Route 66 is sometimes called The Mother Road. It was the trail that migrants from the eastern United States used when they left their homes to start a new life in the west. Lyrics, movies and books have made the highway famous. The Route starts in Chicago and ends in Los Angeles. Although it has been replaced by Interstate Highways, portions of it have been designated “Historic Route 66”.
We’re snowbirds, which is what we call retired Canadians who spend time in a warm climate during the winter. Our preferred destination is the southwestern American states. The first time we went there we flew to Arizona, rented a car and stayed for a month. Now we drive down and stay for three months.
We cross into the United States at the Thousand Islands Bridge and head south on Hwy 81. The first stop is Little Rock, Arkansas, famous because the National Guard helped nine African-American children attend a racially segregated school there. It was an historical moment in the civil rights movement and there is a museum about it.
It is also where former President Bill Clinton’s Library and Museum is located. There you will find photo and video galleries of his early life, his family and highlights of his presidential years.
Little Rock is not what we expected; we liked it.
We drove on to Texas, which is the largest state in the union after Alaska. Dallas is huge and we just drove and drove and drove to get through it. The exit signs along the highway are on the left instead of the right as they are in Canada and that threw us off; in future we’ll drive through this stretch on a Sunday.
We were struck by the vastness of Texas. As you drive along you see windmills, oil drills and huge bales of cotton everywhere.
We stopped in Luckenback, a country music town made famous because of Willie Nelson’s song Back to the basics of love. There’s a barn there where well-known musicians perform. Nelson and others have been organizing farm aid concerts to raise money to help farmers since 1985.
Then south to San Antonio to see the Alamo, which is right in the centre of the city. The Battle of the Alamo in 1836 was the turning point in the fight to free Texas from Mexico. Here a small band of Texans held off the Mexican army for 13 days. James Bowie and David Crockett were two legendary figures that died in that battle.
The Alamo is an official shrine and signs are posted to respect it as such. There’s also a museum about the revolution and Texas’ history. The slogan “Remember the Alamo” has come to symbolize courage and sacrifice for liberty.
Next we headed northwest to Amarillo, which is in the Texas Panhandle. It is the largest Texan city on Route 66 and close to the second largest canyon in the US. It calls itself the ‘real Texas’ and it certainly has a western atmosphere.
There’s a restaurant called the Big Texan Steak Ranch. It’s actually a barn with stuffed heads of bear, deer and bison hanging from the rafters. If you order a 72 oz. steak and eat it with all the fixings within an hour then you get it for free. Pictures are posted on the wall of those who did it. The youngest was 11 years-of-age and the eldest 82 years. The fastest eater was an alligator.
The American Quarter Horse Museum is well worth a visit. For years the Quarter Horse was used for western riding and cattle work. The saddles that are on display are wonderful especially those decorated with pounded silver.
We went west on Hwy 40 to Gallup, New Mexico. Gallop is known as the ‘Indian Capital of the World’ because one-third of its population has Native American roots. Every Saturday there is a flea market that is mainly attended by Navaho Indians. It was packed when we were there and the atmosphere was almost like a social gathering. They were selling everything from artwork to stoves to tires.
The land around Gallup is rugged and in the 40s and 50s they used to make western movies here such as Billy the Kid. Route 66 runs right through the town and the town is even mentioned in the Route 66 song that made the road so famous.
Then over the Continental Divide to Needles, California where we had rented a house. Needles is in the Mojave Desert on the banks of the Colorado River.
We continued on to Oatman, Arizona, which was once a flourishing gold mining town.
There is a hotel where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their honeymoon in 1939. They say Gable really liked the area and spent time there playing poker with the miners.
The place is also famous for the burros that roam the streets. Their forefathers were once used as pack animals in the mines. Now the animals run loose and come into town each morning to get food from the tourists.
Oatman is almost like a mock western town and activities such as shootouts on the street are geared to take you back in time. There are lots of interesting shops selling everything from leather gun belts to switch blade knives. We went into a restaurant where the walls and ceiling are covered with thousands of autographed one-dollar bills.
As you leave Oatman there is a sign that says “Welcome to Golden Shores—gateway to historic route 66”. It makes you think there should be a lake but there is no water that we could see. There certainly are many Route 66 souvenirs for sale though.
There is actually a lot of vegetation in the desert such as prickly pear cactus that is used in jams and jelly. There are several different types of cactus. The Joshua Tree was a favourite of ours.
Many animals live in the desert, even in the Joshua Trees. There are snakes, coyotes, jackrabbits, birds, lizards, squirrels and more. We like the desert. It is flat country and you can see for miles.
Next: On to the Grand Canyon
By Tom and Cheryl Sunter
Photo credits: Tom and Cheryl Sunter
© Riding the buses 2012