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Route 66: Americana Road Trip With Mapping and Travel Tips

My writing includes my personal travel experiences, destination, history, and cultural information.

All along the historic Route 66 are sights that reveal an America of days gone by.

All along the historic Route 66 are sights that reveal an America of days gone by.

A Road Trip to See America

Growing up in the era of Baby Boomers in the United States, my husband Rick and I were raised hearing songs like "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66," a standard rhythm and blues song from the 1940s written by Bobby Troup. It seems that Mr. Troup wanted to become a Hollywood songwriter and composed this memorable song on a ten-day road trip from Pennsylvania to California.

A Portion of the Song's Lyrics

If you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way
Take the highway that's the best
Get your kicks on Route 66

It winds from Chicago to LA
More than two thousand miles all the way
Get your kicks on Route 66

Now you go through St. Louis
Joplin, Missouri
And Oklahoma City looks mighty pretty
You'll see Amarillo
Gallup, New Mexico
Flagstaff, Arizona

How Was Our Trip Born and How Does It Relate to This Song?

Honestly, the answer is "quite by accident!" We met some people from California on our cruise through South America. We became fast friends and they invited us to visit. A few months after our meeting, we decided to take them up on their offer and began loosely planning our trip. I say "loosely" because we knew we were headed to La Quinta, California, and that we would be traveling west from St. Louis. That, my friends, is a pretty loose plan, especially for someone like me who is the consummate planner! At this stage, Route 66 hadn't even crossed our minds.

Coco and Sophie love a road trip!

Coco and Sophie love a road trip!

A Pact Before We Left

  • We would not use an electronic GPS or any technology, instead relying on an old-fashioned atlas!
  • The days in the car would be spent stopping and exploring based on road signs and billboards. We would, along with our two dogs, be foot-loose and fancy-free!
  • There would be no minimum or maximum hours each day, we would drive until we felt like stopping. Road sign attractions would help us determine where we would stop. As long as we continued in a westward direction, we agreed there would be no definite plan except to, at some point, reach La Quinta. The trip would take a week or more to reach our destination. We had given our friends our approximate timetable and agreed to let them know when we were two days out.
  • On the return trip, we agreed to take a different route.
A map depicting Route 66

A map depicting Route 66

As you can see from the two maps above, the routes are almost identical. We had no idea that when we planned the trip, we would be following the infamous Route 66 as it runs with different highways (mostly interstate 40). I'm not sure at what point we made the connection we were following this iconic route, but when we did, the flavor of the trip changed.

With a quick change to the itinerary, we made a conscious decision to follow the route and get our kicks on Route 66. I believe part of the beauty of life and travel is changing direction on the fly—being open to new and different opportunities and experiencing the adventure they bring to our journey.

Route 66 Fun Fact

No, you can't drive the "entire" original Route 66, but you can still drive the sections that have been preserved—which are quite a few! Route 66 was decertified on June 27, 1985, and no longer exists as a U.S. Highway.

Our Route

Leaving out of St. Louis we made our way to La Quinta via:

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Read More from WanderWisdom

  • Tulsa, OK
  • Amarillo, TX
  • Ruidoso, NM
  • White Sands National Monument
  • Tuscon, AZ
  • Phoenix, AZ
  • Yuma, AZ
  • La Quinta, CA

Hitting the Road

Since this trip would take a week or so to reach La Qunita we packed a small suitcase with clothing and toiletries we would need on the road, negating the need to unload everything at each stop. We also had to take into account Coco and Sophie, our dogs. Along with their beds for the back seat, we also packed a few toys, food, bottled water, and of course, the ever-important treats for them, and yes, us as well.

We drove to Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the first day, about six hours from our home. Locating a hotel, the day was pretty uneventful, as we had anticipated. We wanted to spend time in Ruidoso, New Mexico, but from what we could tell from our non-digital maps, it was a further drive than we wanted for just one day. Amarillo, Texas, seemed to be about halfway, so we agreed to drive at least that far and then decide on the next steps. As we became more familiar with travel on Route 66, we came to find out that Amarillo is a popular stopping point! Dumb luck!

Amarillo, Texas

Arriving in Amarillo during the late morning hours, we discovered what a gem we had found. We made a quick decision to spend an extra day in our Amarillo and we were immediately off and exploring!

Since we had our small dogs with us, we needed to make sure that our exploring included pet-friendly stops. We were pleasantly surprised that every place we went, including restaurants in Amarillo, had policies that not only accepted pets but welcomed them.

Amarillo Fun Fact

Amarillo is the only major city traversed by Texas's 177-mile section of Route 66 through seven long, flat, Panhandle counties. The city evolved into an oasis along the highway. From the 1920s to the 1950s, local entrepreneurs opened gas stations, cafes, and tourist courts to serve travelers along Route 66.

Cadillac Ranch

One of the coolest places we visited was the Cadillac Ranch, located just south of Highway 40. Amazingly, this is a cow pasture with ten Cadillacs dating from 1949 to 1963. The cars stand straight up and are buried nose-first into the ground! Installed in 1974, through the years, various visitors have spray-painted the cars in wild, bright colors adding to the artistic display! Even today, you can bring your own can of paint and add to the display of color!

After our adventure at Cadillac Ranch, back in the car, we followed the trail of giant murals located throughout Amarillo. This amazing display is mostly located within the Route 66 Historic District and comprises 13 murals. The most famous of these works of art is "HUMANkind, Be Both".

Cadillac Ranch was installed in 1974 with the various models showcasing the tailfins of these amazing cars!

Cadillac Ranch was installed in 1974 with the various models showcasing the tailfins of these amazing cars!

 HUMANkind, Be Both mural located in Amarillo, Texas.

HUMANkind, Be Both mural located in Amarillo, Texas.

The Historic District

The next day, we wandered the more than 50 shops, cafes, and restaurants in the Route 66 Historic District and for dinner, we decided to take The Big Texan’s 72 Oz. Challenge at The Big Texan Steak Ranch and Brewery. This challenge has been featured on Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel.

We went in knowing there was no way either of us could finish a 72 oz steak, a baked potato, shrimp cocktail, salad, and a bread roll, but it was fun participating. We contemplated going to the drive-in theater in town, but honestly, we were stuffed to the gills from the enormous steak dinner. So instead, we went back to the hotel, readied ourselves for the next day's drive, and hit the bed.

Ruidoso, New Mexico

From Amarillo, straight through to Ruidoso is almost five hours. Traveling with our babies (the dogs), no drive is ever straight through! We arrived in Ruidoso in time for a late lunch. Rick had gone to college in Ruidoso, so he was anxious to see how the area had changed through the years and to share his stories with me. After some fabulous food, we found a lovely hotel and cruised the area. We arrived in Midtown Ruidoso, parked, leashed up the girls, and strolled the quaint streets while browsing the boutique shops.

We spent the next morning at the Inn of the Mountain Gods located in the Mescalero Mountains just outside of Ruidoso. There were some small snowy patches, but the weather was beautiful as we walked the gold course and hiked one of the trails. It was a great way to stay in that unwound state of mind.

So, where did we go next?

Ruidoso, New Mexico

Ruidoso, New Mexico

White Sands National Monument

Here's where it got a bit tricky. Remember, I said we opted for an old-fashioned atlas and had pledged to not depend on digital mapping? Well, one of us (me), failed to mention at the time we made that pact, that they were not very skilled when it came to reading maps! Heading west, on who knows what road (it turns out we were on Interstate 70), we happened upon White Sands Missile Range and National Monument.

Along the way, we kept seeing signs that warned of dust/sand storms popping up which would severely impact visibility. Had we been teleported into the Twilight Zone? (I have to add at this point, that when you embark on this kind of trip, it's extremely important to be in the car with someone where the love is deep and mutual! Otherwise, someone could be out of the car walking!) Fortunately, we did not encounter one of these storms and instead just spent a couple of hours at White Sands National Monument.

Talk about a cool find!

White Sands Fun Fact

The National Park website describes this destination as "Like No Place Else on Earth" and they are absolutely spot-on in their description! They go on to say: "Rising from the heart of the Tularosa Basin is one of the world's great natural wonders—the glistening white sands of New Mexico. Great wave-like dunes of gypsum sand have engulfed 275 square miles of desert, creating the world's largest gypsum dune field. White Sands National Park preserves a major portion of this unique dune field, along with the plants and animals that live here."

The white gypsum dunes look like snow covered mountains.

The white gypsum dunes look like snow covered mountains.

You can rent saucer sleds to glide down the dunes at White Sand National Monument.

You can rent saucer sleds to glide down the dunes at White Sand National Monument.

An Amazing Stop!

This place is amazing! As you walk through the gift shop to arrive at the dunes, you are greeted with the opportunity to rent saucer sleds to ride down the sand dunes. We didn't take advantage of this since the girls probably would not have enjoyed that activity. But we watched others glide down the dunes squealing with delight!

There are roads to drive to between the dunes and boardwalks to walk along. The gypsum is a bit slick. The girls weren't having a spectacular time as their little paws weren't accustomed to the sensation of slipping and sliding.

The day was sunny and with white gypsum as far as you could see, it was a bit bright at times which made sunglasses a must!

Because of the winds, the landscape constantly changes. We learned that those sand storms are a result of high winds. The wind picks up the gypsum from this area and whirls it into the air.

What an incredible experience we had all because of a map faux pas! And that friends, is one of the beauties of spontaneous travel!

It was late in the day as we left White Sands so we decided to drive on to Las Cruces and spend the night.

Lesson Learned

At this point in the trip, we realized that Route 66 was no longer completely intact and, instead ran along with other highways. Because of this, we found it difficult to stay on our route to La Quinta while hitting many of the iconic route's destinations. We made a conscious choice to adjust our route on the way home to more fully experience the attractions of bygone years.

We made a conscious choice to route ourselves home using other destinations along the iconic Route 66.

We made a conscious choice to route ourselves home using other destinations along the iconic Route 66.

Tuscon, Arizona

Realizing at this point, that we were way off Route 66, we headed for Tuscon, Arizona.

Tuscon is known for many things: rodeos, great food, vintage cars, turquoise, Ansel Adams, and the Sonoran Desert. Believe it or not, its unique climate plays a major role in its huge popularity and influences many activities.

The city is also known for its Native American art and culture. Turquoise is wildly popular and being the obsessive shopper and souvenir hoarder; I had to have a piece! I bought a necklace, an unusually shaped piece with small bits of turquoise which you can see below.

I vaguely remembered reading something about stargazing in Tuscon. We asked around and found that Tuscon is famous for stargazing. Since we really wanted to do something laid back, gazing at the stars seemed like the perfect activity. And, it was!

Tuscon Fun Fact

Tucson is known for the breathtaking Sonoran Desert, amazing Southwestern cuisine, and having some of the cleanest air of any major city worldwide. It is also famous for its many diverse hobbyist communities, from photography and astronomy clubs to vintage car collectors and rodeo enthusiasts. Tucson is the closest major city to the location of the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and for this reason, many classic Westerns were filmed in this general area.

Stargazing in Tuscon

Known for its astronomy clubs, its efforts to reduce light pollution, and the desert climate, Tuscon has earned the reputation of being the best city in the country for stargazing. There are several retail stores, bars, restaurants, and observatories located around the city that offer this activity as an organized event. However, wanting the quiet night skies to ourselves and chose to go to Kartchner Caverns State Park.

We had a blanket in the SUV, which we laid out on the hood of the vehicle. Together with Coco and Sophie, we laid out gazing up at the clear, crisp sky. Using a stargazing app, we were able to identify several constellations.

Stargazing in Tuscon

Stargazing in Tuscon

My necklace

My necklace

On to Yuma, Arizona

Stopping for gas before we left Tuscon, we telephoned our friends in La Quinta. They informed us that they had a water pipe break and weren't quite ready for us. They needed us to delay our arrival by two days. We decided to drive on to Yuma, Arizona, and stay there for a couple of days. That location would put us about two and half hours from our friends. Yuma was big enough for us to find plenty to do and give us an opportunity to stretch for a bit of time after the long trip.

A Bit About Yuma

Known as the Gateway to the Southwest, Yuma has delightful weather, boasting that 91% of the days are sunny and warm. In fact, it holds a Guinness record as the "Sunniest City on Earth!" Had we found heaven?

I love looking up trivia about destinations we visit. Did you know that Yuma provides 90% of leafy vegetables to the United States? It grows over 175 different crops, with the largest being lettuce.

We found a great pet-friendly hotel and enjoyed our time in the area. Honestly, Yuma is not much different from any other mid-sized city, but being out of the car for a couple of days was great! There is an old town area, a plethora of museums, and tributes to the "Old West."

Tribute to the Old West

Tribute to the Old West

La Quinta, California

On day two in Yuma, our friends telephoned to say the plumbing issue had been resolved and we agreed to leave the morning of the next day.

Our plan was to stay in La Quinta for two weeks. Several rounds of golf would be played at the private clubs of PGA West. We would play The Pete Dye Citrus, Pete Dye Mountain, Pete Dye Dunes, Pete Dye Stadium, Palmer Private, Nicklaus Private, Nicklaus Tournament, and Weiskopf Private Courses.

The two weeks flew by! After golf each day, we would go for dinner, shop, and relax with our friends. They had two small dogs so our girls had great company as well. We had a fabulous time, but were ready to make the trek home. By the time the entire trip was said and done, we would be gone for almost a month.

Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course

Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course

Our Route Home

After leaving La Quinta, we had the following itinerary home:

  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • The Meteor Crater (Winslow, Arizona)
  • The Painted Desert
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Santa Rosa Blue Hole, Santa Rosa, New Mexico
  • St. Louis

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is about an hour outside of La Quinta. We planned to stay a few hours and head to Winslow, Arizona. There we would visit the Meteor Crater National Monument and spend the night.

The park is named for its namesake the Joshua Tree, which grows abundantly in the diverse ecosystem of the area. Though not an especially pretty tree, they are a symbol of perseverance and have numerous legends associated with them. The tales include the Mormons on their westward journey along with Native Americans and miners, all having different uses for the tree. Homesteaders used the solid limbs and branches for fencing and corals, while the miners used the tree as a source of fuel for steam engines. Birds, insects, mammals, and reptiles use the tree for shelter and food.

One thing that stood out to me was viewing the San Andreas faultline from one of the mountain tops in the park. As you may know, this fault is quite active and is responsible for the numerous and frequent earthquakes in the region. Up until the time we viewed the faultline, I didn't realize that faultlines were visible above ground. Amazing the opportunities our glorious world gives us!

The San Andreas Fault as seen from one of the mountain tops in Joshua Tree National Park.

The San Andreas Fault as seen from one of the mountain tops in Joshua Tree National Park.

Meteor Crater National Monument

We had about a five and half hour drive ahead of us to reach Meteor Crater National Monument, so we only spent a couple of hours in Joshua Tree. The loose plan was to arrive in Winslow, Arizona, find a hotel, and grab some dinner. We planned on visiting the crater the next morning before we headed out to the Painted Desert. We found a great pet-friendly hotel, reasonably priced, that is known for its role in auto, rail, and air history, The grounds were spectacular, the room more than comfortable, and the restaurant was locally famous. Nice, a one-stop-shop for us!

Known as the best-preserved meteor crater on earth, we found this national monument to be different but in a really cool way. There is an exceptional visitors center that includes demonstrations, displays, and a widescreen movie theater. Of course, there is a gift shop and a snack area.

About the Meteor

It is thought the meteor that left this crater hit the earth about 50,000 years ago. It sits about 5,600 feet above sea level and is 3,900 feet in diameter and about 560 feet deep. Since the crater was formed, it has lost about 50–65 feet in depth due to erosion. Scientists have estimated the initial impact was 29,000 mph!

The Meteor Crater National Monument

The Meteor Crater National Monument

The Meteor Crater National Monument

The Meteor Crater National Monument

The Painted Desert

We spent about three hours exploring the Crater and the displays and watched a very interesting movie. We only had about an hour and a half drive to the Painted Desert and were anxious to see the area we had both heard about since grade school. The weather was bright and sunny, so we felt we had a spectacular chance of a great viewing experience.

We opted for a pet-friendly hotel near Sedona which offered attractive pricing, spectacular views, a great restaurant, and fresh baked cookies in the morning. Another one-stop-shop hotel! We explored our opportunities for the next morning, wanting to take off around noon, and found an abundance of short and moderate hiking trails.

After stopping by the visitors center, we learned that the best way to see the Painted Desert is via a drive on Main Park Road, which makes a loop from the visitor center and runs out to Interstate 40. In addition to this paved roadway, there are hiking trails and dirt roads that one can use to see this phenomenon of our glorious world. Part of the desert does run through the Navajo Nation and to take these roads, you do need a permit.

The stratified layers are heavy in iron and magnesium and are responsible for the pigmentation that we see. Because of oxidation, water levels, and the angles of the sun, we see a range of colors that include pink, lavender, red, orange, and gray.

The beautiful Painted Desert

The beautiful Painted Desert

The amazing colors of the Painted Desert.

The amazing colors of the Painted Desert.

Painted Desert Fun Fact

In 1540 when Francisco Coronado failed to find cities made of gold he'd heard about, he sent a team to the Colorado River to search for supplies. During their search for the river, they passed through a region of amazing colors, and they named the area El Desierto Pintado or "The Painted Desert."

Holbrook, Arizona

At this point, Route 66 runs with Interstate 40, and as we exited the Painted Desert we came upon Holbrook, Arizona. Along this route are many nostalgic Route 66 activities. One that we were particularly interested in was the Wigwam Motel, which dates back to the 1950s. The motel offers rooms that are said to be quite luxurious inside wigwams. Yes, it's kind of cheesy, but it sounded cool. And to top it off, it was pet friendly!

The property had a pool and different throwback activities with great dining. We spent some time after dinner walking through the old town/downtown area of Hollbrook. The town center seems to be dedicated to honoring the iconic Route 66. It was a real hoot and we felt like we had accidentally run into a real gem. This is the kind of "find" that make spontaneous travel so memorable!

The Wigwam Hotel

The Wigwam Hotel

Downtown Holbrook

Downtown Holbrook

On the Road Again! Staying on Route 66

Staying on Route 66, the next day would find us making the three-and-a-half-hour drive to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Still not using digital mapping, but relying on an atlas, we stopped at a visitors center to get the scoop on Albuquerque and its relationship to Route 66. We learned that Central Ave is the main road that runs with the old Route 66. There are three main areas to pay attention to: Nob Hill, Old Town, and Downtown. Based on the information the visitor center attendant provided, we opted for Nob Hill. It seemed to be the most eclectic and we felt it would offer us the most authentic "old New Mexico" experience.

Nob Hill

Central Ave runs right through the center of Nob Hill. This stretch of the iconic Route 66 is loaded with brewpubs, taquerias, hookah bars, and pizzerias. Food trucks line the street late into the night. Quirky clothing boutiques and antique stores dot the area, and small galleries exhibit contemporary artworks. The retro Guild Cinema shows independent and art-house movies.

We found a great boutique hotel and took off on foot with the girls to explore. Finding a restaurant that was pet-friendly (many are as long as your pets are leashed), we settled in for a great dinner and enjoyed the ambiance of old New Mexico. The girls were ill-behaved as they had never been to a restaurant before. The temptation of all the food was more than they could take. Finally, they both exhausted themselves and fell asleep. We felt like parents that you sometimes see in restaurants with small children that should have been left home!

The snapshot of the Nob Hill neighborhood along Route 66.

The snapshot of the Nob Hill neighborhood along Route 66.

Santa Rosa, New Mexico

We had a leisurely morning the following day as our next stop would be in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, only about one and a half hours away.

Rick and I both love classic cars and we knew there was a fabulous classic car museum in Santa Rosa. We also knew that a popular attraction was the Santa Rosa Blue Hole.

Located right on Route 66, the museum has about 30 cars on display. It's not huge, but it is really worth the time if you love the vintage cars like we do.

The Blue Hole

This is a unique phenomenon! Right in the middle of the desert is where you will find the Blue Hole! It is part of a seven lake system connected by an underground waterway. Geologists have found that this lake system is a result of the "Santa Rosa Sink."

Because it is fed by the underground water system, the water renews itself about every six hours. It's truly never the same lake twice. With its crystal clear blue water, Blue Hole has a constant temperature of 62 F. The surface is only about 80 feet in diameter, but at the bottom, it expands to about 130 feet wide. Once used as a fish hatchery, today it is a huge attraction for swimming and scuba diving. Because the altitude is so high, divers need to use high-altitude diving gear. At the bottom, divers will find a unique cave system and without proper instruction, it can be quite dangerous.

We didn't swim or dive at Blue Hole but really enjoyed watching the activity. The trip was winding down, so we spent just one night in Santa Rosa and hit the road early the next morning.

Formerly a fish hatchery, Blue Hole is now for swimming and scuba diving.

Formerly a fish hatchery, Blue Hole is now for swimming and scuba diving.

The diagram depicting the geology of the Blue Hole.

The diagram depicting the geology of the Blue Hole.

The Last Leg of the American Road Trip

Being about 14 hours from home, we decided to split the drive up. The next day we drove as far as Tulsa, Oklahoma, and then the following day we drove on to St. Louis.

Final Impressions of Route 66

This road trip was about a month along. It's fortunate that my relationship with Rick is quiet, simple, and loving. Being in the car for that long could be very trying for anything less than that type of relationship, especially with two dogs! There was once we brought leftover chicken livers back to the hotel room for them. Let's just say we woke up at about 2 a.m. to a horrible stench and mess. The next day in the car was equally nasty! But we had made a conscious decision to bring them and realize those are the things that can happen along the journey.

Having made the decision to not rely on digital mapping brought us the comfort of knowing that we could find our way and that the occasional detour mishap was really no big deal. Part of the journey became our mantra!

America the Beautiful

We were fortunate to see things that we had only read about. Up close and personal, these American icons brought to life songs like "America the Beautiful" and, of course, "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66." Traveling this iconic route, gave us a window into American life of the past. One that was simpler and less complicated by media, keeping up with the Jones, and the instant gratification of today.

Route 66, The Americana Road Trip left us with sensational memories and a deeper appreciation of our country.

Until next time, friends, remember, "To Travel is to Live!"

Sources

© 2022 Dee Nicolou Serkin

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