The “Mother Road”, the “Highway of Dreams”, the “Will Rogers Highway” or the “Main Street of America”. No matter what you call it, Route 66 is an icon of a bygone era in America. Established in 1926, the 2448 mile narrow paved two lane highway originally ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending at Santa Monica, California. During the Great Depression in the ’30s, it was a road that connected many Americans to the western states, giving them the opportunity to search for a new life and new jobs. In 1938 it became the first road in America to be completely paved.
Over the years its popularity increased thanks to the hit song “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” composed in 1946 by American songwriter Bobby Troup and the 1960’s television show, Route 66 about the events and consequences of two young men travelling across the United States in a Chevrolet Corvette convertible. Although, according to this website, only two episodes were actually filmed on Route 66. Hate to date myself but I really liked that show!
Unfortunately however, all good things must come to an end. Slowly replaced by segments of the Interstate Highway System, alas Route 66 was officially removed from the United States Highway System in 1985. But that didn’t mean that Route 66 disappeared. Nope, various Route 66 associations were formed and they stepped in to save the day, making it their mission to preserve, restore and promote this historic scenic byway, including many of the landmarks, old motels and even the neon signs along the road. Sections of the road were placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Public interest was further sparked in 2006 when Pixar released the animated film Cars which describes the decline of a once-booming Radiator Springs, which became nearly a ghost town once its mother road, US 66, was bypassed by Interstate 40.
Little did we know when planning our next stop after the FMCA rally that we would have an opportunity to experience a bit of the Route 66 nostalgia. With favorable weather conditions in the forecast, we decided to head northward on I-17 towards Flagstaff with a final destination of Williams, AZ, located about 35 miles west of Flagstaff.
Jeesh, what horrible roads! The closer we got to Flagstaff the worse the road conditions became, full of potholes rough pavement and frost heaves, causing our coach to shake, rattle and roll! Most likely caused by their harsh winters (they had 1-1/2 feet of snow the week before). We were hoping it would improve when we merged onto I-40 (historic Route 66) near Flagstaff heading west towards Williams but nope, that didn’t happen, it was just as bad if not worse. A very uncomfortable ride to say the least!
Note: as of this writing, I-17 south of Flagstaff and I-40 between Williams and Flagstaff are in horrible condition. However, I-40 from the Walnut Canyon exit east of Flagstaff to Albuqurque and beyond is in good to very good condition.
Williams, or more specifically the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park (review coming), would be our home base for a week. We needed a week for all of the sightseeing excursions we had planned. Not to mention we got a half price Passport America rate ($22/day) by staying the full week. Known as the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon”, Williams was the last town on Historic Route 66 to be bypassed by Interstate 40. But instead of becoming a ghost town like Radiator Springs in the Cars movie, this town as the saying goes, took “lemons and turned it into lemonade”. By promoting the bygone Route 66 culture and capitalizing on their proximity to the Grand Canyon Railway, the Grand Canyon, and Sedona, Williams has become a popular tourist destination.
The historic business district with its buildings dating back to the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s and many listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a prime example of what Route 66 must have looked like in its heyday. Lining the historic road are quirky motels, classic cars on display, soda fountains, historic Rod’s Steakhouse where travelers have dined since 1946, Cruisers Route 66 Cafe which sits amid restored gas pumps (imagine gas prices at 22¢ per gallon!), road signs, other period artifacts, and souvenir shops stocked with all sorts of Route 66 memorabilia. During our stay, we stopped at a self serve gas station in town. How shocked we were when an employee came out and cleaned our windshield! Shades of yesteryear!
And of course we visited a few restaurants during our stay. Our favorite (we went there twice), at least for breakfast, was the very cute Pine Country Restaurant. A Bacon and Veggie omelette ($8.99) for me and the usual Corned Beef Hash ($7.59) for Rob on one morning. Both were delish! Highly recommend. One place that we don’t recommend for breakfast was the Grand Canyon Coffee & Cafe with its very slow service and mediocre food (bacon wasn’t cooked enough).
Besides strolling the sidewalks and shopping for souvenirs, there is a lot more to do in the town of Williams. We skipped the High Flying Family Adventure Zipline which according to their website “Soars right along the famous Route 66 above the nostalgic town of Williams and over Grand Canyon Boulevard” and Bearizona where you can view North American animals in natural habitats from your car.
Another thing we didn’t do was to take the 2 hour 15 minute (one way) Grand Canyon Railway train ride to the Grand Canyon. Although it sounded like fun with it’s pre-train ride Western show, staged train robbery and narration during the train ride, we decided to drive there (1 hour each way) instead so we could spend more time than the 3 hours they allow before returning.
As for what we DID do during our stay stay tuned for the details!