Driving along our modern freeways, I enjoy looking for the old deserted highway roadbeds off to the sides. Remnants of old bridges and cuts in the hills are still to be seen, a record of past days when life was simpler. I know that probably seems amazing to travel without an Interstate highway, but it did happen not so long ago.
It was a slower time, although America was gearing up to meet the challenge of an increasingly mobile society. When Route 66 was built, it represented new freedom to travel across the American West. Starting in Chicago, Illinois, going west across Kansas to St. Louis, Missouri then through Tulsa, Oklahoma and down to Amarillo, Texas, across New Mexico (paralleling today’s I-40), it passed through Flagstaff Arizona. Entering California, it crossed Needles, Barstow, San Bernardino, Pasadena, Los Angeles and ended at the Santa Monica pier. There were already other east-west highways existing but most avoided going through rural America. Route 66 would change all that.
When the federal government was convinced to build this road in 1926, the Great Depression was starting. Further work was postponed until 1933 when thousands of unemployed men were hired to finish paving this scenic byway. By 1938, the 2,300 mile road was completed and ready for motorists. John Steinbeck in his popular novel Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939, refers to Route 66 as the Mother Road. Also called the road to opportunity, it was used by many living in the Dust Bowl areas to migrate to California and start over. During WWII, it was handy for transporting troops and materials to the west coast.
More tourists on this now famous road led to the development of new motels and service stations in rural towns along the route. My husband and his adventurous grandmother Big Momma used Route 66 in their annual summer vacations from Texas to explore the west and midwest. Unfortunately, increased truck travel also led to the deterioration of the road then the new Interstate highways were the final blow to Route 66’s demise. You can still follow sections of this forgotten road by following signs that tout Historic Route 66, but its days of glory are gone. A popular song and a short lived television series were created and named after it. The route gets lost nowadays in many metropolitian areas but still makes an adventurous vacation to try to follow it.