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Route 66 is a never ending series of experiences. Everyone talks about the famous manmade or natural tourist attractions. But if you've never been to the Southwest before, the weather, plants, animals, towns and cities are as unique as anything. You can't drive 66 on a tight schedule. You have to allow time to stop, explore and photograph all these attractions. We've arranged them here from East to West, from Chicago to Santa Monica. You might want to stop at some on the way out, and others on the way back. But allow for some spontaneity. You'll come around a bend and see the unexpected, perhaps a vehicle, building, or scene that just demands a stop. On Route 66, the highway itself is truly the Destination.

Buckingham Fountain was built one year after Route 66 opened and is the official Eastern terminus for the road. That's Route 66, at left, heading eastward on a four lane one way street and heading westward on another four lane one way street. Cutting across from left to right is Lakeshore Boulevard. The Congress Hotel is behind us as we take this photo. If you're not a frequent visitor to Chicago, you should take a day while here and visit the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, Chicago Museum of Science & Industry, the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower and take a ride on the El.

Shea's National Gas Station Museum in Springfield is the first truly quirky Route 66 stop you'll come to heading South from Chicago. Bill Shea and his wife Helen ran the core building as a Texaco Station for 50 years, and then for 10 more years as a Marathon station, before retiring and converting the facility to a museum. In 2000 the Mahan Station, the oldest still standing station in Illinois, was moved 21 miles to the Shea compound and meticulously restored. To the contents of those two fully equipped stations they have added artifacts from various other stations until they have a large menagerie of pumps, tools, advertisements, promotional devices and other memorabilia unique to the gas station business. You also get to listen to Bill, now 92, tell stories about his adventures serving Route 66 travellers since the road first opened. The "museum" has a sort of Sanford & Sons ambience. Memorabilia clutters the inside and outside of both buildings. But it's worth the stop to hear Bill talk about pumping gas for Al Capone and various country music stars. The station is popular with foreign visitors and has been featured on various TV shows over the last decade.


You're going to pass several wind farms on Route 66 and the first one is a 2200 acre installation at Paw Paw, Illinois. There are 63 towers, each 214 feet tall. Each blade is 85 ft. long. One tower costs $1 million. You'll see the high tension wires carrying this electricity into Chicago. None of the towers are next to Route 66, but you can turn and drive down a few side roads and get right underneath them. The actual windmills are owned by Navitas Energy, but the electricity is immediately sold to Commonwealth Edison. This wind farm generates 110 million kilowatts a year, enough to power 13,000 homes. Each landowner is paid $1200 per megawatt of electricity produced on his property. Land under the windmills is still cultivated in corn or used as pasture for cattle.
This beautifully maintained building was the longest continuously operating gas station on Route 66 in Illinois. It was opened in 1926 by Henry Soulsby and his son Russell. When Route 66 opened in the 1930s, they doubled the size of the station. A drive up ramp outside and behind the station was used for oil changes and transmission work. It's still in place but now has a tree growing up through it. After Henry died, Russell and sister Ola continued to run the station and greet visitors until 1997. The family is now working with the Illinois Route 66 Association to operate the station as a visitor center.
Chain of Rocks Bridge crosses the Mississippi River from Illinois to Missouri. It carried Route 66 for most of the 20th Century but when the road was decommissioned this bridge was neglected for a while, then restored as a pedestrian only bridge. Nevertheless, it is the only bridge in the country with a sharp angled turn in the middle. It is a beautiful example of a full truss iron bridge. The Chain of Rocks Bridge brought Route 66 into St. Louis at the northeastern corner of the city. 66 then followed the river down to the southeastern corner, where it angled southwest and headed toward central Missouri. Today, the newly reactivated Historical Route 66 crosses the river with the interstate, at the southeast corner of the city. It is definitely worth the time to park on one side of the river or the other and walk across the bridge.

The first attraction totally in Missouri is Gateway Arch. If you haven't visited before, it's a MUST stop. The Arch celebrates the Lewis & Clark Expedition and the Oregon Trail, both of which began here. You could spend a day, but it justifies at least several hours. Spend 30-45 minutes in the Museum of Westward Expansion. View the films Monument to the Dream, which documents the planning and building of the Arch, and The Journey West, which documents the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Each film lasts 30 minutes. The films are overdue for remaking, but the content is still fascinating. Then ride the tram to the top of the Arch. The tram itself is an engineering masterpiece --- how do you build an elevator to ride up and down a curved shaft while keeping the occupants upright? The building of the Arch and tram was a spectacular achievement back in the 1960s. At the base of the Arch is historic LaCleve's Landing, thick with riverboats in Mark Twain days. You can take a one hour river trip on The Becky Thatcher or Tom Sawyer. Sadly, the beautiful Admiral riverboat, and the McDonald's and Burger King riverboats are gone. St. Louis needs to replace these famous attractions. The original Route 66 ran right along the river at the base of the Arch, before it was rerouted to bypass riverfront traffic jams.

Meramec Cavern is the only cave you'll visit along Route 66. It's one of the most beautiful "show caves" in the world. Meramec is not as big as Mammoth or Carlsbad, with a main route of only 4.6 miles, but has more colorful and artistic formations. It also has an interesting human history. Native Americans used it for several thousand years. Union and Confederate forces fought over it during the Civil War because it was a source of saltpeter (potassium nitrate), a key ingredient in gunpowder and dynamite. The most famous occupants were Frank and Jesse James, who used it as a hideout during their outlaw careers. At one point the Sheriff tracked them here and waited outside the main entrance, but they escaped out another entrance and, knowing their secret had been discovered, never returned. Ballroom dancing was popular in the cave, and during Prohibition it was a location for drinking. Parts of the cave have been used in various films, and in 1972 it was used for the lengthy cave sequence in Tom Sawyer, where Tom and Becky are fleeing from Injun Joe. Guided tours are led by park rangers along the lighted main route. There's also a Lantern Tour, which explores unlighted side passages. In addition to the cave, there is canoeing on the river (six or 11 mile trips), 30 minute riverboat trips, a canopy experience involving four ziplines (the longest being 1250 ft.), and panning for gold (actually "fool's gold," fossils and lower grade gemstones). The Meramec Cavern Motel on the park grounds is another vintage motel but most Route 66 guidebooks don't list it because it's off the actual route. During the Route 66 heydey, thousands of travellers stopped at the cave and stayed at the motel. It's a short walk from the cave, gift shop and restaurant to the motel, which is a 1958 facility that has never done much updating. Meramec Cavern is only three miles off I-44 at Exit 230 at Stanton. The cave achieved a certain fame because promoter Lester Dill was the first in the nation to use bumper stickers and barn roof advertising. Barns across Missouri and nearby states still have Meramec Cavern signs painted on their rooves, and there are 150 billboards along I-44 which echo the 135 which used to line Route 66.

Mark Twain National Forest is a sprawling area of steep hills, deep ravines, heavy forest, and winding streams cutting across the South Central region of Missouri. The truth is, Mark Twain never hiked these woods or fished in these streams. His hometown of Hannibal was north of St. Louis on the Mississippi River and Twain had no reason to come way down here. But they still have the feel of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. They're not well known, so few people from outside of Missouri and Oklahoma visit. The trails and streams are not heavily used, so you feel a sense of isolation. From I-44 you'll catch glimpses of this forest, but Route 66 winds through the edges of it more dramatically. There are extensive backpacking and horsepacking trails, campsites and canoe liveries. This is where the Great Plains meet the Ozarks, so there are lots of photogenic vistas. There's also history. Several Native American tribes lived here. Rooster Cogburn rode these trails (despite the John Wayne films, which give the impression Cogburn's adventures were much further West). There was gold prospecting here, and several bloody Civil War battles. Frank and Jesse James move back and forth through here, and Daniel Boone came here when Kentucky became too crowded for his taste. These hills are high enough St. Louis and Tulsa residents come here to escape the Summer heat and humidity. There's also lots of wildlife.

Wineries dot Central Missouri. Many of them host visitors. You can get guided tours, wine tastings and the chance to purchase these local wines. Two groups created this tradition : Germans and Italians. From I-44 you can look out and see wineries on the hillsides, but from Route 66 you drive right by their driveways. We suggest you pull off I-44 at Cuba and follow Route 66. The Rosati Wine Museum, directly on 66, celebrates the Italian heritage. There's an Ozark Mountain Wine Trail you can take which gives you tours of six wineries and lunch at one of them. This "viticulture region" is not new. These families have been here since before the Civil War. The Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba would be a good place to stay if you wanted to spend a day or two exploring the area.
Wall Art is now a Route 66 tradition, but it began in Cuba, Missouri. A few local artists came up with the idea and painted every wall in town. This scene, for instance, is totally fake. Every detail is painted on the wall : the door, windows, signs, lights, pumps, people, car, tractor, even the street sign. The whole town of Cuba became a massive art exhibit. Today, you could spend a morning driving around and studying the various murals. There are even murals inside buildings, such as in the Amish Bakery shown below. As people travelled through Cuba en route to St. Louis or Chicago, they saw these murals and took the idea back home. Gradually, every town along Route 66 commissioned local artists, or art teachers adopted the project for their students. Today, you could spend a trip just studying Wall Art. We'll show you some of them on our pages but there are many more. Someone could compile a coffee table book, or a web site, on Route 66 Wall Art. Like Cuba, many towns portray their history through their wall art. Notice the Amelia Earhart mural below left; she was born and raised in this little town.
Route 66 only crosses one county in Kansas. It passes out of Missouri, cuts across a corner of Kansas, then drops into Oklahoma. But in that tiny 12 miles of Kansas are several points of interest. The first is the 4 Women On The Route Gas Station. Originally run by four sisters (one has since died), this station sits on the corner as you come into the old mining town of Galena. The town itself is in serious decline since the mines have closed and Route 66 was abandoned for I-44. But the station struck gold when the Pixar crew came through researching for their movie Cars. They stopped here for gas --- all four vehicles of them --- and immediately saw the possibilities. The tow truck partly visible at the left in this photo became Tow Mater. That's a better photo of the lovable truck below right. Several other vehicles on this property became characters. Now, 10 years later, the sisters make more money taking Tow Mater and the gang around the country for parades and guest appearances than they do running the gas station. Inside the station are hundreds of photos of the Pixar crew during their visit here, artifacts from the film, and lots of Route 66 memorabilia.

Just up the street on the left is this beautifully restored 1940s era Phillips 66 Gas Station. Inside is a Visitors Center with information on Route 66 in Kansas and the various attractions along the next 12 miles, plus maps, books and brochures on the entire route. This station is the best remaining example of this particular model of Phillips stations. At one point over 100 of these operated along Route 66, but the others have either been remodelled past recognition, or fallen into disuse and been torn down to make room for something more modern.
As you pass into Oklahoma, you hit the small town of Miami. You MUST stop at the Coleman Theater. This is an amazing theater for a town this size. The Coleman, which still hosts stage shows, concerts and movies, seats 1600 in grand opulence. This is one of the two most amazing theaters on Route 66, the other being the Kimo in Albuquerque. It also used to host vaudeville shows, speeches and political rallies. Most of the famous entertainers of the 20th Century performed here at least once and some of them many times. The Coleman sits on your right if you're passing through town from East to West. Guided tours are conducted several times a day but if you miss one they will still let you in to look around. The pipe organ here is one of the nation's biggest and best. The Coleman has recently undergone a renewal and is in sparkling condition.
Whenever you're on Route 66, you're in the middle of a 2200 mile long rolling car show. It is a tradition for car lovers to buy an old classic, restore it, then take it on a Route 66 trip out and back. There's even a Chicago & L.A. company that rents vintage cars to foreigners, who fly into one city, pick up their car, drive it out Route 66 and drop the car off at the other end. The bus at left has been chopped and channelled, with the original student seats replaced by plush leather captains chairs. The bus goes to University of Illinois football and basketball games and then every June takes a two week trip out and back on Route 66. You find yourself in a travelling crowd, with the same cars passing you and you passing them, stopping at the same restaurants, attractions and motels. After several days, you strike up friendships and wave on the road. Many of these vehicles have brand new engines which can run on unleaded gas. They have electronic ignition, Bose sound systems, shoulder harnesses, power steering, disc brakes, modern wiring harnesses, air conditioning and other 21st Century features. Only the outsides look original. The one below right was built from scratch 100% from parts salvaged from a junkyard over several years.

One of the more unique features along Route 66 in Oklahoma is The Round Barn. Built in 1898 by Bill Odor to be tornado proof (the winds can't get a grip on any surface), it was used not only to store a huge amount of hay in the above ground part and cattle, horses and oxen in the basement, but also for square dances. No structure like this had ever been built. Odor designed and built special rigs to bend the beams into the curved shapes for the walls and roof. When Route 66 was built right past the barn, it became an instant landmark and for a long time was one of the most photographed icons on the road. The barn had been deteriorating when Luke Robinson and a bunch of specialists called The Over The Hill Gang took on the project of restoring it. Using their own skills and lots of volunteer labor, they completed a total restoration for only $65,000, a full $100,000 under the estimate made by the National Preservation Society. The oak floors and oaken beams have been beautifully refurbished. There's a gift shop and guided tours. In 1992 the National Preservation awarded Robinson and his friends the National Preservation Medal for their "Exceptional Craftmanship." The Arcadia Barn is important architecturally because it is the only truly round barn in the world. Others had the same idea as Odor, but since they had no way to curve the beams they used short straight segments to build pentagonal, octagonal, or hexagonal barns. He was the only one to go the extreme of building special rigs to curve the beams. Unfortunately, the process took too long to be commercially feasible, so this remains one of a kind.

Unique in a totally different kind of way is Pops, on Route 66 just as it enters Oklahoma City. As the huge grillwork bottle (see photo top right) implies , Pops is the soft drink capital of the world. Patterned after a classic wine or liquor store, Pops has every soft drink made. You can buy single bottles, six packs or cases. Pops offers a tasting bar where you can try a shot glass of any flavor. There are whole racks of Root Beer, Cream Soda, Grape, Orange, Ginger Ale and all the other classics. But there are also racks of Pumpkin, Watermelon, Corn, Pineapple,Chocolate and a hundred other flavors you never imagined. Pops is a mind boggling place to spend an hour or so. Who knew there were over 100 versions of Root Beer? Who knew they still actually make Kickapoo Joy Juice, Nehi Grape, Jolt and Yoohoo? You can also buy the classic glass bottles from the early 20th Century, and lots of soft drink memorabilia. One of the most interesting aspects of Pops is the international collection. You can buy soft drinks from Mexico, Iran, China, Australia and Russia. They could easily franchise this and open Pops across the nation. For now, however, this is the only one. Pops grew out of an old Route 66 gas station, and you can still fill up here. But the little building has morphed into a large, modern facility, part store and part museum.
All along Router 66, you'll see a resurgence occurring. Old motels, stores, gas stations and roadside attractions are being revived. Here, in Chandler, they're restoring one of the original Phillips 66 gas stations. This is another classic. It's the best remaining example of the 1930 style "cottage" station. The one back in Galena (see earlier photo and text) was the next one in a series of Phillips 66 stations, which gradually grew larger and took on a more modern style. Some of these old stations are being turned into visitor centers or other alternate uses, but many are actually being restored as working gas stations. The people doing all this restoring tend to be either retiring couples who spent their lives in corporate America or as teachers or lawyers and want to spend a decade or two as small businessmen, or are young college graduates, usually with degrees in Business Administration or Historical Preservation, who don't want to spend their careers in jobs which might be easily outsourced or downsized. Many of these people have also tired of big city life and want to get back to small towns. Where no one else steps in, some small towns have undertaken the restorations as civic projects. With the National Park Service having declared Route 66 a National Scenic Byway, federal grants are readily available for any building which can be proven to have historical significance.

The National Motorcycle Museum is seven miles west of Chandler, in the villege of Warwick. It's in the former Seaba Gas Station, which was built in 1921 and was long considered one of the finest stations on Route 66. The museum contains 65 vintage motorcycles from 1908 until now. It also shows clothing, tools, advertisements, owners manuals, photos and other 20th Century motorcycling memorabilia. Five miles from I-44, the museum is open from 10 to 5 daily. This is not the only "national motorcycle museum." There's one in Iowa in an old WalMart. But this is the only one on Route 66, and it has a fine collection and a nostalgic building. It's definitely worth a stop if you're riding a motorcycle or love motorcycles.
As you drive across Oklahoma, especially as you approach Oklahoma City, the Weather will become as interesting as any of the manmade attractions along the road. Especially during the Summer, when most people drive Route 66, the weather can change quickly and become ominous in a hurry. You'll see some of the most amazing, and frightening, clouds you've ever imagined. You'll be lucky if you get out of the state without at least one torrential downpour, one hail storm and one spectacular lightning display, and you may have a dozen. This is the land of storm chasers, where majoring in "atmospheric science" in college is common, and where storm damage is more frequent than fender benders as a source of vehicle repair. Most of the time this weather is merely entertaining, but you do need to watch for tornadoes and "wall clouds," and head for safety when you see them. You may wish to carry a car cover with enough thickness to protect both your glass and metal from ping pong ball sized hailstones. They're the extreme, but marble sized hail is quite common.
One absolutely mandatory stop is the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Okla. This is a very well done small museum, with great displays and professional management. They've covered all the bases : the campgrounds, motels, cars, diners, restaurants, gas stations, attractions, construction, decommissioning and revival. They have the pumps, signs, movies, books, maps, TV shows, and songs. You could spend half a day here but you need to allocate at least an hour. There's a gift shop and some outside displays. You'll find lots of photo ops. Open 9 to 7 daily except Sunday, when it's open 1 to 6.
The single most famous stop along Route 66 was the fabulous U Drop Inn in Shamrock, Texas. This intersection itself was famous for 50 years, as it was the crossing of east west 66 and north south 83. Pre-Interstate, these were two of the most important roads in America. So it's not surprising that at the intersection this beautiful art deco building would be erected in 1936. It had a full service Conoco Gas Station (left, facing 66), a fully equipped auto service center, and a major restaurant(at right). The neon lights were the finest on Route 66. The building was completely restored in 2000 and the Shamrock Chamber of Commerce now has its offices there. The Pixar Crew loved this building and modelled Ramone's in Cars after it. Since the restoration the restaurant has not reopened, but it's ready and the hope is someone can be found to reopen and mnanage it.
As you head west out of Amarillo, Texas, you need to look to your left (South) for the Cadillac Ranch. A row of 10 Cadillacs inserted nose first into the ground, the cars have attracted graffiti and more than 100,000 visitors a year. A whimsical statement on the absurdity of U.S. consumerism, the display is located where Route 66 and I-40 run side by side so everyone heading East or West will see it. A similar display of Volkswagons, called Bug Ranch, is on the east side of Amarillo.
Wind farms are plentiful out here. Some of them extend for miles and contain over 100 towers. If you want to get right under them you'll have to take one of the side roads, but you can get this close without leaving Route 66 or I-40.
One of the fascinating features of the Southwest landscape is the Dust Devil. Sort of like miniature tornadoes, they occur as the intense heat interacts with air currents. You'll see one out in the distance, racing across the desert, looking rather frightening. But they suddenly just dissolve. They pick up sand, dust and dirt and can extend for a hundred feet or more in the air. Usually, when conditions are right for one to form, you'll see a bunch, each one arising as the one preceding it dissolves.
As you enter New Mexico, you can add birds and animals to the list of attractions. The Roadrunner in this photo is typical. Roadrunners like to race cars. They'll see you coming and wheel in from out on the desert, then speed up to match whatever you're doing. If you speed up, they'll speed up. If you slow down, they'll slow down. They'll run along with you for a mile or so, then veer off onto the desert as they reach the end of their territory. . After a few miles, another one will join you. At top speed, just like in the cartoon, their legs are revolving so fast they're only a blur.

Either on the way out or the way back you should take Old 66 through Santa Fe (Due to some political shenanigans, the governor had 66 rerouted through Albequerque). If you do, as you come through downtown Santa Fe, you'll see this magnificent Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi on the square. It's definitely worth a stop. If you stay at La Fonda this will be just down the street. Begun in 1869 and completed in 1886, the cathedral contains numerous statues and other features of special note. The large rose window in front and the stained glass windows along the sides commemorating the 12 Apostles were imported from France. The doors are of Bronze, the baptismal font of Granite, and the Stations of the Cross in etched glass. These are the earliest examples of etched glass in North America. This is the largest cathedral in New Mexico, and is not a historical display. It is not only a functioning church, but is the mother church of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. You don't have to be Catholic to appreciate this building. The ceilings, sculptures, stained glass, and various historic artifacts are museum quality.

You haven't seen a Farmers Market until you've seen the one in Santa Fe. You can buy Blue Corn, Bolita Beans, Posole, Mesquite Cactus Honey, Buffalo Sausage; Ancho, Guajillo, Habanero and other Chiles; Dairy products, especially Cheeses; local Wines, Tomatoes you've never heard of like Oaxaca, Purple Swash and Rose Quartz; Various kinds of Jerkies; and Jujubes ("Desert Fruit"). Jujubes are like red dates. You can buy Tomatillos and Native American rugs, blankets, pottery, baskets and art. The Baked Goods are unique : you really MUST try the Green Chile Croissant. There are also food vendors, tempting you with local entrees like Poblano Chile Stew, Grilled Lamb Skewers and Navajo Goat Cheese. Every Saturday and Tuesday from sunrise until noon. There's also the Railyard Artisans Market from 10 - 4 every Sunday. It features hand blown glass, jewelry, pottery, paintings, fiber art and sculpture.


The Kimo Theatrein Albuquerque was built in 1927 and is probably the greatest example in the nation of the Pueblo Deco architectural style. If you follow Route 66 through the city from west to east you'll pass right by it. Driving westward, you'll be on a one way street a block north. Architect Carl Boller researched Pueblo architecture thoroughly before picking up his pen, and the building shows all the classic Pueblo devices : rounded corners, cumulative massing, use of colors and shields, double recessed windows and doors, etc. The Kimo is still a working theatre with major films, concerts, plays and speaking engagements. The interior looks like a traditional Kiva, with log ceiling beams, dance and hunting scenes, Navajo rugs, and drums. Wrought iron birds and buffalo skulls decorate the staircases. The theatre is open from 9 to 4 five days a week for visitors and is open for performances in the evenings. Call 505-768-3522 in advance for guided tours. If you're spending the night in Albuquerque, watching a film in the Kimo is a memorable experience, with its plush seating and ornate ambience. Many Route 66 travellers in the mid 20th Century in their letters, diaries and journals mention seeing a movie or show in the Kimo.
If you're travelling Route 66 in the Summer, you may very well be passing through New Mexico and Arizona during major forest fires. Route 66 does not pass through areas prone to forest fires, but just South of it are several national forests which are very fire prone. If fires are in progress, you will probably see smoke drifting northward, as shown here. The smoke never gets so thiuck as to slow traffic on 66 or I-40, but it can definitely become noticeable.
One tradition you should honor is taking your photo on the Route 66 Jackrabbit. This statue sits on the south side of I-40/66 in Arizona. Since 1940, everybody cruising the route has stopped for a photo. If it was good enough for Marilyn, Elvis and Annette, then how could you possibly refuse? The Jackrabbit was intended as an advertisement for the Jackrabbit Travel Center & Gift Shop, but soon achieved its own fame. Often, you'll have to wait in line, as people from across the country and even foreign nations stop for their photos. Look for the signs advertising the gift shop.

If you're into Western history, you'll want to turn north on Route 191 and drive onto the Navajo Nation to the Hubbell Trading Post. This is not a replica or a reenactment; it's the original trading post in its third century of business. It is the oldest continuously operating trading post in North America. Today, the post serves residents of the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Apache and Comanche nations. Navajo weavers create rugs at the trading post and you can buy what they make. The site includes more than a large store. There is a 130 acre homestead, featuring a home and outbuildings. Today, there's a display of Native American art. For 100 years, Hubbell maintained a guest house for white visitors and a row of Hogans for Native Americans who came from far away. Today, however, there is neither lodging nor restaurant at the trading post. During the 1800s and the first part of the 1900s, no money was used here. Hubbell would bring goods from back East, especially coffee, sugar, tools, flour, baking powder, tobacco and, later, canned goods. When the railroad reached the Southwest he would pick up wagonloads of goods from the depot in Gallup. The Native Americans would bring wool, blankets, rugs, jewelry, pots, and baskets. Gallup would take these in exchange, then sell them to buyers from back East. The Hubbells were unique in that the whole family lived here. Other trading posts were run by men who kept their families back East. Several generations of Hubbells are buried here in the family cemetery.

The Painted Desert is a spectacular and intensely photogenic part of a Route 66 cruise. You'll see only a small part of this 95,000 acre landscape as Route 66 skirts the southern edge. The Painted Desert extends roughly from the Grand Canyon to the Petrified Forest, with much of it laying in the Navajo Nation. If you want to see it as its most spectacular, go off Route 66 and drive northward toward the Canyon de Chelly. However, you can see several magnificent overlooks by going off at the Petrified Forest National Park exit and driving the northern loop road.
You'll drive right through Petrified Forest National Park, and you should turn off and spend an hour or so travelling both the northern loop and southern section roads. This is an amazing park, where you pass through huge fields of long ago trees now turned to stone and preserved. (A sad sidelight to a visit here is you learn about how people carted off specimens by the trainload and continue to haul away whatever they can sneak out in their cars, trucks or pockets. So spectacular as it is, what we see today is only the leftovers from a century of looting.) The best driving strategy is to go ahead and drive all the way to the South entrance, then exit the park and take 180 into Holbrook.
You have to stop in Winslow, Arizona so you can take a few photos at the famous main intersection. Seligman, Tucumcari, Oatman, Cuba and Galena all claim to be "The Capitol of Route 66," but Winslow fills that role as well as any of them. The road running through town is very well preserved, various songs and movies feature Winslow, and it has participated in the revival as much as any place.
Possibly the most stunning stop along Route 66 is Meteor Crater. The meteor that smashed into the Earth here did so with such speed and power it sank deep below the surface while throwing up the huge crater and hurling debris across the desert for miles. Scientists have been researching the site ever since. The crater is huge. The observation decks and walkways hang just over the edge and you have to stand there for quite a while trying to grasp how far across and down the crater is and then understand that the meteor is still down there, buried deep below the surface. It's 4000 ft. across and 570 ft. deep. The remaining meteor is 54 yards across but scientists now believe at least half of it was vaporized by the impact, which produced an explosion of 10 megatons. Modern calculations using computer modelling have it travelling at 28,600 mph. The meteor is primarily nickel and iron. This is the largest meteor crater in the world. The machinery and buildings you see on the crater floor are from the drilling down 1746 feet to reach and explore the meteor. The crater is clearly visible from space. There's a gift shop, snack bar and theater.
Seligman, Arizona proclaims itself The Capitol of Route 66. Given the roles of Tucumcari, Winslow, Cuba and other towns, this might be open to argument. But Seligman is definitely worth a stop. And your first site should be Angel & Vilma's. This is primarily a gift shop and snack bar, but Angel runs a barber shop. He claims to provide the best haircut on Route 66. The usual long list of celebrities have taken him up on this, and their cards hang on the walls. If you get your hair cut here, you can hang your business car, too. You should also fill up at the Texaco station next door, because gas stations will be few and far between from here to Needles.
The early Route 66 crowd was mostly males, and with all the testosterone cruising back and forth, it was inevitable some of California's Finest would set up shop along the highway. The Rusty Bolt was Seligman's center for fun and female companionship. Today, the women have gone back to California (we think), but The Rusty Bolt hangs on as a zany gift shop and snack bar. Across the street (behind us as we take this picture) is the equally famous Seligman Taxi Company. Drivers there use Edsels. They can actually take you to a destination, but most people just pay them for a half hour drive around the area so they can experience a ride in an Edsel.
At Peach Springs, you have two spectacular options. The first is a trip down to Supai, the village on the Havasu Reservation. No roads go to Supai. You either backpack it or go by horse. Supai has a beautiful campground next to a world famous travertine pool and waterfall, shown at left. You can swim in the pool. The water is about 85 degrees. The village has a nice motel. There's a restaurant on the square where you can get various Native American specialties or a regular cheeseburger. Silversmiths and other craftsmen work at tables on the square and you can buy their creations at very good prices. The trail down is eight miles. It's a very pleasant walk down, through awesome canyons and rock formations. Coming back up is tougher, and many visitors decide to make the return by horse. Havasu outfitters provide service both ways every day. The village is deep in the Western Grand Canyon, surrounded by towering rock formations, spires and cliffs. Below the pool is another waterfall and then the Colorado River. This could be the most spectacular overnight side trip you ever take.
You'll see ads for the new Skywalk, on the West Rim of the Grand Canyon on the Hualapai Reservation. It's your second option. This one only takes one day. It's a spectacular project and the view is breathtaking. To get there, take 93 30 miles north from Kingman, turn right on Pearce Ferry Road for 28 miles, then turn onto Diamond Bar Road for 14 miles. However, the decision to visit the Skywalk is complex. It's expensive. The Hualapai built this as a moneymaker for an impoverished tribe. You'll pay $16 for a permit to drive onto the reservation. Then you're required to purchase a $75 Legacy Tour Package, which includes the SkyWalk, parking, lunch and a few other perks. Second, it's not visitor friendly. You can't take your camera out on the Skywalk. Nor can you take any other personal items. You must leave your beltpack, handbag and any other accessory in your vehicle. Of course, they have their own photographer, so you can pay $25 for a photo of your group against the canyon backdrop. It's a spectacular photo, one that would look impressive in a frame back home, but if you enjoy taking your own pix you'll find this annoying. Third, the project is controversial . Environmental groups, including half the Hualapai Nation, consider it a defacement of sacred ground. Another contingent of the Hualapai Nation has objected to the subcontracting of the project to a Las Vegas firm, and in the Spring of 2012 staged an attack in which they ousted employees of the company and took control of the Skywalk. They still run it as usual, and tourists don't see any signs of this disagreement, but behind the scenes a major battle is being waged in courts and tribal meetings. Finally, Diamond Bar Road is a rough, unpaved route, iffy for highway vehicles and not recommended for vintage cars.

From Peach Springs, you'll head out into the Arizona Back Country. This is the wildest, most remote stretch of Route 66. You'll be driving through a mix of mountains and desert, with winding road, steep hills and no true towns. The debris of Route 66 is everywhere : abandoned gas stations, general stores, cars and signs. But there are some great photo opportunities. Be sure to fill up with gas whenever you come to a station, because you won't find many.


As you approach Kingman, you have some preparations to take care of. First, stop on the edge of town, gas up, check your oil, and most important, check your water and make sure you have coolant in your radiator. Buy a few bottles of water just in case --- not for you, for the vehicle. You also need to check the time. If it is later than 4:00 pm, if you are driving out and back, you should just turn onto I-40 and head for Needles. If you're doing a West only drive and plan to fly home from Los Angeles, you should stop in Kingman for the night. All of this is necessary because as you leave Kingman heading West on Route 66, you'll be heading up into the Black Mountains and Sitgreaves Pass. For the Okies and Arkies heading West on Route 66, this was a horror story. Their old jalopies were already exhausted from the long drive across four states, and now they had the most challenging section of all before they reached California. For four decades men made a living driving cars for people between Kingman and Oatman because for anyone born and raised in flat country, this steep, narrow, winding road with no shoulders and thousand foot drops was too nerve wracking. The desert heat made it ten times worse, boiling their primitive radiators over and blowing their old tires. Until 1970, tow trucks were stationed at the bottom on both sides and two more routinely patrolled back and forth all day.

Standard practice was to drive the road at night. That avoided the overheating, but was of course much more dangerous because of the steep, narrow, winding road with no guard rails and fatal drops. Another strategy was to drive the road backwards, because in the old cars reverse gears were lower and allowed a slower climb without stalling out. Families would often get out and walk in front of their vehicles with lanterns, lightening the load, lessening the danger and providing some illumination, since driving backwards the headlights were of no help. Modern drivers also need to keep reminding themselves that these older drivers had to deal with manual transmissions, meaning they were continually fighting clutch pedals and shifting levers.

With the opening of I-40 between Kingman and Needles, the old road has never been improved. You will thus see it just as the Joads (the family in Grapes of Wrath) and their counterparts saw it. It's paved now, and slightly wider, but cars still overheat, drivers still find it nerve wracking, and you still can't travel more than about 15-20 mph.

Route 66 between Kingman and Topock (the Arizona village on the river before you cross over to Needles) is definitely the most scenic section of all. There are only a few places to pull off, but anyone not driving can get great photos at every turn. The two photos here do not show the worst of the hairpin turns, switchbacks and narrow ledges. You must also be prepared for Desert Mountain Goats, Wild Burros, Desert Fox, Mountain Lions, Deer, Coyote, Desert Lynx, Javelina, a dozen birds and assorted snakes and small mammals. For anyone from further East, there are also the fascinating desert plants, especially the dozen varieties of cacti. The road is also a spectacular display of geology, with various layers slanting and tilting back and forth. All of this is why we recommend you not start out late in the day from either Needles or Kingman. You need daylight not only for safe driving but to see everything.

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