We ditched our GPS and got our kicks in the heart of downtown Chicago all the way to the Santa Monica Pier in California. We drove 2,451 miles in 34 days on the most classic American road trip venturing from the Midwest to the Pacific Ocean. The highway was decommissioned in the 80's, but most of it is still there. Following step by step directions from a couple of guide books, we still got off track a few times and often asked ourselves, ARE WE ON IT?
Sideote: Grab your reading glasses!
Getting out of Chicago proper, a sense of nostalgia swept over the streets that used to push many travelers west. The abandoned mid-century signs started popping up along with a few neons to check out. We seemed to be the only ones out there interested in the Mother Road until the first kitchy Route 66 landmark. At the Gemini Giant statue in Wilmington, we ran into a Harley Davidson motorcycle tour group that reappeared throughout multiple Route 66 destinations that day.
In Pontiac, IL, we learned of the late hippie/artist Robert Waldmire when we stopped by the Route 66 museum. Bob was a traveling artist who spent most of his life along Route 66 in his yellow 1972 Volkswagen Microbus. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with cancer and spent the last few years of his life living in a converted school bus out in Arizona. We got to check out both the school bus and van which were on display along with his personal library and mementos of living most of his life on the road. One of the museum workers who knew him personally said he kept a pet snake in a lock box that looked after his weed stash under his van! The character "Filmore" in the Pixar movie Cars was based on Bob's VW. He refused to sell marketing rights to his name being associated with the character which would eventually end up as a McDonald's happy meal toy. This was not surprising as Bob was known as "an ethical vegetarian" and very environmentally conscious.
We stopped at Cozy Dog Drive In in Springfield, IL. The restaurant was originally started by Bob Waldmire's father and there was another memorial was there for Bob, proving how much of an icon he was and still is today. We spent a good amount of time reading through the binders of interviews and checking out books from his selective library. We were intrigued with Bob's lifestyle because were living in a similar way.
"It was about the freedom to move. Wanderlust." - Bob Waldmire
Crossing the Mississippi River into Missouri, surroundings began to feel more southern although technically we weren't too far south yet. We explored St. Louis for a day and visited The Gateway Arch into the west which rapidly got more interesting the closer we got.
We shoved west through The Ozarks where the landscape began to change even more. Route 66 landmarks including The World's Largest Rocking Chair and roadside gift shops were starting to get repetitive. We soon realized (and shop owners admitted) that roadside attractions on Route 66 were built to draw tourists in to take their money. We documented and carried on to 4M Farm and Vineyard where we picked up a huge brown bag filled with concord grapes, and ate them over the Devil's Elbow Bridge.
Sidenote: Route 66's nickname 'The Mother Road' comes from the novel Grapes of Wrath written by John Steinbeck in 1939.
Route 66 passes through a whole 11.27 miles of south eastern Kansas. Crossing over the state borderline, it got more nostalgic and even more desolate.
Before we knew it, we were in Oklahoma accidentally on an old segment of Route 66 that was NOT meant for RV's. The appropriately named "Sidewalk Highway" was a bumpy ride on original Route 66 pavement and we felt terrible when we later found out that we shouldn't have been traveling on it in a vehicle like ours, even though we are considered light weight for an RV. Unfortunately, we did not see any signs warning anyone about that.
One of our favorite roadside attractions in Oklahoma was The Blue Whale in Catoosa. This functional sculpture/swimming hole dock was a gift that Hugh Davis built for his wife. We learned a lot about the history from chatting with one of the charming volunteers named Linda. Lisa took a portrait of her.
A huge highlight for us in Oklahoma was getting a new mattress in the RV! We had called ahead to a manufacturer in Tulsa where they had to build from scratch a custom cut memory foam mattress to properly fit in our sleeping cove.
We met up with one of my childhood friends, Shaina and her husband Jason in Oklahoma City. We had a lot of questions about tornadoes, as OKC was very close to the heart of tornado alley. Luckily, the weather was great while we were in town. Later, we stopped in Elk City to check out the National Route 66 Museum, but prefer the earlier one in Pontiac, IL.
Traveling into the panhandle of Texas, the road literally changed texture at the border. Our first stop was in Amarillo where we celebrated our 6 months on the road! Next up was a necessary visit to the famous "Cadillac Ranch" where Victor painted a tribute to his late friend Jeffrey "Korn" Gamblero on one of the cars sticking up from the ground.
Back in Amarillo, we frequented the Palace Coffee Company where the owner informed us about a state park we should visit called Palo Duro Canyon. It didn't . take much encouraging. About 30 minutes southeast of Route 66, colorful landscapes surrounded us with questionable falling rocks as it began raining. We camped a night there, but with rain sticking out through the next morning we cut the spontaneous side trip short.
At the midpoint sign in Texas, we stood 1,139 miles between Chicagoland and the City of Angels. We then reflected that crossing the country on back roads was much more appealing than commercial highways. Fortunately, we had no time constraints so we were stopping as we pleased, checking out things that interested us. There are a few different alignments of Route 66 that were constructed throughout the years so you could essentially travel it many times along different routes to keep a fresh perspective.
Route 66 is known for long iconic stretches of highway and that starts here. Tucumcari is the first town coming in from the east. It was filled mid-century style signage and neon! I called it photo shoot paradise. By this point, the trip had been so saturated with vintage signs that we started to get immune to these insane sights. Slowly cruising the main strip, we passed by the classic signage of The Blue Swallow motel and the Teepee Curios trading post.
From Tucumcari, we took the older route north towards Santa Fe to explore its gorgeous adobe architecture. Even the chain stores and our second home on the road, Walmart, were built in the same style. This area has a similar ski town feeling to places like Aspen and Vail. In Albuquerque we got a taste of small town Halloween festivities in the historic plaza. Our Halloween was spent stumbling upon a serious dog costume contest and making pad thai from scratch in a Walmart parking lot. When morning broke, we decided we should stop by Walter White’s house from Breaking Bad. When we arrived in our RV, the home owner was doing yard work and we quickly realized we were those annoying tourists so left without taking a photo.
Gallup was the next stop on the old route. We are both very drawn to native design, so we stopped into a navajo rug dealer shop called Richardson's Trading Co. In a back room, we saw some of the most intricate and authentic rugs. The shop owner taught us about the styles coming from different tribes and how to distinguish between a tight knit rug with finished edge versus rugs that were poorly made as mimics of their true craft. Each rug had a hand written tag explaining who created it, where they came from, how many hours of labor went into the rug and also the materials used.
We took a three mile dirt road detour to Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary that we read about in one of the guide books. Surprised we made it, we opened the doors and heard the wolves howling! Gaining education on high/low content wolf dogs, wolves and related species, we walked away feeling the importance of their mission.
Driving into Arizona, we started to notice the red rock landscape paired with multiple Indian trading posts selling the exact same inventory. Our first destination was Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert. The parks sit next to each other, split by the I-40 highway. At the South entrance of the park, there was free RV overnight parking and we gladly took advantage. With no one else around, we stuck our heads out of the rear RV window during night time and saw an unbelievable amount of stars in pure silence. The following day we stopped at Jack Rabbit Trading Post which is more famous for its “Here It Is” billboard than the shop itself. Down the road we were sure not to miss the Meteor Crater site where a meteor struck 50,000 years ago.
Flagstaff, AZ was where we planned on stocking up for a side trip to the Grand Canyon. However, we definitely did not expect a snowstorm in the Southwest to keep us stranded for 2 days. Luckily, we stayed in a lot that had amenities needed such as wifi, laundry, bookstore, groceries, etc. When the snowstorm passed, we started to make our way north to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon is a massive place that's hard to put into words. Photos cannot do it justice and just standing there on the rim, you feel very small viewing a landscape that was formed without much human interference for almost 2 billion years. That was our 2nd time there together. The first time (Summer 2014) we took a helicopter down into the Canyon. This time, we hiked three miles down on the Bright Angel Trail and realized the vastness of this place looking at the same trail 10 miles further out!
And then one glorious day happened that we didn't even see coming. The day we went to the Alpaca Farm. We saw a brochure for it and decided, what the hell. We arrived at the Alpaca farm and the owner thought we were there for Harvest Host and staying overnight since we were in a RV. He let us in anyway. As soon as we stepped out of the RV, we were greeted by 4 beautiful white dogs and a leash was handed to me, attached to a friendly Alpaca named Ted. The owner taught us loads of important information about alpaca fiber and the process of threading. We left with some Alpaca socks and a new Alpaca rug for Honeybear.
Some of the the most scenic twisting roads lead into Oatman, AZ. A small, touristy western town in the middle of the desert. The strangest thing about this town that there are roaming burros everywhere that were accustomed to people feeding them carrots and burro food sold by the local shops. We saw the cutest baby burro just a few weeks old. Locals told some horror stories of kids running up behind the animals and getting knocked out by a burro kick!
We crossed the Colorado River from Arizona into California. We made it to the last state of Route 66! Driving down into the desert, the temperature started to slowly rise and we started to get excited for warm weather again. We drove for a while on long stretches of road with nothing around for miles.
We started to scout a location for a Greetings mural and decided that Victorville may be a good idea, mainly because of the name. However, we didn't have much luck finding a good wall to paint and decided to keep going. We had driven a part of Route 66 the previous year on a road trip and wanted to go back and revisit Bottle Tree Ranch, which seemed to be left out of all the Route 66 guide books for some reason.
Bottle ranch was an art project by a man named Elmer Long who started welding 200+ metal trees decorated with bottles. Luckily, we met Elmer there that day who was working on a new tree. He said that he was always looking for more bottles that were lighter in color. The light colors reflected light better and you could actually see his ranch glimmering from far away. His favorite color bottle is light green.
We passed through San Bernardino into Los Angeles. There were more and more "Dr. Seuss" style trees and we started to get into the city. Our plan was to make it to the Santa Monica pier (end of Route 66) by sunset and we were close on the map but then we hit the inevitable Los Angeles rush hour traffic! Almost 3 hours later, we finally made it to the end! Unfortunately, Honeybear was too heavy to drive onto the actual pier but we parked next to it in a beachfront parking lot and ended the night with some celebratory champagne!
The next day we walked the pier and got the certificate of finishing the 2,451 miles of Route 66.