From the time the Pilgrims came to America we’ve been forging trails and roads to connect each other. And once colonies were established and thriving, there was a longing to head west to see what lay beyond the Appalachian Mountains. That quest for knowledge and adventure still beats in our hearts in this century as we explore the outer reaches of space–the new Western Frontier.
One of the greatest highways west was started in 1926. It would run from Chicago to Los Angeles, the first national highway system. Sections of it opened to traffic as the asphalt was laid, but the continuous highway was finally fully opened in 1938.
It was designated as Route 66.
Didn’t matter that is just a two lane road nine feet across. It was smooth and fast.
And there was no comparison between it and the government funded wagon road Edward Fitzgerald Beale built across the 35th parallel. Incidentally, that old rutted road became part of this new and improved highway.
Route 66 came to be affectionately called “The Mother Road.” Prior to the building of Route 66 roads were in very poor shape and only partially existent. Car owners had no where much to drive their cars. Roads were mostly dirt or gravel. But with Route 66 lives were changed; hopes and dreams were born anew. The road was well-traveled. During the days of the Depression it carried migrant workers who were looking for any kind of job they could find. And after the Depression came to an end, the tourist industry saw growth it had never seen before. Americans had money in their pockets again and fell in love with the automobile. They hit the open road in droves.
Hundreds of mom-and-pop motor courts, eating places, and service stations sprang up all along Route 66 to cash in on the booming business. Fortunes were made…and lost.
In my childhood, I became well acquainted with Route 66. Every year in May our family loaded up the car and took off to California to visit my grandparents. I was so excited I could hardly wait for that time of year. There were so many neat things sitting on the roadside between New Mexico and California. I have many fond memories of those trips.
Remember the Burma Shave signs up and down the road? I loved reading them.
I’d save up my allowance all year so I’d have plenty to spend on our trip. We’d always stop at some of those Indian Trading posts that offered anything you could imagine. One of the things I always bought was a new pair of moccasins. I loved wearing those leather shoes. They were the most comfortable things on your feet. Like walking on a cloud. And I always saved some money so I could pay to see the animal exhibits and the snakes. Those trading posts always had plenty to look at and buy. Plus, it gave us a chance to get out of the car and stretch our legs. Sometimes I’d buy a bottle of Nehi Grape or Delaware Punch. Man, was that good on a scorching hot day!
One of my most favorite memories was when we stayed in the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. Each room was inside an adobe structure that looked like an actual teepee. To a nine year old that was exciting stuff. I got to pretend that I was an Indian princess if only for a night. When I was looking for pictures to spiff up this blog, I Googled Holbrook and discovered that the Wigwam Motel has its own website now and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Wow! Seems it’s as big a deal in this day and time as it was in the 60’s. I’m stunned. I figured it had fallen into ruin like most everything else in that era. Glad it hasn’t.
Another roadside attraction that we stopped to see was Meteor Crater near the town of Winslow in the north Arizona desert. Talk about an interesting thing to see. The huge crater was formed over 50,000 years ago when a meteor struck the earth. It sure makes you stop and think and wonder what would happen if another one that size plunged to earth. One thing for sure, it would leave lots of devastation.
And of course, Route 66 passed by the Grand Canyon just a bit north of Williams, Arizona. That’s a must-see sight. No matter how many times we went by it, we’d always have to stop and stand on the rim, gawking at the beauty.
There wasn’t a museum, ghost town, or roadside attraction that we didn’t see. And it was all because of someone’s vision and the road that was called Route 66.
Now that old road has been replaced by modern divided highways that bypass towns altogether and something wonderful has been lost. Kids today rarely get a chance to get out of the car and if they do it’s at a McDonalds or other fast food place. I wish they could’ve known what it was like before life took off in the fast lane.
Did you and your family take road trips? Or maybe you still do. Did you ever have a chance to travel Route 66 when you were younger? Ever drink a Nehi Grape? We have lots to chat about.
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