This post will be mostly pictures because it is too hard to even attempt to detail out our whole Route 66 road trip. In the end, we touched 8 states over 8 days and drove a total of 2,300 miles! Here’s a map to show our approximate trip:
We didn’t start in Chicago where Route 66 starts, but instead started in Oklahoma – my home state. We stayed that night in Oklahoma City and left early in morning with the final destination of Albuquerque, NM. Even on the highway it was a 10 hour drive, so factor in Route 66 back roads and stop, and we were sure to have a late night.
Our first stop was at the Indian Trading Post in Calumet, OK right off Route 66. Very cool place for souvenirs, and I also wrestled a buffalo there.
We hit a few small towns in Oklahoma including Yukon, El Reno, Clinton, Elk City, and Hydro. They were some very quality Route 66 stops with museums, landmarks, and various other attractions.
Shortly after entering Texas, we stopped in McLean, TX which was nothing more than a few old town blocks with some surviving Route 66 attractions including the Devil’s Rope (barbed wire) museum and this original (restored) Phillips 66 gas station. Yes, it’s tiny…
After McLean, we were off to Amarillo, TX to visit a few Route 66 must stops. We had been driving quite a while at this point so we were ready to eat – what better place than the Big Texan?! If you’re not aware, this is the place in Texas where you can get a 72 oz steak for free – if you eat it with sides in under one hour! We saw one guy do it (unsuccessfully):
The other site to see in Amarillo is Cadillac Ranch, a collection of a dozen old Cadillacs buried upright in the dirt in the middle off the cow pasture. Apparently the cool thing to do is bring your own can of spray paint and tag the cars – thanks for not telling us earlier, Elizabeth!! 🙂
After our bellies were full and we saw the sites, we continued on through Texas and entered New Mexico – the Land of Enchantment. I quickly figured out how it received its nickname when we saw our first sunset of the trip:
It was incredible and set the stage for sunsets to come. After darkness was setting in, we visited one of the most legendary Route 66 towns – Tucumcari, NM – full of old Route 66 treasures highlighted with neon lights. However, this picture is borrowed.. I’ll tell you why later.
We made it all of the way to Albuquerque, pulling into our hotel after 11pm. We slept in the next morning so we wouldn’t start the trip out too exhausted. As we were cruising Route 66 through Albuquerque, my wife stumbled upon one of the coolest places – a beef jerky dealer inside of a car dealership!
After we left Albuquerque, it was on to Grants and Gallup, NM before arriving in Arizona. This is where the scenery gets really beautiful with mesas and red rock as far as the eye could see. We also stumbled upon the ghost town of Budville, NM and just had to take a picture for my dad (Bud).
Another of the iconic stops along Route 66 is the el Rancho Hotel in Gallup, NM. In its glory days, it was the hangout of the “Who’s Who” and the 2nd floor lobby walls are still adorned with the autographed pictures of heroes past – from John Wayne to Clark Gable. We had and early dinner there before galluping on – get it…
We continued on and made it to the Painted Desert as the sun was setting. It closed at 6pm and luckily we were saved by the change in time zone. We pulled up at 5:50pm and the park attendant let us in for free since we were so late – sweet!
We sped around the roads like an Indy car race as we attempted to see the best sites of the Painted Desert before the sun crossed the horizon. Pictures can’t do it justice, but the reds and oranges started in the sky and continued down to our feet.
This is probably my favorite pictures of the trip – a stop along the Painted Desert. We didn’t make it to the Petrified National Forest, but we were happy to make it to the Desert.
After we left the Painted Desert, we were on of our last stops before settling in Flagstaff for the night – Holbrook, AZ. Holbrook is another fun Route 66 town full of the ghosts from yesterday that highlight the iconic nature of the road. Another must see on Route 66 is the Wigwam Motel, where you can stay the night in a teepee! We opted for a hotel in Flagstaff instead :).
On to Winslow, Arizona. We thought this would be nothing more than a drive through town until my wife read about the stop below. What do you think of when you hear Winslow, Arizona? Taking it easy by chance?
Oh yes, a tribute to the Eagles’ great song! Of course, we had to go stand on the corner there even if it was late. We made it to Flagstaff late and looked forward to some much needed rest.
In the morning, we woke up and did a small amount of backtracking to go to Chaco Canyon – one of the most accessible dwellings of the ancient Pueblo people. In the middle right of this picture you can see some of the walls they built over a century ago under the cliffs of Chaco Canyon. It was a short hike, but well worth it if you’re in to that kind of stuff (which I am).
This was to be the day of visiting National Parks and appreciating the beauty of nature. After we left Chaco Canyon, we were off to the Grand Canyon. On the way, we saw the Indian mural on the side of the road that caught my wife’s artistic eye. It appeared to be at the site of an old gas station turned house – with a seemingly friendly pit bull welcoming visitors. We decided it’d be best to take the picture from the car and not meet the pit bull!
The Grand Canyon is pretty indescribable until you actually see it. It’s such a vast expanse of colors, canyons, and cliffs. However, it’s also a vast expanse of people, but you can find some more secluded sites. Here’s me risking my life to take cool pictures for you – you’re welcome :).
We had about a million more pictures, but this pretty well sums it up:
After the hour drive up to the Grand Canyon and subsequent visit, we were ready to head back south to return to Route 66. What we discovered is one of the original road’s best stretches from Kingman to Oatman in Arizona.
Much of the original Route 66 is no longer there between Oklahoma and California except for the stretches that take you into and through the bypassed towns. Except on this stretch in Arizona.
Kingman is another great Route 66 town with some cool sites. Afterwards, we started through the desert before stopping at the stop pictured above – Cool Springs. We met the owner and his friend and spent some time talking – this really made it feel like a Route 66 trip.
We learned that this station used to be one of 8 service stations that dotted the map between Kingman and Oatman – a distance of 28 miles. It’s amazing how much more reliable cars are today. Also, he used to own the original “Tow Mater” model after he purchased it when the movie Cars was made. However, we didn’t get to see it because it was stolen a couple of years ago. Seriously?! Who would steal Tow Mater?!?
Route 66 turned into a harsh desert between Kingman and Oatman as even vegetation appeared to have a hard time holding. Dry creek beds crisscrossed the road and showed evidence of wash-outs from the occasional rainstorms that bring more water than the desert knows what to do with.
On to Oatman, Arizona. Oatman is a “Wild West” type town with wood plank sidewalks and yes, donkeys wandering the streets. It feels like it’s out of a movie set, but after walking around you realize it’s an actual functioning (somewhat) town.
Here’s me on the wrong end of the donkeys. You can actually buy donkey food for $1 and feed them… just remember to leave the food in the palm of your hand so they don’t bite your fingers! Watching tourists provided some quality entertainment as the demanding donkeys wanted more food and even snatched a few of the paper bags containing the food from tourists’ hands!
In the end, we very much enjoyed the trip and got some ideas for what we’d want to do and where to go next time. It felt like a present-day trip down memory lane where we got to taste of what Americana of yesteryear.
The most surprising part? Based on our observations, there were more Europeans making the trip than US citizens. Does that tell us something?
Bonus section: Ok, if you made it this far, you get to hear the story of the borrowed pictures. As mentioned, we had many more pictures, but our Canon Rebel SLR camera was stolen while we were parked at a restaurant!
I’d like to blame it on the weasel who stole it, but as one of my idols, Charlie Munger put it, “Many people will steal if it’s easy to do, and if there’s little chance of being caught.” I guess that means it was our fault :).
Luckily we’d manage to take pictures on other cameras as well. Lesson learned for next time…