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The Traveling Photographer: Driving Route 66

Route 66 cut through the heartland of the US, from Chicago to Los Angeles. Known as the “Main Street of America” or the “Mother Road,” it was established in 1926 and became popularized by the Route 66 television show which aired in the 1960s  and the song “Get your Kicks on Route 66″ by American songwriter Bobby Troup.

Photo: Adobe Stock

Although the original Route 66 was removed from the highway system in 1985, stretches of the route remain accessible off of the interstate. Along these stretches are bits and pieces of Americana, weathered buildings withstanding the test of time, and incredible landscapes, all just waiting to be photographed.

Our Plan

This summer two of my girlfriends and I plan to drive the accessible parts of Route 66 from start to finish–Chicago to Santa Monica. It should take a couple of weeks to cover the nearly 2400 miles.

As a result of our pre-trip research, we have learned the drive will be more complex than we had expected. We will have to figure out where to exit the existing interstate highways and then how to find the bits and pieces of the old road. In some locations, there are different versions of the route and so we will have to decide which we want to follow.

The Automobile Association of America’s Route 66 map provides a nice overview of the historic route, however, once we get in the car and start driving we will need greater details than provided on the map. Our main resource will most likely be the EZ66 Guide for Travelers, by Jerry McClanahan, a book jam-packed with annotated maps and local information. The book is a bit overwhelming at times, with so much to read through. Once we are on the road we will be very glad to have it. Two other reference books we have reviewed and plan to use are the Lonely Planet’s Route 66 Road Trips and Moon Handbooks Moon Route 66 Road Trip.

The internet is also full of websites offering Route 66 information and trip planning tools. The National Park Service website  Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary for Route 66 provides a suggested itinerary with maps highlighting historic places listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Photo: Adobe Stock

Unfortunately, we are making the trip in the summer, during the busy tourist season when the temperatures can be very hot. That is the only time one of my girlfriends can make the trip. Due to the busy season, we made hotel reservations for some of our hotels as soon as we had travel dates. We will be staying at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for a few nights. We also want to stay in some hotels that were popular in the 1930s and 1940s……historic Route 66 hotels.

Hotels

The Grand Canyon hotels are very hard to book—the hotels on the rim fill immediately upon release in the summer months (rooms are released the first day of the month, 12 months before the month of the desired reservation). For more information on the Grand Canyon, check out my article on Photographing the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Our entire trip schedule was based on the date we could get a reservation in the Grand Canyon. (We could not get the date we originally wanted, even though we tried to get the rooms for that date as soon as reservations opened.) Once we secured our reservation we figured out when we had to leave Chicago to drive to the canyon in time. Working with the AAA map and google maps we calculated mileage and drive time between cities, to determine the number of days and overnight stops we would make. We also want to spend a day in the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park, as well as a day around Flagstaff, Arizona.

There are a number historic hotels along Route 66 that have been restored.  Although we won’t hit all of them, we do hope to stay in a few. Here is a list of some of the hotels we have found, which may prove helpful if you are also planning a Route 66 trip:

  1. The Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon, Missouri
  2. The Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri
  3. Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven in Springfield, Missouri
  4. The Boots Motel in Carthage, Missouri
  5. The Campbell Hotel in Tulsa, Oklahoma
  6. The Blue Swallow Motel, in Tucumcari, New Mexico
  7. El Rancho in Gallup, New Mexico
  8. The Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona
  9. Earl’s Motor Court in Winslow, Arizona
  10. La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona
  11. Hotel Monte Vista in Flagstaff, Arizona
  12. The Weatherford Hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona
  13. The Route 66 Motel in Barstow, California

Car Rental

Photo: Adobe Stock

We have also reserved our car rental. I have learned from previous trips that usually the earlier I book a car the better the rental rates, and so I always recommend booking a car as early as possible, continually checking rates until you leave in case a better rate pops up. So far the difference in rate due to my early booking is $800!  Also look for special promotions or coupons.  Many organizations give car rental discounts as a benefit of membership.  The AAA rate is almost always best for me.  I also get AAA discounts at hotels, which can really add up to a nice savings.

Break it Down

Even if you aren’t able to drive the whole of Route 66, or if you just don’t like road trips, you can visit and photograph one or two segments. What a perfect way to step back in time and photograph old signs, hotels and cafes, gas stations and general stores.

If any of you have driven the route, please add Route 66 suggestions to the Comment section of this post. I look forward to any advice, and I am sure others do too!

 

Images downloaded from Abobe Stock.

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