I’ve taken a new job back in San Diego and will be relocating there with this trip. This seemed like the perfect occasion to try and cover the entire length of Route 66 and travel as much of the original pavement sections as is possible. I’ve been researching this trip for some time now, because on various other trips I have done bits and pieces of the route. I’ve gathered a selection of books and maps over the years and decided to finally put them to some use.
The following tools were used to help me stay on the route and discover some of the special interest items in the towns I would be driving through:
- Route 66 Traveler’s Guide and Roadside Companion by Tom Snyder – Good travelogue explaining what can be seen along the way, but no real directions
- A Guidebook to the Mother Road – Bob Moore and Patrick Grauwels – point by point mileage and directions
- Traveling the New Historic Route 66 of Illinois by John Weiss – detailed directions and side trips
- The Complete Guidebook to Route 66 and The Complete Atlas of Route 66 by Bob Moore and Rich Cunningham this book is unique in that it lists direction for east/west and west/east
I was really hoping the GPS coordinates would help me on this trip. I chose the coordinates that were used in the production of the The Complete Guidebook to Route 66 and The Complete Atlas of Route 66. I was able to load the way points into my GPS but it only displayed a portion of what was loaded and I would have had to select each way point. Some of the way points were directions to stay on Route 66 and others were sights along the way. Nothing would keep the GPS following Route 66.
I ended up using the book and following the signs that have been posted along the route. This became a little confusing because the route in the book is not necessarily the route that is signed. There were just enough signs that would agree that would then throw me off. It was so bad that I ended up heading back north and to St Louis when I was in MO. The GPS was very handy in trying to understand some of the directions because it was easy to see the roads that were around or detect the names of streets I was to turn on. Still it didn’t keep me 100% on track and there were a number of times I had to double back, re-read the instructions and try again. Typically this was where I was following the historical Route 66 signs instead of tracking with the book. There were a few situations where the book was confusing and a couple of times where road construction or closures had me looking for ways to get back on track.
Wed April 14, Day 1, to Joliet, IL distance driven 383 miles
The first leg of my journey was to hook up with the start of Route 66 in Chicago. The first 300 miles took me to Chicago where I stopped in at Navy Pier and took one of the architectural tours on the Chicago river. It was a very sunny and warm day sitting in the open air boat I got a touch of sunburn.
I took Rte 66 out of Chicago heading west on Adams Ave. It was difficult trying to find and follow the road out of Chicago. Lots of traffic, streets at weird angles and pedestrians are all a challenge. It also didn’t help that I was leaving near quitting time. It wasn’t until I got to Romeville (near Juliette – actually Joliet) that things started to slow down and ease up. It was here I had dinner at the White Fence Farm Restaurant, home of the fired chicken. The meal was served with a selection of relishes that included: a bean salad, pickled beets, cottage cheese, coleslaw, and corn fritters.
By the time I got to Joliet I was ready to settle in for the night. There were several things I saw that I wanted to check and I was just tired.
Thur April 15, Day 2, to Springfield, IL distance driven 218 miles
This morning started with exploring Joliet and some of the sights I drove by last night. Joliet has a prison that was made famous by the Blues brothers. This is an interesting town that is divided by the Illinois waterway.
Today’s drive is a joy as most of it is through small towns and very little traffic. I saw two nicely restored vintage service stations and giant statues that are famous along this route. Dwight was a nice small town with a great downtown area with a train depot. The highlight for the day though was in discovering Pontiac IL with its beautiful courthouse and old fire station that contains a Rte 66 museum.
Route 66 was a 4 lane highway in many sections between St Louis and Chicago. While you can drive the route, much of it is now 2 lanes, with stretches of the other 2 lanes still visible. In some places these extra lanes are now bike and walking trails.
Fri April 16, Day 3, to Eureka, MO distance driven 229 miles
Heading out of Springfield this morning it is overcast. First stop is the Sugar Creek covered bridge. Following that are barns, roadside shrines, old cafes and motor courts, drive-in movie theaters, bridges and service stations.
I stopped in at Henry’s Rabbit Ranch roadside stop in Stanton IL. He has collected some old motel signs, gas pumps and created a VW Rabbit version of the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo TX. He also has several rabbits along with souvenirs and books on Rte 66.
The Chain of Rocks Bridge crossing the Mississippi river between Illinois and Missouri is an attraction I wanted to see. This is where Rte 66 crossed the river with not much more than a single lane. This bridge is now closed to traffic but is a pedestrian and bike bridge. A unique feature is a nearly 90 degree bend near the Missouri side. The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge was constructed in 1929 as a toll bridge. It became part of Rte 66 in 1936.
The drive through St Louis was difficult to follow and there are several alignments to choose from. I’m trying to stay with the oldest alignments if possible or the one with the most interesting sights. There was some construction in the downtown area that blocked my route and I had to navigate around. The GPS came in handy here. Ted Drewes Frozen Custard is a primary location I wanted to see and taste. Even though it was an overcast day there was a good crowd.
I wanted to visit the arch and a transportation museum here, but I realized the driving was taking longer than I expected. I could have spent another day just in St Louis. So on skipping those sites, I headed south to a new Rte 66 state park. I missed the turn off the first time and decided to find a place to stay and come back. I fond a place in Eureka near the Six Flags amusement park that I would stay in. I eventually did get back to the state park after a couple of missed turns. This was a loop of Rte 66 off the interstate but the bridge has been closed and divides the visitor center from the rest of the park.
Sat April 17, Day 4, to Springfield, MO distance driven 433 miles
A beautiful morning started today. I headed south to Pacific and started to get out into the windy country road area here and got turned around. I was following my guide book and everything seemed to match with the road signs. In relying on the road signs I some how got onto the north bound loop. It wasn’t until I was back in St Louis that I realized my problem. This did give me the opportunity to travel a different alignment. Once I hit St Louis I got onto the interstate and couldn’t hook up with south bound I-55 and ended up back in Illinois. Anyway that was an extra 100 miles to get back to where I started. On returning, I skipped the area from Pacific and headed for St Clair to pick up my route.
In St Clair I got lost again. I zigged when I should have zagged and ended up traveling to the east of where I should have been. That added another ~50 miles of extra driving today. It was rather frustrating, but I finally got back on track.
Today’s highlight was the Devils Elbow area. Not that I got to stop and look. This was a little turn out from the main road in the area, but a motorcycle rally was being held at the Inn and there were too many people and bikes around to stop.
Sun April18, Day 5, to Stroud, OK distance driven 288 miles
I need to make up some time today. Not only were my first days low mileage, yesterdays wrong turns cost me. I should have been in Oklahoma last night. I would like to get to Oklahoma City.
Today’s ride should include lots of bridges, some old service stations and some surprises. Kansas has 13.2 miles of Route 66, so it won’t be difficult to complete that state today. The day progressed from a nice day to overcast and drizzly. As I came through Tulsa things caught up to me.
Mon April 19, Day 6, to Elk City, OK distance driven 236 miles
The day started off with broken clouds and that continues through most of the day but it never lasts. I will see the 2 Route 66 museums in Oklahoma. The Clinton museum has the history of the road. The museum in Elk City is more the culture and feel of the road. Both are well worth the visit.
Tue April 20, Day 7, to Santa Rosa, NM distance driven 359 miles
Yet another overcast day. Several iconic sites are on today’s schedule. We have the Shamrock service station, Cadillac Ranch, a leaning water tank and some great old service stations. I was hoping of stop in Tucumcari and the Blue Swallow motel, but I would have to stop too early, so I pushed on to Santa Rosa.
Wed April 21, Day 8, to Holbrook, AZ distance driven 452 miles
I’ve driven I-40 through Albuquerque before, so I decided to take the original alignment to Santa Fe and then down to Albuquerque. I love this area and looked forward to seeing some new parts of New Mexico and especially in getting up into the mountains. The drive up to Santa Fe was great. I wanted to go check out the original alignment out of Santa Fe and off the plateau, but this requires a 4-wheel drive high clearance car. Instead I by-passed this area and joined up with it at the base. This allowed me to view from below the narrow switch back filled route. I back tracked out of there and went on to Albuquerque and out through the downtown area.
I had very nice blue skies or skies with fluffy clouds through out the day. This is great weather for photography. There is a great segment through Mesita that took me on a very windy route that skirted the rock formations, formations like Owl rock and creating areas like dead mans curve that took a 90 degree right turn followed by a quick 180 degree left turn around a formation. This would not have been fun in the dark.
As the day progressed it got windy. As I got to Arizona I was driving rough windy roads that were very narrow with very tight turns that followed to topography like a roller coaster with sharp turns and flooded sections. what surprised me about this area was that a school bus passed me in this section. There was not much room for 2 passenger cars to pass on this road let alone oversized vehicles like a bus.
I was planning on stopping in Holbrook and staying in a WigWam motel room. I still had day light left and should have gone on to Winslow, but mother nature was not co-operating. The highway was closed due to blowing sand.
My stay in the WigWam was a little more primitive than I expected. Don’t even ask about Internet access, there wasn’t even a phone in the room.
Thur April 22, Day 9, to Needles, CA distance driven 481 miles
First stop today is the Petrified forest. I have to head east and south out of Holbrook to get to the southern entrance. I was earlier than I thought as I had crossed a time zone. I had a wait of about 30 minutes and then was one of the first couple of people to enter the park. Route 66 used to cut across what is now the National Park.
I was surprised that much of the trip through Arizona and New Mexico were on the Interstate. I could get off and make short loops or visit a site, but it wasn’t as connected as areas through Illinois and Missouri. The trip from Williams to Kingman would have me travel a great continuous segment that even had Burma Shave signs along some portions.
Downtown Winslow was a mess as they had the downtown area roads torn up and blocked off so I didn’t try and get out there. I pushed on down the road and fond a great ghost town of Two Guns. This is just off I-40 and has a large collection of ruins for buildings and a bridge that crosses the river that splits this tourist attraction in half.
While in Two guns the weather started to change and it was getting overcast. Looking towards Flagstaff looked even worst. As it turned out, getting to Flagstaff just brought a little rain. Coming down the western side though was a different story. I got some sleet a the top but then started running into snow flurries that might last for 10 miles then clear up for 10. I had this condition all the way through to Peach Spring and then from there it was more rain.
I took a side drive to hook up with the original alignment in Ash Fork and to go look at the Partridge Creek bridge with its tree growing out of the pavement. This turned out to be some of the roughest road that I traveled with large potholes that covered large sections of the road. Check out the movie to see how rough this road was.
The highlight of this entire trip was from Kingman over to Needles. The late afternoon light with broken storm clouds created some great lighting for the end of the day. In Oatman I was treated to about 20 minutes where a rainbow stayed. By driving down the road I got different vantage points and the occasional double rainbow. Usually rainbows disappear so fast you hardly have time to get creative.
While driving through Oatman I was seeing a lot of motorcycles on the road. I didn’t really think anything of it until I arrived in Needles. That was when I found the special event pricing for the weekend that was caused by the Laughlin Run when motorcyclists from all over descend on this part of Arizona, Nevada and California.
Fri April 23, Day 10, to San Diego, CA distance driven 469 miles
I’m back in CA and it is a gorgeous day. The goal today is to complete the route and get home to San Diego. I start work on Monday at a new job and I need to settle in a little before kicking that off.
Long stretches of Rte 66 are available in California. There aren’t a lot of sights to see between Needles and Barstow but there several small towns and two volcanic craters. Needles has the remnants or shell of a Harvey House that was central to this town. Barstow has the showpiece in a restored Harvey House. This is where the California route 66 museum is located.
Starting at Barstow the pace starts to pick up and you get into the metropolitan area of San Bernardino and Los Angeles. Crossing the Cajon pass is the gateway to this area and from here you get a great view of the San Bernardino mountains. On this trip they still had a good layer of snow.
I stopped in at the WigWam Motel in Rialto to compare it to the one I slept in Arizona. I didn’t realize that there were only three of these motels left from the original chain and the other one is located in Cave City KY, near Louisville! This site has been vastly improved. The manager came out and give me a quick tour of the place and showed me one of the rooms. This location has Internet, telephones and air conditioning. the rooms are slightly larger than those in Holbrook. In additional to those improvements there is grass and a swimming pool to make this an enjoyable place to stay.
I arrived in Rialto about 12:30, I pulled into Santa Monica about 4:30. It was a long and slow drive. With all the traffic it was very hard to find some of the sights and enjoy this portion of the road. After driving a portion of Ocean Blvd, the end of Route 66, I stopped in at the Santa Monica Pier and then headed for San Diego. On arriving in San Diego, I stopped in at my favorite restaurant, Roberto’s, and had a carne asada burrito and some rolled tacos with guacamole.
- A total of 3564 miles were driven on this trip. This included the drive required to get to Chicago from Louisville and then from LA to San Diego. There were also a number of wrong turns taken and sections where I had to back track. I had a really hard time in MO and did quite a few more miles there than was expected.
- Guidebook writers, do a better job of making the directions easily followed and separate the side trips and informational information. Also if you are going to provide mile markers, make it easy to return to a point and zero out the odometer. Trying to make adjustments to the numbers or finding the point where you return make taking the side trips more difficult. Some simple maps for the busy downtown areas would go a long way to making the instructions clear. Remember that one picture is worth a 1,000 words.
- Thank God for GPS. This trip would have been impossible driving alone and trying to follow the route with paper maps. This was my first trip where I didn’t load up on AAA maps and guide books.
- Don’t under estimate how long it takes to drive a 100 miles when you are not on the interstate and traveling surface roads driving through towns.