While we did not weave too far out of our way to drive along Historic U.S. Route 66, we did “get our kicks” here and there in our Florida to California cross country trek, traveling the famous road in bits and pieces.
Route 66, also known as the Will Rogers Highway, The Main Street of America and simply “The Mother Road”, was one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System in America.
In 1857, Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale, a Naval officer in the service of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, was ordered by the War Department to build a government funded wagon road along the 35th Parallel. This road became part of U.S. Route 66. (His secondary orders were to test the feasibility of the use of camels as pack animals in the southwestern desert. This one, uh, well, didn’t work out so well.)
Route 66 is one of the most famous roads in America, originally running from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, before ending at Santa Monica, California, covering a total of 2,448 miles.
In the 1950’s, the road became a prime vacation destination, passing through the Painted Desert, the Grand Canyon, Meteor Crater, and many other US hot spots. The sharp increase in tourism in the 50’s gave rise to a growing trade in all manner of roadside attractions, including tee-pee shaped motels, frozen custard stands, Indian curio shops, and reptile farms, among many others.
Route 66 also marked the birth of the fast food industry, with Red’s Giant Hamburg in Springfield, Missouri, the very first drive through restaurant in the world, and the very first McDonald’s in San Bernardino, California. Route 66 quickly became the epitome of American culture and leisure life.
Buuuut, in 1984, the final stretch of Route 66 highway was decommissioned with the completion of Interstate 40 just north of Williams, Arizona, and in 1985, the entire Route was decertified by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials – and U.S. Route 66 officially ceased to exist.
After the “death” of the highway, the huge American outcry at such a historic monument passing into a memory prompted the first Route 66 Associations in 1987, and in 2008, the World Monument Funds added Route 66 to the World Monuments Watch, seeking to protect sites along the route such as gas stations, motels, cafés, trading posts and drive-in movie theaters that are threatened by development in urban areas and by abandonment and decay.
While we enjoyed most of Route 66 through the windshield, we did take some time to drink in the history with a stop in Seligman, Arizona – best known for Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In, the famous Roadkill Café, and for it’s role as the inspiration for Radiator Spring in Disney’s movie Cars.
Walt Disney Animation Studios John Lasseter said that the layout, character and “feel” of Radiator Spring was loosely based on Seligman, and in researching the history of Route 66, Lasseter met with local Seligman business owners, whose descriptions of how the traffic through the town virtually disappeared on the day that nearby Interstate 40 opened helped shape the the script and imagery.
With a tiny population of less than 500, Seligman has really capitalized on the “Cars” theme, with local businesses featuring car “look-alikes” in front of their shops, and scenes and imagery from the movie mingling in with pre-existing features and tourist stops.
We rolled into Seligman on the night of our last stop before reaching our destination in California. We got into town just in time to see the neon street lights popping on (just like in Disney California Adventure Carsland!) and we stopped by the Roadkill Café to drink some Old Fashioned Root Beers and eat some of the famous sandwiches.
With small town staff being chit chatty, friendly, and cozy-up-to-your table-y, we enjoyed our made to order steak and pulled pork sandwiches, and strolled along the antiques and Route 66 memorabilia and Americana before hitting the road once again.
It was a fun and relaxing “final stop” before we concluded our road trip, and a stop I’d recommend if you find yourself traveling in that area!