Route 66 (Part 1)

Trip Start Jul 03, 2012
Trip End Nov 12, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Texas
Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"If you ever plan to motor west, travel my way, take the highway that is best. Get your kicks on Route sixty-six"...before you think I've lost my mind, this is the famous Route 66 song originally sung by Bobby Troup which you should all download before reading this blog! Quite catchy I must say!

After an amazing couple of days in the bustling city of Chicago we finally started our adventure on America's 'Mother Road'. We successfully fetched our pocket rocket (hired car) from Chicago's city centre and were very proud to have made it out onto the open road ok, without too many turns into on-coming traffic! Driving on the other side of the road certainly takes a bit of getting used to, and one has to concentrate a lot more, especially in busy intersections! 'Passenger Pavement' has helped a lot- thanks Milly and Ballie!

For those of you who are wondering what Route 66 is all about and why we would subject ourselves to this 2448 mile (3940km) journey for the next 14 days, let me try and enlighten you. Route 66 was commissioned in 1926 as the first highway to link Chicago with Los Angeles. During the great depression and a massive drought throughout most of the country in the early 20's, the highway enticed many middle-classed Americans with the allure of the West and the golden opportunities which supposedly lay ahead. In fact, many of the small one-horsed towns that one passes through on this trip are a byproduct of this road. The route kicks off in Chicago from the outskirts of Lake Michigan crossing the rivers; plains; mountains; deserts and canyons of 8 states before ending on a corner near the pacific...put simply an awesome roadie from Chicago to California!

Although no longer officially existing as one connected highway (as towns and cities expanded rapidly giving rise to new, much larger highways), the old road can still be accessed via a number of points, often running on a small two-lane road which runs almost parallel to the interstate. A perfect example of this is a peace of the original highway called 'memory lane' which features some of the classic (and also original) advertising boards from back then. Even our GPS recognizes most of this road as the "Old Route 66" which we found to be quite impressive!

Ok, enough background. Let me get to what we've been up to the past couple of days! After getting our bearings out of the windy city, we soon found ourselves driving through a number of quaint villages depicting 'old town America'. After going through a number of these one-horsed towns, we quickly realized that this was going to be somewhat of a trend, at least for the first part of our trip! Most of these towns have a 'claim to fame', and the locals are only but too happy to chat to you and tell you the history of their village and why it's so great! The number of quirky (and very random in some cases) things to see are astounding and have provided us with hours of entertainment where we've found ourselves getting excited about what the next town will bring!

Some of the quirky highlights so far have been:

Gigantic 'Muffler men' holding everything from spaceships to hotdogs (if you don't know what a muffler man is, google it) - although these massive structures hold no important meaning, they serve as a very effective means of attracting customers to nearby diners and petrol garages.

The Polka Dot Inn diner in Braidwood where Cari and I got to get up close and personal with the likes of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean.

Vintage route 66 gas stations (Dwight and Odell) which, although no longer in service, were extremely interesting and got our imaginations going nicely of what it must have been like back in the 20's and 30's filling up there. Most of these are now tourist information centres and also sell loads of Route 66 memorabilia (We're now the proud owners of a CD titled "songs from the mother road").

Our first day of traveling ended in a town called Bloomington where we checked in at the 'Econolodge motel'...yes a typical American motel like you see in the movies. We had survived our first day as roadies!

The next day we set off bound for St Louis, but not before a stop at the famous Funks Grove maple sirup farm (yes that is the right spelling according to this family business which has been running since 1824) - delicious stuff I must say!

After a couple of hours of weaving along very picturesque sections of the old road, coming across more muffler men and vintage gas stations, it was time for another treat. The well known Ariston Diner, which has been serving hungry route 66ers grub since the 30's. We weren't disappointed, but couldn't believe the amount of food! An interesting thing we've noticed since leaving the city is how portion sizes have increased! It's crazy, and trust me the evidence reveals itself in some of the locals. As an economist I would put it as follows: Food portion sizes are directly proportional to an individuals BMI!

Magies vol we set off towards St Louis, with a small bypass to see the 'Chain of rocks bridge' which, aside from being a mile long and only open to walkers bikers, has a kink in it! It also crosses over the Mississippi river from Illinois into Missouri and would give us a first glimpse of our next state!

Entering St Louis the first thing you notice is the massive stainless steel arch which almost encapsulates the entire city and is quite something! Built in 1965, this 900 ton (192m) architecturally designed structure was built to symbolize the movement toward the mighty West. After painstakingly trying to find free parking in the city, we grit our teeth and paid the $4 parking fee so we could get some pics in front of the almighty arch...only to realize that its near impossible to get someone in the photo with the structure in its entirety as the jolly thing is too big! Nonetheless after lots of 'oohing and ahhing', essentially vindicating the $4 parking fee, we set off towards our final destination for the day, Cuba (no, not the country silly!).

Cuba is another quaint little village around 85 miles West of St Louis (see I can also do the whole NESW thing!). We arrived at dusk at the Wagon Wheel Inn, our lovely accommodation for the evening. It had an awesome Neon sign outside advertising itself and our little room was part of an old stone barn. Very quaint indeed!

Stomachs having recovered from the mountain of food at lunch, we headed off to a local spot for dinner before hitting the local pub for a few pints and assessing the locals! Once again, very friendly people indeed who's voices tend to get high-pitched when they find out we're from South Africa! After explaining to them why we were visiting their small town and explaining that South Africa itself is a country (again!), we headed on home for a good nights rest.

The next day saw us heading through the State of Missouri to Kansas via Springfield. Highlights of this trip included checking out the largest rocking chair in the world (42ft high!); Devils Elbow (previously one of the most feared and dangerous sections of old Route 66 but is now a great outdoorsy picnic spot overlooking the Ozark hills and Big Piney River); an actual Route 66 Drive-in which is still in operation and spending the night in the now lonely town of Baxter Springs where the building of our BnB claims to have once been a bank which the notorious Jesse James robbed!

Kansas into Oklahoma was next and you could feel the number of rednecks increase per capita the moment you entered the state! Imagine cowboys riding their horses on their ranches, spitting, howdies, the whole lot! Some highlights of this trip were the vintage Packard automobiles at Afton Station - arguably the best line of cars to ever be squeezed out in the early-to-mid 1900s. We saw some real beauties dating back as early as 1923 and an amazing 1917 RV which has been restored to its original form (Don you would have loved this!). When the owner found out we were honeymooners doing 66 she said she had to take our picture for her blog she writes daily, so go check us out at the Afton station blog!

The Totem Pole trading post in Foyil was next which displays the tallest totem pole in the world. Built by a local as a monument to the native American Indian, it's classified as being one of Oklahoma's landmarks.

Another quirky attraction was the well-known Blue Whale along old Route 66. Hugh Davis built it in the early 1970s as an anniversary gift to his wife - lucky lady! The large fibreglass Blue Whale and its pond became a favorite stop and swimming hole for both locals and travelers alike back then, but now just serves as a picnic spot and photo attraction (which is exactly what we did). After refueling ourselves we headed off towards Tulsa, a city which Cari and I were both quite excited about exploring after our guide book harped on about the beautiful architecture in the city. I must say we were rather disappointed at what it had to offer - perhaps we've become too spoilt from being in the beautiful city of Chicago!

Our final stop for the day would be Oklahoma City, but not before passing through a number of small towns. Arcadia was definitely the most interesting of the lot, having a mixture of both old and new which tends to typify the mother road. Much of this town has an early 30's feeling about it and we stopped in at the also famous 'Round Barn' which has been around since 1898 and has recently been restored. Leaving Arcadia we stopped in at the much more modern POPS establishment. With another towering 66-foot POP bottle outside (as I'm sure you've noticed, bigger is better on Route 66!), this establishment sells over 500 different favours of soda! Everything from apple pie, to sweet corn, to buffalo wing flavored soda - crazy stuff, but very very cool! We settled for the safer black cherry soda option and headed off to Oklahoma city which would be our last stop for the day.

After a long days driving, we checked into our very budget motel (owned by no other than Mr Patel) for another "good nights" rest!

We set off the next morning (bed bug bites and all I might add!) to explore what Oklahoma city had to offer. We were quite impressed with this little city, which has a fantastic State Capitol building with an actual oil rig right on its grounds. It became clear to us immediately through this and driving through this city that we had entered oil country! Random oil rigs showed up everywhere, in some instances even right next to a Mc Donald's! We then headed off to check out the memorial for the Oklahoma bombing of 1995 which claimed 168 lives, many of which were children. The number of flowers, teddy bears, toys etc presumably put out by family and friends for their loved ones lost a this side certainly pulls at the heart strings!

Something that has stood out a lot (in Oklahoma and Northern Texas especially), is the strong religious vibes. Churches are often 'advertised' on billboards underneath the signage for takeaway joints; signage on the highways asking us if we'd prayed today; 24 hour radio stations dedicated to the gospel; and we've even had Pastor Abraham phoning us on our cell (no sure how he got our number) asking if he can pray for us (no jokes!). Did I mention that this area is actually known as the "bible belt"?

Our next destination was Amarillo which would signal our pass through into Texas. I must say we had quite a mare with directions today, where our usual handy road-side Route 66 travel companion book wasn't as helpful and even confused our GPS! Nevertheless, we managed to get ourselves here in one piece, managing to stop in at the extremely well done official Route 66 museum in Clinton!

After a frustrating days traveling, little did we know what a treat would be waiting for us in Amarillo! This time it was in the form of the 'Big Texan Inn" motel and steak ranch in Amarillo, our accommodation for the evening. This place has become somewhat of an institution it Amarillo, not just for tourists, but for locals as well who travel miles for the atmosphere and great grub which this place provides. The motel is set in a typical ranch-style setting where our room is basically something out of an old western film with swinging wooden doors to the bathroom and even a leather shower curtain with tassels! Seriously, it would make Woody from Toy Story weep with joy! We also even have a pool which is shaped like the state of Texas- I plan on swimming across this state tomorrow morning!

Perhaps the most well known advertisement for the Big Texan is the 72oz steak, along with a massive baked potato, fried shrimp and salad which, if you can finish within an hour, is free!! After pondering which one of us were going to give this beast a run for its money (my money was on Cari), we took one look a the size of this monster and decided to give it a miss and go for more 'conventional' steaks! Once again after a very satisfying meal, we decided to venture out of our comfort zone and hit the local joint...'Buckles'. My word, what a place! We chatted to a couple of real red necks (corn farmers who have hardly ventured out of their own state) for a while before engaging in some really interesting conversation with local truck drivers who were passing through their local joint! Not only did we learn a great deal about the area in general, but we also got a grand tour of one of the guy's (Ricky was his name) trucks! This thing was absolutely monstrous and even has its own bedroom and bathroom on-board. Apparently these bad boys cost in the region of $250,000! After Ricky provided us with his entire family history (1 of 13 kids, his own son has been in prison 3 times at the age of 23 blah know the usual chit chat), we decided to call the night quits and head back to our 'ranch'. What a blast we've had the last couple of days! Having already reached the halfway mark in our roadie, I can honestly say that we are still very much "getting our kicks" on Route 66!

Santa Fe in New Mexico is next before heading onto Grand Canyon country and Vegas baby...all coming to you soon!
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Ballie on

Sounds like a real super trip .... something that I would love to do. I think you are generating memories which will last for a lifetime ...

Philip is here! on

Jeffers, this is a brillian blog - looking forward to more updates as you guys weave your way through the Americas. Keep it up!

Kate on

I am loving your blog guys! Jeffers - you've got a secret talent there for writing my friend! Cant wait for the next post. Miss you guys but am so happy you're having an absolute blast on your adventure xx

Tracy on

All sounds great !! I agree Jeff .. " Our Travels" .. a book in the making !!! Good fun reading :)

Jenny Ervine on

Love the way you write Jeff. I can hear your Dad's sense of humour coming through in the way you sometimes express things.

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