Route 66: Still the Greatest Way to See America

The future looks as bright as its neon past. | By Steve Larese  
Motel Route 66 America
The 1940s-era Blue Swallow Motel, in Tucumcari in New Mexico, U.S.A., features a garage with almost every room. Photo: Harold Hall

The storied American highway, Route 66, cruises into its 90th year in November 2016, and its future looks as bright as its neon past. Signs of a Route 66 resurgence include California’s new Mojave Trails National Monument, which protects over 168 kilometres of what, in The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck called the mother road. Restorations, such as the Boots Court motel project in Carthage, Missouri, and Albuquerque’s El Vado Auto Court Motel, which transforms into a multi-use space in 2017, are taking place along its 3,862 kilometres, from Chicago to Santa Monica.

Eighty-five per cent of the original Route 66, which was first commissioned in 1926, is still drivable. Small businesses along the way, including Tee Pee Curios in Tucumcari, New Mexico, and the L Motel in Flagstaff, Arizona, still look as they did in their retro heydays thanks to grants from the National Park Service’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. The programme was set to end in 2009, but has been extended to 2019. Afterwards, new non-profit, Route 66: The Road Ahead, aims to keep the path alive for years to come.

Tour companies from as far away as Queensland, Australia, offer Route 66 excursions, and mother road-centric festivals kick off from Springfield, Illinois, to Stuttgart, Germany, this summer and fall. “The number of people travelling Route 66 rises yearly, many of them foreign visitors ready to experience the road trip of a lifetime,” says Michael Wallis, author of Route 66: The Mother Road and the voice of Sheriff in Pixar’s Cars. “Route 66 is still the greatest way to see America.”

Appeared in the September 2016 issue as “The Mother Road”.

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