If you ever plan to motor west,
Travel my way, take the highway that is best.
Get your kicks on Route sixty-six.
In John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer prize winning novel, The Grapes of Wrath, Tom Joad and his family are forced to leave their home after they default on their bank loans after their crops are destroyed by the dust bowl. Their hopes are pined on finding work in California, their avenue to affluence, the “Mother Road” – Route 66.
Route 66 is literally the promised highway to a new life, prosperity and a ‘rags to riches’ fairy tale ending.
In the end though, the life of prosperity that California promised is nothing but an illusion. The Joad’s find themselves in an oversaturated labour market with low wages and worker exploitation. The story finishes in heartache, downfall and the breakup of the Joad family.
Coincidentally, the demise of Route 66 is not unlike that of the Joad family.
Established in 1926, Route 66 went on to become one of the great transportation arteries of the United States of America. This two-lane “Main Street of America” connected Chicago and Los Angeles and saw a booming economy of gas stations, restaurants, souvenir shops, and swimming pools pop up alongside it.
But from the 1950s Route 66 started its long slow downfall and breakup. With the passing of the Federal Highway Act construction on a new National Interstate highway network started and it wasn’t long before Route 66 was dwarfed by new four lane highways.
As Christina Crapanzano explains, ‘By the 1970s, the route was largely replaced by five different interstates. Interstate 40, serving most of the Southwest, replaced the longest portion of the route. Route 66’s last stretch in Arizona was decommissioned when I-40 was completed in 1984. The following year, the entire route was decommissioned’.
These days though, ‘the road on which the refugees, drifters and icons of America’s cultural past journeyed — is now the destination’.
So, when we decided to drive from L.A. to New York, Route 66 was definitely a ‘destination’ we were keen to visit. This was partly to be able to say we had, but also, there are some fantastic sites to be seen along the way!
The first leg our of trip covered L.A. to Las Vegas, where we stayed the night. One of the interesting experiences, that occurred at a variety of points during the road trip, was the odd sense of feeling like I had “been here before”. Now in one sense this was true, I had in fact been to this part of the USA before. But, I think it was due more to the fact that with the wide dissemination of American pop-culture I had thoroughly eaten my fill of it and so it felt like I had already experienced the experiences I was having. Albeit that the first experiences were only through, music, movies and TV shows.
Having witnessed the sad state of affairs, that is Las Vegas, we started on our way to The Grand Canyon, making one crucial stop along the way.
Hoover Dam! Described as ‘one of the crown jewels of American infrastructure, it is quite a jaw dropping experience to round the last bend of the Hoover Dam access Rd and see the creamy white dam wall in between the red rock cliffs of the Colorado River. Upon it’s completed, in 1935, Hoover Dam was the biggest dam in the world.
Some interesting facts about Hoover Dam include, ‘Hoover Dam was the first man-made structure to exceed the masonry mass of the Great Pyramid of Giza. The dam contains enough concrete to pave a strip about 5m wide and 20cm thick from San Francisco to New York City. More than 5 million barrels of Portland cement and 3.4 million cubic metres of aggregate went into the dam. If the heat produced by the curing concrete could have been concentrated in a baking oven, it would have been sufficient to bake 500,000 loaves of bread per day for three years.’
From Hoover Dam we made the almost 4-hour trip to Tusayan, Arizona. Tusayan is the perfect (and more reasonably priced) place to stay to venture to and from The Grand Canyon. We arrived in Tusayan once it was dark so unfortunately, we missed out on sunset. But it was made up for by the incredible sunrise with clear skies the next day!
The way the colours of the canyon changed, as sunlight slowly filled the shadows and brought different contours and shapes to life was absolutely beautiful. If you’re going to go to the Grand Canyon, getting up for sunrise is a must! That said, if you’re going to be there in winter as we were, prepare to wait in -7 degrees Celsius!
What I love about the Grand Canyon is that there are plenty of official lookout points, but you can simply pull over to the side of the road and make your way through some scrub and find your own lookouts! It is definitely a ‘must see’ if you’re going to head to the USA.
Even though not strictly on Route 66, I reckon The Grand Canyon still counts as one of those “kicks” on Route 66!
Feel free to leave comments and questions below!