Road-Tripping Route 66: Is It Dead Or Still Kickin’?
Leaving west Texas, we were over 2 weeks into our 2 month trip, and it became increasingly clear that we were not going to be able to write our cross-country blog in real-time. We had hoped to finish a blog entry with each stop along the way about our time traveling in that specific part of America. But it was harder than expected to both actively write a semi-interesting story of our trip, AND enjoy it to the fullest extent. So we decided instead to take our time and live in the moment, not only to produce better content, but to avoid derailing our adventure by turning it into a job. I feel that needs stating, as many people have asked if we are “still on the road” when we share a new blog post. Unfortunately the answer is NO, but we took so many pictures and notes, that when we write about each segment of the journey, it’s almost like we’re living it again. Another wonderful by-product of travel – The experiences can stay with you longer than anything that is simply ‘material’. With that said, let’s go to the desert…
“It was nice knowing you Amarillo, but we probably won’t be back anytime soon.”
… My thoughts as we loaded up the RV for our first-ever trek down the infamous Route 66. Route 66 begins in Chicago and meanders its way south and west across the U.S., finally stopping in Santa Monica, CA. We intersected 66 just outside of Amarillo, and continued all the way to Sante Fe. Route 66 is part historic landmark, part forgotten relic. It both exists and doesn’t exist. At one time, it was a key kog in the western expansion of America, and many businesses sprung up along the roadway solely to service migrating and traveling Americans. Most of the original route has been paved over, moved off the major thoroughfares, or just disappeared entirely depending on what part of the country you’re in and how much they care about that specific piece of American history.
But that doesn’t mean America has forgotten our glorious road-trip past. In Texas and New Mexico, the myth & legend is alive and well. Although U.S. Route 66 was dropped from the official federal highway system in 1985, many states have adopted ‘State Route 66’ where the old road used to be. We saw countless ‘National Scenic Byway – Historic Route 66’ signs, ‘Route 66’ themed gas stations, stores, and pieces of merchandise every lover of classic Americana could enjoy. But in reality, Route 66 only exists because we want it to. Maybe even, in some ways, we need it to. America has long been the land of the road trip, and what more infamous road to trip on than Route 66.
There’s also something truly American about the tourist trap small town consisting of a ‘main street’ (in this case, ‘Historic Route 66’) off a more newly constructed ‘Interstate Highway’ running next to the aforementioned small town. By increasing the speed of travel, the interstate highway system cut down on the time that people spent in the these drive-thru villages along the way to wherever they were going. When Route 66 lost it’s relevance and utility to Americans, so did many of it’s small towns along the way. Route 40 is that shiny new highway replacing Route 66 in much of the western U.S. It runs almost the entire expanse of the country, starting in Wilmington, NC, and ending just outside of Los Angeles.Driving across the northern New Mexico desert on the way to Santa Fe was absolutely gorgeous and a bit nerve wracking.
Not only did Route 66 have a nostalgic quality, but it’s a unique natural environment that begs for exploration. To our midwestern eyes, the sight of the desert flying by outside the RV window was surreal, almost magical, like a character in an old western movie that refuses to die.
It also has the ability to draw up images of horror movies…with a young couple… lost in the desert… running out of gas. Yes, this almost happened!
Part of the reason you write a blog like this is to remember interesting stories that happen along the nearly 9000 miles we traveled. Before I conclude this chronicle in our cross-country trip, I need to tell you one of those interesting stories, partially so you can get a decent laugh, and partly so I don’t forget this actually happened…Back in my youth, we used to use these things called ‘paper maps’. I know that’s hard to believe, but GPS was still some Sci-Fi fairytale, and people actually had to pay attention to mile markers and road signs in order to traverse an unknown landscape. In Northern New Mexico, we had to employ the old school tactic of actually looking at one of the relic paper maps, as cell service and GPS don’t much agree with many parts of the southwest.
As a matter of fact, human survival doesn’t agree with much of the southwest either, which is why it’s so sparsely populated. Not many people means very little commerce for long stretches of highway. This also means NO GAS STATIONS. As our RV puttered near empty, Morgan and I started to get extremely nervous we were going to be making the nightly news for the wrong reasons. No cell service, no GPS, no idea when we were going to see another gas station. Although ending up stranded in the desert may have come up a few times in conversation, along with some slight yelling and screaming that we should have stopped for gas 45 minutes beforehand, we managed to find a petroleum oasis in the never-ending sea of sand. We pulled into the station, but much to our dismay, the oasis was a mirage (as you can see from the picture below).Sweet baby Jesus, can you hear me now?! I don’t pray much, but after I saw this, I may have said a few Hail Mary’s that we made it not only to the next gas station, but out of this place alive. A slight exaggeration? Maybe… but we were a bit nervous without a doubt.
Luckily, about 15 more nail-biting miles up the road, we ran across the most quintessential Route 66 gas station you could dream up, complete with old school gas pumps and merchandise for days.
Thank you, lone Route 66 gas station, for your fuel and roadside trinkets. You’ll always have a fond spot in our road trip memory for being the only thing that stood between us and a long afternoon stranded in the desert sun (or worse).
Long live the road trip, and long live Route 66!
Next stop – Santa Fe, NM…