Every time I drive a portion of Interstate 40 I think of the old days when some of that route was Route 66. There were movies about it, songs, hats, T-shirts and many, many businesses that found homes alongside it. Today, it is but a memory. However, we can visit Route 66 museums and purchase hats and T-shirts with Route 66 stamped on them. I have even seen for sale new and old highway signs with “Route 66” across them.
It still may be the most famous highway in America even though it does not exist today as a national highway.
This fall it might be fun to get into your camper, van or automobile and head east to re-explore the origins of some of our great country’s lore and legend.
We’re going to be heading to Chicago and so as not to travel through the same territory twice, first try heading out of Arizona on a southerly route from Phoenix through Lordsburg, El Paso, Odessa, into a real cowboy town, Fort Worth, Texas. Stop over at least one day here and be sure to visit Old Fort Worth. The world’s largest bar is here and there will be “real” cowboys present perhaps trying their skills (yes, there are rodeo arenas inside) at calf roping, bronc riding and so on. The drinks aren’t bad either!
From Fort Worth it is a 40-mile drive east to Dallas. This is a sophisticated city quite unlike its near neighbor. Dallas is loaded with art museums, live theater, a symphony and opera, plus other interesting venues.
From here, you may want to get into the southern music scene and cruise into the great state of Tennessee.
First make a stop in Memphis and visit the Rock-N-Soul Museum, which traces Memphis’ cultural and musical past. Of course, while here you’ll want to visit Elvis Presley’s Graceland. Take the mansion tour, which will show you the living room, music room, kitchen, TV room, pool room and “jungle den” in the main house. Behind the house are Elvis’ racquetball building and his original business office. You can also see his trophy building, which houses his enormous collection of gold records, awards, and career mementos. You’ll also see many of his costumes. You can stroll through Meditation Garden, where Elvis and members of his family have been laid to rest. Nearby is his private jet, a Convair 880, which you can go aboard.
Next, head east to Nashville — “Music City USA.” Take in a fantastic country show at world-famous Grand Ole Opry. You will most likely see name entertainers on stage and the program is always great. They say it is the country’s longest running music show.
You may want to join a local tour that will take in Studio B, Nashville’s oldest surviving recording studio and one of the country’s most important studios. Between 1957 and 1977 there were more than 35,000 songs recorded here, including 262 Elvis Presley recordings. You will pass through other famous recording studios on Music Row, the center of the recording industry, which first developed in the 1950s. Be sure not to miss the popular Country Music Hall of Fame with its glittering costumes, rare instruments, and Elvis Presley’s “solid Gold” Cadillac.
Other Nashville sights include the restored Ryman Auditorium, the old home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974. Then, there is the home of Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States that is open to the public.
From Nashville, head north passing through Louisville, Indianapolis and into Chicago. This is a beautiful, friendly, bustling city located on Lake Michigan. There is something for everyone in the greater Chicago area. I resided here once and enjoyed it to the fullest, with the exception of cold winters. It is also known as the “windy city.” It is the home to America’s tallest building, legends such as Al Capone and his gang and countless jazz and blues clubs. One afternoon ride the elevator to the top of the Sears Tower. Enjoy in the amazing views of Chicagoland!
Take a walk on Navy Pier, visit the Natural Science and History Museum, art museums, and if you are a rail fan as I am, there is plenty for you to see in this city. There is live theater to enjoy, so plan to catch a show some evening.
When it’s time to leave Chicago, travel across the fertile Illinois farmlands, where the road is dotted with truck stops, diners, and quirky icons. Upon arrival in Springfield, visit Bill Shea’s Route 66 Gas Station Museum, a favorite stop for travelers. His memorabilia spans the lifetime of this famous road. You can obtain route details and directions on the Web. Springfield is also the former home of President Abraham Lincoln. Plan to visit his home and the presidential museum.
From here, follow the path of Route 66 to St. Louis, Mo. You’ll be crossing the Mississippi River into the city. The large arch here identifies the city as the “Gateway to the West.” Ride to the top of the 630-foot-tall arch for a panoramic view of the city and river. Be sure to take the opportunity to enjoy the famous St. Louis barbecue.
After leaving St. Louis, travel through the Missouri countryside past Meramec Caverns, hideout of notorious back robber Jesse James. Then, on to Branson, one of the country’s most popular music centers. There are more than 35 theaters in this no-so-large city and it has become, over the last few years, a major location for some of the best music in America. You can have an evening at Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, where you’ll “shake, rattle and roll” with original American Bandstand stars from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.
After you get some music in your soul, leave the Ozarks and travel through America’s “Bible Belt” and into cowboy country again. In Oklahoma, stopover in Claremore to visit the Will Rogers Memorial Museum. He was born on a frontier ranch. He was a cowboy, a movie and Broadway star, a writer, a speaker, a comedian, and a world figure. View his collection of saddles, photos, and manuscripts that reflect on his incredible life. Then, travel on to Oklahoma City.
Here, you can visit the National Cowboy Hall of Fame & Western Heritage Museum, a national memorial to the American cowboy. Exhibits include Native American arts and crafts, the American cowboy, rodeo and more. Be sure to include a stop at Prosperity Junction, a re-created Western town.
Travel on to Clinton, Okla., where you can visit the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, home to vintage cars, neon signs, a ’50s diner, and drive-in theater. Continue through the rolling hill country into Texas and on to Amarillo, the state’s oil capital. A stopover here will give you a chance to have a famous juicy Texan steak served with wild-west atmosphere.
On your way out of Amarillo, see the Cadillac Ranch, an unusual art sculpture consisting of a collection of 10 Cadillacs. Before crossing into New Mexico, you’ll reach Adrian, the halfway point on Route 66. Along the way you can shop for souvenirs at Tepee Curios near Tucumcari and see the neon signs of the Blue Swallow Motel that has been serving travelers of Route 66 since 1939.
Continue along old Route 66 west to Santa Rosa. Keep your eyes peeled for the signs of the good ol’ days: Comet Drive-In, Silver Moon, Sun and Sand, and still-grinning faces of Fat Man billboards outside of town. Here, you can visit the Route 66 Auto Museum to see memorabilia and cars of the era. Continue then to Albuquerque.
Be sure to take in Old Town while you are here, it is the site of the city’s original settlement. Travel Central Avenue too, this is where many of the original Route 66 buildings and businesses still stand. Perhaps stop at the 66 Diner and sample a real American hamburger and a rich, creamy milk shake.
While in the Albuquerque area, take a trip up to 10,378-foot Sandia Peak for an exhilarating ride on one of the world’s longest aerial tramways.
Out of Albuquerque you can visit Acoma Sky City, home of the Pueblo Indians, situated on 357-foot-high sandstone rock. It is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited village in the United States. While you are there you can examine the Acoma pottery and jewelry. Cross the Continental Divide and continue to Gallup, which claims a longtime Hollywood connection. From “Redskin,” filmed in 1929, to the more recent adventures of Superman, much of the area can be remembered from motion pictures.
Travel on to Flagstaff nestled near the San Francisco Peaks and from there you probably know your way home. I hope you enjoy your Americana adventure. It will be a great one!