In November of 2016 we headed west to explore portions of Old Route 66. Before sharing some highlights from our trip here is a little background info.
U.S. Route 66 – The Mother Road
U.S. Route 66 also known as the Mother Road is America’s most iconic drive and one of the original highways in the U.S. Highway System. It was established on November 11, 1926 and destined to become one of the most famous roads in the United States.
Running East to West Route 66 covered more than 2,400 miles through America’s countryside and rural towns. Beginning in Chicago IL Route 66 traveled through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and finally ending at the Pacific Ocean where the road ends at the Santa Monica pier in CA.
During the dust bowl of the 1930’s Route 66 was the primary route for those migrating west supporting the economies of towns it passed through. In John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck wrote about the migration west as a trip of faith and hope, but also filled with hardship and despair.
The road was also popularized by the hit R&B song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” written in 1946 and first recorded by Nat King Cole along with a number of subsequent artists. A Route 66 television drama followed the journeys of two guys traveling the route in a Corvette.
The route alignment was changed several times during its lifetime but officially removed from the U.S. Highways System in 1985 following the completion of the Interstate Highway System. Portions are now designated a National Scenic Byway with several states having adopted large segments of the former US 66 to their state road networks as State Route 66.
Getting Our Kicks!
Here are some of the highlights of our trip down Route 66!
- Big Things in A Small Town – Casey IL
- Gateway Arch – St Louis MO
- Route 66 Red Rocker – Cuba MO
- Route 66 Visitors Center – Springfield MO
- Worlds Largest Fork – Springfield MO
- Gary’s Gay Parita – Everton MO
- Spencers Phillips 66 – Spencer MO
- Red Oak II – Carthage MO
- Route 66 Drive-In – Carthage MO
- Cars On The Route – Galena KS
- Blue Whale of Catoosa – Catoosa OK
- National Route 66 Museum – Elk City OK
- Tower Station and U-Drop Inn – Shamrock TX
- Cadillac Ranch – Amarillo TX
- The Midpoint Cafe – Adrian TX
- Paradise Cafe and Motel – Tucumcari NM
- Standin On The Corner – Winslow AZ
Big Things In A Small Town – Casey IL
One of our first stops, though technically not on Route 66 was the town of Casey, IL, a small town on interstate 70 between Indianapolis and St. Louis. There were just too many roadside signs boasting the “World Largest” that peeked our curiosity so we took the bait and had to check it out… and yes we were hooked!
The town is dotted with some of the world’s largest items including the world’s largest wind chime, golf tee, pitch fork, rocking chair and more. The idea originated with Jim Bolin who grew up and built a life, home and business in the town, he felt he wanted to give something back to the community. He initially wanted to build one Guinness record-breaking item to put the town of Casey on the map. He caught the bug and just couldn’t stop. All of the creations first appeared in the 2017 Edition of the Guinness World Records.
Visit the Big Things in a Small Town website for current information.
Casey IL Gallery:
The Gateway Arch – St Louis, MO
The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is commonly referred to as “The Gateway to the West.” Built as a monument to the westward expansion of the United States it’s the focal point and main attraction of Gateway Arch National Park. Our time there was limited however we did take time for a bite to eat and a bit of exploring downtown as well as a visit to Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park across the river in East St. Louis. The park is home to the Gateway Geyser and the Mississippi River Overlook providing one of the best photo opportunities of the Gateway Arch.
Route 66 Red Rocker – Cuba MO
On October 20, 2015 the 42 foot tall Route 66 Red Rocker lost it’s title as the worlds largest rocking chair to the 56 foot rocker in Casey IL (see Big Things In A Small Town above). As a result the 2nd Largest Rocking Chair was painted red and became known as the “Route 66 Red Rocker.” The chair is located next to the old Fanning Outpost General Store at 5957 Hwy ZZ, Cuba, MO.
If time permits stop in at the Route 66 Visitor Center in Springfield. Learn more about things to do in the area and along the Missouri portion of Route 66.
Worlds Largest Fork @ Food Channel, Springfield MO
The World’s Largest Fork was designed in the 1990s by Noble and Associates, an advertising company for a local restaurant. It was relocated after the restaurant closed near office buildings that house the advertising company and the Food Channel at 2215 W. Chesterfield St. The fork is located in the back of the building by the parking lot.
The giant fork is 35 feet tall and made of stainless steel weighing in at 11 tons. While there isn’t much else to do at the fork it remains a popular stop for selfies as you can see, one of us had “fork envy!”
Gary’s Gay Parita, Everton MO
25 miles west of Springfield, MO in Everton is one of the popular stops along Route 66. The old replica Sinclair Station is located at 21498 MO-266 and certainly worthy of a trip back in time. There are original gas pumps and lots of other memorabilia.
Gary’s Gay Parita Gallery:
Gary passed away in 2015 prior to our visit. During our stop we met with the new owner George who was very welcoming. He invited us to explore the grounds at our leisure and directed us to visit Spencer’s Phillips 66 station not far from there down an old concrete section of Old Historic 66 in Spencer MO (see below).
Spencer’s Phillip’s 66, Spencer MO
A recommended stop by George from Gary’s Gay Parita, we made our way down the old concrete section of Old 66 across an old steel truss bridge which led us to Spencer’s Phillip’s 66 station. The site was still a work in progress back in 2016 during our trip but looked promising as a future must-do stop. Map Coordinates: 37.184385, -93.702489
Spencer’s Phillips 66 Gallery:
Red Oak II, Missoura (Just off Route 66 near Carthage, MO)
I recall talking with a friend at a photography outing about our upcoming trip down the Mother Road who tipped us off to this place he discovered on one of his recent trips. Not knowing exactly what to expect we added it to our itinerary to check it out.
After World War II small rural communities began to vanish and many became ghost towns. That is exactly what Lowell Davis found when he returned from the big city to his boyhood home of Red Oak, Missouri. Longing for the simpler times of sixty years prior, As a tribute to his boyhood home town Lowell began buying up the homes and businesses from his cherished Red Oak and moving them about 18 miles to his Fox Fire Farm near Carthage, Missouri. Back in 1987 Red Oak II was just a cornfield, but Lowell, with his creative inspiration, saw it as a blank canvas and began restoring the buildings to their original grandeur.
Today this resurrected ghost town now includes a Phillips 66 gas station, a diner, town hall, jail, an old school house, stores and other exhibits including several homes. Each of the buildings are privately owned with each owner responsible for maintaining their own properties. Important to Davis were the blacksmith shop where his great grandfather worked and the general store run by his father where he learned to sculpt and paint. You’ll find many of Lowell’s sculptures and old vehicles throughout the property.
Red Oak II Gallery:
The 66 Drive-In, Carthage, MO
Drive-In theaters became popular during the postwar era of the late 40’s and early 50’s, surging in number from around 50 in 1940 to over 4500 in the mid fifties. The 66 Drive-In in Carthage remains one of the few intact drive-in theaters still in operation along old Route 66.
Cars On The Route, Galena KS
Kansas has the shortest stretch of old Route 66 which is located in the southeastern corner of the state passing through Galena, Riverton and Baxter Springs.
If you are a fan of the “Cars” movies from Pixar then you will no doubt want to visit the restored Kan-O-Tex service station now known as “Cars on the Route.” There you will find “Tow Tater” – the inspiration for “Tow Mater,” the boom truck from the now classic movie.
Stop in for a visit to learn more about the history of the building. Cars on the Route sells snacks and sandwiches, antiques and other Route 66 and Cars movie memorabilia.
Cars On The Route Gallery:
Blue Whale, Catoosa, OK
The Blue Whale was constructed by Hugh Davis in the early 70’s as a surprise anniversary gift for his wife Zelta who collected whale figurines. Originally intended for family use the whale and pond became a popular swimming hole for locals and travelers along Route 66.
As the years passed and unable to manage the attraction it eventually closed in 1988. Davis passed away in January 1990 followed by Zelta in 2001. After 10 years of neglect and weathering the park had fallen into disrepair. However Catoosa locals launched a fund-raising campaign and volunteers began restoring the Route 66 landmark and adjacent picnic area.
During our travels in 2016 we were using a Garmin for navigation. Normally this worked flawlessly however when searching for the Blue Whale it couldn’t zero in on the exact location. The closest point it directed us to was Rogers Point Park on the Verdigris River. With dusk approaching and feeling disappointed, realizing we still had a bit of a drive ahead of us, we begrudgingly gave up hope. Stopping at Lil’ Reasor’s Convenience Market to top off our tank and pick up a few items I asked the girl at the counter where this famous blue whale was and she replied it was just up the street about a quarter mile! With renewed excitement we were finally able to see it from the street and turn in!
Location Coordinates: 36.193359, -95.732451
Blue Whale Of Catoosa Gallery:
National Route 66 Museum, Elk City, OK
Elk City is home to The National Route 66 & Transportation Museum covering all eight states that Route 66 runs through. It’s a combination of indoor and outdoor exhibits representing times gone by. The rear of the museum has a mock Route 66 town set-up. If nothing else it’s worth a stop for the photo op in front of the enormous Route 66 marquee!
Tower Station & U Drop Inn, Shamrock TX
The U-Drop Inn, also known as Tower Station and U-Drop Inn and Tower Cafe, was built in 1936 in Shamrock, Texas along historic Route 66. It’s quite uncommon for the application of art deco architecture being used for a gas station and restaurant. Once called “one of the most impressive examples” of Route 66 architecture by the Texas Historical Commission, the U-Drop Inn fell into disrepair with the decommissioning of Route 66. It closed for business in the late 1990s. In 1997 the U-Drop Inn was added to the National Register of Historic Places then purchased by the First National Bank of Shamrock in 1999 which presented it to the city of Shamrock. The city renovated and restored the building to its original glory and now houses a museum, visitors center and gift shop along with the city’s chamber of commerce.
The U-Drop Inn’s distinctive architecture appears as Ramone’s Auto Body and Paint Shop in the 2006 film Cars.
Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, TX
Located just west of Amarillo TX, Cadillac Ranch was created in 1974 by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels, members of the Ant Farm art group. The creation consists of ten Cadillacs (1949-1963) buried nose first in the ground. Originally located 2 miles east of it’s current location the cars were relocated to the current site in 1997. Cadillac Ranch is located just west of the city of Amarillo between exists 60 and 62, parking is available alongside the frontage road on the south side of I-40 (old Route 66) where you can enter through an unlocked gate.
Cadillac Ranch Gallery:
The Midpoint Cafe, Adrian TX
The Midpoint Cafe is located in Adrian, TX which bills itself as the geographic midpoint between Los Angeles and Chicago along historic Route 66. Nearby signage states you are 1139 miles from each original Route 66 endpoint. The cafe’s slogan is “when you’re here, you’re halfway there!” The current name of the restaurant, souvenir and antique shop was adopted in 1995 following the advice of travel author and US Route 66 Association founder Tom Snyder.
The cafe was visited by a group from Pixar back in 2001 for research for the animated movie “Cars.” The movie characters Flo, Mia and Tia were based on the Midpoint Cafe proprietor Fran Houser and two servers at the restaurant, sisters Mary Lou and Christina Mendez who appear in the film at Flo’s V-8 Cafe.
Midpoint Cafe Gallery:
Paradise Cafe and Motel, Tucumcari NM
Tucumcari once boasting more than 2,000 rooms along Route 66 including the Paradise Motel. The motel and The Paradise Cafe were once a stopping point for a nights rest, burgers and a tank full of gas. The interstate highway, time, vandalism and multiple fires eventually took their toll. Now just a memory along Route 66. Paradise lost.
Standin on the Corner in Winslow, AZ
After spending a few nights with friends in Albuquerque we continued west. One of our stops included the city of Winslow for an iconic photo at Standin’ on the Corner Park along Route 66. The park includes a statue of a life-sized man standing on the corner with a guitar by his side.
Standin’ on the Corner Park opened in 1999. It takes advantage of the town being mentioned in the song “Take It Easy” written by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey and recorded by the Eagles. The song includes the lyrics;
Well, I’m a standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
And such a fine sight to see
It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford
Slowin’ down to take a look at me
Winslow was one of the last towns to be bypassed by I-40, that plus an influx of national chain stores and restaurants along the new highway resulted in many local businesses shuttering their doors. The Standin’ on the Corner Foundation was formed to help revitalize Winslow and bolster tourism. On September 10th and 11th 1999, the park was formally opened to the public.
In September 2016, a second statue was unveiled at the park in the likeness of Glenn Frey, who died earlier that year.
The site is located at the Corner of Kinsley &, E 2nd St, Winslow, AZ 86047
Standin On The Corner Gallery:
From there we headed south to spend time with family before continuing onto the next leg of our journey which included Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley and Arches National Park. Hopefully one day we can complete the remaining Arizona & California portions of Route 66.
If you are looking for a good resource we recommend getting a copy of Route 66: EZ66 GUIDE For Travelers, It’s written as travelling from east to west but a great resource for planning your drive regardless of direction.