It’s all about the RIDE! And Route 66 is iconic!
After a year of slogging through the swamps, rice paddies and jungles in Vietnam, in 1966, I was ready for a ride. Two of my cousins met me in Chicago for our incredible journey down Route 66.
The Route is 2400 miles of asphalt and called the American Highway. It runs from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles in California, ending up at the Santa Monica Pier. If you are into riding, this is a trip that you need to take. After a few hours of catching up and some beers and food, we found our way to the motel to get some sleep.
Bright and early the next morning, we packed our stuff and fired up the Harley’s to get on the road. We figured to get an early start to beat the traffic and find somewhere to stop and get something to eat on the road.
Chicago faded out behind us as we headed towards Springfield, Illinois…the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. This was the 1960’s. 1966, in fact and even though, “all men are created equal”, the country was still filled with inequality. We stopped along the way for gas, beer and something to eat in Joliet, but we wanted to keep on going. There is a new Route 66 museum along with the Joliet Museum that you should stop and see. It used to be the Ottawa St. Methodist church when we came through.
Heading down the road to Wilmington, Illinois, we check out the Gemini Giant at the Launching Pad diner. He is one of the most photographed “people” in the world.
We stop at the Standard Oil gas station in Odell to fill up the tanks and grab a quick drink. Today, that station serves as a
museum/monument to the days when gas stations stayed open day and night and actually had attendants that checked your tires, oil and water for you.
From Odell, we head towards St. Louis, Missouri. The first thing we see is the Gateway Arch, which is the beginning of the American West. It sits on the bank of the Mississippi River, and we decide to take a little while checking it out. This is where Lewis and Clark set out to discover the American West. Looks like it may be an exciting day.
We then drop in at Ted Drewes frozen custard stand on Chippewa Street. The place has been a landmark since 1929 on Route 66. Plenty of things to do in St. Louis, so we decide to spend another day there. Went to see the St. Louis Cardinals play a game of baseball. After the game we cruise over to C&K Barbeque restaurant on Jennings Station Road for some St. Louis style barbeque. To finish off the evening we stop at a couple of the blues clubs.
You can also do a tour of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery (free beer tasting) or even take a trip down the Mighty Mississippi on a replica of an original paddle wheel boat. Lots to see and do, but we need to get back on the road.
Out of Rolla, the roads are winding through some great scenery and are a dream to ride. We come up on the Devil’s Elbow, named after a bend in the nearby river. Great place to stop is the biker bar called the Elbow Inn and Barbeque. Good atmosphere, good food, campground in the back and women tend to leave their bras nailed to the ceiling! Really! This used to be a sandwich shop when we came through.
Leaving the “Devil”, we head out of the valley on Route 66. When Route 66 was in constant use, there were all kinds of businesses offering food, drink and lodging to the vast amount of people travelling towards Los Angeles. Although some remain, most have closed up shop. When we came through Paris Springs Junction, we pass by the burned out remains of a Sinclair gas station. The original one burned down in 1955, but it has been recreated now as a tourist attraction, called Gary’s Gay Parita Sinclair. From here we head over to Joplin, Missouri to get some sleep. If you have the time and inclination, you could always detour to Branson, Missouri, the new Nashville, for a show at one of the country western star’s theatres.
Heading out of Missouri and into Oklahoma, where the idea of Route 66 started, you can stop in Clinton, Oklahoma to see the Route 66 Museum. The folks that left the “Dust Bowl” of Oklahoma, travelled the “Mother Road”, as they called it, looking for a better life. The museum shares the history of the road from the 1920’s to present day. It has a 1950’s style diner or pick up some memorabilia in the gift shop. Although the museum wasn’t here when we came through, it is worth a stop. Riding on, we find a lot of the old Googie style architecture. Googie is a style of “Modern” architecture designed in a futuristic style heavily influenced by car culture, jets, space age and atomic age and was popular in designs for motels, coffee shops and gas stations. We see this all along the way.
Leaving Oklahoma behind us, we head off to Texas. Passing miles of cactus, we get close to the “panhandle” and continue to the small town of Shamrock. We gas up at one of the original gas stations of the old Route 66, the U-Drop Inn and grab some food, before heading off to McLean. From McLean, we ride up to Amarillo in the northern panhandle. Amarillo seems to be cut off from the rest of Texas, but it is at the crossroads of one of the greatest American cross country roadways.
Although we are in the northern part of the state, it is still a long journey to get across. Passing the rolling meadows, filled with green grass and the famous Texas cattle ranches, you soon see what Texas is all about. We head into Amarillo and decide to stop at the Big Texan Steakhouse for dinner. At the time, you could get a steak dinner for a couple of dollars and both of my cousins are BIG men! You can stop in there now and try to finish the 72 ounce Rib Eye steak with all the usual trimmings. That is 4.5 pounds of MEAT. If you can finish it all within an hour, it is free.
We leave the restaurant filled up and decide to take a short detour to the Palo Duro Canyon, a few miles south of Amarillo. Fantastic sandstone sculptures created by the wind and water, make this one of the nicest views in Texas. This is a State Park and we decide to camp out here for the night. Something about being out in the wide open spaces really creates a special feeling of singularity with the universe and nature.
Heading into New Mexico, we leave Oklahoma and Texas behind. We are now officially in the West! First stop is one of the most beautiful cities, Santa Fe. It is one of the oldest capital cities in the US and the oldest city in New Mexico. Founded in 1610 by the Spanish, the city is full of architecture from days long past. The town is high in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, which get their name from the red colours of the mountains at sunrise and sunset. The blend of Native American and Spanish cultures is evident anywhere you look. We decide to try some local restaurants and cantinas in Old Town, before finding a motel to spend the night.
Heading south towards Albuquerque, we watch the scenery change from the mountains to the high desert. We are now riding towards red plateaus and seeing the cactus in bloom. And we wonder what it was like in centuries past when only the Native Americans inhabited the land. Here, we see some more examples of the old adobe buildings and decide to stop and have a look around at the unique structures. Heading out of Albuquerque, we travel on towards Gallup. On the way, we pass Sky City on the Acoma Pueblo. This is the longest inhabited city in the US.
Populated by the Anasazi (the Old Ones) for thousands of years, the Pueblo was founded in the 13th century. We have to stop and have a look. We are travelling through the Navaho Nation, known as Shiprock, the largest Native American reservation. Then we pass roadside stands where the Navaho sell their turquoise jewellery, so we stop and buy some nice rings and I pick up a squash blossom piece. It is a lot cheaper than buying in Gallup, but Gallup will have some good bargains as well.
We didn’t waste a lot of time getting through Gallup and headed for the Arizona Border and Holbrook. As we head onwards, we start to see more rocks. A closer look shows that these are actually petrified trees! We are near the Petrified Forest National Park and decide to stop to check it out. The visitor centre has the info about how and why all the trees are petrified. The trees actually lived about 225 Million years ago and were pushed up to the surface about 60 million years ago, during volcanic activity.
Stopping in Holbrook, it seems that our ride is just getting better and better each day. We stop at the Teepee motel to spend the night. The rooms are made to look like Teepees but made of concrete and steel. I used to see some of these where I grew up in Orlando on the South Orange Blossom Trail.
In the morning we head towards Flagstaff, Arizona. Stopping in Winslow for gas and something we eat, we take a quick look around town. I am sure that everyone has heard the song by the Eagles, “Take it Easy”, “standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see” The Eagles must have passed through Winslow, Arizona and didn’t have anything else to do, but write a song!
Continuing on to Flagstaff, we start back up into the mountains. The miles of road just before Flagstaff are great riding. We stop in Flagstaff and check out the local life. Flagstaff is a neat town that I wouldn’t mind living in. Lots of Route 66 mementos still around. Next stop: The Grand Canyon. Although it is north of Flagstaff on route 180, we have to go and see it, as my cousins have never been there. We turn up on the North Rim at Grand Canyon Village.
Nothing can describe the sense of nature at work here. We decide to spend some more time here and take a donkey ride down the canyon. Nowadays, you can also do a helicopter ride for a truly great experience. After all, how many of the 7 wonders of the world do you think you will get to see in your life?.
Leaving the Grand Canyon, we travel south, back to Route 66 in Williams. Once we are back on the 66, we make stops in Seligman, Peach Springs and Hackberry, on the way to Kingman. Once in Kingman, we decide to stop for the night. Tomorrow is another day and the cousins decided that they want to go to Las Vegas.
In the morning, we grab some breakfast and mount up to get on highway 93 and head north to Vegas. Anything you want is available in Vegas, dining, gambling, shows and entertainment. It is an adult playground and beside the life on the strip, there are lots of sights to see like the Hoover Dam, the deserts and the night sky. Like they say, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, so I won’t bore you with what we got up to.
Two days in Vegas and we are ready to get back on the road. We plan on getting to Pasadena today. Out of Vegas, the Mojave desert beckons. The stillness and colours are something that most people ignore. On a bike, it is easier to discover the joys of the ride and the sense of freedom that the scenery offers. Just keeping one hand on the throttle, we relax and cruise on, enjoying the ride.
We pick up Route 66 in Barstow, California and stop at a diner for some lunch. Lunch over with, we fire up the bikes and head towards Pasadena. Getting closer to my old stomping grounds in L.A. We take the road towards San Bernadino or Berdoo as we call it, to see another cousin that I haven’t seen in a few years. He decides to come along with us for the last bit of the ride.
Almost home now as we ride into one of the world’s most famous cities. From Pasadena, we pass Dodger Stadium and head into Chinatown. Now we are downtown, Los Angeles. Continuing on through Culver City, we are getting near the end of the journey. Crossing the 405, we head for the Santa Monica Pier and the end of Route 66. Arriving at our destination, we can smell the ocean air and see the palm trees. The Ferris Wheel is turning and it hits home…we are done with the ride.
For your opportunity to ride the Famous Route 66, just contact us. We can arrange transportation, bikes, tour guides, hotels and everything else to make the trip the most memorable ride of your life. Go to www.clbglobaltravel.com and fill out the form to inquire about how we can get your trip going.
Charles is a world traveler having lived in 44 states and 11 countries and traveled to dozens more. He and his wife spend time between London, Ireland, Canada, and the Philippines.