Nostalgia is big in today’s pop culture, and if there ever was a country full of nostalgia, it would be the United States.
Historic sites and forgotten routes still line its borders, and none more so that the historic Route 66. From ‘great displays of neon signs, rusty middle-of-nowhere truck stops, or kitschy Americana’, this legendary old road is sung about in ballads and romanticized in movies.
Passing through the heart of the United States on a diagonal trip that takes in some of the country’s most classic roadside attractions, if you’re a road trip enthusiast, Route 66 should be a must for your itinerary.
Even if you’re strapped for time and only able to drive part of it, make sure you experience at least a little of Route 66.
3 Iconic Highlights Along Route 66
Brief History of Route 66
Route 66 has a rich history as one of the original highways within the United States. The Chicago to Los Angeles route was officially designated as a highway in 1926, though it had in fact been used for many years before that.
It was the main route that connected people from the industrial East coast to suburban life in the West, and connected small rural towns and urban communities to major cities. Before it was paved every curve and stretch of road catered to the natural contour of the land.
After the Great Depression and World War II, the highway was used to reach the sunny coast of California which signified the demographic shift from East to West. More than 210,000 people migrated to California to escape the despair that had hit the West, and Route 66 symbolized the “road to opportunity”, and a renewed spirit of optimism.
Roadside attractions began to pop up, and the route became known as “The Main Street of America”, linking remote and under-populated communities with two of the most thriving 20th century cities – Chicago and Los Angeles.
When the interstate highways were finished in 1984, the route was decommissioned as a highway, but its historic status remains to this day, and it has very much been immortalized as part of the American consciousness.
Highlights Along the Route
In spite being decommissioned as a highway, Route 66 can still be used by those who want to live the nostalgia of the route, or see first hand some of the quirky road side architecture for which it has become famous.
With significant historical spots still dotted along the way, it’s easily America’s largest open air museum. These are some of the highlights to take in along the way.
In terms of roadside attractions, Texas’ Cadillac Ranch is an icon of Route 66. This is a public art installation where ten Cadillac’s have been driven nose down into the dirt and spray painted by local graffiti artists with vibrant colors.
The cars have been here since 1974, and over the decades people have stopped along the highway to walk out and view the cars, leave their own mark of graffiti, or rip off pieces as souvenirs.
Defacing the cars has become a public rite of passage for those traveling Route 66, and if you haven’t traveled with your own can, you’ll find hundreds of discarded spray cans around the site, usually with a little still left in them.
Photo credit: Mobilus In Mobili
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
As you make your way down Route 66, why not take the chance to learn about one of America’s most famous Presidents.
Abraham Lincoln has been immortalized by his addresses to his nation in the past. However, if you want to know more about the man, taking a tour around his home is the best way to do so.
Prior to being President of the United States, Lincoln lived in Illinois. The four-block pedestrian zone that makes up Mr. Lincoln’s Neighborhood is now a historic site run by the National Park Service, and there are twelve buildings that have been restored to their 1860 appearance.
One of them is his modest sized home. Walking the halls in which he lived his childhood can be very nostalgic especially for history nerds.
Photo credit: Matt Turner
The Grand Canyon
Just off the road of Route 66, you can take a detour to the Grand Canyon; one of the great wonders of the world, no trip to the US is complete without stopping here to experience the iconic view.
The Southern Rim is the most popular and most developed part of the Canyon. Free shuttle buses leave from the parking lots and service around 7 or 8 different vantage points along the cliffs, each with a slightly different angle of the same view.
Horseshoe Bend (pictured above) at the very Eastern Rim is an area of the Canyon which is quickly growing in popularity, and while not worth driving to as a sole destination in itself, it is certainly worth the detour for those with extra time.
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