10. Ambler’s Texaco Gas Station
All along Route 66, public and private efforts have been underway for years to help preserve buildings and other landmarks along the highway. There have been many successes, including Ambler’s Texaco Gas Station, located at the corner of old U.S. Route 66 and Illinois 17 in Dwight, Illinois. Built in 1933, the station was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Despite the antiquity of the pumps, the station actually sold gas until 1999. It serves today as a visitors center. (Slideshow photo Vicente Villamón.)
9. Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Café
Back in 1936, a man named John Nunn took an old nail and scratched a crude drawing in the dirt for a combination gas station/store/restaurant. The result, the Tower Station and U-Drop Inn in Shamrock, Texas, is one of the most unusual and distinctive vintage buildings along Route 66. Today, Shamrock officials operate the building as the local chamber of commerce and visitors center.
8. Route 66 in Oklahoma
Although many people tend to associate Route 66 most strongly with California (possibly because the road was featured in music and TV) or Arizona, Oklahoma has played a key role in the road’s history. A Tulsa businessman, Cyrus Avery, an official on the committee that created the U.S. Highway System in the mid-1920s, strongly supported a Chicago-to-Los Angeles highway that dipped down into Oklahoma. He is credited with picking the “66” route designation. Fittingly, today the state of Oklahoma has more original mileage of original Route 66 alignment — approximately 400 — than any other state, according to OklahomaRoute66.com.
7. Route Markers
Signs were once extensively used to mark sections of old Route 66 so that tourists and nostalgia buffs could make the pilgrimage. It didn’t take officials long to discover that people were stealing the signs to keep as souvenirs. As a result, signage has been painted on the pavement in many spots along the length of Route 66. If you’re going, here’s an excellent online Route 66 reference operated by the U.S. National Park Service, featuring routes, landmarks and other information.
6. Roy’s Motel and Café
This motel, café and gas station in the tiny settlement of Amboy, California, originally opened in 1938. In a story repeated hundreds of times along the highway, the business fell on hard times in 1972 when I-40 opened north of town. The site shifted between several owners in the ensuing years before being purchased by Albert Okura, founder of the Juan Pollo chain of Mexican restaurants. Okura renovated the property and reopened the gas station in 2008.
5. Original Portions of Route 66
Although Route 66 opened in 1926, its route rarely remained the same from year to year. New sections were built, others were closed, towns were bypassed. The above stretch of highway in Lexington, Illinois, part of the original Route 66, is now in private hands, but the owner opens the old section once a year to visitors. But other stretches of the original highway, at 8-feet-wide little more than the width of a sidewalk, are marked on special Route 66 maps.
4. Special Events
You don’t have to look very hard to find a special event (or two, or three) somewhere along Route 66 throughout most of the year. Many towns along the famous highway try to capitalize on the Route 66 name to draw attendance to their town festival, be it a fun run, chili cook-off or car show. The big event is the annual International Route 66 Mother Road Festival, held in Springfield, Illinois. It draws tens of thousands of people who turn out to see hundreds of classic cars, live music, and, of course, plenty of nostalgia about the road. The road also serves as the focal point for a couple of marathons, including the Mother Road Marathon that runs along Route 66 through three states: Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas.
3. Abandoned Buildings and Other Structures
For every vintage business along Route 66 that has been lovingly preserved, countless others are in various stages of ruin, passed over by the interstate highways decades ago and abandoned to the elements at some point thereafter.
2. Weird Motels and Other Attractions
America was a much simpler place in the 1930s and 1940s. Today, if someone tried to build a bunch of teepee structures on their property and use them for a motel, neighbors would go to court and sue to protect their property values. Yet between 1933 and 1949, a businessmen built seven such "Wigwam Villages" around the United States; of the three surviving Wigwam Motels, two are on Route 66, in Holbrook, Arizona (see above) and on the border between Rialto and San Bernardino, California. There are a number of other strange Americana sights along Route 66, including the Arcadia Round Barn in Arcadia, Oklahoma; the giant Blue Whale of Catoosa, Oklahoma; and the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. A number of other vintage motels and hotels have also survived. Like the Wigwam, some of the other vintage motor courts and motels have been renovated and still host weary travelers (the Wigwam in Holbrook rates a respectable four out of five stars in several hundred reviews on TripAdvisor.com). Hey, if you’re going to drive the road, there’s no more authentic experience than staying in one of the old motor courts.
1. The End of the Road
For its first 10 years, Route 66 terminated in Los Angeles, but in 1936, the highway was extended to nearby Santa Monica. That terminus is located at what is today the intersection of Olympic and Lincoln boulevards. But really, no one wants to stand at a busy intersection and take pictures and ponder the fate and history of a lost highway, so in 2009, the Route 66 Alliance, which promotes preservation along the highway, designated the Santa Monica pier and the above sign as the western end of the highway. It’s just one of hundreds of memorable and interesting sights to see along this fascinating highway from America’s past.
The author has traveled all around the United States in search of travel adventures, including many trips along sections of old Route 66.