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If you ever plan to motor west: Route 66 from Albuquerque to Needles, California

Route 66 is a National Scenic Byway Road

The Wigwam Motel, Holbrook, Arizona.
The Wigwam Motel, Holbrook, Arizona. — Dennis Begin photo

Route 66, part of the U.S. road system, was opened in 1926 and decommissioned in 1985. The highway was 2,448 miles (3,940 kilometres) long, beginning in Chicago and winding across eight states before ending in Santa Monica, California. Route 66 was a mere two-lane highway made of concrete or asphalt, but it soon became its own legend. The highway would be given different names: the Will Rogers Highway, the Main Street of America and the Mother Road. When the Interstate (I-40) replaced Route 66, many small towns fought to keep the old highway alive. They succeeded with the National Scenic Byway Road System and a new name, Historic Route 66. 

Albuquerque, New Mexico

America’s Main Street went through the middle of the city of Albuquerque at Fourth and Central Avenue. Central Avenue is now a historical site with many of the buildings restored. The street is lined with old hotels, gas stations, diners and motels—many with bright neon signs. Some of the more famous buildings are the El Vado Motel, the 66 Diner, Jones Motor Company, Kelly’s Brewery and the KiMo Theater. Two special events glorify the history of Route 66: Route 66 Summerfest and the Neon Cruise, a car show. 

Holbrook and Winslow, Arizona 

These two small towns along I-40 or Route 66 are great stops. In Holbrook, the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest are the major tourist attractions. Two buildings are great examples of Route 66 history. Only a few miles from the Painted Desert is the Painted Desert Inn, a National Historical Landmark and former hotel. The inn was a Fred Harvey hotel with first-class facilities for passing tourists. In Holbrook, visit the Wigwam Motel. The 15 individual rooms are actually teepees (wigwams) built of concrete and steel, with antique cars scattered throughout the parking lot. 

In Winslow, visit La Posada Hotel, also built by the Fred Harvey Company in order to develop tourism along the Santa Fe Railroad and Route 66. The Harvard Hotels were credited with “bringing civilization to the West.” It was actually famed architect and designer Mary Elizabeth Colter who decorated the chain’s hotel lobbies, turning them into works of art. Winslow today is more famous for the Eagles version of the song Take It Easy, which has the lyrics "standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona"; there is now a park—Standin’ On The Corner in Winslow, Arizona Park—in Winslow.

Flagstaff and Williams

Stop in at Flagstaff and visit the Hotel Monte Vista, rumoured to be the site for Rick’s Café America in the 1942 classic movie Casablanca starring Humphrey Bogart.

At Williams, Gateway to the Grand Canyon, board the Grand Canyon Railroad to marvel at one of the Natural Wonders of the World.

Oatman, Arizona 

From Williams, Route 66 goes through Kingman, Oatman and on to Needles, California. Take a good look at the highway south of Oatman, because this is the original Route 66 road. Oatman claims to be an authentic western ghost town. Between 1906 and 1942, $36 million in gold came out of the mines. This small town is now better known for the friendly wild burros that roam the main street, as well as for the street gunfights by the Ghostriders, and as being the site of many western movies. This former mining town became famous when Carole Lombard and Clark Gable spent their honeymoon night at the Oatman Hotel. 

Needles, California  

The name for this town comes from the two Needles mountain peaks at Topock, near the junction of highways 40 and 95. The Needles are featured in John Steinbeck’s book Grapes of Wrath (1940). Route 66 is the route used by the Okies when they travelled from Oklahoma to the orchards of central California in the 1930s. Steinbeck’s cabin is not far from Topock and is where he wrote some of his most famous novels.

As for Needles itself, it served as a railroad centre with the El Garces Hotel, the crown jewel of the Fred Harvey Company. When the I-40 replaced Route 66, the town of Needles went into a slow decline. West Broadway Street does not look much different now than it did in the 1950s and many buildings maintain the Route 66 theme. Time seems to have stood still.

From Needles, Route 66 winds across the Mojave Desert to Barstow and San Bernadino, California, and finally into Santa Monica.

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