Road tripping; touring historic Route 66 through New Mexico and Arizona

Route 66 Arch, lit at dawn greets visitors entering or leaving Albuquerque on old Rt. 66.

The old El Vada Motel, west Albuquerque, has been repurposed into shops and eateries.
Historic KiMo Theatre, circa 1927, at dawn, Albuquerque’s Central Avenue.
Route 66 memorabilia lines an old building next to the 66 Diner in Albuquerque.
Old 1932 Studebaker marks roadbed of old Route 66 through Petrified Forest National Park.
Author and spouse Susan, “standing on the corner of Winslow, AZ”

Take the ‘Mother Road’ in bite-sized pieces; touring historic Route 66 through New Mexico and Arizona

My first experience with Route 66 was the summer of 1962, when my intrepid mother piled me, age 15, and my two younger brothers in the back of a 61 Ford station wagon towing a Nimrod tent trailer. We headed off from Ohio to Chicago, then followed Route 66 all the way to Southern California and it’s terminus at the Santa Monica Pier. My dad would fly into Los Angeles and join us, but those two weeks on Route 66 are forever locked into my memory.

I have advocated before for the fun of touring Route 66, and doing it in bite-size chunks along its eight state, 2,448 mile route. A recent housesitting opportunity in Albuquerque give us a chance to explore the New Mexico and Arizona stretches of the old Mother Road, headed west.

A bit of history: Route 66 was christened in 1926 with Americans clamoring for better, paved roads. The Bureau of Public Roads authorized the first Federal Highway, linking existing local, state and national roads – though it wouldn’t be continually paved until 1937. Result was a meandering highway beginning in Chicago, crossing Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, ending in Los Angeles. The road was frequently realigned, and 10 years later the terminus was shifted to Santa Monica.

A combination of factors led to continual growth of US highway travel, including gasoline for $.18 a gallon, new Fords and Chevys being mass-produced for $350 and $525 respectively, the Depression and Dust Bowl which caused wholesale western migration from the center of the country, World War II and its aftermath. Result was millions of Americans heading west to start new careers and lives. With the end of the world war, many more Americans were ready to travel and see the west – Route 66 was the chosen alternative for a huge percentage of travelers.

A tour through New Mexico and Arizona deals with the reality of the interstate highway system, which took root under President Eisenhower in 1956 and slowly but steadily supplanted much of Route 66. In these two states, Interstate 40 often over-paved the old highway. It enters New Mexico from Texas, picked up its first sizable town in Tucumcari, and headed west. An early alignment went north to Las Vegas, then west to Santa Fe, then south to Albuquerque and west again.

During our Albuquerque stay, we took commuter rail up to Santa Fe and toured about a mile of the old 66 route through that oldest of all state capitals, admiring the stately Saint Francis of Assisi Cathedral, the historic La Fonda Hotel and more. From Albuquerque, we picked up Route 66 at the base of the Sandia Crest, just east of the big city, and then follow the old route past old, abandoned motels on the outskirts, and into Albuquerque on Central Avenue, Route 66’s path through the city.

This 10 mile stretch is rich in historic motels, many still operating, 50s and 60s eateries like The Frontier and Monroe’s Restaurants and historic buildings including the KiMo Theatre, circa 1927, open nightly for movies and live stage shows. On the city’s Westside, stop on the edge of the Rio Grande River for a bite at the repurposed El Vado Motel, now re-done with shops and restaurants and sporting classic neon. Also admire the Route 66 Arch greeting visitors heading into or out of the city.

Heading west, the road quickly becomes overtaken by Interstate 40, though Surviving segments of Route 66 are pretty well marked off the interstate. Just off this stretch of the highway are gems like Petroglyphs National Monument, Chico Cultural National Historic park and El Morro National Monument – alas, the federal government shutdown made access difficult, though I was able to walk into part of Petroglyphs NM.

Off interstate 40, we exited the highway to see you remaining sections of old 66 through both Grants and Gallup, New Mexico, each one once bustling with Route 66 traffic, now slowly moldering away as Interstate 40 bypassed traffic around the towns.

Our next stop was just across the state line in Arizona, with a delightful stop for the highlights of Winslow. The song “Take It Easy”, written by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey, recorded by the Eagles, made famous the lyric “Standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see. It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowin’ down to take a look at me“. You’ll find a classic small downtown, well-preserved, with theater, several quaint restaurants, two corners ripe for picture taking, an old Texaco service station and shops galore – nostalgia spread liberally over about 15 blocks.

Next week, we will continue our Route 66 tour through Arizona and into California!

For more info on Route 66: Overall historic Route 66, nps.gov/nr/travel/route66; Arizona, roadtripusa.com/route-66/arizona/; New Mexico, newmexico.org/things-to-do/scenic-byways/route-66-national/

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com; or follow at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in your world!

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