2023 Vacation Report: Route 66

There’s a sort of mystique around Route 66. I’m not quite sure where it comes from. There are songs about it, of course, and it feels like Pixar practically made a whole movie about it. Maybe it’s the fact that road trip films are a thing, and when you’re talking about cross country road trips, Route 66 epitomized a lot of what they had to offer. So after you watch everything from National Lampoon’s Vacation to Rat Race, you start to feel like you’d really like to see what Route 66 is like in person.

At least, that’s what you tell your family when you explain why they’re going to have to extend the road trip by three or four days, just because you don’t want to backtrack through Oklahoma. (And seriously, once you get past the eastern bit of it, you don’t want to backtrack through Oklahoma.)

Setting all that aside, I’ve now been on more than a bit of Route 66, and I’ve got some thoughts.

First off, I totally get why Route 66 has such a mythos around it. When I think back on our road trip, there are a ton of good memories. Crazy things we saw. Funny stories about getting lost or having arguments in the car or seeing tourist traps. For the space of time of that road trip, it’s almost like we were on a four person ship, traveling across the country, cut off from pretty much everyone else. The road had a flow to it. We had to keep going forward. There was no stopping. No turning around. It naturally lends itself to stories. There’s a defined beginning and an end.

Did Route 66 itself enhance that? Well, no. Not really. Much of the road is through country that just isn’t that interesting to look at. So yes, there are tourist traps, but they’re few and far between, and it’s all exacerbated by the fact that instead of driving 45mph on Route 66, you can drive 80mph on an interstate right next to it.

“But Bryce!” you say. “You’ve got to slow down. Savor the journey.”

Yeah. I’m assuming you haven’t been following along. I was on the road for twelve days. I savored that journey until it was nothing more than a tasteless husk of a memory. Also, Cars wasn’t joking. Most of those places and small towns that were on Route 66 . . . didn’t make it. So yes, there are things to be seen, but they’re often few and far between.

We checked out Cadillac Ranch, which defied all expectations. (Mainly because there wasn’t much of a “ranch” to it at all, as Denisa pointed out.) It’s a set of cars buried front end first into the desert, and they’ve all been spray painted heavily. I didn’t realize that the spray painting was an ongoing thing, however. They sell spray paint as you’re walking up to cars, and everyone’s out there using so much aerosol I was surprised there wasn’t a gaping hole in the Ozone Layer right above us. There was no way I was going to pay a ton for spray paint, so we kept walking. Then, another group coming the other way asked us if we’d like to use their spray paint. So we got a can for free (and in turn passed it on to another group). You don’t need a ton of spray paint, and even if you didn’t get lucky in finding someone wanting to gift you a can, there are a lot of cans people just left on the ground, half empty. All told it was . . . better than not stopping at all.

We stopped by a classic car museum, because once again, we’d been driving for a long time, and it was good to get out and stretch. $20 got us a half hour of entertainment, which isn’t the worst, but it kind of sums up a lot of what I saw on the road. Places to see that aren’t really destinations at all, but if you’ve got to blow some time and make sure no one in the car kills anyone, you could do worse.

I also stopped at the corner of Winslow Arizona, though I just stayed long enough to snap a selfie.

All told, I could theoretically see taking more than a couple of days and spending them on Route 66, but I don’t think I ever will. It was fascinating to watch the country turn more and more to desert the farther we went, but almost none of the places we passed really seemed like things I’ll regret missing. Would I recommend the trip from Oklahoma to the Grand Canyon? Sure! It’s a part of the country I hadn’t seen before. But was it different than other road trips?

Not really. Each road trip is unique to itself, even if you’re traveling the same road twice, with the same people.

Leave a comment