I never took a cross-country trip on Route 66, but it played a big part in my family’s history. It was the road my grandmother and father took when they migrated from Oklahoma to Southern California when he was a boy. In fact, my grandmother drove that road a couple of times in the 1930s, ferrying her mother, brothers and sisters to California.
Nothing says more about my grandmother’s independence and determination than her repeated trips across a desolate landscape to rescue her family from poverty. Today, Route 66 evokes images of funky diners, kitschy motels and classic cars, but the predominant images in the heads of drivers navigating that not-entirely-paved road in the 1930s must have been of overheated engines and flat tires.
Travel on Route 66 was still an adventure in the 1960s when my wife, Barbara, drove it at the age of 19 on her way from San Diego to Kansas to take her first job as a newspaper reporter. She remembers it as a lonely highway. But at times it could also be a traffic nightmare through cities, with cars bumper to bumper before the interstate highway system was built and siphoned away traffic.
Completion of Interstate 40’s final link in Arizona in 1984 ended Route 66’s role as a cross-county artery. But instead of fading away, the Mother Road has become an icon for a romanticized time when the pace of life was slower, a piece of pie was a dime, and you could pull off the road into a motor court with rooms shaped like wigwams.
A new book and a new DVD beautifully capture the spirit of Route 66. RV Adventure Route 66: Exploring the Mother Road is the newest creation in John Holod’s RV Adventure video series and shows you what you will see if you travel Route 66 today. The Route 66 Encyclopedia is Jim Hinckley’s compilation of photos and information on all the people, places and things associated with Route 66.
Hinckley, who has written extensively about Route 66 and runs a website devoted to the topic, describes it as the nation’s longest tourist attraction, and a “living, breathing time capsule.” Travel the road today and you can find the same sort of diners and motels where travelers ate and stayed in the 1950s and ‘60s. And you can also be amused and entertained by all sorts of touristy curiosities—museums devoted to barbed wire and rattlesnakes, wacky signs, outsized statues, and a town where burros run free.
“Route 66 was not the most scenic highway and not the most historic, but it had the best press and publicity,” said Hinckley. Songs were written about it, a television series was built around it, and it infused pop culture. In fact, Route 66 is so well known today that it draws tourists from throughout the world.
Route 66 stretched more than 2,200 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica, and 85 percent of it is still drivable, according to Hinckley. Some people travel the road in tour buses; others drive it in cars, RVs, motorcycles, even bicycles. Hinckley, who lives in the Route 66 town of Kingman, Arizona, said one person came by on roller blades and another man tried to walk the whole route on stilts, but collapsed during the journey.
There was a time, Hinckley said, when he thought that the fascination with Route 66 was a fad that would fade away. But it has endured, even intensified with increased interest from abroad. Hinckley said there are Route 66 associations in 23 countries.
For many American and foreigners alike, Route 66 captures the spirit of America at a special time. It is, says Hinckley, a ’57 Chevy, apple pie and rock and roll.
John Holod, who traveled Route 66 in a 24-foot Winnebago View to film his DVD, said he was surprised by the number of European tourists and even more surprised to learn that many said their interest had been piqued by Cars, the 2006 animated movie set on Route 66.
Holod, who traveled the entire route in a motorhome twice, said Arizona has the most scenic section, but towns in Illinois have done the best job of promoting and preserving the Route 66 experience.
There was so much of interest to film that the project turned out to be the most difficult production in his 22-year career as a filmmaker, Holod said. He had enough material for two DVDs, but distilled it into a 90-minute production that includes Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois; the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City; the Albuquerque Balloon Festival; old gas stations; retro diners; the birthplaces of Dairy Queen, McDonald’s and the corn dog, and much, much more.
If you hold any nostalgia for Route 66 or intend to travel all or part of that road, you will want to see Holod’s DVD. As with his travelogues of Alaska, Canada, Baja California, the Gulf Coast and elsewhere in North America, Holod has a knack for focusing on what is most likely to appeal to RVers. You can order his Route 66 DVD for $20, plus shipping and handling at rvadventurevideos.com.
If you are looking for a good guidebook with maps and detailed information on Route 66 and its various alignments over the years, Holod recommends the EZ 66 Guide for Travelers by Jerry McClanahan.
And if you want to know everything about Route 66, I recommend The Route 66 Encyclopedia, which you will find discussed further in our book reviews on Page 30.
Write to Mike Ward, editor at RV Life magazine, 18717 76th Avenue West, Suite B, Lynnwood, WA 98037 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Find First Glance online at rvlife.com.