry General Store Arizona Route 66 90th Anniversary Road Trip
Hackberry General Store along Arizona Route 66.
Route 66 was almost completely abolished when the AASHTO approved its decertification in 1985.  However, Angel Delgadillo, the owner of a barber shop in Seligman (still there today) fought for Route 66 and created the Historic Route 66 Association in Arizona.  Because of him, Arizona adopted Historic Route 66.  At first, this historic route only included the portion from Seligman to Kingman, but now most of the Mother Road is designated as Historic Route 66.

Seligman Arizona Route 66 90th Anniversary Road Trip
Seligman along Arizona Route 66.
Thanks to Angel Delgadillo, travelers today can get off the highway and still drive along parts of Route 66.  A Route 66 road trip passes through towns with Route 66 history and kitsch and ramshackle ruins left over from what Route 66 used to be.  Travel along Route 66 is a little slower, a little darker (it’s amazing how many more stars you can see when you’re off the highway), and occasionally a little harrier since there are a few spots that are not kept up.  But taking a road trip vacation along Route 66 is unforgettable and feels like traveling back in time.  It provides the opportunity to discover little treasures that would be missed if flying by on the highway.  So wish Route 66 a happy 90th anniversary and get your kicks on Route 66 in 2016!

You might also enjoy: Off the Beaten Path: The Plank Road of Southern California

Route 66 Map Route 66 90th Anniversary Road Trip
Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles.
I learned a lot about the history of Route 66 shared in this article from the book Route 66 Across Arizona by Richard and Sherry Mangum. 

This article contains affiliate links.  If you purchase through them, they cost you nothing extra, but we earn a small commission which helps run this website. 

Thank you to Go Kingman and the Flagstaff CVB for hosting our trip along Route 66 and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.

Travel the World: The history of Route 66, which celebrates its 90th anniversary in 2016.

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Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.