Route 66 in the News

Buckle Up, Shift Gears, and Get Your Kicks

2010-05-24 12:28:59

Every year thousands of travelers fall under the spell of The Mother Road, U.S. Route 66.

It links L.A. and Chicago — more than 2,000 miles of kicks on Route 66.

Avid fans of the highway turn the journey into an automotive pilgrimage, taking weeks to drive the entire length of the remaining sections of the historic road from its eastern point on Lake Michigan in Chicago to its seaside culmination in surf city, Santa Monica, Calif.

There is an allure, historical, cultural and spiritual, to Route 66 that one cannot truly appreciate until leaving the whizzing realm of Interstate 40 (which replaced the venerable old highway) — and winding your way along the old road.

Everything immediately slows down.

You no longer feel the need or desire to zoom through the landscape at top speed. It’s time to relax and get into a cruising state of mind, the Zen of Route 66.

Drivers pass through small towns, many of which, unfortunately, have fallen into desperate collapse since being bypassed by the interstate. Some remain authentic remnants of a bygone era, while others have embraced their transcontinental heritage to the point of exploitation, plastering Route 66 on every available surface and selling every form of memorabilia imaginable to the stop-and-start stream of tourists that passes through.

Barstow to Williams

Recently I explored the stretch of old Route 66 that wends between Barstow, Calif., and Williams, Ariz. – making fascinating stops in Kingman and Seligman, Ariz.

Williams is a perfect example of a small town that combines old and new, where Cruiser Cafe 66, a hip diner (with live music in summer) rocks just down the road from Rod’s Steak House, where the cuisine has not changed one bit (for better or worse) since 1946. Consider it a culinary museum.

Whether you need gas or not, be sure you stop at Eddie’s Tires (on Railroad Avenue), the last real service station — where they still clean your windows and check your oil. The shop is run by Eddie Sandoval, a Williams native who knows just about all there is to know about the town and its illustrious visitors – which once included Gene Autry, Andy Devine and the Wrigley family. No visit to Williams would be complete without meeting Eddie.

For most travelers, Williams had been a stopover, whether heading east or west or to the Grand Canyon 50 miles to the north. In addition to the usual array of motel chains, the town offers a couple of small authentic places to stay, including the Grand Canyon Hotel (built in 1891), the Downtowner and the Canyon Motel on the outskirts of town, where guests spend the night in a converted old Grand Canyon Pullman car or a Santa Fe caboose.

Grand Canyon Railway

Williams is also the “All aboard!” point for the Grand Canyon Railway operated by Xantera Parks and Resorts. The old rail line, which began transporting passengers to the South Rim of the canyon in 1901, recently traded in its historic steam locomotives for more modern and less polluting diesels.

But locals and tourists alike bemoan the loss of the historic locomotives. Seeing the old train pull into the station below the El Tovar Hotel (also a Xantera property) with its bell clanging and steam belching was almost worth the ecological incorrectness.

Colorado River

The long section of Route 66 between Barstow and Kingman is predominantly parched desert, except where the highway crosses the Colorado River at the town of Needles.

During the Dust Bowl era this was the migrant entry point to California, immortalized in the pages of John Steinbeck's “The Grapes of Wrath.” Today it is a boater’s paradise with the high-stakes gambling mecca of Laughlin, Nev., just a few miles away.

This section of Route 66 offers several worthy stops, from the unique menu of the Roadkill Cafe in Seligman — “You kill it, we grill it” — to the historic artifacts of the Route 66 museums in Kingman, Barstow and Victorville.

And be sure to stop in for a buffalo burger, shake and fries at the Bagdad Cafe in Newberry Springs, Calif., which is officially designated a “Historic Route 66 Roadside Attraction.”

~Jim Farber, Creators' Syndicate

 

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