We’ve just returned from what we both consider to be our greatest vacation to date, a road trip across the country on Route 66. The experience, while not without its snags, was amazing. We got to see so much of the country we’d never seen, talked to some wonderful people and ate lots of mediocre food.
Our plan was to drive to St. Louis MO and get onto the Route from there and then drive as far as possible on Route 66 until we ran out of time and had to turn around and came back. We ended up making it to Williams Arizona before deciding that the thought of continuing west was just a little more than we could handle. There was roughly 500 miles of Route 66 that we didn’t get to see, the stretch that leads to Santa Monica, but we decided we had enough driving and were ready to begin the long journey back. Our initial plans were to take the route as far as we could go west and then take the interstates all the way back, but as we quickly learned there’s nothing more mind-numbing than driving on the interstate for hours on end. By heading home early we had plenty of time to take the route on the way back as well hitting some of the places we missed on the way through.
On the first day of our trip we got into a pretty serious accident and totalled our car. It was a scary experience but we were determined to keep going if at all possible. We spent the night in St. Louis at a hotel that happened to be on Route 66. The tow truck driver dropped us off and then took our beloved Element to the tow yard. We would have to wait until tomorrow to find out what the insurance company wanted us to do. We made the arrangements to have the car taken to a local garage for an estimate and in the meantime had arranged for a rental car with unlimited miles for 8 days at nearly half the cost we’d expected. The plan was to continue on with the trip and a week later we’d drop the car off back in St. Louis and either our car would be repaired and ready to drive home or we’d rent another car one-way and drive the rest of the way home. We got into our rented Nissan Altima and headed west!
Day 2, Monday
Our goal for Monday was to get all the way through Missouri and as far through Oklahoma as possible. We got to see some of the oldest stretches of Route 66 throughout the day, but since we were a little behind schedule we also drove some on the interstate to make up some time. The section of Route 66 we were most excited to see began in Texas, so we didn’t feel like we were missing much. We got to see the Blue Whale and ate at the famous Rock Cafe in Oklahoma that day. We ended up staying in Yokon OK, home town of Garth Brooks.
Day 3, Tuesday
On Tuesday we started off the day driving on the oldest section of Route 66 and had one of the most enjoyable driving days of the entire trip. We started very early in the morning and really enjoyed driving around on the rust-colored, rolled edge Route 66 highway. Early in the day we made it to the border of Oklahoma and Texas to a tiny modern ghost town called Texola which we really enjoyed. Our first big stop of the day in Texas was at the Big Taxan Steakhouse, known to most people as the home of the 72oz steak challenge. We didn’t take the challenge, but we did have a great meal before continuing on through Texas and into Tucumcari, NM where we stayed at the Blue Swallow Motel, one of Route 66’s best known Motels.
Day 4, Wednesday
The goal for Wednesday was to see a couple of famous places along the Route including the “Here it Is” sign, which we had some trouble locating. We also were looking forward to passing through Albuquerque, which sits right on Route 66. We ate lots of great food, most of it covered in green chilis, it was amazing. It was this stretch of the trip where we saw some of the most spectacular scenery, New Mexico is the most beautiful of all the states I’ve seen. We were going to be staying in Holbrook Arizona that night so we drove through New Mexico making our way to The Painted Dessert and Petrified Forrest National Park, where we had a great time (despite a terrible headache and a bad case of dehydration). To us the petrified forrest was clearly the remnants of treas being carried from other areas of Arizona and deposited in the hills and vallies of this region when the great flood happened in the time of Noah. When we were finished with the huge 28 mile National Forrest we headed to Holbrook Arizona where we stayed the night in the Wigwams, something Kristen was very excited about 🙂
Day 5, Thursday
Day 5 would be our last day of driving west and we would be seeing the Grand Canyon and Williams Arizona, one of my favorite town on Route 66. Our Grand Canyon experience wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as the experience I had a couple of years ago when I visited in November. It was cold, but it was very quiet and serene. On this day the place was crawling with people and we ended up leaving due to furstration. We had booked a hotel for the night on the rim, but decided to cancel our reservation and ended up driving to Williams for a relaxing evening in a great room at The Lodge. We walked around town, went to the soda fountain “Twisters”.
Day 6, Friday
Day 6 we began our drive back with much more excitement than we had expected. We had driven somewhere around 3,000 miles and were excited that we weren’t going to have to retrace our steps on the interstate. Our first stop of note was at Meteor Crater in Arizona. We had a great time and many laughs as well. On our way back through New Mexico we decided to take a older section of Route 66 which goes through Sante Fe and northern New Mexico. We spend the evening in Sante Fe walking around the Square and had some great food. Sante Fe ended up being our favorite city on the trip, what a beautiful place. We stayed that night in the El Ray Inn on Route 66.
Day 7, Saturday
Saturday we went back through Tucumcari to stop at Del’s Restaurant, a famous 66 diner. We continued on through Texas and Oklahoma and took a different route through a portion of Kansas. We stopped at a really cool gas station in Arcadia MO that sold thousands of different kinds of sodas in glass bottles. The coolest thing about it was that it was a newer business, something we didn’t see much of on this trip. We also saw the famous Round Barn. There were a couple of other places we wanted to find on our trip including John’s Modern Cabins, a collection of almost totally destroyed cabins from the 40s that have since been let go, we were lucky to see them before there’s nothing left. That evening we stayed in the Wagon Will Inn in Cuba MO, another classic Route 66 motel.
Day 8, Sunday
Our final day of the trip we were only about an hour away from St. Louis and we had since found out that our Element was totalled. The plan was to get into town, get a hotel and wait for my brother to come and pick us up and take us home. Turns out that we were more excited to get home than expected, so we extended the rental on our car for another day and continued our journey on through Illinois and finally arrived back home around 10PM Sunday night.
We’ve talked many times since we first met about taking a Route 66 road trip, it’s been a dream for both of us for a long time. The experience of doing it exceeded our expectations and has truly left a mark on me. The people we met, the places we saw. The most amazing thing about the trip is the sense of history you get from travelling on Route 66 and literally seeing a glimpse at what early Americans would have experienced when driving across this amazing, diverse country. They were brave, strong people. I should also mention that Route 66 is almost impossible to follow without a Route 66 map, as most of it is no longer marked or has been renamed or turned into a service road. We never used a GPS and it made the trip so much more amazing and adventurous.
If you’re ever blessed with the opportunity to take a week or so and drive across the country on Route 66 I can’t recommend it highly enough. We saw hundreds of amazing things, many I’ve left out of this post because I’ve probably forgotten about many of them. I encourage you to avoid the chain hotels and stay at the classic places, sure they may have small bathrooms and 50’s decorations, but the point of this trip is to experience the road as those in the 40s and 50s would have, an experience that I feel I can truly appreciate now.