Route 66 has seen the best and worst times of American history and has earned its place as a historic destination that is beloved by many travelers.
Although it may not be the most effective road to take anymore, Route 66 has plenty of sites that are unlike anything else in the world.
Why Is Route 66 Famous?
Route 66, formally known as United States Highway 66, originally became famous for being the first all-weather highway that ran from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California.
Despite not being the oldest or longest road in the country, this cross-country highway has become an important part of American history and offers some of the most scenic views in the United States.
It has also become particularly popular among motorcyclists.
Route 66 emerged in 1926, during a time of prosperity for the country.
The highway brought more national cohesion and allowed people from all towns to easily make their way to major cities along the way.
Only a few years after its construction, the country fell into the Great Depression and what had once served as a beacon of opportunity was now becoming many people’s escape route from the city.
As the country rebuilt itself from that terrible period, Route 66 was also rebuilding itself, and businesses began flocking to the tourist destination.
As veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War all came back home, Route 66 served as the physical image of the American spirit.
Route 66 had become the backdrop for all things Americana for nearly 50 years.
As roads were being innovated and rearranged to fit the rapidly growing number of American drivers on the road, Route 66 was becoming a less efficient way to travel and the businesses that were once bustling quickly began to die off due to the lack of visitors and revenue.
By 1985, Route 66 had been decommissioned.
Only five years later, the United States Congress decided that Route 66 was an important piece of American history, and the buildings remaining needed to be preserved as a National Park.
Where Can You Find The Route 66 Sign?
You can find one of the most famous Route 66 signs at the Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum in Pontiac, Illinois.
The sign greets visitors at the entrance of the museum, and guests are more than welcome to take photos with it.
Throughout the museum, you can see thousands of pieces of Route 66 and Americana memorabilia ranging from the 1920s to the 1950s.
Tours of the museum explain why Route 66 is often referred to as the Mother Road and discuss the rebuilding process of the road.
Another fan favorite museum that can be found along Route 66 is the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum.
The museum is based on a classic 1950s diner and focuses on how the Dust Bowl affected travelers and locals alike.
The Oklahoma Route 66 allows children under six, veterans and active military members, and OHS members to enter the museum for free while also offering extremely affordable ticket prices ranging from $4 to $7.
Between the dazzling sites and the affordable pricing, it is the perfect museum for family road trips.
Those who are looking to get a deeper understanding of American automobile history will want to visit the Standard Oil Gas Station in Odell, Illinois.
This historic site served as one of the first of John D. Rockefeller’s gas stations along Route 66.
The Standard Oil Gas Station was built in 1932 after contractor Patrick O’Donnell purchased a small plot of land along the up-and-coming highway.
The design of the building was meant to mimic a 1916 “house with canopy” type of gas station, which was meant to give those who looked at it a sense of familiarity.
The building served as a gas station until the 1960s and then became an auto shop until the 1970s.
Starting Your Journey At Lou Mitchell’s Diner
Most travelers who are looking to travel the entire length of Route 66 across the country will normally start in Chicago, offering them a taste of midwestern, urban living.
If you’re going to be on the road for a long time, you will want to start your day off right by having breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s Diner.
Lou Mitchel’s Diner is located on Jackson Boulevard, which has become a bustling place for those flocking into the city.
The diner was opened in 1923, making it only a couple of years older than the Mother Road itself.
The menu has barely changed over the years, with Lou Mitchell’s offering omelets the size of the skillets they’re served in, stacks of fluffy pancakes, classic diner burgers, homemade orange marmalade, crispy Belgian waffles, and freshly squeezed juices.
The key to getting a seat at Lou’s Mitchell’s Diner is to remember that this classic American diner only serves breakfast and lunch.
The diner closes at 2:00 pm every day and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
However, those who want to host events at the diner can reserve the place after normal operating hours.
If you visit from March 1st to December 1st, you will even have the option to enjoy your meal in their outdoor seating section.
Since Lou Mitchell’s is located only one street east of Michigan Avenue, you will be able to enjoy one of the most iconic and historic parts of downtown Chicago.
Lou Mitchell’s Diner also has the tradition of handing their women and children guests Milk Duds because the owners who are a Greek family believe that guests should be handed something sweet when welcomed into the family’s home.
When Milk Duds began being produced in Chicago, the owner of the diner had become friends with the executive of the candy company.
Seeing The Natural Beauty Of The Mojave National Park
Those who are looking to travel along Route 66 will need to get out and stretch their legs.
One of the most beautiful places to get out and walk around is the Mojave National Preserve, where you can witness some of the most beautiful desert scenery that the United States has to offer.
The Mojave Desert has an average temperature of 90° Fahrenheit, but mountainous parts of the park are known to get seven inches of snow each year.
The Park also includes Clark Mountain, which reaches 7,929 feet above sea level.
The Mojave National Preserve has two visitor centers, camping, and hiking.
Their visitor centers offer educational experiences that focus on the historical importance of the national park and how it has become a part of multiple cultures.
The park is also home to two endangered species: the desert tortoise and the Mohave tui chub.
Desert tortoises have been losing their homes and food source to the increasing number of desert communities being built.
The Mohave tui chub population has been ravaged by non-native predators and competing fish that were pushed to the Mojave River by the building of dams.
Thanks to the Mojave National Preserve, researchers have managed to maintain a small population of the native fish at Lake Tuendae and off-reserve locations such as the Camp Cady Wildlife Area and the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station.
The Mojave National Park team has also opened up many opportunities for landscape artists.
Through their Artist-in-Residence program, select individuals will be chosen to enjoy the scenes of the Mojave Desert and use the opportunity as inspiration for Mojave-themed art.
The program is supported by the Mojave National Preservation Artist Foundation, which is a non-profit organization.
Artists stay at the Kousch Homestead Residence, which is run by the foundation.
Meeting The Blue Whale
While traveling along the section of Route 66 near Catoosa, Oklahoma, you may notice something large and bright blue hiding behind the trees.
This is one of Route 66’s most famous residents, the Blue Whale of Catoosa.
The Blue Whale was created by Hugh Davis, who was a curator at the Tulsa Zoo.
Well before taking his position as a curator, Davis had met the love of his life at a Tulsa dance hall while Davis was touring the country.
Hugh Davis married Zelta Whitlock, who was an avid reader and lover of whales.
During their entire relationship, Zelta Davis had collected small whale figurines, despite only ever having seen them in books.
On the couple’s Catoosa property, there was a large pond where their two children grew up fishing, canoeing, and even ice skating.
After going on a Route 66 road trip, Hugh Davis was inspired by the attractions to create his own massive piece of outdoor art for his and his wife’s 34th wedding anniversary.
From 1970 to 1972, Hugh Davis and his neighbor Harold Thomas designed and created a whale-shaped building that would fit in the lake.
Thomas, who was a welder, made an iron frame for the building that was 20-feet tall and 80-feet long.
Davis put nearly 3,000 hours into building the Blue Whale, despite being in his 60s.
By the summer of 1972, the Whale had already seen many visitors despite not even having been painted yet.
In 1988, the Blue Whale had been closed due to the increase of popularity in home pools and the death of Hugh Davis.
Blaine Davis, the couple’s son, came back to tend the whale in 1995 after discovering that locals had raised money to keep their childhood playground from being destroyed or forgotten.
Entering The Calico Ghost Town
The Calico Ghost Town is an old mining town that was abandoned during the mid-1890s.
It has been turned into a regional park and major historical site along Route 66.
The town was abandoned after silver lost its high value.
The ghost town was purchased by Walter Knott during the 1950s and became a massive restoration project.
There are only five original buildings that have not been renovated and are maintained as they were found to this day.
The Calico Ghost Town offers three different ghost tours, which feature real stories that have occurred from when the town was originally popular to the modern day.
You can hear the best ghost stories around the town on the Main Street Tour, listen to the old miner tales during the Maggie Mine tour, or receive a darker kind of education at the School House ghost tour.
Calico Ghost Town is an excellent place to visit along Route 66 if you’ve decided to bring your pets because they can enjoy parts of the town and tours with you.
They are able to attend the ghost tours or enjoy a ride on the Calico Odessa Railroad without any additional cost.
The Calico Mining Company and the Calico Gold Panning Adventure attraction allow guests to learn what it was like to live as a gold miner back in the 1800s.
This area even has its own gift shop where you can purchase panning tools to take home with you.
Guests of the Calico Ghost Town are also able to have a laugh at the Mystery Shack.
Here you’ll find some of the strangest things that Calico has to offer, and you’ll be able to discover what led Harry Dover to build the wacky shack.
Calico offers the perfect pit stop to learn and stretch your legs.
Making A Stop At The Route 66 State Park
To help preserve some of the natural beauty surrounding Route 66, Missouri formed the Route 66 State Park.
The park has plenty of trails for biking, hiking, and even horse riding for locals and tourists alike to enjoy.
The Route 66 State Park visitor center was once operated as the Bridgehead Inn, which started from a roadhouse that was built in 1935.
The center has plenty of Route 66 memorabilia to enjoy and a historical center that focuses on Route 66’s effect on Missouri citizens.
The visitor center is only open from March to October but also opens up during the second week of December for holiday gift shopping.
From November to February, the center is closed due to the lack of visitors during those months.
From Route 66 State Park, you are able to reach portions of Castlewood State Park.
Although Route 66 may be nearby, the outside world becomes completely unnoticeable thanks to the amount of untouched land meant to preserve the environment of the species that call the area home.
One of the most recent goals for Route 66 State Park has been the rehabilitation of the Park Bridge.
Since the bridge has seen generations of visitors, it has begun to rust and needs many different parts to be replaced before the rust affects the structural integrity.
Although the restoration project is looking like it is going to cost at least $8.9 million to complete, the Park sees it as a necessary step in preserving this historical bridge and keeping it safe for guests to use without fear of rust.
The Park also wants to pave the top of the bridge and add viewing rails to allow those on foot to also cross the bridge.
They plan on adding Route 66 artifacts along the bridge, too.
Seeing A Movie At The 66 Drive-In Theater
Few activities embody classic Americana quite like seeing a movie at your local drive-in movie theater.
One of the most famous American drive-in theaters is the 66 Drive-In Theater which has been considered a historic place since 2003.
The 66 Drive-In Theater played a massive role in why Route 66 became so popular in the late 40s and early 50s.
From 1941 to 1966, the number of drive-in movie theaters went from 52 to 4,500 and the 66 Drive-In Theater was the place to go near Carthage, Missouri.
This theater opened on September 22nd of 1949 on nine acres of land and still features the same functional structures to this day.
Seeing a movie at the 66 Drive-In Theater is the most historically authentic way to see a drive-in movie.
While other modern drive-in theaters and recently rehabilitated drive-in theaters are coming back into operation, the 66 Drive-In has been consistently showing movies since its initial opening.
The theater was temporarily closed to economic hardships in 1985 but was quickly renovated and eventually reopened by April 18th of 1998.
The sign for the theater can be spotted on the back of one of their screens and has never changed in design.
The theater only does double features, where guests only have to pay the one price for two related films.
The movie showing season for the drive-in theater starts in April and ends in November.
Since it is completely outdoors, the shows don’t start until dusk.
Pets are allowed to join you for shows at the 66 Drive-In Theater, but you are not allowed to bring food or drinks from outside.
The theater has been serving many of the same tasty treats for decades, such as hot dogs, barbeque sandwiches, popcorn, nachos, non-alcoholic beverages, and candy.
Art Pieces Like The Cadillac Ranch
One of the most famous art installations that you may spot while traveling along Route 66 is the Cadillac Ranch.
This unique tourist experience has been the subject of many photos, and articles, and has been seen on film as well.
Cadillac Ranch is an art installation that was created by The Ant Farm, a group of San Francisco hippie artists who were silently funded by Stanley Marsh 3.
Marsh wanted an outdoor art piece that would confuse the locals, accidentally funding something that would go on to confuse tourists and locals alike.
Ten different Cadillacs were half-buried in the ground, but tourists began taking chunks of the art installation home as souvenirs and covering them in graffiti.
Although Marsh and The Ant Farm didn’t appreciate the graffiti at first, they have come to enjoy the unique look that it gives the skeletons of the vehicles.
Rather than just being an art piece selectively created by the art group, it has become a national group art project that has seen decades of artists come and go.
This art installation attracts guests from all over the world who are looking to get a taste of American living on Route 66.
Artists from all over the world come to add their own layer of paint to the Cadillacs.
Cadillac Ranch has been around so long that the cars have spent more time buried in the dirt than they ever had the chance to spend on the road.
Although this art installation was meant to confuse the unknowing, it has instead created an inspiring sense of wonder that attracts millions of tourists.
Route 66 Still Makes For A Great Road Trip
There are hundreds of unique attractions that you can find along Route 66, with many of them being locally or family-owned.
To this day, people can live the classic American dream while traveling down the awe-inspiring views along one of the United State’s most scenic highways.