What to see on Route 66, traveling to Los Angeles?
January 22, 2013 10:24 AM   Subscribe

Hivemind, what sights are they are to see and/or photograph along the way? What should we not miss? What is a must see? What is out there that's unique? Ghost towns? World's largest ant?

My family and I (myself, wife and 2 young kids) are driving to LA in a week to visit. We'll be driving from Oklahoma via Albuquerque, detouring to see the Grand Canyon and then on to LA.

I've driven to California a dozen times from up north but never on this route. So, hivemind, what sights are they are to see and/or photograph along the way? I'm a serious amateur shooter and I'll be bringing some medium format and large format rigs with me. Is there anything along the way, landscape-wise or odd attraction-wise to shoot?

What should we not miss? What is a must see? What is out there that's unique? Ghost towns? World's largest ant?
posted by damiano99 to Travel & Transportation around Joplin, OK (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
since you are leaving from oklahoma somewhere, Clinton, OK may be too soon to stop. However, the Route 66 musuem here is pretty well done and is a popular stop for European tourists. Route 66 Museum
posted by domino at 10:42 AM on January 22, 2013

Nature stuff:
- The painted desert and Petrified Forest National Park
- Canyon de Chelly (including Spider Rock)

Archaeology and ancient cultures:
- Chaco Culture National Historic Park (won't pretend this is easily accessible - it's probably 40 miles north of I-40 over lots of questionable side roads, but it is AWESOME)

Oddities and attractions:
- If you're into classic rock, you can go take a picture of yourself "standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona," as it's not too far from Route 66.
- Not like you're going to miss it as you're driving through, but Tucumcari, NM is one of the classic Route 66 tourist traps in terms of kitchy old hotels and stuff.
- The Santa Monica pier has a "Route 66, end of the line" sign
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 10:46 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Are your kids fans of the Cars movies? Might be fun to stop by some of the locations that inspired places in Radiator Springs.
posted by book 'em dano at 10:54 AM on January 22, 2013

Time for my habitual mention of the Road Trip USA site, which has a section devoted to Route 66. They follow the route west-to-east on that site, but they have the whole route broken up into sections so you can pick and choose and re-order in your own head..
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:07 AM on January 22, 2013

I did some of this trip this past summer and greatly enjoyed myself. You may or may not know this (I didn't) but parts of Route 66 are a lot more roadlike than others. Like in some places you are on a real highway and on some (esp in Oklahoma( you are on a single track elevated concrete patch which is what the original part of the highway is. I found Wikitravel's various options to be the easiest for me to keep an eye on while driving. The parts I enjoyed the most...

- as I said, seeing the really old stretches of road in OK, also Miami Oklahoma has these beautiful Route 66 signs
- taking it over the border between MO/KS (not applicable to you)
- Seligman Arizona, and that whole little side spur was awesome, they have Burma Shave signs and there are a few cute towns and scenic opportunities
- I very much enjoyed the Crown Railroad Cafe in Flagstaff AZ, likewise the Ludlow Cafe in Ludlow CA

Here is the small set of photos that I took on various parts of the route. Keep in mind, though you probably know, that this is a long way to get where you are going. To me it was really worthwhile but it will easily be twice as long as going whatever the normal way would be. I have also been to Canyon de Chelly on a previous trip and very much second that suggestion.
posted by jessamyn at 11:40 AM on January 22, 2013

Well as you get near LA, you can hit Magic Mountain in Santa Clarita/Valencia.

In Arizona, instead of stopping in Flagstaff, you can detour to Sedona. Now 40 years ago, when I first went, it was a bit more natural and beautiful. Since it became the "vortex" of both the hippy and the dippy, it's chock-a-block with psychic healers, chiropractors, and crystal shops. The heck with it though, what you want is to come in via South 17 via Oak Creek Canyon (state route 89), this brings you 29 miles through the gorgeous Red Rock State Park.

Spend the night. Get up and take yourselves to Slide Rock.

If you really want a bit of a detour, proceed a bit down I-17 south towards Phoenix. About 25 miles, you'll see Montezuma's Well and Montezuma's Castle. I had to see it on field trips, I dragged my friend's kids to see it, now YOU have to see it. It's actually pretty neat. Although, when I was a kid, we could go and look into the rooms.

Bring lots and lots of water, and stay hydrated!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:42 AM on January 22, 2013

If your detour is along I-40, you might consider staying in the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook AZ. I've never been there, but my imaginary route 66 trip has always included it.
posted by OrangeDisk at 12:16 PM on January 22, 2013

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, not far north of ABQ, is amazing. It's all hoodoos, there are hiking trails, it's spectacular.

I'd vote for Chaco, too - we were just there last fall - but getting there from the south is a pain. It's not a ton easier from the north, but the NPS really prefers you come in that way.
posted by rtha at 12:46 PM on January 22, 2013

I was going to suggest the Wigwam Motel too -- we stayed there about ten years ago when our kids were 6-10ish, and it was a great hit. It's really just like any other older motel once you're inside, except that the rooms are round, but that doesn't detract from the experience!
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 12:52 PM on January 22, 2013

It isn't the world's largest ant that you asked for, but how about the world's largest(?) soda pop bottle replica? If the kids (or adults) like carbonated beverages, make sure you stop at Pop's in Arcadia, OK. They offer over 600 different bottled sodas. Pop's is right on a historic stretch of 66 east of Oklahoma City, described in the Oklahoma - Old Route 66 page of the Road Trip USA guide EmpressCallipygos linked to, but that page hasn't been updated to include Pop's.
posted by Snerd at 12:59 PM on January 22, 2013

Even though you aren't doing the entire Chicago-California trip like the Griswold clan, this should be at least a few minutes worth of the sounds of your travels.
posted by 1367 at 1:13 PM on January 22, 2013

Acoma Pueblo. About 20? minutes off I-40/old 66. You'll pass by a bunch of pueblos going through NM, but I think Acoma is definitely the most visitor/tourist friendly. Unless things have changed recently, basically daily guided tours up to the old (but still peopled) pueblo up top of the mesa, which is, as they will tell you, "the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in North America". Fairly nice new museum, too. If you go on the tour, there'll be folks setup to sell you pottery and oven bread and fruit pies.

I would only recommend Chaco, especially at this time of year, if you have a 4 wheel drive. It's awesome, but really a trek to get to.

One other minor thing from my home town:

La Ventana Natural Arch. Nice little drive between the lava flows and the cliffs, little picnic area once you get to the arch. Probably like an hour, hour and a half sidetrip.
posted by PMdixon at 1:14 PM on January 22, 2013

Oh, one more thing from home: New Mexico Mining Museum. It's setup as a little fake mine, elevators etc. Super cheesy. Great for kids.
posted by PMdixon at 1:18 PM on January 22, 2013

Others have listed some of my faves in the general area (Acoma, Chaco and Canyon De Chelly), so here's a plug for my favorite small National Monument - El Morro. The base of the sandstone bluff that is the 'main' part of this park makes up the only fresh water (a seep into a pool) for many miles around. It's been there a long time, so there are 'inscriptions' on the rock dating back many hundreds of years. There are also old pueblo ruins, and fantastic views. Nine very nice sites to camp in, too. The clincher - it's kinda in the middle of nowhere - about 50 miles southwest of Grants, NM.
Totally worth the drive, IMO.
posted by dbmcd at 2:13 PM on January 22, 2013

El Morro is a fantastic suggestion. Canyon de Chelly is gorgeous (I've actually camped down in there by the Mummy Cave ruin - unbelievable but only available with a guide), but it's a good ways off the route and may result in some seriously bored kids - it's a long drive with pretty much nothing doing along the way. Go there sometime, but don't eat up a lot of time on this trip doing it.

Don't forget to stop and gawk at Cadillac Ranch outside of Amarillo!

In Arizona, you've seen the mentions for the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. Tha's some good road kitsch there, but down the street is Joe & Aggie's Cafe. Stop in; the place feels like time forgot it, and the food is wonderful. (They're mentioned in the credits of Cars.) There's also plenty of dinosaur kitsch to be seen around the area - lots of fake dinos. Holbrook is the closest town to the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert; you can enter the park off of I-40, and drive through the park and stop at the overlooks and trailheads. The park is Painted Desert on the north, and Petrified Forest on the south, so it's one continuous entity. The Painted Desert can be spectacular to shoot if the daylighting is good while you're there.

You can indeed stand on the corner in Winslow, Arizona - complete with statue and wall mural. It's on the eastbound section of 66 in the old main drag area of town. But while you're there, you should stop in and see (and maybe even stay at if it fits your schedule) the La Posada Hotel. It's a beautiful old Harvey House hotel that has survived and has been restored.

So, you're going to the Grand Canyon, eh? Well, if you want some serious roadside kitsch, stop at Bedrock City. It's cheesy as all hell and there's not much to do out there, but you can walk the kids around there, take some goofy pics, and marvel at the "wow, they built THIS out here?" aspect of things. $5 per person gets you the chance to take in a real piece of roadside Americana.

Williams, AZ now features Bearizona. It's a large drive-thru zoo that opened a couple of years ago; I haven't been able to get there yet but the reports I've heard on it have all been good.

Continuing down I-40/Route 66, you'll come to Ash Fork. Not much there; you may find some old signs to shoot but that's it. Seligman is next and that's a stop you have to make. Get a bite to eat at the Snow Cap; it's owned by the Delgadillo family, who has had a large part in preserving things along Route 66. (They had a big influence on Cars - you can see a lot of Seligman's influence in Radiator Springs.) Then you get to drive on the longest remaining stratch of 66 out there, and you get well away from I-40. Along the way you'll come to the Grand Canyon Caverns. Stop in and take the tour - it's neato!

One last thing - try to keep the sodas to a minimum and drink plenty of water. You'll be at decent altitude for a lot of this run, and you'll dry out faster than you think, even when it's cold. You can count on being over 4000 feet (and as high as 7000) for a lot of the trip. I've found that this really helps me enjoy things a lot more at altitude.

Good luck and have a great trip!
posted by azpenguin at 5:21 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank, guys! This is excellent. I'm going to check all this out and get a game plan going.
posted by damiano99 at 12:05 PM on January 23, 2013

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