January 14, 2015 at 12:03 p.m.
“The Mother Road” is a 2,000-plus mile immersion in Americana which boasts a fan club all its own.
Route 66 is on the list of “1,000 places to see,” put out by The New York Times.
It is such an important part of the nation’s shared experience that in 1999 a bill was passed by Congress providing $10 million in matching grants for preservation, restoration and promotion efforts along this highway.
Rabel, who drove all of Route 66 in the fall of 2014, is already plotting a return trip. It’s still about 90 percent original, he said, but you have to watch where you are going to stay true to the purist layout. The remaining 10 percent or so of the original Rte 66 has been transitioned over onto interstate freeway stretches.
Rabel put 2,600 miles on the odometer, but that included the “Sante Fe Loop” used from 1926 to 1937 before the road was straightened, between Santa Rosa and Albuquerque.
It took Rabel and his friend Tom, in a 2013 Avalon passenger car, 12 days to cover Route 66.
Rabel expects next time it’ll be a longer trip. There’s so many points of interest and highlights that can be overlooked in the process of navigating one’s initial trip.
There are portions where the highway isn’t much bigger than a driveway width of tar. Some places aren’t well-marked at all, while other points of interest-- ranging from Abraham Lincoln’s gravesite to crossing the continental divide to the Santa Monica pier are impossible to miss.
There’s so many noteworthy points along the way it’s a challenge to see them all, Rabel continued. He and Tom made sure to stop at that infamous corner in Winslow Arizona, from the Eagles song. (No girls in flatbed Fords though.)
The timing wasn’t right for spending the night at Wigwam Motel in Holbrook; owned by the same family since the 1940s, but it was still cool to see.
“There are many, many old motels along the way that have been renovated and revived to accommodate the rebirth in Route 66 travel,” he continued. “Landmark restaurants provide great food at reasonable prices.” The people are great to talk with and enjoy telling about their establishments’ histories.
Although the official Route 66 ends at Williams, Arizona-- to be picked up further west-- it would have been a travesty to be minutes from the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park, and not see it; so Rabel and his companion detoured a bit and viewed the canyon.
Back on Rte 66 they eventually crossed the Colorado River (avoiding those loose burros wandering Oatman city streets.) Rabel said they tossed some food to the “aimless” animals.
Back at the start of the highway, in the central portion of the United States, Rabel said, “There’s a lot of history along this route...we passed by homes of Mickey Mantle, Will Rogers, Gene Autry...and some of the best museums can be found in Clinton and Elk City along this part of the route.”
The “Chain of Rock bridge” over the Mississippi is calling Rabel back to inspect it more closely-- as a wonder of early bridge structural engineering it is now mostly open only for foot and bike traffic.
The route’s unofficial “guru” Jerry McClanahan has a museum in Chandler and his route guidebooks are also very helpful in identifying not-to-miss spots, Rabel added.
There is also a National Historic Route 66 Federation, offering “kits” available on the internet with maps and valuable contact information. Whether you are doing Route 66 by car, truck, motorcycle or hauling an RV, there’s a kit for you.
One result of constructing the I-40 freeway in Texas was to turn some places in the panhandle, that had been fixtures along #66, into ghost towns.
Rabel said he and Tom stopped in Amarillo, Texas where the Big Texan Steak Ranch will feed you a 72 ounce steak for free-- if you finish in less than 54 minutes. (Otherwise it’s $1 per ounce should you fail.)
Rabel had soup and salad.
The “halfway” point from Chicago to the Pacific Ocean is in Adrian Texas. Then you hit New Mexico, then Arizona, and finally California.
Rabel said arriving in Pasadena he and Tom took in a memorable UCLA and Utah football game.
One final stop had their photo being taken at the Will Rogers Highway Plaque, designating the official Rte 66 end point, at the intersection of Santa Monica Blvd and Ocean Ave.
“It was one of the coolest things I have ever done,” Rabel commented. “It was on my bucket list and I’m looking forward to a follow-up trip, scheduled in conjunction with the Great Race (runs from St. Louis to Santa Monica in June).”
The return trip was more perfunctory and predictable, taking Rabel back home through Las Vegas and Denver, etc. on the freeway.