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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Journey on Route 66

Alisha McDarris

Route 66. Will Rogers Highway. Main Street America. The Mother Road.

It's one of the oldest and most famous highways in America and covers 2,448 miles between Chicago and L.A. It's gone through many realignments in it's time, isn't an official U.S. highway anymore, and isn't nearly as well-traveled as it once was, but U.S. Route 66 is still one of the most iconic cross-country routes in the nation and we were determined to check it out for ourselves.

While we didn't cover every mile of the road, leaving out the sections in Illinois and California (the end-cap states), we traveled enough of it to be amazed and intrigued by the wide open road. The lack of traffic was a definite plus, too.

The Saint Louis Gateway Arch
Steel sculpture outside of the St. Louis Zoo
We picked up Rt 66 in St. Louis after driving on I-70 from Dayton, Ohio. We figured that would be easier than going as far north as Chicago where 66 really begins. We spent two nights in St. Louis (the full post can be found HERE) at a hotel because we couldn't find a couchsurfing host (sad face), but used the alone time in the evenings to plan the next few days of our journey. We accomplished plenty during our one day in the city (the Arch, zoo, science museum, delicious vegan pizza...) and headed toward Springfield on our second morning. It took a little over 7 hours on 66 including several pit stops for photo ops, snacks and, ya know, bathroom breaks. But it didn't seem as long as driving 7 hours on the highway. More to look at, ya know.

Some sections of US 66 are marked better than others. It's best to buy a guide or print off a free version HERE.  
We took the Manchester Rd. Route out of the city and found that signage for 66 was decent and not too difficult to follow. There were a few spots we had to pull out our turn by turn directions or guess and hope we saw the next sign around the corner, but we made it without much trouble. The only attraction we stopped at along the way was the world's largest rocking chair in Cuba, MO, but we also stopped at a little local coffee shop called the Giddy Goat in Rolla and had a nice chat with the owner and a delish cup a joe to refuel. When we reached Springfield we stopped at Bass Pro Shops, the original and the biggest, before meeting our host at Pizza House for some delightful St. Louis style pizza (mine sans cheese). Love that cracker thin crust! In the morning Big Mommas coffee across the street started off our day right before we headed to Oklahoma City.

The World's Largest Rocking Chair
Bacon, jalapenõ and pineapple pizza with a St. Louis style thin crust at Pizza House.

Big Momma's Coffee in old downtown Springfield, MO
The drive there was a bit rougher. After you get out of Missouri and the 14 miles or so through Kansas, directional signage is sparse at best, leaving us to attempt to navigate using mostly non mileage specific directions to plot our course. Needless to say there were more than a few u-turns involved. Apparently Oklahoma doesn't like signs cluttering their roadways directing travelers in the right direction. In OKC we walked around town, visited the OKC memorial, and, once again, enjoyed some vegan pizza at The Wedge in Deep Deuce. And if you're in town don't miss breakfast and coffee at The Red Cup (delicious vegetarian sausage biscuits and gravy). Check out our full review of the city HERE.

Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum 
Personal Pizza at The Wedge Pizzeria
The Wedge Pizzeria in OKC
The Oklahoma State Capitol Building in OKC
Amarillo was our next stop and directional signage didn't improve throughout the rest of Oklahoma, nor did it as we crossed into Texas. Needless to say there was no napping for the navigator. But we made it into town in time for an early dinner and enjoyed quality vegetarian fare and original art at 806 Cafe. But the next morning we were off again for Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo, TX
Vegetarian fare at 806 Café in Amarillo, TX

An abandoned motel just inside the border of New Mexico on a now closed section of Route 66 heading west
There was lots to see on the side of the road between Amarillo and Albuquerque and we made more stops for photo ops than ever. Still, we were only on the road for 6-7 hours. We stayed in Albuquerque for two nights, but spent our one full day in Santa Fe because we heard there was more to see and do. We heard wrong. Turns out we would have just as soon stayed in Albuquerque and maybe driven up the mountain than make the hour drive to Santa Fe where we had a sub par lunch, terrible coffee and were bombarded with more southwest gift shops than were even remotely necessary. The only saving grace were a couple of good hikes outside the city and dinner with a couch surfer who invited us over even though she couldn't host us.

A street in downtown Santé Fé. Southwest gift stores as far as the eye can see.
Hiking trail just outside of downtown Santé Fé
Taking a quick bike ride in Albuquerque, New Mexico
After Albuquerque was Holbrook, just outside of Flagstaff. I don't know what possessed us to stay there instead of just heading straight into Flagstaff and getting a couchsurfing host, but so it goes. We camped for the night in this desert town where the main attractions were a local history museum in the old courthouse and a movie theater that played late-run movies at 7:00pm. Not sure what that was about. We grabbed dinner at a Mexican restaurant called Joe and Aggie's where I was offered the weeds from out back when I asked about vegetarian options. But it's OK; I can take a joke.

Joe & Aggie's Mexican Restaurant in Holbrook, AZ
Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, AZ
The next day marked as far as we would go on 66. We thought about finishing the route after we visited Grand Canyon, but ultimately decided we were ready to call it quits on the driving, especially since our final destination was Austin, TX. But first there was Phoenix. Of course we stopped at the REI in Flagstaff to pick up some essentials for our upcoming backpacking trip into the canyon and grabbed some coffee at Theia's Cafe and enjoyed the view of Sedona on a brief detour, but we made it to our friends' place in plenty of time for dinner.

If you look closely, you can see The Church of the Holy Cross built into the cliff face | Sedona, AZ
The beautiful rocks of Sedona, AZ
We spent two weeks in Phoenix hiking and stocking up on backpacking stuff before heading to Grand Canyon National Park for five days. We camped on the rim for three nights and backpacked into the canyon where we stayed for two. It was amazing and you can read all about it HERE. But, alas, all good things must come to an end, but not before we had our last Route 66 restaurant meal of omelets, hashbrowns, toast and pancakes at Crown Railroad Cafe. Sooo good after instant oatmeal and ramen noodles for five days.

We passed through Phoenix again for just a day or two to gather our things and hit the road toward our final destination: Austin, Texas. We said good bye to our friends and drove to El Paso where we would be staying with another Couchsurfing host. The drive was about seven hours, and there were no more fun back roads through ghost towns. But the two lane highway that is I-10 was pretty empty most of the way, so it wasn't bad. From there we had another 8 hours or so on those same desolate highways to Austin (where highways are anything but).

Again friends opened their home to us and we settled right in, though I have to admit, it felt a bit weird to think we were going to be staying in one spot for more than a few days or weeks after a month on the road. I guess it'll just take some getting used to after so much glorious traveling. Hopefully we'll get to finish Route 66 at some point, but there are other adventures to be had, other roads to explore. But if you're looking for a good one, I highly recommend America's Mother Road.

Have you taken any amazing road trips? Share them in the comments below!

Alisha McDarris / Author & Editor

Alisha has been a writer and photographer forever. OK, maybe not forever, but at least for more of her 20-something years than she hasn’t been those things... [Read More]

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