Route 66 today
Say the name 'Route 66' today and you instantly think 'road trip' - and rightly so, because there are few roads that span such a distance and have such an incredible history. Running from Chicago to Los Angeles, Route 66 is 2,448 miles long, travels through eight states and crosses three time zones. It is no longer an official US highway (it lost that title back in 1985), but that hasn't done anything to dampen its popularity among road trippers.
In terms of what it offers as a holiday destination (aside from an unforgettable drive, of course!), it's home to a massive range of roadside attractions and restaurants that are all part of the experience. As well as ducking into classic diners for a slice of pie and piping hot coffee, I recommend visiting a few of the museums en route too. There are several dedicated to the road's history, so if you're interested in finding out more about it you won't find anywhere better.
One option is the National Route 66 & Transportation Museum in Oklahoma, which I particularly like because it focuses on the human side of the road's heritage. So, instead of just giving you dry facts, it tells you all about how people's lives were affected by its construction and so forth. Very fascinating stuff!
A brief history
So, how did Route 66 become such an iconic road? Created back in 1926, Route 66 was built as a result of demand for better connections to major national thoroughfares and cities. What I find really interesting about this part of Route 66's story is that, if you think about it, it represents the beginnings of change in the US. For instance, farmers wanted major roads like these to help them ferry produce to cities for redistribution - something the road made possible.
Route 66 also played an important role in enabling the US to mobilize troops quickly and effectively in World War II, while in the post-war era it helped provide jobs and fuel industry. As well as finding work in areas like road maintenance, people realized that travelers driving along Route 66 would need all kinds of amenities like motels and diners, while there was money to be made from roadside attractions too.
However important the road may be today in symbolic and travel terms, though, its status as a crucial thoroughfare has slipped away. On June 27th 1985 it was decommissioned as a US highway, having been largely replaced with modern interstates by 1970. The great thing about Route 66 is that despite this, it's still one of the biggest road icons not just in the US, but in the whole world.
(Photos via [ThinkStock - iStockphoto])