Celebrating its 88th birthday this year is one of our country’s most significant icons and an invaluable slice of Americana—Route 66. For many a traveler, Route 66 is on their bucket list of adventures, but before you set out on your own particular Route 66 adventure, you have to go back to the beginning.

A vital link for America

Built in 1926, Route 66 came about as a combination of a dream by two American entrepreneurs and the development of the national highway system, which had been established by Congress only a few years earlier.

Although not our nation’s oldest or longest road, Route 66’s founding was instrumental, in that it played a pivotal role in helping to connect—geographically, socially, economically and culturally—rural and urban America between the Midwest and the Pacific Coast. And because it was a major east-west link, it shortened the driving distance between Chicago and Los Angeles by more than 200 miles.

Over the decades, the route continued to grow and change, increasingly becoming a vital American socioeconomic link from commerce to job creation, leisure travel and more, including as what one historical account refers to as facilitating, between 1941 and 1945, “the single greatest wartime manpower mobilization in the history of the nation.”

Route 66 today

Traversing eight states—Arizona, California, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas—Route 66 is approximately 2,400 miles long (different placements over the years have made an exact calculation difficult), extending from Chicago to Los Angeles (Santa Monica, to be exact).

Because of the various interstate highways that have been constructed since the 1920s, driving the original route is not possible, however, it is estimated that approximately 85 percent of the route is still easily accessible.

Over the years, Route 66 has garnered an array of monikers: “America’s Longest Attraction,” “The Mother Road” and “The Main Street of America” among them. But regardless of what one calls it, it remains one of the most significant icons in the American consciousness. It has also been immortalized in a variety of forms, from songs to movies, a television series and numerous books, to say the least.

One of the latest is “Travel Route 66: A Guide to the History, Sights, and Destinations Along the Main Street of America.” In the preface, author Jim Hinckley writes, “If this is your first journey on America’s longest attraction, cast aside your preconceived ideas. Yes, Route 66 is a dusty repository of physical artifacts for more than a century of societal evolution. But it is also a living icon where myth and reality collide, offering a sensory kaleidoscope that starkly contrasts with the modern generic world.”

In this full-color guidebook, Hinckley offers a bevy of information for first-time as well as seasoned Route 66 travelers, including historical insights coupled with color photos and images of vintage memorabilia, cultural context, famous and lesser-known sights and attractions, dining and lodging recommendations and more. For example, in Chapter 3, readers learn that Kansas is home to the shortest distance along Route 66, traversing just over 13 miles. And in Chapter 7, focusing on Arizona, we find that in the eastern part of the state it is necessary to drive the route in three short segments.

Both informative and entertaining, the book is a great addition to any Route 66 resource library.

Both major cities and small communities proudly boast their own unique segments of Route 66. One way to gain more hands-on details about these places is through “Keeping You on the Mother Road: A Route 66 Travel Guide.”

Created in a soft, coffee table-style book that reads like the Yellow Pages, this guide, compiled by the Emerson family, is a real labor of love, in that the family is in constant motion—in their eye-catching “Mother Road” painted van—across every aspect of Route 66. Providing historical context, ads and listings for everything from significant destinations to accommodations, museums, motor vehicle repair shops, wineries, diners and cafes, antique stores, gift shops and more, the book aptly captures the essence and purpose of Route 66’s original founding to create a personal connection between the many Americans who resided along the route, which went and continues to extend far beyond simple geography.

Who’s your daddy

For a wide variety of reasons, several cities claim to be the birthplace of Route 66. Nonetheless, in any of them you can find a wealth of guides, monuments, lodging, restaurants, annual events and other aspects across the route that offer their own particular flavor and flair of its local and national significance. Annual Route 66-themed events are popular as well, including Stroud’s Historic Route 66 Wine and Food Festival in Stroud, Okla. (June); the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival in Springfield, Mo., in Grant Park in Chicago (August); and the Route 66 Cruisin’ Reunion classic car show in Ontario, Calif. (September), just to name a few.

Happy birthday to Route 66, one of the most celebrated roads in the world.

Resource List