In the days before interstate highways made travel faster—and usually a lot less interesting—a road trip to some popular NPS sites included a drive on at least part of Route 66. Fans of the historic highway now have a great new resource for information about the famous route.
The National Park Service has just launched an online Discover Our Shared Heritage travel itinerary that makes it easy to trek back in time on the “Mother Road.”
U.S. Highway 66—popularly known as Route 66 or the Mother Road—holds a special place in American consciousness and evokes images of simpler times, mom and pop businesses, and the icons of a mobile nation on the road. This travel itinerary helps the public visit the historic places that recall those images and experiences that are reminders of our past and evidence of the influence of the automobile.
“Route 66 crosses two-thirds of the country, connecting not just east and west but the past to the present,” said acting National Park Service Director Dan Wenk. “This new travel itinerary is designed to help people experience the spirit of Route 66 and discover the dozens of unique places, now listed in the National Register of Historic Places, that are iconic reminders of the early days of automobile travel.”
Several NPS sites were popular destinations along and near the old Route 66. For several decades, almost everyone who visited the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park traveled at least a short section of the road, and other stops along the route in Arizona included Petrified Forest National Park and Walnut Canyon National Monument.
The former highway "from Chicago to L.A." was gradually replaced by segments of the interstate highway system, and its designation as a nationwide route was officially dropped in 1985. Fans of the highway still enjoy searching out the route, and nostalgia buffs on the trail of Route 66 will travel close to several other sites that have been added to the National Park System in more recent decades, including Mojave National Preserve (California), El Malpais National Monument (New Mexico), and Lincoln Home National Historic Site (Illinois).
A NPS publication describes part of the lure of the famous road:
Route 66 harkens back to a time when 98 percent of lodging was privately owned and small businesses used slogans, signs, folk art, neon lights, and gimmicks to stand out. Sections of the road appear to be frozen in time; travelers can still sleep in a wigwam, eat under a supersized milk bottle, swim in a spring-fed lake, catch a movie at a drive-in theatre, shop in a general store, pump gas at an old-fashioned filling station, and take in many other sights that have been enjoyed by generations.
Etched in the American consciousness and immortalized in Bobby Troup’s famous song, Route 66 is a reminder that “you may have travelled near or far, but you haven’t seen the country, ‘till you’ve seen the country by car.”
The new website includes information about sites along the route that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well as a number of other useful links:
The Route 66 Learn More page provides useful information covering a wide range of topics that relate to Route 66. The resources by State are organized by State in the order they appear in the List of Sites, as they would be encountered if you were traveling along Route 66 from east to west.
Websites for the places featured in this travel itinerary and the communities where they are found are listed first. Next, State resources and additional travel information are listed in alphabetical order. The Learn More page also includes a section with links to other tourism and preservation websites, and a bibliography.
The itinerary was produced by the National Park Service’s Heritage Education Services and the National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, in partnership with the American Express and World Monuments Fund Sustainable Tourism Initiative and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers.
The project was was funded in part through a generous contribution from the American Express and World Monuments Fund Sustainable Tourism Initiative, which rewards and encourages responsible stewardship of historic sites.
The Route 66 itinerary is the 49th in the National Park Service’s ongoing Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary Series. The series promotes public awareness of history and encourages visits to historic places throughout the country. All of the itineraries in the series can be found at http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/.