They called it The Mother Road. America's Main Street. Stretching from Chicago to Los Angeles, U.S. Route 66 was the pathway for one last great western migration, this one by automobile. Countless thousands, many fleeing poverty and the Dust Bowl, headed for lands of promise and opportunity. The overriding theme was motion; the road provided the path but also pulled the traveler on ... and always the pull was westward. Like any good mother, the road provided the necessities; it was lined with service stations, motels, diners. As the Depression 1930's turned into the prosperous 1950's, the journey became one of recreation rather than desperation. Traveler stops became tourist traps, but the people kept coming.
The end came with the creation of the Interstate Highway System. Getting to a destination quickly had been judged more important than experiencing anything along the way. In 1984, Interstate 40 was completed; Route 66 was officially decommissioned that same year. But for those willing to take the time, the old road still lives. As we follow it west across Arizona, Route 66 takes us from high plateaus, through mountain forests to low desert. In the eastern half of the state, the drivable portions are short -- mostly business loops off of Interstate 40 through the towns that were bypassed. But in western Arizona, the old road leaves the Interstate and can be driven for 160 miles, one of the longest unbroken portions of 66 in the nation. Although no longer a necessity, the route has been reborn as a destination in itself, a way for us to relive a piece of American history. Many of those old service stations have been turned into Route 66 museums and gift shops. As always, tourist dollars provide the lifeblood, but I think people have come to realize there is something of intrinsic value here, something worth preserving just for itself.
So join me on a photographic journey of discovery along the old road. Like any look back, this is a bittersweet journey. For every neon light still burning, there are a dozen buildings abandoned and decaying -- or gone altogether. The Route 66 experience is a uniquely American mix of the tacky and the touching. Everywhere we look, we see evidence of the joy and struggles of those who came before, and we are constantly reminded: This is a time that is gone forever. But there is still much to be found and treasured along the way. I hope you enjoy the trip.
Last visited: July 2008, July 2009, October 2009.
Standard disclaimer: Sites are described for entertainment purposes only, as they were at the time of my last visit. I can not vouch for the current condition of the site or its accessibility.