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Route 66 Kicks

In 1946, Bobby Troup composed an eternally catchy tune that celebrated the postwar freedom enjoyed by returning American servicemen and their families. Many people know that song. 

Years before that blissful summer of ’46, Route 66 earned its hard-won stripes as America’s “Mother Road,” having been so named in John Steinbeck’s Depression-era epic novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Yet even as parts of the route faded from sight as the interstates were built from the ‘50s through the ‘70s, the tangible and mythic aura of this epic pathway continued to richen.

Meandering over 2,000 miles through parts of eight American states, Route 66 literally runs from sea (Lake Michigan) to shining sea, (Pacific Ocean). Its highest point is in Bellemont, Arizona, at 7,130 feet, and its low spot is before the famous pier in Santa Monica. An official U.S. highway for just 59 years, Route 66 somehow became a living part of world culture. There are numerous Route 66 associations worldwide, from Australia to the Czech Republic, so you’ll meet people from nearly every continent if you roam the ‘Mother Road’ as long as I have.

I’ve driven every mile of Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica, and the encompassing variety of Americana and kitsch is astonishing. But for me, it’s most photogenic sites and stretches are alive and thriving in Arizona, my home state. 

First up are the iconic teepees and vintage cars of the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook. You can spend the night in a teepee (I have!), and let’s just say it’s an authentic experience. Be sure to walk about the teepees from sunset into twilight when the neon lights up the night. Next morning, cruise west to Winslow to pay homage to the Eagles at Standin’ on the Corner Park. There you can also savor brunch in the Turquoise Room at La Posada, the classic railway hotel, before driving on to Two Guns and Twin Arrows, where little remains but ruins and really tall arrows.

Route 66 even winds through Flagstaff, but keep on rolling west to Williams, a town literally split by the Mother Road, and loving it that way. Williams is well worth a couple of hours, and it has a wealth of Route 66 theme goods to take home. Another short drive on I-40 west lies the jackpot — the quirky town of Seligman, filled with wondrously kitschy photogenic delights. And that’s before you experience the Snowcap Drive-In, world famous for bad counter jokes and tasty milkshakes. Here you can spend the night at the Stagecoach 66 Motel in a room with a velvet Elvis on the wall and dine very well at Westside Lilo’s. All the locals do. Come sun up, after strolling Main Street, drive west on the longest continuous drivable stretch of Route 66 in the U.S., running from Seligman to Kingman.

If you have time and feel adventurous, drive topless (convertible lingo) or sunroof open and rest awhile at the Hackberry General Store in Kingman. Grab a cold root beer and drink deeply of the rusting ambiance scattered about. There’s a certain romance to driving the wild open stretches of Route 66, a true magic that survives today, and has worldwide appeal. I’ve met people from so many nations all across Route 66.

That shared spirit is why I drive it whenever I can. It’s more than a highway or a journey. To many travelers, it’s an elixir. I can almost hear ol’ Bobby and Nat King Cole crooning as sunset steals away into the neon lights of Kingman.

Kerrick has photographed two books about Route 66, and you can win one! Click here to enter to win a copy of Ghost Towns of Route 66. 

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