The Mother Road still delivers one of the best road-trip experiences. Originally a transportation lifeline, Route 66 developed into a unique culture of old-school Americana that can’t be found anywhere else. Pick a few historical sites or see all the oddities. To help you choose, we’ve broken down some of the top attractions.
Source | Meteor Crater Enterprises
Wide-open vistas are common scenery when driving Route 66. For a change of pace, when driving near Flagstaff, Ariz., look for signs pointing to Meteor Crater. Fifty-thousand years ago, a large chunk of ultra-dense hit the desert with enough force to vaporize the meteorite and clear out a three-quarter-mile-wide crater. It’s mostly intact today, and viewpoints offer a fascinating look into the basin more than 500 feet deep. Meteor Crater recalls some of the peace and tranquility of the Grand Canyon, except for the “created by a giant explosion” bit. Sure, it’s just a hole in the ground, but the scope of it is mind blowing.
A real ghost town
Nothing says “Old West” like an abandoned ghost town. Glenrio, Texas, sits on the border between New Mexico and Texas. Living memories from a past era, the gas station, hotel, post office, and two-dozen other buildings survive in surprisingly solid condition. Entirely abandoned, cars sit rusting in driveways and tall grass grows in massive cracks in the cement. Glenrio is quiet and empty, and an interesting, creepy experience for the type of people who love post-apocalyptic zombie movies.
For automotive geeks
If you are looking to entertain the kids (and your inner kid), head to the Lewis Antique Auto & Toy Museum in Moriarty, NM. This is Archie Lewis’ private collection, and since he’s been collecting for six decades, it’s huge. Inside this warehouse-like museum, there are 30 cars in original condition. If that’s not enough, you can wander through the yard, which is filled with more than 600 vehicles dating back over 100 years. There are fire trucks, T-Birds, Model Ts, Rancheros, and even a rarer selection rounded out by Nash, Packard, and Crosley. If the vintage iron doesn’t interest you, check out the giant selection of old-timey toys.
A motorcycle museum
Motorcycles more your thing? The Vintage Iron Motorcycle Museum in Miami, Okla., will get your motor runnin’. You might not be feeling the modern vibe of the building since it was built in 2006, but the allure here is what’s on display. Stunning classic and antique motorcycles fill the floors in flawless condition. WWII-era US Army Harley-Davidson WLAs, world-record jump bikes, and café racers share floor space with classic race bikes, cruisers, and sidecars. You’ll also set eyes on an unreal amount of equipment and accessories. It has the best gift shop on this list, as you can get real biker stuff, besides the usual Route 66 kitsch.
When talking must-see Route 66 attractions, no list is complete without Cadillac Ranch. Although it’s not actually a ranch, there are several Cadillacs here. Sunk into the ground nose-first are 10 Cadys from the late ’40s to early ’60s, which neatly covers the entire span of the tailfin era. This isn’t a museum, though—they encourage visitors to bring spray paint and leave their own graffiti. It’s the best hands-on exhibit on the road. The Ranch is a perennial work in progress, and you can supposedly smell the fresh spray paint from hundreds of feet away. Bring a camera, as your art won’t last long.
Need to cool off? Head underground to “Missouri’s buried treasure.” The Meramec Caverns outside Stanton, MO, were originally a saltpeter mine, until being partially blown up in the Civil War. Afterwards it was a Victorian-era party locale, Jesse James’ hideout, and, finally, a tourist destination known for the incredible natural formations. Huge rooms with 70-foot-high ceilings, impressive stalactites, still naturally under construction, and mysterious underground lakes await the visitor with a good flashlight. Tours are currently on hold for renovations but should resume by summer.
When it’s time to stop for some grub, there’s no better Route 66 destination than an old fashioned diner. Cars on the Route is a former Kan-O-Tex service station-turned-restaurant and retail shop in Galena, Kan. The gas station retains the cool old-style gas pumps and décor, but the service bays have been cleaned out and remodeled as a ’50s-style burger joint. There’s no gas in those pumps so you can’t fill your tank, but you can fill up on “Cars”–themed souvenirs. Speaking of, don’t miss the lifesize movie characters sitting out front.
One of a kind…
While you could take the kids to see the World’s Biggest Ketchup Bottle in Collinsville, Ill., there are larger oddities further west. Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch, just outside Oro Grande, Calif., is an incredible upcycled industrial-art forest. Like the Cadillac Ranch, this is also not a ranch but a cool interactive artwork. More than 200 handmade steel and glass “trees” rise from the desert in a surreal display, topped by everything from typewriters to old rifles. Like the best art, and the rest of Route 66, the quiet ranch leaves an impression.
No matter what you’re looking for on Route 66, you are likely to find it. Have a favorite destination on the Mother Road? Share it in the comments below.