Aaaah who does not know the famous Route66, the Mother Road. This mythical road synonym of road trips and adventures ! It connects Chicago to Los Angeles (more exactly Santa Monica), from East to West and crosses so almost the whole country.
We had already been able to ride on small portions in 2015 and 2016 in the sandstone of our constant zigzags aiming to see a maximum of the country, and we told ourselves that we would do it all one day.
It's now done !
Well, not Harley, hair in the wind but fortunately because in the month of November / December, it is still a little cool, especially in the East.
As you probably know (or not, little booster) we left Quebec at the end of November 2017, to join at first the peninsula of Baja California (low California) in Mexico.
So much to say that the Route 66 route seemed to be perfect for us.
In all, almost 4000kms, 8 states (Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California) and 3 time zones to go!
US Route 66, was established in 1926, gathering portions of existing roads, but it was only ten years later that the road was paved in its entirety and was therefore the first transcontinental tarmac road in America.
In the years that followed, especially after the war, Route66 was a major route. From where nicknames of Mother Road or Main Street USA, developing around her many cities and lots of shops.
And then, the motorway network has appeared. The 66, was gradually abandoned in favor of the Interstate, until she is declassified in 1985. Leading to their loss, several villages and businesses that lived only by the famous road.
For those who saw the animated movie "Cars", it's a bit like this story that tells the first opus. There are also a lot of references more or less hidden ..
For all, route 66, remains a mythical road, that good numbers of associations and individuals are trying to preserve. Renovated service stations, museums ... the most famous road in the United States, although more formal, is now a way of plunge into every facet of America following the famous sign "Historic Route 66".
This crossing is a journey, see a stop in time, but also an incredible sampling and natural, cultural and historical testimony of the country. City dwellers, farmers, Native Americans ... the meetings are numerous on the 66 and are all identities of their own in the country of Uncle Sam.
Go on board you Popo!
The adventure begins in Illinois in the town of the bandit Al Capone.
Beginning of Mother Road, Chicago, although nicknamed "Windy City" is a most enjoyable city where it is always a pleasure to walk around.
This is clearly one of our favorite cities in the USA. We had been able to visit it for several days already during our first visit in November 2015. The dynamism that reigns there is fascinating. Enter classical and popular culture, Chicago is a city where you can enjoy to go to the museum, that of see a basketball game.
Located on the edge of Lake Michiganthere are beaches in the city center.
A river runs through the city center and a multitude of bridges span it. All this water that winds in the middle of the buildings definitely gives a crazy charm to the city !
In chapter places not to be missed, we think first of all Bean.
This big giant bean chrome Reflecting the city is the main attraction here. The sign of the beginning of Route 66 is not very far.
Then climb to the top of the Willys Tower to have a dominant view of the city is really top. Floor from different points of view is in glass... assured vertigo!
In the Gastronomic chapter, the famous Deep Dish pizza is THE Chicago specialty! It's almost a pie so thick. The first time we are always surprised by the size announced on the menu: "Bah 6 inches is very small! I'm going to take the big ... "and paf ... we're getting on the pitch!
For the future we let you go see our special article on Chicago (coming soon ...)
Seeing the sign "Route66 Begin"we thought we were driving slowly following the signs. But coming out of Chicago, we quickly realized that we would have to stay on the lookout (they are not always visible) and be wary of each intersection (sometimes there is no sign or they disappeared) to finish in decoration at some ...) and then over the years there have been reworking.
Sometimes you have to choose if you want ride on the 66s of the 30s or the 40s... It is for this reason that you will find different mileage for the length of the 66. They are each small detours but ultimately make a big difference.
To tell you all, it is difficult to drive permanently on US Route 66, especially on the eastern part.
Moreover, we risk disappointing some, but you do not always drive on the original Mother Road.
First because some sections were used to build the highway : largely the I40.
Others, not maintained, were gradually invaded by mother nature. But rest assured a new road runs along, so you will always have an eye on it except for a few times when you will come across a "Dead End". Anyway a real part of cache cache.
But promised we did it from beginning to end. Even taking a detour to see what was next (yes we are too curious), we have always taken where we were.
A bit like Mike Horn with his tour of the equator for those who read the book (without comparison of course)!
Often 66 is presented in three parts:
- East: With its small towns, its plains, its fields and its multiple curiosities of an adorable kitsch!
- The center : Tipis in concrete, cowboys and dinosaurs in cartons ... always as many curiosities but large spaces, cacti, balls of grass crossing the road, ... it is the Western simply with its atmosphere Far West guaranteed!
- West: California, the American dream!
The road66 logo painted on the ground, direction the Pacific, not without following the railway and crossing some ghost towns and of course the incredible Mojave Desert.
But rather than redraw you from East to West (there is a very good guide for that), we will tell you about the different things that have marked us throughout these 4000kms!
Of course the first striking thing is the diversity of landscapes.
Impressive landscapes and unique, images that we know very often through the movies and stories and that never cease to make us dream.
We leave the buildings of the big city Chicago, to cross then many cities and villages, then comes the countryside, the plains, still some villages and cities to arrive at the desert, and finally, the big, green palm trees, so emblematic of Los Angeles.
East of the road starts with a succession of cities more or less important, with an alternation of small villages.
For us who are interested in Architecture, we could not miss achievements of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Many of them are in the suburbs of Chicago, and others still along the 66.
This little aside, the road is quite hilly, very "green", rather pleasant but very far from the imagination that one has of the 66.
In late November, early December, it was rather cool, see cold in some places. We just avoided the snow.
The break between East and West is rather brutalafter Oklahoma City we begin to perceive a change and suddenly we find ourselves in totally desert landscapes !
If Texas is rather flat overall, New Mexico makes us find some greenery in altitude on the side of Santa Fe.
The following is a succession of visual slaps. Exit Route 66 to explore, including national parks, is part of the "course" according to U.S. The route to LA is quite direct then unless you run out of time, the West deserves a ton of detours!
Rehabilitated for the pleasure of the eyes by associations or individuals, or transformed into visitors center, they all a huge stamp and one can not help but stop at each of them and imagine filling up a few decades back. Some, more isolated, are totally abandoned since the arrival of the highway.
Conoco Station in Shamrock Texas of course ! With its art deco architecture it has everything to please. You can even go inside for a little time, since it's now a visitor center.
The Sinclair station of Gay Parita in Illinoiswho hides treasures in every corner. But the choice is difficult, there are so many and all with very neat details, so here is a small selection in image:
Aaah we know some who will talk to ... 100% American good food in a typical and original setting.
For that, Eric is happyhe could spend his time eating!
Would not believe that they are tourist catches, most here have their habits and come for years! Eating in a dinner is an experience in. Nothing really moved, it's like projecting yourself into a movie. Coffee and soda at will with the waitress who comes to serve us at table, bottle of ketchup in glass, banquettes in skai, counter bar, the total what!
And yes, it's really like that!
Side menu, do not expect high gastronomy. A la carte, mostly burgers, omelettes, milkshakes and breakfasts, but each with local specialties, so you do not get tired of it.
Attention, we are still very far from McDo!
Service and food quality is exemplary Some diners we tried and we were never disappointed.
Deco side, we love it! The magic operates as soon as you walk through the door. Whether they have remained in their juice or the Route66 side is played thoroughly, we are always pleasantly surprised and each dinner and a little like a mini museum of the route66.
If we had to choose just one, it would be the Albuquerque one, so vintage! For the very (very) greedy we recommend you the Banana Split!
They are everywhere! If in general retailers in North America have kept a retro / vintage spirit, on the route66, it makes sense! Letters painted in the hands, neons, old enamelled plates, there is something for all tastes. Some revealing all their attractions at night.
Whether really old, totally abandoned or brand new, they have a crazy charm!
If you like museums, Route 66 offers a wide choice .
Often, each state has its own. Held by associations that perpetuate the myth of Mother Road, they trace the history of the road through documents, objects, cars, and also the stories of travelers, including that of Bob Waldmire, iconic figure, who has almost dedicated half of his life to the 66.
If we had to select two, it would be Pontiac Illinois, with its mural fresco, Bob's buses and its very authentic brick building.
In passing, a few blocks away, there is the Pontiac brand museum, totally free also deserves a ride for his small but fabulous car collection of the brand.
And the one of Clinton, Oklahoma very modern in its way of presenting is very interesting and playful by the exposed documents.
There are others of course and everyone deserves a stop more or less long as long as one is time.
Notice to bikers, the Seaba Museum in Chandler, Oklahoma is a real Alibaba cave, we loved it!
We were talking to you just before the magnificent fresco behind the museum in Pontiac. The frescoes are legion on route 66, like the museums. It's a little bit what city will have the biggest or will have the most. Hand painted, they retrace again the history of the road, seen in the manner of the artist, but not that ... We can see local stories or from the very foundation of America. Do not forget that we are in a very patriotic country, history, certainly recent, but loaded!
Ghost towns, Brrrrrrr ... No, nothing scary in fact, but the fact is, they remind us how much technical developments can change the course of things.
New cars, new highways, always faster, always faster, ... We do not take the time anymore (except we can be haha). And what was once a stopping point, a stop, is today totally abandoned... Nature is gradually taking back its rights.
Impressive places so, both by the history they evoke, and by the imaginary they arouse.
Impossible to miss them by their size, it's really fun to see and we can not help but stop to take a picture. Most have moved over time, bought by different companies, but almost always along Route 66.
If originally they held for the vast majority an axethey now have in their hands a hot dog or a flag.
The first on the road (from East to West), is the Gemini Giant in Wilmington, Illinois, an astronaut with his helmet and his rocket in his hands. We met the new owner of the establishment who repainted it for reopening in the summer of 2018. The road revives little by little!
- Saint Louis and his ark, symbol of the passage to the West.
If the city itself is not extraordinary in comparison to others (but it depends on the vision and interests of everyone), some neighborhoods where places deserve to be lingered. Of course our first stop was the great arch ! She is impressive! The monument is managed by the National Park Service and we can go up there thanks to an elevator.
Other neighborhood, other atmosphere with the city museum. Hard to talk about it as it is unclassifiable ... Tim Burton could have imagined it for one of his films. It's kind of patchwork of everything and anything which in the end creates a gigantic playground for children (and big kids!).
- Tulsa, self-proclaimed world oil capital.
The city has some architectural attractions with its Art Deco buildings. The city center and these large buildings owned by oil companies is not very interesting but some historic buildings remarkable stand out. The surrounding neighborhoods alive bring a little color.
- Oklahoma city: that's it the West is finally here!
If Saint Louis is the symbol, it is to Oklahoma City that the landscape rocks from green and raised to orange and desert.
The city is quite like Tulsa, city center with its buildings and suburb very spread.
- Santa Fe, the beautiful and colorful!
With his typical architectureshe is for us the most beautiful city of the course. No big building here everything is human scale. A law obliges all constructions to be in adobeSo everything is in harmony. The central square with its Native American craft market surrounded by small shops is the high point of the visit. We will also remember beautiful cathedral and his Amerindian Museum of Modern Art. Not far, Tent Rocks NM, a very nice stop for a beautiful hike that offers a landscape and a magnificent view.
- Albuquerque: swe historical Center is absolutely worth visiting, with here again a Native American market.
After passing through Santa Fe, Albuquerque seems a little too spread out ... Despite everything, it's still a beautiful city with a lot of attraction. Around the city of many points of interest make it easy to spend more than one day there. We think of Sandia Peakwith the longest cable car in the world who led us at 3163m altitude! Breathtaking view guaranteed! Or Petroglyph National Monument, a park that protects many Native American rock paintings.
Oatman and his wild asses, finally almost ... One of our most memorable stops. Certainly there is a certain tourist side but all the same.
The small town born from the discovery of a gold vein, has reconverted into movie decor and tourist stage but has remained relatively authentic. Donkeys roam freely, they have priority over cars and other Harley's who cross the city. You can feed them by buying what you need on the spot.
The streets put us in the Wild West ambiance, wooden construction, dust, desert landscape, everything is there, even the reconstitution of a shooting in the middle of the street around 12h and 14h.
The hotel restaurant that bears the name of the city has stuck with its western atmosphere. It is upholstered from the floor to the ceiling of $ 1 bills marked with little words from visitors from around the world. Even the fan is covered!
The walk in this village outside time is pleasant despite the world. We cross bikers, hippies, we see a lot of buggies (all this corner of desert is a zone planned to go to have fun off road). In short, in addition to the pass that passes just before arriving in town (between Kingman and Oatman) offers landscapes and a sublime view!
Seligman is literally in the middle of nowhere.
The small town of 500 inhabitants, which is once again a broad main street, surprised us by its Route66 spiritshe is totally dedicated to it.
Teaches, building, decoration, everything is there! But here the star is Angel's Barbershop, a former barber so. We stop to see his super-deco shop and his barbershop / hairdresser space remained intact like a micro museum. The rest of the village is a succession of signs, vintage cars and artistic installations.
The Motels or their real names are the "Motors Hotels". This word takes all its true meaning along the route66. aligned along the route, they still allow travelers today to spend a well-deserved night's rest for a reasonable sum. If nowadays quantities of them are abandoned, a large majority was able to cope with the arrival of the highway.
Many are known for their "remarkable" style, such as Wingwam Motel (there are still two) with their concrete teepees and vintage cars parked in front. Others for celebrities who have stayed there, such as Elvis Presley.
If some people deserve a photo stop for their architecture, most of us have done marked a stop yard for their signs who continue to give the mother road all its cachet.
We told you right away, sometimes we do not really drive on the road66 and for good reason the road is no longer passable... Rather than re-tarring over the existing portion, the authorities sometimes traced a parallel road. It's fun to see the original road right next to it, where the nature leaves at times only a few glimpses of remains. Some rusty bridges, or at all adapted to the tonnage of modern vehicles were also entitled to their downgrading. So we sometimes do a mini detour just the time to recover the original plot and roll on it!
A short stretch of a few kilometers marked us. We roll on bricks ... The original bricks, so that's a whole symbol!
- Cadillac Ranch: most certainly one of the most famous places! If you thought, like us, that ten Cadillacs are planted in the desert in the middle of nowhere, you are mistaken! They are near Amarillo Texasbut really close ... The highway passes right next to it. It is to be expected that there are some tourists as the access is easy. Planted in a field, we can tagger with a spray of paint what passes us by the head on one of them (or all of them). There is a ton of paint on them, enough to keep them for a long time haha! Too bad by cons that visitors abandon the empty bombs in the field ...
- Baghdad Cafe: Mythical café made by the film of the same name, a pause is needed here. The current owners are really adorable and full of anecdotes. The interior is literally covered with travelers' memories (many French people elsewhere). We will not forget to leave a map and / or little word pinned to the wall after eating a piece of it, or having a coffee. For the bravest we can even write in the toilet haha!
- Roy's Cafe: Sign emblematic of the route66, who has never seen it ?! She is on many guides. Lost in the middle of nowherethere is only the sign and the café / gas station (one of the most expensive in the country). The motel is abandoned ... The road that leads and follows is lined with some volcanoes, really beautiful !
- Drive-in Theater: unfortunately for us it was not the season so they were all closed ... snif ... We could not watch a movie through our old pare pare while eating popcorn and listening to the lyrics through our bad radio ... So it will be for next time, but we still have a stop to admire a piece of American heritage.
The only National Park which is crossed by Route66. A happiness for the eyes! Desert landscape, petrified sand dunes whose color varies from blue to purple depending on the time of day and especially fossilized tree trunks. Wonderful to see ... Hard to imagine that at one time there was a forest here! The different zones of the park are quite marked: the part "Painted Desert" can be admired from above, especially at sunset. The petrified dunes also, but we can go down zigzagging between them. Fossilized trees when they are also relatively concentrated in the South. There is even a vestige of dwelling built in tree fossil!
Americans have kept the vintage spirit of the mother road and it is not finished, there are many other curiosities more or less known and unclassifiable throughout the course.
Selection of the most striking and most kitsh:
- The blue whale: not the table salt ... The blue whale was built by an individual, at the base for his wife who loved whales. Then the place was opened to the public and we could come to dive, jump from the dock to the top of the tail, slide into the water from the slides! From now on we can not bathe but the place has become a must in the 66!
- The Twin Arrows: we find a little before Flagstaff in Arizona (always East / West), these two giant arrows planted in the ground. A few decades ago, there was still a gas station and a trading post. Arrows have become one of the many legends of the road.
- The Mid Point: When we get there, it's becausewe made halfway! Although there is not much around except for an old motel and café, a photo stop is needed again and again to immortalize the moment. On either side of the line drawn on the road, the logos of the different states crossed.
- Cardboard dinosaurs: in the center of the road we find a lot of fossils, so the ultimate kitsh when we have a souvenir shop in these corners, it's the cardboard dino! Rather surprising to see appear in the distance is big behemoths! It sometimes feels like hallucinating!
- Meteor Crater: Take a mini detour perpendicular to the highway to Flagstaff. It is neither more nor less than meteorite crater 3.8km in circumference, 1.2km in diameter and 200m deep. Just impressive, so much the hole is huge! We feel very small face to this crater. NASA even practiced tests here.
- The water tower leaning ... willingly! Not far from the Mid Point and a huge cross elsewhere. (Exit 114 at Groom) Yes good it is useless, but precisely when you want to talk sometimes just have to dare to do anything ... And it works, the proof, we stopped for the photo!
- "VW ranch": If Cadillac ranch is too touristy for you, there is possibility to see its variant with Volkswagen ladybugs at exit 96! Popo almost stopped there alone seeing his little cousins planted there ...
- Jack Rabbit Trading Post: It seems that this is the most famous post trading in the world, with his rabbits on his big yellow sign.
- McDonalds Museum: San Bernardino, um, it smells like the end of 66 ... The Mc Donald Museum is here for a reason, it's just next to the location of the first Mc Donalds. On the menu: history of the chain, historical pieces and Happy Meal toys. Funny!
- Pops 66 Soda Ranch: When you see the structure of the building lost in the middle of nowhere you really wonder what he lives! Well, he's hiding the biggest selection of soda in the world. More than 600 varieties, from the best known to the most artisanal.
Palm trees, the Pacific, that's it the Santa Monica pontoon is there with his big wheel and especially the sign of the end of the road. Perched above the ocean, the funfair permanent illuminates the nights for the happiness of young and old. It is with a small pinch in the heart that one arrives here, and that one says oneself "that it is done! ". But there is so much to discover ...
We admit that we have a little trouble with Los Angeles (second time for us, here again). The social differences are very marked, more than anywhere else in the USA. The traffic is hellish ... Tell you that to cross the entire city and its suburbs via the 66 it took us almost a whole day!
Nevertheless, there are things to see and do of course. The city very cosmopolitan offers a multitude of facets, a lot of neighborhood are very nice time for a walk, but they are all relatively scattered. To make a little summary a little off the beaten track, we loved the Petersen Museum, with its huge collection of vintage cars. The building alone is to see. Practically opposite, LACMA (The Los Angeles County Museum of Art) has a fine collection of art from different eras and it is on the forecourt that we find the famous accumulation of street lamps.
Sunday is market day then direction the Melrose Trading Post for the most famous flea market in the city. Bobo atmosphere guaranteed!
In the city center some museums and remarkable buildings are worth a visit, the Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry, The Broad (the Museum of Modern Art), the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, to recite nobody else but them. The most enjoyable part remains the oceanfront boardwalk between Venice Beach and Santa Monica. On foot, on roller skates or by bike, we have the choice! If the social differences are here too very marked and almost embarrassing at first, we quickly realize that there is a certain "harmony". We pass among others by a kind of improvised street art market, an outdoor gym with body builders, and the famous skate park world famous.
"The city of angels" we love it or hate it ... But we do not show you too much and we do not tell you more ... Los Angeles deserves its own article so it's for a little later!
So that's a fair summary of what we've come across Mother Road.
But be careful, small warning all the same. Route 66 can be a little disappointing depending on how you approach it.
4000 kms is long and all the "attractions" are quite scattered. The road may seem very little alive at times.
But maybe it's also what we come for on the Mother Road ... Earn miles, getting drunk with different landscapes and atmospheres. Just to ride to ride ...
Get lost in thought and imagine yourself in another era.
Admire the sun set over the eastern fields and shudder when it disappears. lap the West and its desert landscapes, feel the warmth of the air whip our face, dry our throats and burn our eyes.
Feel the past life of old small towns. Imagine the glorious days that old signs evoke.
Signs whose the old letters all rusty never cease to captivate us, just as these american flags floating in the wind always proudly sported.
Well maybe we get a little too excited. But these are good these sensations, these images which remain etched when traveling America.
As well as the cemeteries of old cars. This is perhaps the most representative of the US ... Ah the car, a whole story here. Nothing more typical than an old pick up, a rickety tow truck or an old Mustang abandoned to his fate.
To accumulate, to leave, to keep track of the past ... it's a bit like America.
America, whether we like it or not, it's the road. The quest for what's further on, on the other side. Wiser East, Wild West! This is the 66.
To be honest, maybe we were expecting a bit too much from this famous 66.
Perhaps we were just a little too impregnated with a condensed image and could have been a little "disappointed" at first.
We thought we would go through it in about three weeks. Finally we will have put the double.
This road is an invitation to detours.
It must be said that the temptations are too strong; the curiosity and the desire to rediscover some places have thus won.
We ended up accept to lose ourselves along the Mother Road. To take the road as she came. "Déglinguant" in passing all our "aprioris" and "thought established" on what awaited us.
For many, Route 66 is actually the West. But to go through it in its entirety is, in our opinion, a good way of understanding the varied and so different faces of America.
What comfort us in the fact thatthere is not a single America but a multitude.
In the collective imagination, some of these places are part of Route 66, so many associated images, but in reality, you will have to take other roads and accumulate a few hundred more miles to see these mythical places.
Let's be honest when you decide to drive through the US, you are no longer 100 or 1000 yards away!
- The Grand Canyon
- Lake Powell and Antelope Canyon
- Las Vegas, Hover Dam, Lake Mead, Valley of Fire and Red Rocks
- Desert of Mojave and Joshua Tree
- The Turquoise Trail between Albuquerque and Santa Fe
- Tent Rocks National Monument
- Chaco Culture National Park
- Monument Valley and Utah National Parks (Arches, CanyonsLand, Zion, Brice Canyon)
- The National Parks of California (Yosemite, Sequoia, ...)