Route 66 in the News

Treasure or Trash?

2009-03-24 20:19:14

PETRIFIED FOREST, Ariz. - One man's trash is another man's treasure and archaeologists often have to differentiate between the two.

Sometimes the difference is one of personal opinion and sometimes the difference is simply a matter of age. At the Petrified Forest National Park, for instance, items older than 50 years are considered artifacts, while things under 50 years old are simply trash.

No where in the park is this more evident than along old sections of Route 66. Petrified Forest is the only national park site that the 'Mother Road' ran through, and while the asphalt pavement was ripped up decades ago, much remains of the old roadbed. Chunks of it, in fact, for in some areas the asphalt was simple thrown to the side.

Because March is Arizona Archeology and Heritage Awareness Month, special talks and walks have been on-going. One such program goes 'Off the Beaten Path' and along the sandy shoulders of what was once America's main street. Traipsing through grasslands scattered with occasional prickly pear cactus, a keen eye is needed to spot the trash left more than half a century ago by travelers.

In some places the rusted remains of tin cans are so numerous as to suggest that many travelers stopped in the same places. Perhaps the shoulder of the road was wider here and lured travelers to stop and take a break as they made their way cross country. In its heyday, a trip on Route 66 from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California could take up to a week. Interstate speeds and state sponsored rest areas were still years away, so taking a break meant pulling out of traffic at a wide spot on the road.

In other spots, pieces of broken glass glisten in the late afternoon sun. Tossed from passing vehicles, these shards might be all that is left from an evening meal eaten more than a half century ago. Further from the road bed, the occasional whole bottle remains. Did these make a gentler landing, missing the asphalt and rolling to a stop?

Some artifacts hint at businesses that once stood along the road, while telephone poles still stand, no longer hooked up to those enterprises.

Because these trashy treasures are in the national park, they are protected for future generations who want to relive the Route 66 experience, this time on foot. As we walk in the shadows of the once great 'Main Street of America' we pause to reflect not just on what is left for us, but also to wonder what we'll leave behind.

~Karen Sweeny-Justice,


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