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Our Kicks on Route 66 - I

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Old Route 66 with historic U.S. Route 66 chalk markings on its pavement.

Route 66 is the most celebrated highway in the USA. This iconic roadway connecting Chicago with LA has been traveled by countless people, been written about, is the subject of songs, had a TV show named for it and is the unnamed star of the cult film Easy Rider. It celebrates its 90th birthday on November 11, 2016. It’s a great year to ride what John Steinbeck dubbed the “mother road” in his epic novel The Grapes of Wrath. The name stuck.

When the Interstate highway system came into being, blue highways such as Route 66 were replaced.  Slowly, starting in 1956, these sterile limited-access four-lane roads that bypassed cities, towns and rural communities replaced the scenic back roads and highways of America. Yes they were faster and more direct, but the country paid a price for speed and convenience.

Luckily, portions of Route 66 still exist. They have become destinations for travelers driving across America to reconnect with the past. Interestingly, the road draws travelers from around the world. Many are inspired by Easy Rider to ride the entire 2,451-mile highway on Harleys. Some travel in tour groups complete with support vehicles. Others travel the road in cars, tour buses or RVs.

Historic Route 66 goes through eight states, including an 11-mile stretch through eastern Kansas. You can travel it in about a week from start to finish. But if you really want to savor it, plan at least two weeks for your journey.

Join us on our journey on Arizona’s Historic Route 66. We’ll highlight our favorite stops. It’s worth the drive!

Author’s note: Our journey is from east to west. Going the other way? Just reverse it.

The Painted Desert and Petrified Forest

View of Painted Desert taken in Petrified Forest National Park.

Petrifiedl Forest National Park is well worth a stop and can be seen in a few hours. But if you want to hike and explore in greater depth, allow yourself a full day or more.

Painted Desert, adjacent to Petrified Forest National Park, is visually stunning. The colors in this area of badland hills, with their flat-topped mesas and sculptured buttes, create a rainbow palette running the spectrum from softer lavenders, pinks and grays to vibrant reds and oranges. It’s a photographer’s dream!

Start at the visitors center and then drive through the park. If you’re a fan of historic inns and former Fred Harvey properties stop at Painted Desert Inn. Opened in 1926, it became a Fred Harvey property in 1940. After being closed in 1942 for the duration of WWII, it was reopened in 1947 after a renovation designed by Harvey’s well-known designer Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter. She commissioned paintings from Hopi artist Fred Kaboti and you can still view these treasures today. The inn was closed in 1963. The building, which has the old Harvey lunchroom restored, is staffed by Park Rangers who will answer any questions you have about it.

Petroglyphs in Petrified Forest National Park along Route 66 in Arizona

When I was young, I heard about the Petrified Forest and pictured stone trees with branches spread standing in the desert. The first time I visited, I was a bit disappointed but soon got over it. About 225 million years ago this land was lush forest where dinosaurs roamed. Volcanic eruptions knocked the trees down and they were covered by volcanic ash. Lack of oxygen and organisms preserved the fallen trees which became fossilized over millennia. These rich-hued logs yield a lot of geological information. The park was also once home to indigenous people. You can view petroglyphs and the remains of the Puerco Pueblo which dates to around 1300AD. Take time to hike one or all four main areas of petrification (Blue Mesa, Jasper Forest, Crystal Forest and Rainbow Forest).

Holbrook

Exterior Pow Wow Trading Post along Route 66 in Holbrook Arizona

Take a detour through Holbrook on Historic Route 66. The stretch is dotted with evidence of the road’s heyday including great signs at old cafes, motels and trading posts.
If you’re a fan of vintage kitsch motels, stop at Wigwam Village, opened in 1950. The distinctive teepee units are a favorite photo op for travelers. If you don’t want to spend the night, visit the small museum in the motel office to view an eclectic collection amassed by the late owner that includes Route 66 memorabilia, petrified wood, Civil War items and Indian artifacts.

Winslow

Route 66 street scene in Williams, Arizona

 

Does the line “Standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” sound familiar? The Eagles made this former railroad town famous in Take it Easy. There’s even a Standin’ on the Corner Park complete with a flatbed Ford. Legend has it that the Eagles stood on a corner in Flagstaff, west of Winslow, but they didn’t think it made as good a lyric.

The town’s rich past includes visits from a host of famous people including aviators Charles Lindbergh and Howard Hughes as well as a host of movie stars. La Posada, a former Fred Harvey inn, has been reopened and restored. It is a jewel in the Arizona high desert. The trackside hotel is popular place to spend the night. Even if you aren’t in need of lodging, stop and take a look at this historic property and have a meal in The Turquoise Room, the hotel’s a chef-owned eatery that honors the Fred Harvey tradition as well as locally grown and produced foods and the area’s indigenous food heritage.

Meteor Crater

Overlooking Meteor Crater off Route 66 between Winslow & Flagstaff Arizona

About 50,000 years ago, a meteor hit the earth here traveling at 26,000 miles an hour. The resulting crater is nearly one mile across, over two miles in circumference and more than 550 feet deep. This natural phenomenon west of Winslow, which is said to be the best preserved meteor impact site on earth, is worth a stop. Not surprisingly, it’s very stark and lunar-looking. We went in the afternoon but recommend a morning visit as the afternoon sun, at least in the fall, made it hard to capture good photos. See the film, IMPACT, The Mystery of Meteor Crater, before visiting the crater as it will give a good overview of what you’ll be seeing. We arrived too late for a guided tour of the rim, offered from 9:15am to 2:15pm daily. We wish we’d been on time to take one. Plan to spend a few hours if you want to see the film, tour the Interactive Discovery Center and take the crater tour.

> > > Coming next: Flagstaff is a great place to break your journey. Read part two from Flagstaff to the California border.

> > > Enjoy more posts by Billie Frank.

All photos on this page are copyrighted by Steve Collins and used with his permission.

Comments

Donna Janke
April 3, 2016

I’ve been to Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. The colours are impressive. I’ve driven through Holbrook but haven’t stopped at the Wigwam Hotel. And years ago we visited the Meteor Crater. It was quite impressive. It felt like it was in the middle of nowhere which just made it seem eerier. Winslow and route 66 west from there was planned for last spring but a family situation intervened. I’m not sure now when we’ll make that trip, but it’s still on the list.

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Betsy
April 3, 2016

This Route 66 road trip is so on our bucket list! Particularly, Eastern Arizona for Winslow. Sometimes you just gotta go with the kitschy stuff!

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Janice Chung
April 4, 2016

So, like many people, I had heard about Route 66 but didn’t really know what was ON the route. Looks really interesting and I guess I pictured just dirt roads and no scenery. You certainly shared a great section of the journey.

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The Gypsynesters
April 4, 2016

As huge Eagles fans we loved finding the “Standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” statue and mural. The rest is great too though. The crater is especially cool when seen from an airplane. (Not really route 66, but still cool.)

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I’ve traveled along parts of Route 66 myself, and did enjoy your descriptions of parts I haven’t seen.  I just found out there is a Route 66 Museum in Santa Monica, CA, and I recently visited the burros in Oatman, Arizona, on Route 66, http://travelswithcarole.blogspot.com/2015/11/sights-to-see-oatman-arizona.html

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Don Nadeau
April 6, 2016

Carole,

I love the photos in your Oatman post. I’ll place a link to it on my Twitter account @DonNadeau

Being in such a rugged area, the I-40 bypassed Oakman further away than most places along Route 66 and thus you find a more pristine Route 66 experience. 

Regarding Santa Monica, online you’ll find different reports about where Route 66 actually ended. Most support where it reached Ocean Boulevard, which overlooks the Pacific. Others say it reached only as far as Lincoln Boulevard (Highway 1) in Santa Monica.

Over the years, as freeways were built, the route in the L.A. area changed many times. Both opinions may be right.

Thank you for your comment.

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Don Nadeau
April 6, 2016

Gypsynesters,

Huge Eagle fans, eh? I’ll let you judge what was the actual location of Hotel California. There at least used to be a Hotel California in San Bernardino, a Route 66 town, but it doesn’t seem to be in the running. Some say the Mission Inn in Riverside, CA. Some say some place in Mexico. Help. :)

“Not really route 66, but still cool.”

There are Route 66 purists, but not me. I want to see the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas (both NM and NV), and all those other wonderful sights nearby. In later years, Route 66 no longer passed through Santa Fe, but it would be sad if Route 66 travelers missed that.

Thank you for your comment.

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Don Nadeau
April 6, 2016

Janice.

Thank you so much. I hope that you experience this wonderful highway in person.

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Don Nadeau
April 6, 2016

Hi Betsy,

Please move Route 66 to the top of your list!

When you get to Winslow be sure to visit the historic La Posada (hotel). Simply wonderful to experience. It also has a renowned Southwest-style restaurant that I believe that everyone should experience.

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Don Nadeau
April 6, 2016

Hi Donna,

Am so sorry that your trip was cancelled and hope that everything is better now.

The trip west of Winslow becomes even more interesting because you pass through different types of scenery, including forests.

The kitschy stuff, as Betsy said (and there’s no better kitsch than along Route 66), happily continues unabated.

Thank you for your comment.

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Rebecca
April 6, 2016

Oh good grief! I’ve wanted to tour Route 66 for as long as I can remember! Thanks for sharing this as it’s just moved this higher up my bucket list of things to do.
The Petrified Forest and Meteor crater sound other worldly, I guess literally!

I have travelled from San Fran to NYC with Green Tortoise Bus tours (a 1960s Greyhound that converts to beds at night inside it) and it was a fantastic experience: Hot Springs in California, Valley of Fire - Arizona, Grand Canyon, City of Rocks, White Sands NP, Galveston, New Orleans, Grayton Beach, Great Smokey Mountains, DC then NYC.  As you can see, it was a ‘southern’ route.
Next time, I’ll make time for Route 66!

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Don Nadeau
April 8, 2016

Thank you, Rebecca.

I have heard that those Green Tortoise bus tours were lots of fun and that on some buses there allegedly was an unusual way for males to perform one function, but I won’t go into that here. :-)

The itinerary you mention would probably have taken you along portions of the I-40 Interstate highway that replaced much of Route 66, but not along its preserved sections. If I remember correctly, the Tortoise buses had beds for overnight travel, so you might have missed even that.

i do hope that you travel the portions of Route 66 remaining from Albuquerque westward. Detour off to Santa Fe and Sedona, and to another visit to the Grand Canyon.

Enjoyed looking at your website and Twitter account @BeyondBex. Thank you again for your comments. When planning for your trip please send a message and I’ll give some tips.

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Billie Frank
April 12, 2016

Thanks for all the great comments! Steve and I really enjoyed our Arizona Route 66 experience- and we loved Route 66 in every other state we visited. We’re just missing Illinois the eastern terminus on the Mother Road. Hope to do that portion this year. We love driving through all the old towns along the way.

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Don Nadeau
April 13, 2016

Thank you so much, Billie!

Such wonderful posts. You captured the Route 66 experience perfectly.

I hope that readers will continue on to your other equally fine posts, which can be accessed via the author’s tab on each page. Cannot wait until your next one!

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Micheal
December 2, 2016

I am always love to do travel and it motivates and fresh my mind and this is really amazing pictures and all i can say that the painted desert pictures is really stunning..!!

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Don Nadeau
December 3, 2016

Micheal, thank you so much.

Billie’s a fine writer and here she captured the aura of Route 66 perfectly.

If you haven’t, hope that you will enjoy the route soon. I love it!

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