Gnarly Road Trippin' on Route 66
By Jeff Alexander
Route 66 stands as a testament to post-war Americana. The route still attracts visitors from all over the world, seeking to create their personalized road trip while paying respect to iconic, roadside attractions. In its heyday, Route 66 successfully incorporated the growing hot rod and kustom kulture scenes while using rock & roll as its soundtrack.
The roadside attractions represented a shift in American advertisement and DIY businesses exploded across the U.S. Record-setting auto sales provided newfound mobility for families to participate in summer road trip vacations. Stretching from Illinois to California, Route 66 was a mainstay in Americana’s lexicon despite being de-commissioned in 1985. Perhaps a victim of its own popularity, the route simply could not handle the traffic. But today, 85% of the Mother Road can still be accessed and enjoyed by new generations seeking kicks on 66.
Named after the bright yellow sunsets, this panhandle cow town was founded in 1887. Texas is still home to many original, iconic 66 attractions, notably Big Texan Steak Ranch. Built in 1960 and founded by Bob Lee, the steak ranch proves ‘everything is bigger in Texas’ thanks to its classic 72-ounce steak dinner challenge. The property still features an Old West motel and entertainment motif. The restaurant has been featured in Waking Up Reno, Man V. Food, and Anthony Bourdain No Reservations.
The public art installation of Cadillac Ranch was created in 1974 by the art collective Ant Farm in response to the oil embargo and in contrast, America embracing the brand as a status symbol.
Artists carefully buried and arranged the vehicles and permitted visitors to tag the cars with personalized messages. Cadillac tail fins perfectly captured the style of American car culture, a style that sadly ended due to outside competition and consumer demand for more economic and practical rides.
Tucumcari, New Mexico
Once earning the moniker of Six-Shooter Siding in 1901 thanks to its raucous history of saloons and railroad camps for workers, the town ultimately evolved to a popular 66 stopover. Thanks to a bevy of roadside motels, including the legendary 1939 Blue Swallow Motel, the town boasted intricate neon signs, which eventually became Route 66 staples. Blue Swallow Motel and Tee-Pee Curious trading post became photo opts for several cross-country travelers. The recent sale of Blue Swallow Motel has retired owners Kevin and Nancy Mueller assuring prospective guests that the motel’s tradition will happily continue.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
What’s a trip on 66 without making a stop at a classic diner? Albuquerque’s 66 Diner was originally a Philips service station in 1946 and expanded to meet traveler demand. The diner was constructed in 1987 but suffered a massive fire in 1995. Reconstruction gave birth to a carefully detailed homage to ‘50s diners.
Santa Rosa, New Mexico
Santa Rosa was secured in history thanks to the Grapes of Wrath movie adaptation in 1940. The memorable train sequence was filmed in the city. Today, the spirit of 66 and motokulture is alive and well thanks to Route 66 Auto Museum. James "Bozo" Cordova has over 40 years of experience restoring and building rides. He runs the museum with his wife Anna Cordova and the couple proudly feature original memorabilia and over 30 well-preserved classic rods and muscle cars.
Gallup, New Mexico
Chuck Berry name-dropped Gallup in Route 66 so it's only fitting to stay a night at El Rancho Hotel. Decorated in rustic Southwestern motif, the hotel has attracted stars for decades. Boasting a rich history within Hollywood, many directors used the grounds for western films. Founded by R.E. Griffith in 1937, brother of director D.W. Griffith, the property became a mainstay. Armand Ortega Sr. ultimately saved the property in the '80s and the hotel lived a second life. Ortega passed in 2014 but the hotel remains open.
Featuring a great variety of 66 history, Arizona is a must-see for visitors seeking 66 experiences.
The small community of Winslow earned recognition in 1972 after The Eagles penned Take It Easy; with the famous verse of ‘Well, I’m a standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, and such a fine sight to see.’ Standin’ On The Corner Park opened in 1999, though many debate why the town took so long to commemorate the successful song. Featuring a statue and a classic Ford truck, thousands make the trek just for the photo op.
If you want a unique overnight stay, Holbrook’s Wigwam Motel is it! Opened in 1950 by Chester E. Lewis, the property prominently displays mid-century rides and of course, motel rooms shaped as giant teepees. ‘Have You Slept in a Wigwam Lately?’
Jack Rabbit Trading Post of Joseph City captured everything about classic 66 advertising. Founded in 1949 by Jim Taylor, his clever repeating billboards of Here It Is and famous mileage count signs sparked enough interest to make motorists pop in for photo ops of the shop’s giant jackrabbit. The shop celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2019.
Peach Springs’ Grand Canyon Caverns and motel is worth the trip despite being off the beaten path. Spectacular cave formations from over 300 million years ago and even an opportunity for guests to book overnight stays inside make this a diamond in the rough attraction.
Santa Monica, California
Constructed in 1909, this famous pier proclaims End of the Trail for all Route 66 travelers. The iconic sign greeting visitors is appropriately lit in neon, perhaps in homage to the classic roadside businesses.
Photos: Jeff Alexander & Krystal Mathias-Alexander