A Route 66 Travel Journal from Across the Pond
The Route 66 Association of Illinois is very pleased to share the experience of a recent journey across Route 66 by a couple from England. Peter was kind enough to submit the following travelogue to us on our website feedback form.
I am taking the liberty of sharing my own experience of this great American institution having completed the 2,500 miles plus Chicago to Santa Monica journey with my wife Jill at the end of last week. For the last leg we were accompanied by our friends Margaret and Derek Smith who are UK residents but came up from their home in Venice Florida to join us.
My earliest consciousness about the Mother Road probably goes back to my schooldays growing up in North West Kent on the outskirts of SE London in the early 1960s. I read "Grapes of Wrath" in the sixth form (equivalent to a US High School) and first heard "Route 66" performed by local boy Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. Rather more tenuously I'd been a fan of the late great Buddy Holly since acquiring a Dansette record player from my parents in December 1961!
And there the interest may have ceased until I noticed a couple of years ago Virgin Holidays were plugging Route 66 in the self drive section of their US vacations brochure in the UK. Then Jill bought me the comprehensive "Road Trip USA" book by Jamie Jensen last Christmas with a bookmark fashioned from wrapping paper protruding from the chapter on Route 66. I took this as a sign that we should book our vacation this summer!
Recognising that to get the very best out of the 18 days travel allotted to us I bought Tom Synder's "Route 66 Traveler's Guide" and a current version of the Rand McNally's 2011 Road Atlas whilst in the States earlier this summer. I then put together a detailed day-by-day itinerary on a Microsoft Powerpoint presentation. This identified the routes we would take and the sights we expected to see - well that was the theory (happy to share my planning material). Our accommodation was organised by Virgin through American Ring Travel Inc so that pre-determined our daily schedule. I have to admit that planning the trip was absorbing but quite exhausting!
I planned on the basis that I would use the old Route 66 wherever possible. However, it was clear use of the Interstates would be unavoidable when travelling through the larger conurbations, where there were to be detours or where mileage in any one day was on the high side. So not all the planned sights were seen but we did get some unexpected bonuses. In summary, this is what we managed:
Illinois - having found the historic Route 66 marker on Jackson Boulevard in Chicago got hopelessly lost in the city's south western suburbs ending up on I-80 westwards. Managed to find Route 66 north of Wilmington and relieved to see the Green Giant en route. Managed to stick to Route 66 most of the way to Springfield, visiting the excellent Route 66 Museum in Pontiac and Funk's Grove ("sold out" of sirup unfortunately). The next day we were privileged to be able to visit Lincoln's home, an absolute must for those like me who enjoy history. From Springfield south to St Louis it was a mix of interstate and the old road. Got confused on the route going into St Louis and managed to visit both the giant catsup bottle in Collinsville and the Chain of Rocks Bridge over the Mississippi, both formidable structures in their own way.
Missouri - the Gateway in St Louis itself is pretty awesome but we were unable to find Ted Drewes' custard stand. However,we did get to see the Red Cedar Inn, the Meramec Caves and, with some difficulty, tracked down the Munger Moss Motel arriving late afternoon in Springfield.
Kansas - having largely followed Route 66 after Springfield we got completely lost negotiating Joplin and still regard reaching the Kansas State line as something of a miracle. It was a Sunday morning and too early to say hello to the proprietor of the Eisler Brother's store in Riverton but had a very pleasant chat with a gentleman nearby manning the CB radio transmitter linking with other CBs along the route.
Oklahoma - crossing the border the old road is in good nick and we followed it down to Tulsa. On the way we visited the very imposing Will Rogers' memorial at Claremore and clambered aboard the blue whale at Catoosa. Next day it was mainly the I-44 because of time pressures but we did manage to visit dear old Texola.
Texas - we didn't see much of Route 66 but did stop by the old water tower and the huge cross at Groome. After overnighting in Amarillo, we raced down to Lubbock to visit Buddy Holly's grave, the house in which he'd married Maria Elena and the Buddy Holly Center, thus fulfilling something I'd wanted to do for many years.
New Mexico - a whistle stop tour to see the Norman Petty studio (unfortunately the curator was away that day so we couldn't go inside) then Santa Rosa and 2 days welcome R&R in delightful Santa Fe. We followed the Turquoise route south to Albuquerque - with Cerillos, Madrid and the heights overlooking Albuquerque what a gem if you'll forgive the pun. Loved Gallup and visited both the delightful museum and a barbers whilst there.
Arizona - in many ways the most spectacular part of the journey with all the dramatic scenery on offer. In Holbrook we saw the wigwams and visited the Navajo country fair, livestock auction and all. We couldn't fit in the Petrified Forest or Meteor City but made a dash from Holbrook to the south rim Grand Canyon which was really worth every penny of the $25 dollar entrance fee. We enjoyed what we saw of Flagstaff staying there only one night and the next day's travel largely on Route 66 too early again for Jack Rabbit Trading post (by means of a "post stick" sticker left with the mail we passed on a greetings from the proprietor's very friendly counterpart in Staunton, Il) and then to Kingman.
California - because we'd stayed in Vegas we rejoined Route 66 at Newberry Springs and followed the route through Barstow - where we visited the
superb museum - to Victorville where unfortunately we found the museum closed for the day. Next San Bernandino where we successfully sought out the original MacDonald's and then the I -10 to Santa Monica where we followed the old route the last few steps to its journey's end and the pier. We visited both the pier stall and last shop and were able to share experiences to the gentlemen in attendance there. Before we left LA we retraced the last few miles of the '66 through Hollywood to its Pacific terminus.
Travelling Route 66 seems to symbolise the America many of us visitors are looking for. It is very much Main Street USA and a real sense of community. Everywhere we went we were made to feel welcome. People we spoke took a genuine interest about where we came from and enjoyed hearing our account of the journey. We met so many really nice people - and I include here, for example the Vets association people at their annual gathering in Springfield Illinois, the ladies running the museum in Pontiac, the folk at the Holbrook county fair, a lady who insisted on taking our photograph at Grand Canyon - but in truth too many to mention here. We found the open road of Route 66 a breath of fresh air coming from the overcrowded freeways and highways of the UK. Following the route takes a fair amount of determination although generally speaking the signage was very good - though some turnings were inevitably missed requiring us to retrace our steps. The diversity of the scenery along the way was incredible. We took nearly 1700 digital images bought countless tee-shirts and other souvenirs of the journey.
We'd have liked a Harley or perhaps a Mustang soft-top. In fact, we hired a very humble Chevvy Cobalt but with its air con and cruise control did the job admirably. If I had known I'd have probably have asked for sat nav so I'd know when I was going down a dead end! Oh and the weather plenty of sunshine with very little rain. It reached 110F in Arizona and Nevada so can hardly complain.
Thanks and acknowledgements
We recognise that lots of people continue to earn a living from the old road and many other volunteers and other institutions support its existence. The information available through books and other organisations we found invaluable. Finally, I'm particularly grateful to Jill and our friends Margaret and Derek for making the whole experience such fun.
I'd be grateful if you would pass on our thanks through your respective organisations to the many people who keep Route 66 alive - and I'm sorry not everyone could get a mention here - and I would be more than content for you to circulate this email more widely. Keep up the good work!!
Our regards and sincere thanks to Peter for taking the time to recount their adventure for our benefit!
View a slideshow of Peter and Jill's Route 66 adventure!
We welcome your Route 66 news, stories, photos and events for publication in our newsletter or on our web site!