Route 66, better known as "The Main Street of America," represents a lot of things to many people. To some, it holds memories of adventures taken across country. For others, the magical road is a romantic representation of times gone by. Then there are those who wallow in the historical story it holds within its broken concrete and tattered road side attractions. If one is to step out onto the old stretches of the road they would find an incredible story waiting to unfold. The Mother Road opened doors for those to explore the great west where otherwise they might not have had the chance. The road offered the broken Okies a chance at new life in sunny California and brought soldiers home from war. Most of all, it brought families out on the open road in celebration of the American spirit.
Route 66 begins in windy Chicago, Illinois and winds its way through 7 more states only to end in sunny Santa Monica, California. In all, it reaches across 2,400 miles and crosses 3 time zones. It passes through town after town; therefore, nicknaming it the "Main Street of America." For many who lived near the historical road, it became their livelihood. Shops and other road side attractions sprung up along the route depending on the thousands of tourists to buy their goods. To fully understand how this road came to be a fixture in the American dream, we must take a look back in time.
Route 66 began as a set of trails the Native Americans used to travel throughout the midwest. In the late 1840's, a trail was needed to reach California after the discovery of gold, then in 1853 a survey was taken for a railroad. The largest step towards Route 66 came in 1857 when Lieutenant Edward Beale came into the picture.
Lieutenant Beale, armed with the railroad survey, designed a wagon road that cut across the west. This trek was specifically unique because he employed the use of camels to aid in construction. It was thought that the hot southwest was too much for any traditional animal used in manual work. The camels ultimately turned out to be a nuisance since they were not as obedient as hoped. Beale's road stretched from Defiance, New Mexico to Los Angeles, California and was completed in 1859.
In 1853, a railroad was built through the southern US and ran virtually parallel to the existing Beale Wagon Road. It wasn't until the early 1900's that it began to become clear that the existing wagon roads were unsuitable for the newly popular automobile.
In the 1920's, the roads that existed were built for wagons and very crudely structured. At best they were gravel; more likely, they were nothing but worn tracks in the landscape. Thus, the crusade for passable roads began.
In 1926, the Ford Company forever changed the nation by lowering the price of motorcars. The pressure began to mount for highway development. By this time, a man by the name of Cyrus Avery was on the scene. He was a leader of the American Association of Highway Development. At a meeting in 1924, Avery was appointed a consulting highway specialist; thus, he was to design what would become the United States Highway System. In short, he was in charge of preparing a map that showed where all of the primary highways of the United States should lay.
Avery began by examining all of the existing marked trails and connecting them in a fashion that would accommodate a highway system. The highway commissioners decided to assign the roads numbers instead of names to avoid confusion. The roads running east and west were to be assigned even numbers, and the roads running north and south were to be assigned odd numbers.
Originally, Avery and his associates assigned the highway running across the southern United States to the Pacific Ocean the number 60. However, some officials on the east coast had also chosen that number for another highway; thus, a dispute erupted. Both sides insisted on using the number 60. Eventually, Avery and his associates gave in and began searching for a new number.
Upon looking through the list of possible numbers, they came across the number 66. Cyrus Avery liked the way the number sounded and Route 66 was born.
In 1926, Route 66 became official. The route ran through 8 states; Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. At the time, approximately 800 miles were paved. The remaining road was dirt, gravel, brick, or wooden planks. It wasn't until 1937 that the road was completely paved.
The next step after creating the road was to get people to drive it. Route 66 associations began to sprout up in the 8 states it ran through. The goal was to promote use of the road. An advertising campaign began with ads in national magazines and newspapers. Billboards were also used along the route to promote the grandeur of the road. The public's attention was caught and enthusiasm grew as did traffic along the route.
In 1928, an annual advertising scheme took place to promote the road. A foot race from Los Angeles to New York was to take place and Route 66 would be the main road used. Each contestant was to submit $100 to secure a spot in the race. The towns along the route grew with excitement and the race succeeded in getting publicity. The newspapers were plastered with information on the runners' progress.
In the end, 55 of the 275 who started crossed the finish line with young Andrew Payne in the lead. He went on to become an American hero and will forever be associated with Route 66.
Approximately 3 years after Route 66 officially opened, the economy began to bottom out and the nation headed for the Great Depression. However, 66 did not lack in travelers, for around the same time a great drought began in the midwest and would go on to last for several years sending thousands fleeing in search for better opportunities. These people came to be known as Okies and Route 66 was dubbed "The Road of Flight." For many, California was their destiny in hopes of finding fertile land and the promise of work. Their plight was documented and forever imprinted in the infamous Grapes of Wrath.
Eventually, our economy began to heal and rain covered the plains. However, World War II had begun filling Route 66 with soldiers and convoys of trucks heading to military bases across the country. After the war, Route 66 took on clutters of vacationing families.
More and more automobiles were being produced and the economy soared, making them affordable to many more people than ever before. Route 66 became jammed with traffic and everywhere "Get Your Kicks on Route 66" was being whistled on lips. America had, indeed, fallen in love with Route 66.
Tourist traps began to appear everywhere along the route. A tourist could buy Indian jewelry, visit a snakepit, or explore mysterious caverns. Neon cluttered the main street of America.
In the late 1950's, it became painfully clear that Route 66 has grown too popular for its own good. President Eisenhower signed the Federal Highway Act which spelled out guidelines to build a National Interstate Highway System. Slowly, but surely, towns along Route 66 began to be bypassed by new interstate highways.
On October 13, 1984, Williams made history by becoming the last town on the 66 route to be bypassed by the new Interstate 40.
Although many parts of old 66 are broken up and lost to overgrowth, it remains to be the main street of America. In recent years, it has seen a surge in popularity. It has become an icon for the American way of life. Searching for old Route 66 has become an adventure in itself.
The states along the route have formed organizations in charge of reviving 66 fever, some have been more successful than others. Here in Williams, we offer tours and sponsor special events all in the name of Route 66.
Why people are so anxious to rediscover the old road can be interpreted in many ways. Some people are in search of reliving memories. Then there are those out looking for a time when traveling wasn't just a way to get from point A to point B, but a part of an adventure. However, those of us looking for the road have one thing in common: we are all out to get our kicks on Route 66.
Follow the road that carried the legendary Grapes of Wrath's Joad family, songwriter Bobby Troup, and millions of others west to the land of dreams, opportunity and open spaces. In 1989, the Kaibab National Forest listed several segments of Route 66 on the National Register of Historic Places. This historic highway, which linked Chicago with Los Angeles, was completely paved in 1938. Perhaps more than any other highway in America, Route 66 symbolizes the adventure and romance of the open road, and is an inseparable part of American popular culture.
Begin your tour to the past on Bill Williams Avenue. Here, Route 66 is plain "America's Main Street." Its gas stations, restaurants, curio shops, and motels have served generations of travelers. From here, proceed east on "Old 66" to the Interstate 40 interchange and continue east on I-40 for six miles. This historic alignment of Route 66 has been covered by the interstate on this stretch, but it resumes at the Pittman Valley exit. Exit here, turn left, pass over I-40, and turn right onto historic Route 66. This concrete pavement dates to 1939 and bore Route 66 traffic until the Interstate arrived in 1964. It passes Oak Hill Snowplay Area (the original Williams Ski Area, circa 1940), where you can park and take a short hike to the Keyhole Sink petroglyph site. Garland Prairie Vista, a short distance east, offers a spectacular view of the San Francisco Peaks; it is also a good picnic spot. As you continue along, you soon arrive at the roadside community of Parks. Here, there is a country store which has been in operation since about 1910. It's well worth a visit. At this point, you may choose to return to Interstate 40 or continue on for 8 more miles of the historic highway. Be advised that the 8 miles are on a graveled road.
To continue east, follow the road as it merges onto an earlier alignment of Route 66. From the time it was first built in the early 1930s, Route 66 was constantly improved and realigned. At this point, you can park and walk on a 3/4 mile long section of abandoned Route 66. Let your imagination take you back in time on this stretch of "ghost road." East of here, the graveled road, which was once paved, served highway travelers from 1931 until it was bypassed in 1941. Here you will drive over the highest point along Route 66 at 7,300 feet above sea level. The road then descends into beautiful Brannigan Park. The historic residences on each side of the road are on private property, so please drive slowly and respect the landowner's privacy. Soon after leaving Brannigan Park, you will pass out of the Kaibab National Forest, and the officially designated portion of Route 66 ends near the I-40 frontage road.
Length: 22 miles one way
Driving Time: 1 - 1.5 hours, round trip
Recommended Season: Year-round
Access: Historic Route 66 may be accessed from either the east or the west. It runs roughly parallel to Interstate 40. From the west, begin in the historic district of downtown Williams; go east to Interstate 40, and continue east on I-40 to the Pittman Valley interchange. After exiting, turn left, go over the highway, and then turn right onto historic Route 66. Follow this road to the forest boundary and the end of the National Historic portion of Route 66. Coming from Flagstaff headed west, take the Bellemont exit and go west on the frontage road. The forest boundary and beginning of the designated route intersects the frontage road about 1 mile west of the interchange.
Road Conditions: Paved and gravel-surfaced, suitable for passenger vehicles.
CLOVER RUIN is a small, but typical, Cohonina culture site. Rock outlines mark the rooms of a house that was occupied for a short period about 1000 years ago. A portion of this site is being reconstructed. An interpretive sign marks the site's location in front of the Williams District Ranger Station.
Location: Williams District Administrative Site: 2 miles west of downtown Williams.
Access: Go west from downtown Williams on Railroad Avenue about one mile; turn left at the top of the hill before the Interstate. Proceed down the frontage road and turn left at the administrative site. Turn right and park at the old office built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The site is located next to this building. The roads are paved.
KEYHOLE SINK is a petroglyph site located at the edge of a small water hole. Are the symbols pecked into the rock wall evidence of hunting magic? A short hike leads you to the site and interpretive sign. The trailhead to the site is located at Oak Hill Snowplay area.
Location: This trail starts on the north side of Historic Route 66, across from the Oak Hill Snowplay area. Access: From Williams, take I-40 east to the Pitman Valley Exit (#171). Turn left and cross over the Interstate. Proceed east on Historic Route 66 for about 2 miles to the Oak Hill Snowplay Area. The trail begins on the north side of the road. Please park in the lot provided. The roads are paved.
LAWS SPRING Although this site is associated with rock carvings from the historic Beale expedition, earlier petroglyphs left by Indian travelers can also be seen here.
Location: About 20 miles northeast of Williams.
Access: From Williams, drive north on AZ 64 about 5 miles to the Spring Valley Road (FR 141); turn right and drive about 7 miles to FR 730, turn left and drive 3 miles; turn left on FR 115. Proceed about 1.5 miles to FR 2030 and follow the sign to the parking area. Laws Spring is a short walk from the parking area. AZ 64 is paved. FR f141 is cindered and suitable for passenger vehicles. FR 115 and FR 2030 are suitable for high clearance vehicles.
HISTORIC WILLIAMS: The Williams Historic Business District features turn-of-the-century buildings, many of which have been restored. Visit Saloon Row or stroll along Route 66. Self-guided walking tour brochures are available at the Williams/Forest Service Visitors Center. You may begin your walk there.