Whimsy On The Road is the travel blog companion to CincyWhimsy.com, which focuses on urban exploration around Cincinnati, Ohio.

Recently, we set off to experience the Great American Roadtrip: a 2,448 mile journey across The States along Route 66. Contrary to popular belief, there is still plenty to see and do along the old motorway. (It kept us entertained for 19 days!) With summer at our doorstep, I'll be sharing tales from our journey on Whimsy On The Road, in hopes to inspire others to venture along the Mother Road, be it for a weekend or an extended vacation.

From roadside vernacular and Art Deco architecture to some of the kindest people and delicious scratch-made regional fare, Route 66 is a step back into a slower-paced, simpler time; a pre-franchised era of America. 

What makes Route 66 significant?

Conceived in 1926, Route 66 became the first paved transcontinental highway spanning from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. Crossing through eight states, it became a primary artery in transporting people from the Midwest to western states and the Pacific Ocean. Route 66 followed the lay of the land, constructed from existing dirt roads and cattle paths used by early settlers. It helped thousands of Okies migrate from the Dust Bowl during the 1930s, delivered military vehicles to the Pacific Coast during World War II, and evolved into a family vacation destination by the 1950s.

To meet the needs of the travelers, mom-n-pop businesses blossomed in small towns along the way, providing basic services like petrol stations, motels, trading posts and diners. While many of these are no longer in operation, plenty of landmarks still exist today. Route 66 is an experience that foreign tourists call, "exploring the real United States" as opposed to destination metropolises such as New York City, Washington D.C., or Miami.

What happened to it?

A victim of its own success, tourism brought heavy volumes of traffic on U.S. 66 and other highways, which led to the advent of the Eisenhower Interstate System in 1956. Over the next 30 years, many small towns along Route 66 found themselves bypassed by I-55 or I-40. Travelers now preference expedited journeys over hospitality, and those small boomtowns gradually began to fade away.

Come 1984, Route 66 was decommissioned by the Federal Government. That means while it is still a drivable road, it has lost its usefulness to the Interstate and has been downgraded to a local road. The federal or state government is also no longer responsible for its maintenance.

What is Route 66 like today?

Presently, about 82% of Route 66 is still drivable. Other parts have fallen under severe disrepair: ghost towns, washed out roads, plants growing through cracks in the pavement, collapses and sink holes due to nearby mining. In some cases, sections of Route 66 were merged with I-40 or I-55. Dozens of small towns still prosper along the route, welcoming tourists with Great Plains hospitality.

Route 66 has been and will continue to be a story about people. From its conception to its recent revitalization, the folks a traveler meets along the journey are the true keepsakes; not the postcards or the tchotckes. They'll be your fondest memories and feature of the stories shared with friends upon return.

Who did we meet and what did we experience? Be sure to check back to Whimsy On The Road for regular musings from our journey.


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