Roads rarely become tourist attractions. For most car owners, the destination is more important than the journey. But when it comes to Route 66, it is arguably the journey that matters most. And with an original length of 2,448 miles, journeys don’t get much more epic than this.
Route 66 originally ran west from Chicago, Illinois all the way to Los Angeles, and took on a legendary status almost immediately. Steeped in history, the road's roots can be traced back to 1857, when the War Department ordered the building of a wagon route along the 35th Parallel. Parts of Route 66 still cover this old pack animal route, which, along with its more famous successor, supported the movement of people westwards.
Officially named in 1926, Route 66 wasn't fully paved until 1938. Those years were tough for many Americans, who used the road to escape the Dust Bowl of the 1930s – a period when huge dust storms decimated farmland following the removal of deep-rooted grasses through extensive ploughing. The Great Depression (1929 – early 1940s) also saw Route 66 used by many thousands of economic migrants seeking a better life in California and other western states.
The Halcyon days of the 1950s and 1960s followed, when Route 66 came to represent the ultimate American road trip route. Today it is no longer the fastest way to travel from east to west, having been removed from the United States Highway System in 1985. But while the Interstate Highway System now carries most motor traffic across the middle of America, the old highway can still be travelled. Today it’s known as “Historic Route 66”.
This mighty roadway has disappeared from most maps, but lives on as one of the most exciting road trip routes in the world, as well as a key component of the historical and infrastructural development of the United States.
Celebrating 90 Years of Route 66
For those interested in American cars and automotive culture, 2016 is highly notable, marking as it does 90 years since Route 66 was named. There are scores of events directly linked to the road, along with many more musical and cultural events taking place along it.
May 5 – Nov 30
Route 66: The Road to Yesterday Exhibit
Pioneer Museum in Flagstaff, AZ
May 14 – Oct 2
Route 66: radiance, rust, and revival on the mother road
Exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum
May 14 – Sept 25
America’s Road: The Journey of Route 66
Exhibit at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, NM
June 25 - onwards
Route 66: Main Street Through St. Louis
Missouri History Museum, Saint Louis, MO
The exhibit runs till July 16th, 2017.