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Planning a USA Transcontinental Road Trip via Route 66

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Route 66 sign - introducing

This is an ongoing case study of planning an extensive transcendental trip across the United States with a focus on Route 66. Your suggestions are very welcome in the comments.

During April 2018 Bonster and Chopster in the United Kingdom signed on to Twitter in part to receive tips for planning a three-month transcontinental USA trip that focuses on Route 66.

They are extraordinarily friendly and nice couple. A flood of suggestions has flowed in. With so much to suggest, I asked permission to post tips online.

Bonster and Chopster itinerary map

Monster Voyage USA itinerary map from New York City to Los Angeles

Image above: Monster Voyage itinerary as of 16 February 2019.

For their current itinerary, cllick Monster Voyage and then zoom in to see detail. The blue dots not linked represent possibilities if time extended.

What would YOU suggest after reading the section below?

Meet Bonster and Chopster

Bonster and Chopster will arrive in New York City on 31 July 2019 and leave Los Angeles on 10 November. They are considering an additional four days in Orlando.

Immensely social, they have arranged meet ups with Twitter friends that may alter the usual itinerary considerations at times. 

They plan to attend the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque in early October.

Their longest planned stops are currently

  1. New York City 5 days,
  2. Chicago 3 nights
  3. Great Smoky Mountains 7 days
    I love that they will stay in a cabin in this sublimely lovely area, the most biodiverse in the U.S.
  4. Albuquerque (Balloon Fiesta) 4 days
  5. Flagstaff 5 days
  6. Las Vegas 5 days, and
  7. Santa Monica (Los Angeles) 6 days.

Bonster came to the United States twice over 10 years ago visiting Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Miami. Chopster has been solely to New York City.

Bonster and Chopster follow a no carbs diet. Wish them luck with that! In the U.S., the temptations will be endless.

Always wanting to be helpful, I declare that New Mexican blue corn tortilas, southern pecan pie, blackberry anything in the Great Smoky Mountains region, the batter on pan-fried chicken and chicken fried chicken (Oklahoma and Texas), sweet potatoes, and yams are not carbohydrates for the duration of their trip. Surprisingly, the latter two already rank low on the glycemic index, but not after American chefs get their hands on them.

Some potential problems

  1. Weather
  2. Not enough in-depth experience in Southwest
  3. Efficiency of routing (backtracking, etc.)
  4. Car rental prices

This post is a work in progress. I will cover the rental car situation and other topics later on.

Weather

Planning to arrive in Santa Monica around the 5 November puts Bonster and Chopster in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah during October.

That means snow could come to portions of their route in these states and snow will cover the vibrant landscapes that they so want to experience.

I do not want to exaggerate the concern. For example, snow may not arrive in Flagstaff until November. Nevertheless, it is a concern.

Some stats >

  1. Northern Arizona record low temperature: -40.
  2. Flagstaff record low: -30f / –34.4c
  3. Flagstaff annual snowfall average: 100.3 inches / 254.76cm

Dealing with weather

Sunrise in Grand Canyon at South Rim - a storm has passed leaving pristine Skies and a rainbow.

Plan A

This speeds Bonster and Chops along a bit, but does not eliminate completely the threat of snow.

I propose that Bonster and Chopster schedule a variety of New Mexican experiences before they arrive in Albuquerque for the beginning of the Balloon Fiesta. They already plan not to stay for the entire event.

They could accomplish that for example by hauling—using the British term—arse on the I-40 in western Oklahoma, Texas, and eastern New Mexico, with extra-long hours of driving. They could also cull less worthwhile experiences prior to New Mexico.

Plan B

If conditions become too difficult to enjoy, evacuate to lower elevations along the I-15 or I-17. For the I-15 connect at Las Vegas to central and southern Arizona via Needles and Parker. Booster and Chops will not be bored in central and southern Arizona.

The Grand Canyon is an exception. Snow actually gives the canyon even more appeal. Its sides tend to be too steep to hold snow, while the snow that covers the duller flatter areas highlights its stunning sides.

Western routes

In the tips below, I have eliminated one national park but added four others plus a national monument. I have eliminated two iconic Route 66 cities but added another smaller but nevertheless iconic Mother Road community. I have substituted two-portions of Route 66 for another one.

I disliked most the backtracking they planned to do from Flagstaff, first to Monument Valley and then to Zion National Park. Why not use that wasted time to connect from Monument Valley to Zion and experience some of the best scenery in America?

Bonster and Chopster need to research my choices and decide how much time to devote to each and which do not appeal to them. Most of the places mentioned have already been chosen by them.

Tentative western itinerary

On the way from St. Louis to Tucumcari New Mexico I suggest no changes.

I cannot tell from their map if they are driving the portion of Route 66 that passed through Kansas. That area has not been subject to the pressure of development that wiped out so many Mother Road icons.

Bonster and Chopster may be disappointed by the I-44 route through the Ozarks in Missouri. The State allowed it to become lined with a seemingly endless wall of billboards creating a linear eyesore. A shame.

Amarillo, Texas

Welcome to Texas!

Above, the Big Texan Steak Ranch may be the most well-known restaurant in Texas because of its eat a 72oz (2.4 kg) steak and get it free promotion that has continued since 1962. The steak comes with a salad, a bread roll with butter, a baked potato, and a shrimp cocktail, which must also be consumed within one hour.

Failure costs you $72.00.

The Big Texan has been a Route 66 icon since 1960.

Have received word that Chopster is up for the challenge. That cannot possibly be healthy. Go big or go home, though, I bet that is his motto! 

Tucumcari, New Mexico

Tucumcari takes pride in its Route 66 heritage. I have never been through at night when its shows off its historic neon signs.

Las Vegas, New Mexico

A Las Vegas once more wicked than Dodge City

Chama, New Mexico

(Optional – two nights)

A day trip to Antonito, Colorado, on the Cumbres & Toltec steam railway here offers a truly western experience.

If they have time, I recommend day-long steam railroad experience in Durango more. For one thing, there will be more to do in the evening. Both offer great scenery, but the other's is more spectacular.

Taos

Nearby Pueblo de Taos is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Taos attracts many artists and its residents radiate a very gentle vibe.

Take the “High Road to Taos”

(From Taos to Santa Fe)

This is a must do! Allow ample time.

Check locally if the Rancho del Chimayo restaurant in Chimayo remains outstanding.

High Road I

High Road II

Santa Fe

From Santa Fe, drive south toward Albuquerque on State Highway 14. When reach the I-40 continue under it and then right on State Highway 333. This was Route 66. As you reach Albuquerque 333 turns into Central Avenue—also Route 66—all the way across Albuquerque.

Albuquerque

Outside view Frontier Restaurant, Central Avenue,Albuquerque, NM, opposite the University of New Mexico.

I love restaurants packed with hungry university students and Albuquerque has a lively, fun and cheap one, the Frontier, across from the University of New Mexico at 2400 Central Ave SE. Do not expect gourmet food! I like its homestyle cheese enchilada combo best.

In New Mexico, say “Christmas, please” when you want both green and red salsas put on your plate.

The Frontier takes up half a block along Central Avenue. I gave up trying to count the astonishing number of John Wayne portraits on its walls.

I dine here every trip.

Gallup

Colourful bluffs rising up behind the former Route 77 & Santa Fe Railroad near Gallop NM

Mesa Verde National Park

(Optional - Would rather they enjoy a live learning experience with Native Americans, but do not know what to recommend.)

(Via Cortez, CO)

Canyons of the Ancients

(Optional)

(On my bucket list, but have not been there.)

Durango, Colorado

(Optional – two nights)

Day trip on the Durango & Silverton narrow gauge railroad train.

Silvertown is a well-known Colorado former mining town. The Durango & Silverton route to it is very scenic and rugged--different from what they have experienced so far--and was quite an engineering feat.

Durango is fun to explore and offers much more to do at night than Chama mentioned earlier.

Monument Valley/Mexican Hat

Moab

(Via U.S. 191)

This funky (different but cool in American English) mountain-bike crazed town is the base for Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park.

Capital Reef National Park

(Via Green River and Hanksville)

Bonster and Chopster need not spend a lot of time in all of these parks. For example, Capital Reef, Canyonlands, and Dead Horse Point can easily be experienced in “drive by” mode merely stopping at view points and perhaps taking very short hikes.

Bryce Canyon National Park

(Via Boulder on Highway 12)

Zion National Park

Drive nearly to west entrance and turn back.

Grand Canyon South Rim - Day trip or or overnight?

Grand Canon at South Rim, with sunrise partially illuminating its sides.

Visiting the canyon as a day trip? I hope not. The best times to view by far are at sunrise and sunset.

However, the canyon in winter is not usually shrouded by the haze that comes mid-day in summer in part from coal-burning power plants miles away.

Nevertheless, the best viewing times remain by far sunrise and sunset.

Grand Canyon South Rim

View of where the Colorado River flows into the Grand Canyon from the Desert View Watchtower near the canyon's east entrance.

Above: In this northeastern view from the Desert View Watchtower viewing point, but not from the tower itself, you see where the Colorado River enters the Grand Canyon. Prior to that it had been flowing along a deep, but very narrow canyon in the distance. 

Make the Desert View Watchtower on your right your first stop after entering the park’s east entrance. If arrive too late, go back the next day.

Make Grand Canyon Village your base for two nights. Bonster and Chopster should view the canyon at both sunrise and sunset.

If they find accommodation too expensive, stay the second night in Flagstaff (or Williams) leaving the canyon late in the day.

Wi-Fi is precious in this area. Find it free in the park’s library and for a fee in the grand lobby of the historic El Tovar Hotel on the rim.

Visit El Tovar, one of the most famous naitonal park hotels, even if not staying there. If wish to dine, arrive before it starts serving breakfast or lunch and ask for a rim view table. The best chance of a rim table comes at breakfast, as are not competing with day trippers.

Although its management company has a different name, El Tovar and other facilities at the canyon are still managed by what was the famed Fred Harvey company.

Fred Harvey’s company built and managed many of the most well-known hotels and restaurants along or near the Santa Fe Railway and often adjacent Route 66. It was a class operation in every way.

Flagstaff

Looking across Route 66 (Business 40) in downtown Flagstaff. with mountains behind.

Image above: Looking across Route 66 at downtown Flagstaff. It retains a considerable Route 66 vibe.

While driving on Interstate highways such as the I-40 that replaced much of the original Route 66 pavement look for exits marked “Business 40” and such. These usually lead along the roads Route 66 used through cities.

Sedona, Jerome, Prescott

(Via Oak Creek Canyon - U.S. 89a)

A friend, who will host Bonster and Chopster in Flagstaff, will help them plan visits to these.

Williams

Above: Grand Canyon Hotel, a Route 66 icon, in Williams, Arizona. I wish tha $3.50 price on that sign was not so historic!

(Via Ash Fork from Prescott)

I love Williams. It takes great pride in its Route 66 heritage. Unlike many Mother Road towns Williams has not grown very much. That means its downtown does not look that much different than 50 years ago.

I stayed at the very historic Grand Canyon Hotel here, not to be confused with the nearby modern Grand Canyon Railway hotel. Check if the same owners are on hand as were there in 2012. Wonderful people. The hotel offers accommodation ranging from hostel beds to private rooms with bath. All with historic décor. The owners will place a British flag on the check in desk to mark Booster’s and Chops’ arrival.

Back to Ash Fork and then west

At Seligman west of Ask Fork, historic Route 66 branches off to the north. Continue on it until Kingman.

I love this portion of Route 66 most. It remains very much as it was. Please pick the stops want to make before driving on a map. Some are easy to pass by.

Kingman

Instead of staying overnight here consider Laughlin, NV, beyond.

Oakman

For Grapes of Wrath migrants from the Dustbowl, who had little or no money for vehicle repairs, the rugged climb of Route 66 from Kingman to Oakman became truly scary.

Oakman retains much of its Route 66 heritage. Bonster and Chopster will likely enjoy it and surrounding rather unforgiving landscape, which gives a glimpse of the miles ahead migrants faced trough the Mojave Desert.

Laughlin, NV

(Via Bullhead City)

Although quite small. Laughlin on the Colorado River ranks as Nevada’s third major casino resort city. It markets heavily to senior citizens.

Casino hotels here go for much cheaper—wildly much cheaper--than in Las Vegas. Bonster and Chopster may wish to spend a night and save. Typical is $20 per night mid-week at Harrah’s, the Tropicana, both of which also have Vegas Strip hotels, and possibly the Golden Nugget, whose Golden Nugget in Las Vegas is the top-star downtown hotel.

Harrah’s on the Colorado River seems to have the most amenities. Ferries operate between it and the other hotels along the river.

Casino entetainment tends toward country and older bands. While I was there Dolly Parton, the Marshall Tucker Band, and REO Speedwagon were due in. 

Las Vegas

Las Vegas Welcome to Las Vegas lit at night with neon.

Avoid weekends if at all possible. $$$$$$$$

Beware of “resort fees” hidden in small print. These can actually cost more than the room price. A despicable practice that masks true prices in online booking displays.

Use the Strip monorail if have been drinking. I suggest a Uber-type service to the Fremont Street area downtown, the original Las Vegas casino area. They can also take a bus down Las Vegas Boulevard.

I do not recommend staying in the somewhat sleazy downtown area. However, visit there especially in the evening during the Fremont Street light display.

Consider hiking in the nearby Red Rock National Conservation Area—in the early morning if the day will be hot.

I still have not visited the Mob and Neon museums in Las Vegas. On the bucket list.

Yermo – Calico Ghost Town

Prior to Barstow, the County of San Bernardino preserves Calico. This was the site of the largest silver strike in California, with some 500 mines. I recommend it. Exit the I-15 at Calico Road in Yermo. Drive north.

Barstow and Victorville

Between Las Vegas and San Bernardino, take Business 15 through Barstow and Victorville. Both have Route 66 museums.

Between Barstow and Victorville take the National Trails Highway (County Route 66) via Helendale. This interrupts the monotony of Interstate driving.

San Bernardino

San Bernardino offers a variety of Route 66 sights along E Street and West 5th Avenue.

Although the McDonald’s corporation says that the original McDonald’s is in Illinois, the founder of the current McDonald’s purchased its franchise rights from the McDonald brothers in San Bernardino. It was they who pioneered the fast service. The brothers’ outlet on E Street pulled in troves of Route 66 travellers. You now find a museum there. A sad history existed between the brothers and their aggressive new franchisee. In a legal battle he even took away the brothers' right to use their iconic arches. 

Foothill Boulevard

West 5th Avenue turns into Foothill Boulevard, much of the way toward Los Angeles.

As it usually is very much slow stop and go driving, decide what want to see and then, if you wish  take one of the two alternate freeways when possible to save time.

Foothill turns into Colorado Boulevard, the site of the New Year’s Rose Parade, which I believe is broadcast in the United Kingdom.

Beyond Pasadena, Route 66’s route changed a number of times. Bonster and Chopster may wish to study those routes. Controversy still exists about where it actually ended in Santa Monica.

Santa Monica

View of Santa Monica pier from the northwest on a sunny day with many people on Santa Monica Beach.

Above: Santa Monica Pier, used as a location in seemingly endless films and television shows. (Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Eastern routes

Much more to come!

 

 

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