Get your kicks on -- that's right -- Route 66.
Route 66 turns 75 this year. Though the most famous highway in the world slipped from official existence in the 1980s, the legendary highway from Chicago to Los Angeles still survives in the imagination, if not in actual miles of blacktop. Of the 2,448 miles of the fabled road, 178 miles crossed the Texas Panhandle.
In Texas, the road traversed the table-flat landscape broken only by deep escarpments. Roadside attractions offered welcome relief from the monotonous horizon. Approximately 150 miles of Old Route 66 remains, mostly as frontage roads to I-40. There are plenty of reminders of the glory days when the highway linked the nation like a long string of pearls.
In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck called the highway headed west "the mother road, the road of flight ..." A popular song written by Bobby Troup in 1946 proclaimed: "Get your kicks on Route 66." It seems American baby-boomers never forgot the Friday night television show that ran from 1960 to 1964 with a couple of unemployed guys in a 1959 Corvette traveling Route 66.
In 1925, Congress enacted a federal highway bill that put a national highway plan into action. On November 11, 1926, a route through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California was agreed upon. The entire length of "Main Street of America" was paved by 1938. The final section of U.S. Highway 66 at Williams, Az., was replaced by I-40 in 1984 and the numerical designation dropped from most highway maps.
Beginning at Texola on the Texas-Oklahoma border, the old highway runs parallel to I-40 on the south side. In Shamrock, the famous U-Drop Inn no longer serves meals, but the building still stands. East of McLean Old 66 turns north of the interstate and through town. This is the home of the Devil's Rope Museum/Texas Route 66 Exhibit. Although the Route 66 display is dwarfed by the ranching exhibits, this free museum is quite interesting. Heading into downtown, look for the colorful murals and the reconditioned Phillips 66 service station on West First St. It was the first Phillips in Texas on Route 66.
Heading west, the town of Alanreed is classic Route 66. This is home to the oldest Baptist church and cemetery on the Texas portion of Route 66.
Jericho was once the site of a famous muddy segment of the highway that stalled many a motorist whenever it rained. Two miles north of town, at the Lake McClellan exit, was one of the original campgrounds for travelers. There are still campsites available at the tree-shaded park.
You have to be on the interstate to see two remarkable sites. First is the leaning water tower alongside the highway that was a landmark for generations of travelers. The other is the world's second-largest cross, installed in 1995. While in Groom stop by Ruby Denton's Golden Spread Restaurant and drive past the old 66 Courts.
Stay on the access road on the south side of the interstate from Groom through Conway to the rest area on I-40. This is one of the most original portions of the highway left. The tar-filled cracks in the road surface make a thumpety-thump that was a part of the Route 66 experience.
In Amarillo, the old highway wound through town with the course being changed several times. On the eastern edge of Amarillo on I-40 the Big Texan Steak Ranch still offers a free dinner to anyone who can eat a 72-ounce steak with all the trimmings in an hour. Originally on the Amarillo Blvd. segment of Route 66, the restaurant was moved to the new interstate in 1968. South of town, Palo Duro Canyon was advertised as the Grand Canyon of Texas.
At 2908 W. Sixth St. the Golden Light Cafe is the oldest continuously operated bar and grill on Route 66 in Texas. Mostly a neighborhood bar, the unassuming yellow brick building is easy to miss, but worth a stop for their wonderful hamburgers. Back on I-40, just west of town at exit 60, on the south side of the interstate, is the famous Cadillac Ranch.
West of Amarillo Route 66 became the frontage road on the north side of the interstate. Most of the buildings along the highway were torn down to make room for the new highway. In Vega the old highway made a right turn at the four-way stop to the courthouse and then a left turn to a dead end at Dot's Route 66 Mini-Museum. There are still structures in town from when Vega had a thriving service center for travelers. About all that is left is a Dairy Queen and a motor court that has been turned into apartments.
Adrian is near the end of the line for Route 66 in Texas. Plenty of structures remain from the 1930s and 40s. Look for a bridge from the original road just before you enter town from the east. While in Adrian stop by the Mid-Way Cafe for the "best burgers in Texas." The last stop on Route 66 in Texas headed west was Glenrio. Many of the original buildings in the first or last town in Texas remain as a silent testament to a road that caught the country's imagination.
It was American's desire for mobility that inspired the construction of Route 66. Ironically, it was the desire for faster, better roads that spelled its doom. Gone, but not forgotten, Route 66 has fan clubs around the world. For more information on the Texas portion, contact the Texas Old Route 66 Association at the Barb Wire Museum at 806/779-2225 or at www.barbwiremuseum.com.
Coming up this weekend ...
International Barbecue Cook-off in Taylor's Murphy Park is one of the biggest and best of cook-offs with great food and whacky cookers, Aug. 18. 512/365-1988.
Texas Hill Country Harvest Wine Trail invites visitors to wineries as this year's crop of grapes is being brought in with special fanfare, Aug. 18-19. 830/868-2321.
Coming up ...
Johnson Space Center presents a free open house with astronauts, behind the scenes tours, a Space Station mockup, and more, 9am-5pm, Aug. 25. 281/244-5312 or openhouse.jsc.nasa.gov.