Our trusty maps and guide book says it is. In 5 days of driving over 1000 miles we’ve successfully navigated along Route 66 through 4 states and to within 40 mile of the Texas boarder. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, but it has also been incredibly enjoyable. We’ve seen everything from the beautiful to the bizarre and it has truly felt like America. The nature of Route 66 (a road across the country) and its decommissioning has meant we’ve largely been following a similar route to the Interstate system, at times directly beside it, bopping along at 45mph on 80 year old concrete single lane roads while trucks roar past on the big roads. But at other times the roads diverge and 66 takes us winding into tiny old towns, heading arrow straight over rolling farmland, rattling over rusty but spectacular old iron bridges and through cities that have relics of the early 20th century poking out from between modern America. The surface of our roads have been as different as the scenery too, we’ve driven on everything from modern tarmac to clay-y dust, including concrete slabs with cracks winding through them, intricately laid bricks and grated metal. We set the GoPro up to get shots of the road ahead (and obvs for the odd selfie) and Suzanne’s posh camera has been trying to capture as much of everything as possible. But it’s hard to really document how incredibly diverse the experience is
The first two full days were spent in the grassy green states of Illinois and Missouri. It was still cold although on the second day we had perfectly clear blue skies and with the sun beating down on the car we slowly started turning down the car heater. The first overnight stop on 66 was Springfield, Illinois (we went through 2 Springfields in the first 750 miles so yes the state name is necessary) and so logically it’s where we woke up on our first morning. This Springfield is the home of Abraham Lincoln and not The Simpsons. The only home he ever owned still stands here and has been well looked after and restored by the amazing National Park Service (they’ve been mugging off the national trust with charm and efficiency since we got here) as well as his house the NPS have resorted the whole street back to what it may have looked like when Lincoln lived there, before he moved to DC. You are able to tour his house for free thanks to his son selling the building and land to Illinois for only $1 on the understanding that the public will be allowed to view the house without coughing up dollar. The house itself still has many original relics from the Lincolns time in it, including some particularly flamboyant wall paper. It was really interesting and we were given a great tour by a park ranger including stories of how Lincoln stayed at home while the Republican Party debated his nomination and how he thought you shouldn’t be able to vote for yourself, so didn’t. Much different from today’s republican president!
After leaving Springfield we drove across the rest of Illinois to the state boarder with Missouri and the city of St Louis. Finally crossing to the western banks of the Mississippi after flirting with it first in New Orleans and then in Memphis. Driving over brick road, past countless farms with amazing traditional American barns and past plenty of small towns each with their own water tower. We stopped in the “gateway city” briefly for an explore of the fun sculpture park and a photo opp under the impressive gateway arch before using a Starbucks to get some wifi and pick out an Airbnb 30 miles further on in the tiny town of St Claire. The next morning with the sun shining we headed further in to Missouri, past the Mermec Cavins where Jessie James used to hide out and into the little town of Cuba that is dubbed 66’s mural town. And rightly so, we have seen a few murals along the way but the ones here were really good depicting all sorts from Amelia Earhart to boys heading off to war on the train. Just down the road from Cuba was the world largest rocking chair, possibly the most daft but brilliant giants we’ve seen so far, the shop that accompanies the chair has closed down but we were still able to freely walk up to it and get photos!
Much of the afternoon was spent alongside the Interstates, however, its was punctuated by regular detours away into small towns or scenic loops. The most picturesque of which was through devils elbow (named after a meander in the river that used to frequently cause log jams) which had a combination of a classic old metal bridge followed by a sharp uphill to a view point above the tree line overlooking a railway bridge that was part wood and part iron. We parked the car here and took in the views for a while but didn’t see a train.
When we got to our second Springfield in as many days we had to decide weather to stay put and find accommodation in the relatively big town or push on a bit further to an area with a few motels in quick succession. As we still had about an hour of light we chose the latter and are so glad that we did as that next hour gave us the best bit of driving yet. Heading west we ended up chasing the sun as it set right infront of us leaving us with beautiful shots of strait road, clear sky and red sun before it dipped below the horizon.
As we lost the light we arrived in the small, but important in 66 terms, town of Carthage. Our guide book had suggested a resorted motel named Boots Court and we were fortunate to find it had vacancies for us despite its limited number of rooms! The manager was lovely and chatty and wanted to give us all her knowledge about Route 66! We took in what we could without writing it all down. The room was great, restored to a 1940’s fashion complete with a radio playing 1940’s pre Elvis and rock and roll music and had pictures of Bing Crosby and Clarke Gable on the wall (big deal apparently, google him, we had too!) the outside of the motel had its green neon lights beautifully restored and a pink neon sign made sure passers by know it was there! The lights didn’t interrupt your sleep though and we had a really comfortable night.
The following morning, fuelled by pancakes from the next door diner, we headed out of town towards the boarder with Kansas and towards the old western frontier. We passed the most incredible little pop up town created by an artist who salvages old buildings from along Route 66 and brings them here to restore them. The result is something that feels like the combination of a movie set from an old western movie, a theme park and a cartoon town. We didn’t see anyone other than a few dogs as we strolled round taking pictures but our host from the previous night assured us it is inhabited.
The Kansas leg was only 13 miles long so it was only a brief visit! However as a result the state seem to have taken great care to make sure you are aware your’e on the famous round with plenty of signs, both by the side and on the tarmac itself! The short section was littered with old and resorted businesses, lovely old buildings and our first taste of Wild West towns with there wide open streets and high building fronts. All that was missing was a set of saloon doors and a couple of cowboys! This trend continued as we headed into Oklahoma and further west. Lots of interesting old towns that had remained largely untouched but also largely forgotten. However large parts of Oklahoma were also quite forgettable, many ugly urban areas that lacked character passed by as well as large areas of farm land filled with cows while we headed to Oklahoma City. Although they do have a giant whale which you can climb so it’s not all bad!
After our longest driving day we were annoyed to find our Airbnb had fallen through in Oklahoma City, our first bad experience of Airbnb to date, and so we had to check into a downtown motel which was a bit basic but nice enough. As we were well up on distance targets we decided to have a shorter driving day and so didn’t rush to leave the city. We visited the memorial to 1995 bombings which is lovely designed space to commemorate those killed with a chair representing every person. Part of the building that was bombed remains as part of the memorial and really brings home the terror that was caused. On the way out of town we stopped off at the Route 66 park which has the road scaled down and painted throughout the park with a number of stop off points. So we basically took a break from driving the long road to walk a vastly shortened version, but it was fun to see pictures of what we have up the way.
As we left Oklahoma City and headed further west the surrounding country side started to shift from green to a glowing browny orange that signaled we were getting closer to the desert! The mialage clock also ticked over 1000 putting us well ahead of our aim of 150 miles a day. However there will be a lot more to do than just driving in the days to come! We ended the day in Elk City as we found a nice motel that was suggested in our guide book and decided we had done enough driving for the day, it’s also home to the national Route 66 museum which will be interesting to explore tomorrow morning before heading for the lone start state!