The Influence of Route 66 on American Road Trips – Exploring Iconic Highways and Destinations

The historic Route 66, often referred to as the “Main Street of America,” significantly influences American road trips. Spanning approximately 2,448 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles, it was one of the first highways in the U.S. Highway System, established in 1926.

The iconic route has captivated the hearts and minds of travelers who ventured on epic journeys to explore the country, seeking out new experiences and the freedom of the open road. Route 66’s impact on the growth and popularity of road trip stories laid the foundation for numerous adventures.

Over time, Route 66 became more than just a highway – it evolved into a symbol of American culture, inspiring countless literary works, songs, movies, and television shows.

The road’s rich history and unique roadside attractions contributed immensely to forming the American road trip archetype. Businesses, motels, and diners sprang up along the route, catering to road-weary travelers drawn by the allure of Route 66. The highway and its establishments directly impacted the experiences of those who journeyed along its path.

Today, Route 66 continues to influence the American road trip as a historical site and a living, breathing cultural phenomenon.

Numerous tourist agencies specialize in offering tailored road trips along this iconic route, enabling a new generation of travelers to experience the charm and nostalgia of Route 66 for themselves. As we explore the world around us, the legacy of Route 66 lives on, reminding us of what American road trips once were and what they continue to be.

The Birth of Route 66: Main Street of America

Creating a Highway connecting Chicago and Los Angeles

In the early 1900s, America’s transportation infrastructure was developing rapidly. Visionaries such as Cyrus Avery recognized the need for a highway system to connect the nation, and in 1926, Route 66 was born.

This iconic highway, also known as the “Mother Road” and “Main Street of America,” stretched from Chicago, Illinois, to Los Angeles, California, passing through St. Louis and numerous other cities.

The establishment of Route 66 was a significant milestone in American history, as it facilitated trade and economic development between the East and the West. This new highway also allowed for easier mobility of individuals for both work and leisure purposes.

The Fred Harvey Company and the Rise of Road Travel

With the creation of Route 66, road travel became increasingly popular among Americans, leading to the development of roadside attractions, motels, and dining establishments. One company that played a pivotal role in the rise of road travel was the Fred Harvey Company.

They established a chain of luxurious “Harvey House” hotels and restaurants along the highway, providing travelers with quality accommodations and dining options.

This development inspired others to capitalize on the growing demand for roadside services. Eventually, the market flourished with various establishments, turning Route 66 into a primary destination for the quintessential American road trip.

The Grapes of Wrath and the Dust Bowl Migration

Perhaps one of the most significant events in Route 66’s history was the Dust Bowl and the migration of families seeking a better life in California. The highway symbolized hope and opportunity for these migrants, and the journey was immortalized in John Steinbeck’s acclaimed novel, The Grapes of Wrath.

Throughout the Great Depression and beyond, Route 66 served as a lifeline connecting people and communities. As the United States grew and evolved, so did the “Mother Road,” shaping the American road trip culture and playing a central role in the nation’s history.

Route 66: Must-visit Stops and Iconic Landmarks

From Missouri to Oklahoma

Starting our journey on Route 66 in Missouri, we can’t miss the famous Meramec Caverns, a natural wonder that has captivated travelers for decades.

Continuing through Missouri, we reach Springfield, the birthplace of Route 66. Here, we recommend stopping at some of the local diners and museums that celebrate the rich history of this iconic highway.

Entering Oklahoma, we can explore Tulsa, which offers a mix of classic Route 66 roadside attractions and contemporary art and dining experiences. Moving on, Oklahoma City provides plenty of options for food and lodging, including historic motels like the Blue Swallow Motel that have been preserved for their cultural significance.

Exploring New Mexico and Arizona

Crossing into New Mexico, we are greeted by the vibrant towns of Tucumcari and Santa Fe. These towns capture the essence of American road trips with their distinct desert landscapes and unique Southwestern architecture. Don’t miss the excellent museums and galleries celebrating the region’s art, culture, and history.

Entering Arizona, we find ourselves surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of the Grand Canyon. Take some time to admire this natural wonder before exploring the town of Flagstaff, which offers a great mix of attractions, including the Meteor Crater, an awe-inspiring impact site.

Continuing westward, we arrive in Kingman, the “Heart of Historic Route 66,” which offers a variety of motels, diners, and museums celebrating the heritage of this legendary highway.

Final Stretch: Barstow to Santa Monica

As we embark on the final leg of our Route 66 journey, we pass through the Mojave Desert, which offers some of the most stunning desert landscapes on the entire route. The towns of Barstow and San Bernardino provide excellent opportunities to experience classic diners and roadside attractions that have been serving travelers for generations.

Finally, we arrive in Santa Monica, California, the western terminus of Route 66. Here, we can celebrate the end of our epic road trip by exploring this vibrant coastal city’s beaches, parks, and historic areas.

Throughout our journey along Route 66, we have encountered countless iconic landmarks, picturesque small towns, and unique roadside attractions. These experiences have allowed us to appreciate the influence of Route 66 on American road trips and the enduring spirit of adventure and exploration that it continues to inspire.

The Legacy of Route 66

Route 66 in Pop Culture

Route 66, the Will Rogers Highway, has left an indelible mark on American culture. This iconic highway, stretching from Chicago to Santa Monica, has been immortalized in literature, music, and film.

John Steinbeck, for instance, referred to it as the “Mother Road” in his classic novel The Grapes of Wrath. In music, Bobby Troup’s song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” further cemented its place in popular culture.

Moreover, the famous highway was pivotal in developing the classic American road trip. As car ownership became more widespread, people were drawn to the sense of adventure and nostalgia that Route 66 offered.

Families and friends in classic cars embarked on exploratory journeys, stopping at roadside attractions and immersing themselves in the history and culture of the surrounding communities.

Effects on the Economy

As an essential artery for commerce and shipping before the advent of the Interstate System, Route 66 bolstered the economies of the states and cities along its path.

Traders, shipping companies, and merchants heavily relied on the highway for transporting goods, encouraging business growth and leading to the development of roadside shops, restaurants, and motels.

Additionally, Route 66 had a significant impact on Native American communities, especially the Navajo and Cherokee tribes. Their arts and handicrafts gained popularity among roadtrippers, establishing numerous trading posts along the highway.

This cultural exchange between different communities amplified the allure of the great American road trip, further promoting car-based tourism.

Decommissioning and Revival

Unfortunately, with the passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, Route 66 gradually became obsolete as modern interstate highways were constructed across the country. In 1985, the route was officially decommissioned, but the romance and charm of this historic highway did not fade.

Interest in the nostalgic appeal of Route 66 has surged in recent years. Many people are rediscovering the road’s stunning landscapes, quirky attractions, and engaging narratives. Aided by the National Park Service, various preservation and revitalization efforts have been undertaken to keep the spirit of Route 66 alive.

Organizations such as the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership are committed to preserving, promoting, and revitalizing the iconic roadway for the benefit of future generations.

Our collective memory of Route 66 continues to evolve, but one thing remains steadfast: the highway’s enduring impact on the American road trip and the sense of adventure it inspires.