The road goes on forever

Celebrating 75 years of America's legendary Route 66

Between Lake Michigan's urban shoreline in downtown Chicago, and Santa Monica's trendy Pacific Ocean beaches, Route 66 winds its way through the heart of America, a 2,400-mile "Main Street" that may be the nation's most famous thoroughfare.

Yes, that Route 66. The one the Dust Bowl refugees followed from the blinding sandstorms and blowing tumbleweeds of Oklahoma to the sunny skies of California. The rutted, dirt-covered highway that John Steinbeck called the Mother Road in "The Grapes of Wrath."

Woody Guthrie wrote about Route 66 in album-liner notes, saying, "We followed the 66 Highway, the Will Rogers Road, from Oklahoma to the Pacific Ocean.... Sometimes, especially in summertime, the desert is awful hot, and the tar pavement is hotter, and you can see whole families caught and stranded out there under the signboards and cactuses."

Today, Route 66 road warriors play the cassette of Guthrie's "Dust Bowl

Ballads" as they drive the Oklahoma plains, passing through the small towns of Arcadia, Foss, Elk City, and Texola.

Yes, that Route 66. The highway that so many soldiers traveled on during World War II, shuttling between training bases and home, perhaps taking their last automobile ride before shipping out of California for the Pacific theater.

In your head, play the big-band sounds of Harry James, Glenn Miller, or Artie Shaw as you enter the Ariston Cafe on Route 66 in Litchfield, Ill., or while standing outside La Posada Hotel in Gallup, N.M., and you feel the 1940s era vibrating in your bones.

Route 66 is certainly a road that, as songwriter Bobby Troup wrote, you could "get your kicks on...."

Yes, that Route 66. The main road west during the 1950s, driven by thousands of American families in new Fords and Buicks, as they discovered the immense landscape of America's Southwestern deserts for the first time.

On a warm summer night, travelers may want to check out the neon motel signs in Tucumcari, N.M., or the cars parked outside the Wigwam Village Motel in Holbrook, Ariz., or the lines outside Ted Drewes' Frozen Custard Stand in St. Louis. They instantly transport you back to the 1950s.

Yes, that Route 66. The subject of a popular TV show of the same name, in which two young men called Buzz and Tod, driving the highway in a new Corvette, taught America - and the world - that Route 66 is a road filled with stories and adventures and dreams.

Route 66 celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, and towns and cities all along its length are organizing festivities to commemorate the occasion.

Ever since Oklahoma Highway Commissioner Cyrus Avery, working on a special federal project, designed the road and it received its "66" designation in 1926, this highway has ingrained itself in the nation's psyche.

For Route 66 fanatics - and there are thousands of them - this 75th-anniversary summer is special. It will be spent visiting or revisiting

famous Route 66 landmarks, and catching up with friends working and living along the route.

Travelers crossing on 66 for the first time will be welcomed into each town as newfound family members, a phenomenon that is unique to the legendary route.

Author and Route 66 "guru" Michael Wallis says that the entire length of the road is like a "linear village, [towns] connected to each other by more than just 2,400 miles of concrete."

For some travelers, a Route 66 trip may mean weeks or months on the road, avoiding the parallel Interstates, spending days in towns like Winslow, Ariz., or Springfield, Ill., or soaking up the solitude in Glenrio, a ghost town that straddles the Texas-New Mexico border.

They may linger at various museums and historical sites, like the Route 66 National Museum in Elk City, Okla., where old photographs and memorabilia reflect a large part of the American experience.

Other travelers, with less vacation time, may cover just a segment of Route 66, perhaps the exquisite desert stretch between Flagstaff, Ariz., and San Bernardino, Calif., or the rolling plains of the Midwest between St. Louis and Amarillo, Texas.

Some may concentrate their visit in one state, perhaps New Mexico, where the July anniversary festivities along Albuquerque's portion of Route 66 will be especially noteworthy.

But no matter how many days one is actually traveling along historic Route 66, the highway is capped at each end with a gorgeous seascape, a glimmering vista of waves or whitecaps that bring the traveler abruptly back to reality.

For Route 66 travelers, leaving the highway - and its assorted roadside gems of retro architecture, quirky characters, and stunning landscapes - means reentering the 21st century, and, after a while, that may take some time to get used to.

Fortunately, this rolling ribbon of memories will always be there, a neighborhood Main Street that helps us find ourselves - and our way home.

From cars to poetry: Route 66 celebrations

Here's a sampling of some of the upcoming 75th-anniversary events in the eight states that Route 66 crosses. For additional events and historic information on Route 66, contact the National Historic Route 66 Federation, PO Box 423, Dept. WS, Tujunga, CA 91043, or see www.national66@national66.com.

Illinois The Route 66 Association of Illinois road tour begins with a festival in Edwardsville (June 8), and an overnight in Springfield, and continues to Atlanta and Pontiac (June 9), before ending in Chicago (June 10), (319) 893-6653.

Missouri

75th Anniversary Route 66 Motor Tour (Sept. 7) leaves Sullivan, Mo., and drives along old Route 66 to Claremore, Okla. A Route 66 75th Anniversary Party (Nov. 11), organized by the Missouri Route 66 Association, will be held in Route 66 State Park, St. Louis, with classic cars, picnic, and a series of Route 66 speakers, (417) 865-1318).

Kansas

Harley Davidson Route 66 Motorcycle Tour, with more than 1,000 bikes, will stop at Eisler Brothers General Store, a Route 66 landmark in Riverton, in early June, with festivities and picnic. Route 66 half-marathon (Nov. 24) covers the 13.2 miles of Route 66 in Kansas. Cowtown Days (Aug. 1-4) in Baxter Springs provides free nightly entertainment, arts and crafts, carnival, rodeo, car show, and peddle-tractor pull, (316) 856-3131.

Oklahoma

75th Anniversary Car Cruise (July 13-15) along Route 66, with starting points at Miami and Erick, ends at Warwick and Wellston. Cruise between the towns in informal caravans, stopping at Route 66 landmarks along the way for street parties, food, and special events. Closing ceremonies and car show on July 15 at Route 66 Traders Market in Yukon, Okla., (405) 258-0008.

Texas

The Hot Rod Power Tour stops May 8 at Amarillo's Tri-State Fairgrounds as part of its cross-country Route 66 trip. Mustangs, Corvettes, GTOs, and T-Birds will be on display from noon to 8 p.m. "Texas Alive for 75" moves along Texas' stretch of the Mother Road, including Shamrock and McLean (June 27); Groom, Bushland, and Wildorado (June 28); Vega and Adrian (June 29); and Amarillo, June 30. Harley Owners Group's Made in America Tour (June 30-July 2) offers parties, food, and entertainment along Amarillo's old Route 66, (800-692-1338).

New Mexico

Largest Route 66 anniversary festivities take place in Albuquerque (July 20-22) during the National Route 66 Diamond Jubilee Festival at the state fairgrounds, and along old Route 66 (Central Avenue) downtown. Events include car and motorcycle shows, art exhibitions, bus tours, poetry readings and book fair, and evening "Flicks on Route 66" film screenings and Mariachi Spectacular (800-284-2282). Gallup stages the Fire and Ice Bike Rally (July 20-22), with motorcycle rally, dances, food, and live music. Santa Fe offers the Postcard Show (May 27-Sept 22) at Palace of the Governors Museum; it features old postcards of Route 66. Santa Fe's Museum of Fine Arts will have a Route 66 Film Festival July 5-7; (505) 476-1250; Tucumcari's Route 66 Festival (July 14) offers arts and crafts show, chili cook-off, kids carnival, Route 66 movie revival, and street dance, (505) 461-1694.

ARIZONA

Flagstaff Heritage Days & Route 66 Car Rally (June 23-July 5) includes a Route 66 Festival, Arizona Dream Cruise, and car rally, (520) 774-9541. Flagstaff Summerfest (Aug. 3-5) is a celebration of fine arts and crafts, musicians, food stands, and Route 66 events, (520) 774-9541.

CALIFORNIA

Fourth annual California Route 66 Museum Wine and Memorabilia Auction (May 11) on Route 66 in Victorville; kids breakfast (May 12) at Kicks Cafe, and parade of old vehicles from Victorville to the opening of San Bernardino County Fair, the only fairgrounds on Route 66. Sixth annual Birthday Jubilee of California Route 66 Museum (Nov. 10), with car show, barbecue, and live music, (760) 951-0436). Seventy-fifth anniversary California Route 66 celebration (Nov. 9-11) includes Route 66 cruise from Santa Monica Pier to San Bernardino Wigwam, and ends in Victorville Museum with barbecue, (909) 885-6324.

'Well, it winds from Chicago to L.A....'

This is a brief list of Route 66 landmarks found along the 2,400 miles of highway, from Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif. Most will be part of Route 66 75th-anniversary celebrations this year.

Lou Mitchell's, on Chicago's Jackson Street, is a 1930s diner-style restaurant. Stop here for a hearty meal before starting or ending your journey across America.

Funk's Grove Pure Maple Syrup, a must-stop in Funk's Grove, Ill., (309) 874-3360.

Dixie Trucker's Home, on Route 66 in McLean, Ill., since 1928, for food and fuel.

Ariston Cafe, Litchfield, Ill., has been run by the same family since 1935; ask for owner Nick Adams.

At the renovated Union Station in St. Louis, check out the spectacular waiting room.

Ted Drewes' Frozen Custard Stand, a classic Route 66 stop just west of St. Louis. Ask owner Ted Drewes for the special Route 66 "concrete custard cone."

Meramec Caverns, a Route 66 attraction since the 1920s, near Stanton, Mo., (573) 468-3166.

At Munger-Moss Motel, Lebanon, Mo., owner Ramona Lehman has lots of Route 66 stories, (417) 532- 3111.

Prosperity Bed and Breakfast, outside Joplin, Mo., a renovated 1912 schoolhouse with great atmosphere, (417) 673-0833.

Route 66 Drive-In, outside Carthage, Mo., features classic 66 architecture with a wonderful glass-brick ticket booth (open summer only).

Eisler Bros. General Store, Riverton, Kan., on Route 66 since 1925.

Golden Light Cafe, on Amarillo, Texas' portion of Route 66, is the oldest restaurant in town and offers great burgers.

At Blue Swallow Motel, Route 66, Tucumcari, N.M.; you can stay in a 66 classic landmark.

Central Avenue, Albuquerque, N.M.'s fabulous 18-mile, in-town Route 66, is filled with old motels and cafes, as well as the restored Kimo Theatre. Major 75th-anniversary celebrations will take place here July 20-22.

La Posada Hotel, former Harvey House, the Winslow, Ariz., train station - now restored - features vintage 1930s furniture and decor.

Wigwam Village Motel, Holbrook, N.M., provides comfortable tepee accommodations in a 1950s motel, (602) 524-3048.

Inn at Four Ten, Ariz., great bed-and-breakfast within a few blocks of historic Flagstaff, (800-774-2088).

California Route 66 Museum in Victorville is small and interesting; near Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum, (760) 951-0436.

Iron Hog Saloon, a former brothel and biker bar on Route 66 in Oro Grande, Calif., has great barbeque.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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