Long considered the Main Street of America and stretching over 2,000 miles across 8 states, Route 66 has largely been replaced by the interstate system, but she still plays a pivotal role in American travel. Thanks to many dedicated preservationists, volunteers, donors, governments, and the continued use of the nostalgic route by freedom-loving travelers from all over the world, Route 66 is still giving us kicks nearly 90 years after her inception!
For many travelers like ourselves with a passion for history and culture, Route 66 is an essential drive for the bucket list. In our (admittedly now biased) opinion, it’s still the best way to drive across much of the country – as long as you subscribe to the mindset that faster is not always better!
Like a fine wine or whiskey, the Mother Road is meant to be savored. Take this route for the journey, not the destination, and allow as much time as you can spare.
If you have the time and inclination, the nostalgia and slice of freedom is unbeatable. Even for “whippersnappers” like us who weren’t alive during the highway’s heyday, it became apparent within just the first few hours of our drive that this is a quintessential road trip and history lesson for everyone – regardless of age, nationality, or mode of transportation.
The experience stretches beyond the historic buildings, classic neon signs, stretches of original concrete road, and delicious “mom and pop” eateries. The people you encounter and get to know who live, work and travel on Route 66 are the real heart and soul of this trip.
For instance, there’s Gary Turner, the vintage Sinclair gas station restorer and owner, who could tell stories about the Mother Road all day if you had the time. We mentioned we needed to leave and get some lunch, so he hand-drew us a map to all the best restaurants on the entire rest of the route. This kind of amazing hospitality is around every turn of the road.
We met fellow travelers from around the world who quickly became familiar faces as we all stopped at the landmarks and caught up to one another time and time again. Next to the World’s Largest Rocking Chair, we swapped stories with a Scottish couple who had rented motorcycles and were driving the route for two weeks on their holiday. Be sure to stop by the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Oklahoma to read and sign their guestbook filled with other travelers’ recent experiences on the Mother Road. Just that day when we stopped in, we were immediately preceded by visitors from Sweden, Germany, the UK, and Australia!
That’s probably enough of the warm and fuzzies to convince you – want some practical advice if you make the drive yourself? We highly recommend a detailed guidebook for your trip, as was mentioned to us by a dear friend who had done the trip a couple times before. We took her advice and picked up the EZ66 Guide for Travelers by Jerry McClanahan. It’s available in many of the visitor centers, tourist gift shops, and on Amazon. Conveniently spiral-bound and with turn-by-turn directions, maps, and points of interest, it’s been indispensable! We even stopped at the author’s art gallery and home in Chandler, Oklahoma to meet him, take some photos, and have him autograph our book. Oh yeah, and thank him profusely for writing such a great guide!
There are not always signs signs helping you follow historic Route 66, and it really depends on which state you’re in how the road is marked (if at all!), so even with the guidebook we still had to turn around a few times. This is a good thing to note for people in larger RV’s than us – you’ll have to be extra careful not to take wrong turns if you can’t turn around easily – but don’t let it dissuade you from making the trip!
Navigating is a full-time job at many points during this trip, so it helps if you have a navigator, and if that navigator can multitask between paper and digital maps, and be taking photos at the same time. I had the EZ66 book, a road atlas, countless brochures, a camera, GPS, and my phone in my lap most of the drive.
We also found that RV parking is not always easy to come by in these little towns and it will be a good test of your maneuverability skills! Google satellite views of an area are great for figuring out ahead of time where you can park, especially in the smaller towns. We quickly learned that we take up just over two regular parking spaces if we parallel park on a city street. Thank goodness for small towns with no parking meters, or we’d probably be broke after all these parking jobs!
Unlike other road trips that can get monotonous, every day on Route 66 feels like more fun than the previous one, filled with completely unique landscapes, towns, roadside attractions, people, and food. You would think a couple weeks (in our case) of driving would get old, but on a road peppered with such rich history and geographical uniqueness, we’ve found quite the opposite to be true. I suspect we’ll be very disappointed to reach the end of this journey! We’re doing our best to savor every moment.
Recaps of our journey down Route 66 with more descriptions and photos of our stops along the way:
Oklahoma City, OK to Tucumcari, NM
Tucumcari, NM to Albuquerque, NM