For some, driving Route 66 is a nostalgic memory. Others wonder what all the hype is about. This historic roadway may be best in memories, never to be experienced again. Keep reading to learn more about Route 66, along with five reasons to consider avoiding this once highly sought-after road trip.
What Is Route 66?
Route 66 is one of the most legendary highways in the United States. Some call it “The Mother Road.” Engineers meant it to be a year-round link between the Midwest and the Pacific Coast. The total mileage for this historic roadway is approximately 2,400 miles.
Route 66 starts in downtown Chicago, Illinois, and runs through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. It officially ends at the Santa Monica Pier. While much of the attraction of the road has diminished, there is much history left to discover.
What Is the History of Route 66?
Route 66 officially became part of America’s first federal highway system in 1926. People set Route 66’s path in the mid-1800s with railroad tracks, wagon roads, and even the infamous Trail of Tears.
When registered automobiles increased from 450,000 in 1910 to eight million in 1920, there had to be roads that could handle this increase. Enter Cyrus Avery, an entrepreneur who originally proposed connecting roads to create easy access nationwide.
Now known as the “Father of Route 66,” Avery’s idea was official in 1926. He and other officials began replacing the previously established roads with paved roads, which they also widened to better fit modern vehicles. By 1938, workers had paved Route 66, making it one of America’s first wholly paved highways.
With the advent of mass vehicle manufacturing and affordability for the middle class, road trips became a highly sought-after activity for many families. Because of this, there was an increase in restaurants, motels, shops, and movie theaters along Route 66 in towns and rural locations. If you build it, people will come, and in the early days of Route 66, they did.
However, with the growth of the modern interstate system, along with newer highways, Route 66 has become something of a ghost town. The lack of travelers along this iconic roadway has caused many businesses to shutter due to fewer visitors. The small towns that thrived during Route 66’s heyday have also lost business, with many buildings in disrepair.
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Is All of Route 66 Still Drivable?
Officially decommissioned in 1985, Route 66 is still drivable, but not entirely. While the last section of “The Mother Road” formally ended in 1985 with I-40 taking over much of the road, the beginning of the end was in 1964 in California when the original terminus moved from Santa Monica to Pasadena. From then on, Route 66 slowly began to fade away.
Through many activist and preservation agencies, numerous portions of Route 66 are still drivable. All eight states still have drivable sections of Route 66 labeled as Historic Route 66. But the most extended area is in Arizona, from Seligman (just west of Flagstaff) to Topock (near the Arizona/California border). This original section of Route 66 is 159 miles long.
5 Reasons to Avoid Route 66
You might be intrigued to find those fragmented sections of Historic Route 66 today. While this could be a fun adventure, it could also be one of many disappointments. The many attractions, motels, shops, and restaurants have long been empty due to a lack of visitors.
Much of the roadway goes through the barren landscapes, and because of this, gas prices can be relatively high. Ironically, during the summer months, the few attractions remaining can be busy. Let’s learn more about why you might want to consider avoiding Route 66.
1. It’s Quite Barren and Remote
Many stretches of Route 66 are barren and remote. Some parts of the highway run through vast expanses of the desert or rural areas, where it can be challenging to find gas stations, restaurants, or lodging.
For some travelers, this can be a thrilling aspect of the journey, a chance to explore remote or off-the-beaten-path areas. However, for others, it can feel daunting or risky, especially if you’re not well-prepared or traveling alone.
If being stranded in the middle of nowhere with limited resources makes you nervous, it may be better to stick to more modern and well-traveled routes offering more reliable services and assistance.
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2. There Are Few Attractions Left
While Route 66 is an iconic highway, it may not be the best choice for travelers seeking modern attractions and amenities. Despite its fame, Route 66 is rather bare-bones compared to newer roads, lacking many convenience stops and attractions that modern travelers have come to expect.
Historic Route 66 now requires much planning. If you’re seeking the accessible, well-manicured roadside stops of today’s highways, Route 66 may not be your best option. However, if you love history and are excited to embrace the retro travel style of yesteryear, then Route 66 might be exactly what you seek.
3. Gas Prices Tend to Be High
Another potential downside of Route 66 is that gas prices can be higher than in surrounding areas. This is because many small towns along this roadway rely on the highway as a source of income for their local economies, and gas stations often take advantage of this by charging higher prices than average.
Additionally, the remote locations and sparse development along specific segments of Route 66 create a higher cost for gas delivery and storage, which can increase prices. This can be a concern for travelers, especially those on a budget. It’s always wise to factor in fuel costs when planning a road trip and to prepare to pay more than you might elsewhere.
4. You Can’t Drive on All of It
Another reason travelers may want to think twice before hitting the road on Route 66 is that the entire highway is no longer operational. People have replaced large sections with newer and more efficient roadways. Travelers must research before embarking on their trip to determine which sections of the historic route are still drivable.
Knowing which stretches are still intact and which parts have been decommissioned can be a significant challenge. Additionally, some portions of the road that are still drivable may be in disrepair or have limited signage. This makes navigation challenging. While this can add to the sense of adventure for some, it can also be frustrating for others who prefer a more structured and defined itinerary.
5. It Can Be Busy During the Summer
Ironically, although many sections of Route 66 are remote and barren, the highway can still feel busy in the summer months. This can be due to the increased number of travelers hitting the road to take advantage of warm weather and summer vacation time.
Unfortunately, the same limited services that can make the road feel desolate at other times of the year can make the crowded summer conditions more overwhelming.
Accommodations, restaurants, and attractions along the route can quickly become overcrowded and booked up during this busy travel season. If you still plan to drive this historic highway, the fall and spring might be a better time to go.
Is It Worth Getting Your Kicks on Route 66?
Ultimately, you’ll have to decide if a historic Route 66 road-trip adventure is up your alley. If you’ve never experienced it, you might want to consider it, even if there are reasons not to go. If you got your kicks on Route 66 during its heyday, you might want to keep the memories as memorie. That might be all the kicking that remains in this historic roadway.
Would you take a road trip on Route 66?
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