Hey, remember Route 66? It’s still here!”
– Lightning McQueen in Cars
If you have little kids then you’ve probably seen the movie Cars and are familiar with the story of Route 66. When the movie first came out in 2006, we fell in love with the idea of Route 66 and we decided that we would one day travel the Mother Road – or what is left of it.
Historic Route 66 was one of the original highways in the United States, dating back to the year 1926. It is now a series of Interstate highways, 2-lane frontage roads, bumpy country lanes, and much of it has even been torn up. But there are still several portions of the former Route 66 that you can traverse and many of the small towns and pit stops along the way now cater to Route 66 “nostalgia tourists”.
We started out on Route 66 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Route 66 runs right through downtown (as Central Ave) and westward, parallel to Interstate 40. We got out of the car and walked along Central and came across the famous KiMo Theatre.
The 1927 building is one of the most iconic structures in Albuquerque. The KiMo’s very unique architectural style is called Pueblo Deco.
Pueblo Deco was a flamboyant, short-lived architectural style that fused the spirit of the Native American cultures of the Southwest with the exuberance of Art Deco.
– from: www.cabq.gov
The KiMo Theatre is very well preserved and is right on the old Route 66.
While I oohed and awed over all the art deco/southwest architecture on Central Ave in Albuquerque, my children were not having any of it:
So we continued west on Route 66….
… to Gallup, New Mexico where we found this unexpected gem:
The historic El Rancho Hotel…
The El Rancho was built in the late 1930’s and served as a temporary home to many movie stars during the golden years of film when a lot of westerns were filmed in or around Gallup, New Mexico.
We stayed there one night – St. Patty’s Day actually. All the staff were really gracious and attentive and great with our kids.
The grand lobby of the hotel was very dark but beautiful in a rustic, southwest lodge type of way. It seemed like nothing had been touched since the 1940’s – it was almost eerie!
The hotel is supposedly one of the most haunted stops along Route 66, but unfortunately, we did not encounter any former movie star guests/ghosts.
Our room for the night was large but the bathroom was tiny and vintage:
Each guest room is named after a movie star who stayed there. We had the Spencer Tracy room.
I’m sorry that my crappy camera couldn’t adequately capture how cool this place is…
The El Rancho Hotel is like a time capsule… look at the old shoe shine stand:
Amazing. The El Rancho Hotel was just another lucky find on our semi-aimless road-trip.
The next day we found ourselves deeper on Route 66 in Arizona, standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona, in fact.
The “Standin’ on the corner” statue is a tribute to that great Eagles’ song: Take it Easy (which I have included here for some musical accompaniment)…
Isn’t life great when you are listening to the Eagles?
Across the street is a fabulous gift shop that blares Eagles music on loud speakers and has tons of fun Route 66 references like the Lightning McQueen painted on the window:
And just down the road in Winslow is the historic La Posada…
La Posada was built in 1929 as the ‘last great Railroad Hotel’ by the Santa Fe Railway. La Posada was also host to some famous guests in the past including: Shirley Temple, Clark Gable, Mary Pickford, Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh.
Another gem in the desert, although we didn’t stay at this one.
Carrying on with our journey along the southwestern portion of Route 66…
A slight detour from the Mother Road (or the Interstate) will put you up at the Grand Canyon.
You’d think the thing would be easy to find, but, no, we got lost trying to get there.
Eventually, we just followed all the buses and RV’s and lo and behold…
It’s still there.
The dizzying heights had me clinging to my rambunctious kids who wanted to climb UP on the railing so they could get a better view…
You’ve probably seen a million pictures of this highly saturated tourist attraction, but I do have a touching story to tell about a woman in a wheelchair I saw while we were there…
I watched as a young man wheeled a middle aged woman over to the fence at the edge of the platform – she seemed as though she had some type of developmental disability or perhaps a brain injury. In any case, when she saw the Grand Canyon, obviously for the first time, she squealed and just about levitated off her chair! She kept repeating “Oh! Oh! oooooohhhhh!” over and over again, clearly taken by the awesome sight before her. Her joy and wonderment was so pure and unabashed that it almost brought a tear to my eye and had me feeling ashamed that I was taking this incredible feat of nature for granted.
Anyway, we came, we saw, we took pictures, but what I will remember most about the Grand Canyon was the woman in the wheelchair and her childlike reaction of pure delight and amazement. As Lupe said, that’s probably the way the first humans reacted when they stumbled unknowing across this giant chasm in the earth – as far as the eye can see.
Onward into California…
We came across this nifty fifties diner in the middle of nowhere in the California desert. It was the only pit-stop for miles so it had a lot of visitors.
This creepy old guy greeted us at the door…
And Elvis was there too, of course…
And Betty Boop, whom my three year old took a shining to:
There are a couple of Route 66 detours you can take through the Mojave Desert of California. One detour took us by the tiny dot-on-the map called Amboy.
Amboy, California is a relic of Route 66 in its heydays – Roy’s Motel and Café was once a bustling 24-hour stop on the Mother Road that employed over 100 staff:
Now, it is about all that is left in Amboy, California and is a pretty forlorn sight – along with this sad little abandoned church:
There was one surprise in tiny Amboy: a shoe tree by the side of the road that we almost missed:
If you look closely, you can see that those are actually all shoes adorning the dead tree; as if to say: we were once here. Apparently, the Amboy shoe tree was alive and thriving until recent years, but has since ‘bit the dust’. Travelers still throw their dirty old shoes on the tree’s skeleton.
The last night we stayed on Route 66 on the way home was at the Route 66 Motel in Seligman, Arizona:
That was the night we ate at the Roadkill Café (right next door) which featured unsavoury menu items such as “Deer Smear” and “Chunk of Skunk”.
I’m not making this up – their slogan is: “You kill it – We grill it!” As a semi-vegetarian, it made me nauseous.
To read the complete disgusting (but highly entertaining and descriptive) menu click here.
I should add that most of the places I am featuring in this post are things we just came across serendipitously while traversing Route 66. We had no idea we would hit the Roadkill Café (pun intended), although we had heard about it before on television.
Route 66 actually ends at the Pacific Ocean at the very end of Santa Monica Boulevard – which goes right out onto the Santa Monica Pier:
(I took this picture from the top of the Santa Monica ferris wheel).
Remember the scene in Forrest Gump when he runs all the way across the country, then gets to the end of Route 66 at the tip of Santa Monica Pier – then turns around and runs back? This is the spot!
There are many, many more sight to see along the southwestern portion of the old Route 66, these are just a few highlights that we managed to stumble across.
We really enjoyed exploring the Mother Road, but, hang tight, we did A LOT more on the Epic Road Trip than stay in dusty old motels!
Up next is Part 2 of my 4 part series: the glitz and gluttony that is Las Vegas!