Great drives in the West: Route 66 Arizona

Ever seen the Pixar movie Cars? Did the kids love it?
Wanna see the real Radiator Springs?

It's actually called Peach Springs and it's along the wide bend of road pictured below.

View RT. 66 in Arizona in a larger map

"...and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads, 66 is the mother road, the road of flight."
-- John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

Route 66 was created on paper in 1925 when Congress decided to join the local roads between Chicago and Los Angeles. By 1938 it was continuously paved. America's Main Street linked small towns in the west to Chicago and Los Angeles.

Because the weather in the American southwest was warm (or hot), dry, and relatively stable a lot of military training took place there. Big bases were built and Route 66 became a strategic highway during WWII for transporting equipment and personnel to and from the bases. After the war many of the GIs migrated back to the American southwest between Texas and California.

By the 1960s Route 66 turned into a family travel destination, rather than just a travel artery. In fact apopular television series, Route 66, starring Martin Milner and George Maharis boosted the popularity of the road despite (or perhaps because of) it's looming end. Because of the post-war popularity and heavy truck traffic during the war America's first major attemt at paving a cross country road showed signs of disrepair. Actually, she was in bad shape. President Ike had wanted to upgrade after seeing Germany's Autobahn during the 1940's, and the Mother Road's disrepair presented an opportunity.

And so the beginning of the end began for an America national icon. Congress wrote the Federal Aid Highway Bill of 1956 and began the process of decommissioning Route 66 in favor of four lane Interstate Highways. By 1970 most of Route 66 had been bypassed and by the 1980s the Interstate system made the old national highways obsolete.

"Thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything."
--Charles Kurault

There are many learning opportunities for the kids along The Mother Road...
American history -- Cowboys drove cattle up to Kansas City, where they loaded cows onto trains to Chicago where the meat processing plants were. (Tip: don’t read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle to the kids while you’re making the trip). The story of Route 66 takes you from the 1930’s through the 1960’s. The arch at ST Louis sets up a great chance to talk to your kids about the Oregon Train and westward expansion

Native American history -- The ancient people came to the southwest around 12,000 years ago; the Anasazi and Hopi among the better known groups. Many of the ancients moved down from the mountains to the desert floor and built pueblos about 700 years ago when newer tribes such as the Navajo came along. The Spaniards came along around 450 or 500 years age and coined the term ‘pueblo’. Since then, these peoples were referred to as Pueblo People.

Food -- Chicago: sausage, steak, and deep dish pizza. Follow the barbeque trail St Louis through Kansas City to Texas. And while you’re in Texas learn that chili is a dish served without beans. You can buy bread baked in outdoor ovens at many road side stands in pueblo country. And New Mexico green chiles are something that no one should have to go without (harvest time is in the fall -- look for road side stands).

Music -- Texas swing (Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Asleep at the Wheel, Willie Nelson, Guy Clark), western folk music (Woodie Guthrie, Guy Clark) Chicago blues (Buddy Guy, Charlie Musselwhite, Howlin’ Wolf, Koko Taylor, and The Blue Brothers -- among others), St Louis blues (Chuck Berry, Jelly Roll Anderson, Albert King), Native American drumming (go to pow wows), West coast swing (Woody Herman, Bunny Berrigan) spawned the jitterbug, which evolved into rock and roll which morphed quite a lot between the 50’s and the 60’s, (the Beach Boys, the Doors), and into whatever it is that kids listen to these days.

Geology -- Wind and water can do a lot to rocks. Especially id the rocks are made with sand. Visit the Grand Canyon and look for rock formations such as Camel Rock.

Biology -- It’s pretty hard to make a living in the desert. Especially is you’re a plant or an insect. There are lot’s of fascinating examples of cactus which have co-evolved with particular birds, bees or bats to assure pollination. Many insects have fascinating adaptations to the extreme scarcity of water in the desert.

Paleontology -- Dinosaurs are everywhere in the west!

...and you can load up your iPod with versions of the Bobby Troup song:
Nat King Cole
Chuck Berry
Manhattan Transfer
3 Men and a Melody
Street Sounds
Asleep at the Wheel
Depeche Mode
Bing Crosby
Four Freshmen
Heart to Heart
Pieces of 8
Frank Sinatra
Toxic Audio
Women's Chorus of Dallas
The Cheetah Girls
Van Morrison
Justin Guarini
Brian Setzer Orchestra
The Rolling Stones
Dr. Feelgood
The Replacements
The Cramps
Perry Como

Route 66 Links:

Have you gotten your kicks on Route 66?
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