route 66 sign on building in Williams AZ

A Route 66 Road Trip: Driving the Main Street of America

In 2022, our family seized the opportunity to do a road trip on the historic and iconic Route 66, often referred to as the “Main Street of America” or the “Mother Road.” This legendary highway, stretching over 2,400 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles, embodies the spirit of American exploration and the nostalgia of a bygone era. Our journey commenced in Barstow, California, a town synonymous with the spirit of the Mother Road. As we headed eastward we made pit stops in Williams, Arizona, and Grants, New Mexico. We not only uncovered the well-known attractions but also stumbled upon an abundance of hidden gems. From the sun-kissed landscapes of Barstow to the Wild West allure of Williams and the cultural richness of Grants. Each destination along Route 66 had a unique tale to tell.

Barstow: Gateway to the Mother Road

route 66 sign in Barstow

Our journey began in Barstow, the gateway to Route 66, a desert town with historical landmarks. While there explore the iconic Barstow Harvey House, a beautifully restored railway depot welcoming travelers. Stroll down Main Street to find vintage shops and diners from a bygone era. The Route 66 Mother Road Museum in Barstow delves into the history and cultural impact of Route 66. Packed with artifacts, it offers a comprehensive look at the route’s impact on American culture.

For a panoramic view of the surrounding desert landscapes, take a short drive to the Rainbow Basin Natural Area. The multicoloured rock formations and scenic vistas offer a refreshing break from the historic allure of Route 66.

Additional Activities in Barstow:

  • Calico Ghost Town:
    Just a short drive from Barstow, visit the well-preserved Calico Ghost Town. This former silver mining town takes you back to the 1880s, with its authentic Old West architecture, mine tours, and historical exhibits.
  • Mojave River Valley Museum:
    Dive deeper into the region’s history at the Mojave River Valley Museum. Learn about the Native American cultures, early pioneers, and the development of the Mojave Desert.
  • Off-Roading in Afton Canyon:
    For adventure seekers, venture to Afton Canyon, known as the “Grand Canyon of the Mojave.” This off-road paradise offers thrilling trails, unique geological formations, and the chance to spot desert wildlife.

Williams: Where the Old West Meets Route 66

Route 66 Williams AZ

As we continued eastward, our next stop was Williams, Arizona, a town that seamlessly blends the allure of the Old West with the nostalgia of Route 66. Known as the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon,” Williams offers a picturesque downtown area with neon-lit signs, classic diners, and souvenir shops. A highlight in Williams is the Grand Canyon Railway, a historic train that departs daily for the Grand Canyon. Even if you’re not venturing to the canyon itself, the train ride is a delightful experience, harking back to the golden age of rail travel. Just watch out for any train robbers. Explore the town’s Route 66 attractions. Which include the historic Williams Depot and the unique Bearizona Wildlife Park, where you can encounter North American wildlife in a natural setting.

For a taste of classic Route 66 Americana, head to the Cruiser’s Café 66. This diner captures the essence of the Mother Road with its retro decor and hearty, home-style meals. Don’t forget to explore the Route 66 Zipline Adventure, a thrilling way to see the town from a different perspective.

Additional Activities in Williams:

  • Williams Historic Downtown Walking Tour:
    Take a leisurely stroll through the historic downtown district of Williams. Discover vintage storefronts, murals depicting local history, and charming boutiques offering unique Southwestern crafts.
  • Pine Country Restaurant:
    Indulge in comfort food at Pine Country Restaurant, known for its homemade pies. Savour a slice of their famous pie varieties after a hearty Route 66 meal.
  • Wild West Junction:
    Experience the Old West at Wild West Junction, a themed attraction with a recreated frontier town. Enjoy live entertainment, visit the shooting gallery, and soak in the atmosphere of a bygone era.
  • Kaibab National Forest Scenic Drive:
    Escape to nature with a scenic drive through the Kaibab National Forest. The tall ponderosa pines and breathtaking vistas provide a serene contrast to the lively Route 66 experience.
  • Red Garter Bed and Bakery:
    Enhance your stay with a night at the Red Garter Bed and Bakery. This historic bed and breakfast offer Victorian-themed rooms and delightful baked goods, combining charm with comfort.

Grants: A Route 66 Gem in New Mexico

Route 66 Neon sign Grants NM

Continuing our journey eastward, we reached Grants, New Mexico, a hidden gem along Route 66. Grants is known for its rich Native American history. A visit to the New Mexico Mining Museum is a fascinating glimpse into the town’s mining heritage. Explore the historic Route 66 Neon Drive, featuring colourful vintage signs that light up the night and evoke the spirit of a bygone era. For a taste of local flavour, dine at one of Grants’ classic Route 66 diners, where hearty meals and friendly service await. Don’t forget to explore the ancient lava flows of El Malpais National Monument, a short drive from Grants, and witness the unique landscape shaped by volcanic activity.

For a scenic drive, take Route 53 to the El Morro National Monument, where inscriptions carved by travellers, including Spanish explorers and American pioneers, chronicle centuries of human history. The ancient sandstone bluff stands as a testament to the cultural richness along Route 66.

Additional Activities in Grants:

  • Legacy Speedway:
    For those with a need for speed, catch a race or event at the Legacy Speedway. This local racing track hosts thrilling competitions and is a favourite among motorsports enthusiasts.
  • Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano:
    Explore the natural wonders of the Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano. Take a guided tour to discover the underground ice formations in the lava tube cave and hike around the extinct volcano for panoramic views.
  • El Malpais National Conservation Area Visitor Center:
    Delve into the geological wonders of El Malpais at the Visitor Center. Interactive exhibits and ranger-led programs provide insights into the unique lava landscapes and the flora and fauna of the region.

Final Thoughts:

Our Route 66 adventure was not merely a road trip; it was a sojourn through the heart of America, weaving together the stories of Barstow, Williams, and Grants into a tapestry of cultural richness, natural wonders, and nostalgic charm. As we bid farewell to the sunsets of Barstow, the Wild West echoes of Williams, and the hidden treasures of Grants, we carried with us the memories of a journey that transcended time and captured the essence of the Mother Road. Route 66, with its winding paths and diverse landscapes, remains a testament to the spirit of exploration and the enduring allure of the American road trip. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, nature lover, or seeker of unique experiences, the journey along Route 66 promises an adventure of a lifetime—one that unfolds in the stories told by the road itself and the memories created at every stop along the way.

FAQs About Route 66

Does Route 66 Go Through the Grand Canyon?

No, Route 66 does not directly pass through the Grand Canyon. However, the town of Williams, Arizona, often referred to as the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon,” is located near Route 66 and serves as a popular starting point for those visiting the Grand Canyon. From Williams, visitors can access the Grand Canyon via the Grand Canyon Railway or a short drive north.

Is Route 66 Worth the Trip?

Absolutely! Route 66 is an iconic American road trip experience, offering a journey through history, diverse landscapes, and unique cultural attractions. It’s a nostalgic adventure that showcases the heart and soul of America’s heritage, making it an incredible and memorable trip for travellers of all kinds. We enjoyed our whole time driving along Route 66 and seeing parts of America you don’t normally get to see.

What Is the Best Part of Route 66 to Drive?

The “best” part of Route 66 to drive can vary depending on personal preferences. Each segment of the route offers its own distinct charm, from the desert landscapes of the Southwest to the classic Americana towns. We really cherished the western sections for their historic sites, while others adore the scenery and natural beauty found in the middle and eastern portions.

Classic Route 66

Route 66 is often referred to as the “Classic Route” due to its historical significance as one of the first highways to span across the United States. Its designation as the “Mother Road” encapsulates its timeless appeal and nostalgic significance in American culture.

Historic Route 66 Road Trip

A historic Route 66 road trip is a journey back in time, following the path of an iconic highway that played a pivotal role in shaping American transportation and culture. The road trip offers opportunities to explore vintage motels, diners, roadside attractions, and museums that pay homage to the route’s storied past.

Route 66 America

Route 66, often dubbed “America’s Main Street,” is a symbol of American heritage and the open road. Travelling along this iconic highway offers a glimpse into the diverse tapestry of landscapes, cultures, and histories that define the United States. It is one of the most iconic road trips in the USA and the world.

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