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What a GREAT Country This Is!

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By SirYoda
June 12, 2002

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What a Great Country we Americans live in! About a month ago, I retired from 21 years in the Air Force, and found myself between jobs. One of my dreams has always been to drive Route 66, "America's Main Street," from Chicago to LA. After lining up a new job, I found myself with some time to kill. Time prevented me from doing the entire route, I had to settle for Joplin MO to LA, skipping about the first 650 miles or so of the 2250 mile route. But I also had to drive from my home in Colorado to Joplin, so I "replaced" the missing 650-odd miles with a drive from Colorado Springs, thru Kansas to Joplin.

A scarce bit of background on Rt. 66, to set the stage. Route 66 was established as a federal highway in 1926, and was officially decommissioned in 1985, replaced by portions of five interstates. It was the first fully paved road from Chicago to LA, beginning in Downtown Chicago and ending near the Santa Monica Pier. Rarely did it "bypass" around the towns it came to. It was, especially west of the Mississippi, the "main drag" thru town. Therefore, it came to be known as "America's Main Street." Other than Chicago and LA, Rt.. 66 went thru St Louis, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Santa Fe (prior to a 1937 realignment), and Albuquerque. Those were the "big towns," the rest of the towns were small towns in mainstream America. Rt. 66 was a direct "descendent" of the Santa Fe Trail, The Chisholm Trail, The Oregon Trail, the National Trails Highway and other routes carved out to move America west in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

While the road was decommissioned in 1985, each of the eight Rt. 66 states (Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California) soon saw "Rt. 66" Societies spring up to highlight what Steinbeck called "The Mother Road." As a result, "Historic Rt. 66" signs have been placed along the old road in many areas, and several guidebooks have been published, along with an extensive set of state-by-state maps. The National Parks Administration, in a 1997 study, estimated that about 82% of the roadbed is still passable, being maintained as state highway or local road. With only a few exceptions where interstate travel is required, you can still drive Rt. 66 from end-to-end.

So, this was my goal: drive my Chrysler Sebring Convertible from Colorado to Joplin, get on Rt. 66 and drive to the Santa Monica Pier, using the Old Road the entire way west. This time, the trip was the vacation, not the destination. I'd like to tell you what I found.

My first day saw me drive from Colorado straight thru to Joplin, only using Interstates for about 30 of the 675 miles. Stopping outside Dodge City, I visited a tiny fragment of the Santa Fe Trail, where wheel ruts are still visible from the 1000s of wagons that traveled the Trail in the 1850s - 1890s. This I viewed as a good omen, as my trip very much had an historical slant to it.

But Rt. 66 isn't all about history, though. In fact, I soon determined that Rt. 66 is about what I will refer to as the "Four P's" of the trip: The Pavement, The Places, The People and a Point-of-View. Everything I did, saw, encountered or experienced could be traced back to these "Four Ps."

Pavement: This is the concept of retracing the route, as close as possible. When originally paved, the road crews in many locations used an 18 foot wide strip of Portland Cement, with a distinctive "rolled curb." Finding these stretches takes you back in time, and most of them are holding up superbly, nearly 70 years later. The Pavement is frequently now the Frontage Road along I-40, except where the road leaves the I to travel thru the towns in its path (no exit ramps required). Retracing the route is important to a true "Rt. 66 Roadie," but it only supports the other "Three Ps," the next of which is The Places.

The Places: This is the concept of going "thru" a town, instead of around it. Rt. 66 travels thru small town America. From Joplin to LA, I must have seen hundreds of towns that are not now visited by your typical interstate traveler. While I mentioned the big cities already, no trip down Rt. 66 is complete without stops in towns like:

-- Galena, KS; Commerce, Claremore and Sayre, OK
-- Shamrock, Groom and Adrian, TX
-- Tucumcari, Santa Rosa, Grants and Gallup, NM
-- Winslow (Early Eagles: "Standin' On a Corner in Winslow, Arizona..."), Flagstaff, Seligman, and Kingman, AZ
-- And Needles, Barstow, and Victorville, CA.

These, and countless other small towns and hamlets, make up Rt. 66, much more than the physical pavement. Along with these places are even tinier spots like Glenrio, TX that are now modern-day Ghost Towns, which died when the Interstate passed them by. Old, abandoned gas stations often mark these spots, like in Two Guns, AZ, where I saw the remains of an old Zoo along with the more common burned out gas pumps. Other memorable Places along the journey:

-- The World's Largest Totem Pole (119 feet, 53 feet in circumference at the base), done as a tribute by a farmer/artist to all the tribes in Oklahoma (Indian Country until statehood in 1912)
-- The Round Barn in OK, that was a landmark the day it was build in 1897, long before Rt. 66 was realized, now beautifully restored thanks to volunteers, not a dime of tax money used
-- The OKC National Memorial to the 1995 Bombing of the Federal Building there (stunning! Truly awe-inspiring!!)
-- A slice of the Blarney Stone in Shamrock, TX (along with a gorgeous Art Deco Gas Station, now closed)
-- the Graffiti-covered Cadillac Ranch outside Amarillo ("Sir Yoda, 6/4/02" now scrawled on the 3rd Caddy from the left!)
-- Acoma Pueblo, AZ, the Oldest Continuously Inhabited City in North America, Since circa 1150, AD, with a "New Mission" built by the 1629!)
-- The Mojave Desert. (103 F by 9:15 am)
-- And of course the Santa Monica Pier

But, the Places Rt. 66 travels thru leads you the next "P" on my list: The People. These are the true heart of any journey down The Mother Road.

People: God, but we have a great country, made up of fantastic people. From meeting TMF poster Sedated in Joplin to watching a hilarious street performer on the 3rd Street Promenade in sunny Santa Monica, I met dozens of people. Put all of our disagreements aside, overlook all our political, cultural, and economic differences and what this country is made up of are people just like you and me. We all want good schools for our kids, safe streets at night, a chance to make our mark, and the freedom to do what we think is right, as long as we don't interfere with our neighbor's right to do the same. Some memorable people I met on my cross-country journey:

-- A guy playing a Good Lawman in Dodge City, Kansas who was a school teacher when not playing Sheriff
-- Learning about Astronaut Thomas Stafford, hometown hero of Weatherford, OK, member of Gemini 6, Gemini 10, Apollo 10, and Commander of Apollo-Soyuz
-- The curator of the Devil's Rope (Barb Wire) Museum in McClean, TX
-- The present owner of the El Vado Motel in Albuquerque, a hotel that has been serving Rt. 66 travelers for 61 years now
-- The owner of the WigWam Motel in Holbrook, AZ who took over from his Dad AFTER Rt. 66 was decommissioned, he shows you pics of his parents and tells you the history of the hotel when you check in (every room is a concrete teepee, and all furnishings are 1950 original, including the lack of phones in the rooms)
-- A waitress working a summer stint at an Irish Pub in Flagstaff, AZ
-- A young flagman working a road construction crew, also for the summer, outside McCarty's, AZ; he'll be a Rt. 66 Roadie someday, I could tell. The Road goes right thru his tiny town...calling to him even now, I could see it in his 19 year old eyes
-- The PhD museum guide at the Lowell Observatory, who showed me (and a few others) the telescope Percival Lowell used to study Mars in the early part of the 20th century, (this same telescope provided the first hard evidence that the Universe is expanding, leading to the Big Bang Theory), and the telescope used in 1931 to discover Pluto.
-- And, finally, the Rt. 66 "Grandfathers" in Seligman, AZ, the two Delgato Brothers, now well into their 70s, that can be said to have saved the Mother Road in the post-1985 period...the stories and jokes they played will stay with me always!

That leads to the final "P" on my list: "Point-of-View." You see, I would never have traveled the Pavement, seen the Places, met the People had I sped across the country on I-40, I-15 and other Interstates. Traveling Rt. 66 is a conscious decision to "take the slow road." One day, I traveled all of 218 miles. Another, nearer to 400. In 10 days, I covered over 3400 miles (included Interstate drive from LA back to Colorado). About 340 miles a day. When "driving for distance," I can do that much before lunch!! But not on Rt. 66.

You slow down.

Take photos (nearly 650 digital shots!...some to be posted later).

Visit sites.

Meet people.

Yes, you have a destination. Because Rt. 66 is, after all, The Open Road. Everyone on Rt. 66 is "going somewhere, getting their kicks." But the fellow travelers I met all had a similar Point-of-View: Slow down. Relax. Take your time.

See This Great Country. Meet her people.

Route 66. The Mother Road. This is America. Go see her sometime. You won't regret it!

Sir Yoda

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