Crossing America..
May 23, 2008 4:16 AM   Subscribe

Me and three friends are flying out to drive across America, mainly following the old Route 66. I have two main questions: 1) What's worth seeing on this route? 2) What should we be wary of? Also, any other advice is more than appreciated.
posted by bobbyone to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
  1. You need to experience Ted Drewes on a St Louis summer evening.
  2. You will be somewhat mystified by the number and size of the knife outlet stores in southern Missouri.

posted by scruss at 4:28 AM on May 23, 2008

i am sure there are travel guides for route 66. check amazon or at least a major bookstore.

one thing to be aware of is that--at least according to some documentary i watched about it--at some points it literally peters out into a remote dirt track running through the desert without any facilities for miles, so if you are going to be hardcore about it, you might be wise to bring a gas can and a couple of gallons of water.

i believe there are some more civilized parallel roads, however.

also, i second getting some ted drewes frozen custard in st. louis. mmm.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:34 AM on May 23, 2008

Check out the blue whale in Catoosa, OK. I'm pretty sure it's still there. That thing used to fill me with awe when I was a kid.

Unfortunately, there's pretty much nothing to see in my hometown of Sapulpa, OK. Especially now that the Frankhoma Pottery plant closed, or so I've heard.
posted by Shohn at 5:17 AM on May 23, 2008

Please let us (me) know if the billboard I recall from childhood trips is still out there- big letters saying TUCUMCARI TONITE!!

Not really anything to add except I think this is a cool idea. Good luck!
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:29 AM on May 23, 2008

I would check out Roadside America and Roadfood. Also, when I went, I loved pretty much everything on this list (from USA Today).
posted by unknowncommand at 5:40 AM on May 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

A nice historical stop is Angel Delgadillo's barber and gift shop located in Seligman, AZ. Angel was one of the moving forces in the founding of the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona, and in 1987 successfully lobbied the Arizona Legislature to designate and preserve Route 66 in Arizona as an historic highway. Thereafter, following Arizona's lead, the seven other states along Route 66 formed associations.

I spent more than an hour there last summer with Angel and his wife Vilma learning about the history of Route 66. Angel is one gregarious character who will talk your arm off. Before I left, I got his autograph, and took a longing look in each direction down Route 66.
posted by netbros at 5:59 AM on May 23, 2008

What's your route plan?

I ask because I've spent an awful lot of time on I-44 between Oklahoma City and St. Louis, which is pretty much where 66 is in that part of the world, and Jeeee-zus, I can't imagine anyone succesfully doing that for fun. Lots of meth labs, puppy mills, porn stores for truckers, and local Christians angry at the porn stores. That about sums up "historic Route 66" in Missouri.

Also, there are Steak and Shakes. Which are good.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:59 AM on May 23, 2008

66 is no longer a US highway on its own, it was decommissioned long ago as the interstates took over the route. However, those interstates - 55 from chicago to St. louis, 44 to OK city, and 40 on west - are parallel and flourishing. The original roadbed is still in use in some places, and is an outer road in others.

In missouri, you can travel from Fenton (near st. louis) to almost Springfield on that outer road.

As for sights, yeah, definitely stop By Ted Drewes. I was there last night. (I live nearby) It's always a treat. If you're in St. Louis at a reasonable hour, look me up, we'll make a meetup of it.

You might also consider some detours, i.e. up to the Grand Canyon.
posted by notsnot at 6:04 AM on May 23, 2008

Ted Drewes is a must-visit! Don't be intimidated if the line goes all the way to the street - they work fast.
posted by Ostara at 6:42 AM on May 23, 2008

I drove from Boston to Los Angeles four years ago and tried to stick as close to Rte 66 as possible once I hit St. Louis. Previous posters are quite correct in saying there are stretches of it that can't be driven (where the Interstate took over) and further stretches that are boring as all hell. Do not let that dissuade you however. There is still MUCH worthwhile to see.

One book I can't suggest enough is Road Trip USA. From my perspective, it is just a phenomenal guide book that points out lots of stuff that other guide books miss or ignore, plus it follows Rte 66 in it's entirety and does a decent job of telling you what to avoid. A good amount of the things it points out are kitsch, but then again, so is much of Rte 66. The book did not steer me wrong (although one evening it did steer me to a motel in New Mexico that, from the outside at least, looked VERY sketchy. Think Norman Bates on crack. I stayed in a Motel 6 that particular evening.) The book also suggests some worthwhile detours if you have the time (Santa Fe, Flagstaff, Grand Canyon, etc...) with off the beaten path suggestions in these places too.

Sadly, I had a limited time to get across the country (I had to do it in a week.) I'd love to do it again at a much more leisurely pace. However, some of the things I was able to enjoy along the way were:

St. Louis (the parts of it I saw at least)
The Rt, 66 museums in Elk City, OK
Driving the original Rte 66 through the desert in Arizona/New Mexico at dusk. Just some wonderfully inspiring scenery. Plus, if you're lucky you'll see sidewinders fly across the road! (What can I say... I'm easily amused.)
A "working" ghost town in Arizona just across the border from Needles, CA (I can't remember the name of the actual AZ town sadly, but it's in the book. Both it, and the drive to it, were very memorable.)
The Painted Desert (also at dusk) and Grand Canyon (religious experience - photos don't do it justice.)

It really is a great drive. Take your time and enjoy it.
posted by Rewind at 6:54 AM on May 23, 2008

Avoid Needles, CA. The food sucks, the gas pumps don't work right, and there's no cell reception. Although it's generally suggested to stop and get gas there anyway, since it's your last option for a while.

Otherwise, the stretches through the Mojave can be fun if you like desert landscapes. Definitely make sure you've got a camera for the stretches through the mountains from Arizona into California.

And make sure your AC works.
posted by krisak at 7:28 AM on May 23, 2008

Route 66 is worth driving through Missouri, if only to see the state from the non-interstate perspective (this is true for any state and any highway). In Joplin, it drives through the center of town (through the biggest intersection in fact). There are a few remnant motels you might see (with their old signs from the 50's). There's a brief "downtown" area that runs north/south on Main St. where the most impressive building was torn down in the 70's, but that doesn't mean there aren't a few old buildings dating from the late 1800's to early 1900's that aren't around to glance at as you pass through. There's a few nice Victorians and other styled homes just past Main St., too. Once you reach Joplin, by the way, there are signs that state you're on "Historic Rt. 66" but the actual street is 7th Street.

Missouri is not "Lots of meth labs, puppy mills, porn stores for truckers, and local Christians angry at the porn stores. That about sums up "historic Route 66" in Missouri."*

*Not that these don't exist, but they don't by any means encapsulate the state. I'd rather live in the space between St. Louis and OK City, than in any of those cities.
posted by Atreides at 7:55 AM on May 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seligman, AZ was mentioned aove. No stop in Seligman is complete without getting a bite to eat at the Snow Cap Drive Inn. They're hilarious. West of Seligman is the Grand Canyons Caverns, which is neat tour.

Further east in Arizona, you have to stop at the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert. The Painted Desert in particular is gorgeous, especially if any storm clouds are rolling in. If you've got the time and you feel like blowing some money, Meteor Crater outside of Winslow is pretty cool. Stop at the Indian stores at the AZ/NM border just for the hell of it, and because that particular stretch is pretty. Stay at the Blue Swallow in Tucumcari, NM. Find the Cadillac Ranch outside of Amarillo, TX. Just a few cool things we've done on 66.
posted by azpenguin at 8:00 AM on May 23, 2008

One that's not in most guidebooks yet, since it opened about a year ago - be sure to stop in at Pops in Arcadia, Oklahoma. For this.
posted by ormondsacker at 8:58 AM on May 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Kind of like others have said, the "romance" of Route 66 primarily only exists in the culture's collective memory, and interstate highways look pretty much the same wherever you are with the same general clusters of gas stations and fast food joints abutting them. Perhaps the contrast between myth and reality is part of what you are looking for though.

I would suggest getting a couple of good guidebooks and picking out the majestic, the interesting and the kitschy you want to see on a road trip out west without being too literalist about following the old Route 66. Taking US and State Highways as opposed to interstates is a much better way to see things on your way, even if it takes longer.

Finally, I don't know how familiar or not you and your friends are with the States, but it is VAST. Drives across the plains and the Southwest desert can become arduous and mind-numbing.

All that said, I love the experience of driving across the country and I've loved finding obscure bits of Americana on the trips I've taken, and there's still not a better way to see the U.S.

Good Luck and Have Fun!
posted by MasonDixon at 8:59 AM on May 23, 2008

What a terrific time you have in store. I just made the Route 66 drive from Chicago to Flagstaff, Arizona, and it is a great drive for someone who is into lost American nostalgia.

Route 66 is most populated with kitschy stops and motels in Illinois and Missouri. From Joplin to Oklahoma City a little less so. In Texas, New Mexico and Arizona the attractions become less frequent, but more dramatic.

Definitely plan on spending as many nights in the classic Route 66 motels as possible. Phone ahead and make a reservation now, as we're in Route 66 driving season and it's is likely to be a little more crowded -- with a surprising number of Europeans, you'll find.

Classic motels to stay at include the Wagon Wheel in Cuba, Missouri (where they've also painted some interesting murals on many of their downtown buildings), the Blue Swallow in Tucumcari, New Mexico and the El Rancho in Gallup, New Mexico.

The book we trusted most to guide us on our journey was The Route 66 Adventure Handbook by Drew Knowles. It gives an excellent account of every tourist attraction/trap in every city and small town along the way.

Have fun -- you're headed for a classic American adventure.

Also -- hunt around on the Route for a good Route 66 map. Most of the old road is still there, and as other posters have said the majority of it runs parallel to interstates. But if you have the time and patience, plan on following it as best you can and only taking the interstate when you're absolutely stumped. I, too, thought we might have to pack extra food and water for the desert, but we never got that far from civilization. (Note, we only went as far as Flagstaff, though. Things might get tougher further west.)

And finally, you can read all about our trip down 66 at my blog, here. Sorry for the self-link, but it seems absolutely relevant. Look for the postings beginning on March 19 and ignore everything else unless you're interested in horror films and fiction.
posted by Work to Live at 8:59 AM on May 23, 2008

By the way, when driving through Joplin and if you're hungry, there are a couple spots to get some good food.

At the intersection of 32nd street and Connecticut is a shopping center with a bank. In that shopping center is a Chinese restaurant called the Empress Lion. Its one of the best Chinese restaurants I have ever eaten at, including stops in several Chinatowns.

If you're in the mood for Barbecue, there's a few different selections in town. Unfortunately, my favorite, a place called Poochie's has closed down (I believe). Luckily, there's an equally good place along the same street called Lumpy's. Lumpy's is located at 1316 Broadway St (also named after Langston Hughes), which is a block or so north from St. Louis avenue. If I recall right, its a KC style of BBQ, so sweet and delicious, with thin sliced beef brisket and great baked beans.
posted by Atreides at 3:35 PM on May 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Between St. Louis and Springfield Illinois is the Union Miners Cemetery where Mother Jones is buried. A neat stop if you're into that sort of thing.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 6:29 PM on May 23, 2008

While in St. Louis swing by the Transportation Museum to see the last little bit of the Coral Court Motel. A route 66 landmark in it's day.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:30 PM on May 23, 2008

Show a little love for the pre-1938 alignment through New Mexico: the original route for the highway took it from Santa Rosa up through Santa Fe, down the Rio Grande valley through Albuquerque to Los Lunas, and then headed west again. Unlike the portions that were replaced by the Interstate, a lot of what's left is still well-maintained rural two-lane highway and the stretches between towns probably haven't changed all that much since the '30s. The north-south stretch from Algodones to Los Lunas is a very nice drive, particularly if you time it to hit Los Lunas at sunset on a summer evening.

If you don't want to do the whole thing as a side trip, the nicer bits include North 4th St. in Albuquerque as well as La Bajada (a fine testament to man's determination to make cars go where they really, really shouldn't).
posted by Lazlo at 9:30 PM on May 23, 2008

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