My husband and I set aside a day to explore the historic Route 66 on a recent vacation to Missouri. I hoped to find an old diner for lunch and experience a small part of what those early travelers found along the way.
The historic route began in Chicago, Illinois, and wound through eight states until it reached Los Angeles, California. Besides Illinois and California, the route went through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.
Missouri, where my husband and I vacationed, contained 317 miles in its heyday. We picked up the route, which follows other state routes, at Springfield and quickly discovered lots of farms, cattle ranches, and small towns. I began to think that my hopes of eating at an old diner were not to be realized.
The towns on this historic section of Route 66 likely boasted of gas stations, motels, restaurants, and attractions that have long since closed. Once the interstates removed traffic from this route, the small businesses lost the majority of their customers and shut down.
Our journey led us to the city of Carthage, Missouri. We quickly discovered that a Civil War battle that preceded the Battle of Bull Run took place in the town square. We ate at a quaint French café in the square that, though it wasn’t there at the time of the Route 66 travelers, delighted us with its friendly owners and menu. A motel, Boots Court, was a popular stopping place for weary travelers. The motel serves customers today and is being restored by current owners.
So we found unexpected treasures along the way in a few hours that convinced me there is more to be discovered.
The National Park Service has a website that lists a few of the old locations within each state along the historic route.
Though the entire route does not exist any longer, travelers can drive along the interstates to pick it up again in a few miles. It can take from two weeks to a month to drive it this way, depending on how much time is spent in different locations.
If your plans take you near the Historic Route 66, consider adding a few travel hours into the schedule and get off the highway for a little while. Check out the National Park Service’s listing for some diners or motels still in operation, and go back in time for a day.
-Sandra Merville Hart
“Historic Route 66 Travel Guide,” Route66Guide, 2016/09/26 http://www.route66guide.com/.
“Route 66 Map,” National Park Service, 2016/09/26 https://www.nps.gov/Nr/travel/route66/maps66.html.