When you look at the facts surrounding the myth of Route 66, then it can be rather surprising that the historic roadway still maintains such an iconic stature around the world.
First established in the mid-1920s, de-emphasised by the 1950s, and then removed from the official U.S. highway system by the mid-1980s, Route 66 has nonetheless endured in the global imagination during all four decades since. This is in part because most of the original route is still d
rivable today, of course although it helps to have expert guides to keep you on the right track.
But even taking that into account what makes the legend of Route 66 so large? More than anything, it's the historic value of the road, and how its presence reverberates through so much of larger American culture. Given its prominence in so many different histories of American life and popular art, the highway has become a truly essential pilgrimage for enthusiasts of automobiles and Americana alike.
Taking up a central place in the historical record, the literary canon, and so much more, Route 66 will remain an icon of the U.S. for generations to come despite the fact that, in its original form, the road stood for a relatively short period of time. That's indicative of not only fame, but of the road's enduring importance.
What makes it "the mother road"?
A fellow American legend, the author John Steinbeck, dubbed Route 66 the "mother road" in his novel The Grapes of Wrath. And even without getting too deep into matters of symbolism, it's rather easy to understand how the great writer came up with such a fitting moniker.
First originating from a series of dirt roads dating back to the dawn of the 20th century, Route 66 was officially established alongside the U.S. highway system in the mid 1920s. Running from Chicago, Illinois, to Los Angeles, California passing through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona along the journey the highway provided a crucial link between America's rural and urban spaces, which in turn had a significant effect on the whole of 20th century American culture.
Eventually becoming the first completely paved highway in the entire country, Route 66 would go on to serve very specific functions for the populace. An early favorite of truckers, the Route would eventually gain its highest level of "fame" from its use during the American Dust Bowl of the 1930s, when travellers utilised it to migrate long distances towards California in search of better work and living conditions.
"Highway 66 is the main migrant road," Steinbeck wrote in The Grapes of Wrath, at the start of the passage that would define the legacy of the route. "66 is the mother road, the road of flight."
A historic pilgrimage then and now
Because of Route 66's frequent usage and high popularity during its heyday, businesses and communities along the path thrived all throughout that same time period. As a result, one taking the journey across Route 66 today will come across a number of historic sights and locations some very well known, and others far off the beaten path (and best accessed with the help of a guide) that shed light on the development of the American landscape, from its origins up to the present day.
From historic markers of the "old west" to long-storied restaurants (including even the first McDonald's!), a Route 66 traveler will find the story of America simply within the sights they see from the road itself.
And luckily, communities and governments within the U.S. have recognised the importance of this particular interstate landmark: Many of the most exciting spots on the old Route 66 route, from historical locations and "ghost towns," down to specific motels and even gas stations, have now been preserved and protected allowing visitors to see them in a form not far off from their original glory.
Not just world history, but "pop" history too
Obviously the sights, sounds, and historical significance of Route 66 go a long way towards making it "famous". But one also cannot discount the importance of other cultural artifacts in helping to solidify this particular legend. You cannot even begin to parse through the American pop-culture of the past 120 years without coming upon constant references to ol' 66!
You'll find references to the historic road in music, with old standbys like "(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66", a song that is often covered to this very day. And you'll find them on television, including the classic midcentury program Route 66, which played a significant role in re-establishing the mythic prestige of the original highway after its usage had begun to decline.
And of course you'll even find nods to 66 in the movies, including some made far more recently than the road's history might suggest. Like, for instance, the Disney movie Cars, which mythologised the story of 66 for a whole new generation – spurring a whole new set of pilgrimages along with it.
To experience the timeless route yourself, contact our team today for information on our many tour packages.