Getting Our Kicks on Route 66: Highlights from a Cross-Continent Road Trip

A vintage car sits parked at a vintage gas station on historic Route 66, in Arizona.

As someone who fancies all things vintage, I’d long wanted to drive Route 66, the so-called “Main Street of America.” So when Shawn and I criss-crossed North America (from Saint Louis to Québec City, then on to Nevada, via Santa Fe, and the Grand Canyon), we declared it essential to hop on what remained of this legendary East-West roadway.

In past decades, Interstate 40 has devoured many sections of Route 66. As a result, we were not always certain how to find the “Mother Road,” especially since we didn’t have a historic map in hand.

When our cruising was abruptly interrupted by “Road Ends” signs, we decided to “consult” Nat King Cole in his 1946 tune, “Route 66.” Nat’s smooth jazz vocals informed us that we could pick up well-restored sections of Route 66 outside of Flagstaff, well into Western Arizona.

And so we enjoyed empty backroads seemingly inhabited only by prairie dogs and the occasional roadster or motorcyclist. We happened upon hotels resembling teepees, mom-and-pop diners offering greasy burgers and refreshing root beer floats, and classic gas stations like the Hackberry General Store in Kingman, Arizona. We also spotted lovingly-restored Model Ts and Corvettes, as well as their long-forgotten counterparts. Equally sad as they were picturesque, the vehicles sat rusting along random stretches of the route, reminding us what happens when Mother Nature has been left to her own devices.

It’s fun to imagine what Route 66 was like in its heyday, when these ghost towns—many now replete with dilapidated motels and diners—were bustling places filled with road-trippers chasing dreams out West.

Established in the 1920s, Route 66 was removed from the U.S. Highway System in 1985. A recent feature in the Cars films has contributed to an infusion of youthful energy for this classic roadway.

Here’s hoping it won’t change too much, though.

A hand holds a Route 66 postcard in front of a car's windshield.

An Arizona Route 66 sign hanging on a white building.

A woman poses next to a green vintage convertible at the Wigwam Motel. The complex rents out teepee style hotel rooms on the Arizona segment of Rotue 66.
The Wigwam Hotel, in Holbrook, Arizona.
A rusted and abandoned car sits on the side of Route 66 in Holbrook, Arizona.

Along Route 66 a wagon wheel hangs on a wall, with a piece of petrified rock below it. On the right, a pawn shop sign advertises guns and gold.
A wagon wheel and piece of petrified rock (left), and a pawn shop sign (right).
The interior of a Route 66 themed restaurant in Holbrook, Arizona.
Mr. Maestas Mexican-American restaurant, Holbrook, Arizona.
Beatles insignia, harnesses and lamps hang on the walls of the Mr. Maestas Mexican-American restaurant, Holbrook, Arizona
Beatles insignia, harnesses, and lamps hang on the walls of the Mr. Maestas Mexican-American restaurant, Holbrook, Arizona
Old American license plates hang on the wall of Mr. Maestas, along with vintage candy tins. The restaurant is located on Route 66 in Arizona.
Old American license plates hang on the wall of Mr. Maestas, along with vintage candy tins.
The exterior of a Holbrook, Arizona bar along Route 66.
Winners Circle, a bar in Holbrook, Arizona.
A Route 66-era gas station turned hair salon in Ash Fork, Arizona.
A Route 66-era gas station turned hair salon in Ash Fork, Arizona.
An American flag flies in front of the Aztec Motel, along Route 66 in Seligman Arizona.
The Aztec Motel in Seligman, Arizona.
The Copper Cart (vintage sign) and Roadkill Cafe (contemporary sign) in Seligman, Arizona along Route 66.
Vintage and contemporary marketing in Seligman, Arizona.
Mannequins and vintage cars sit outside the Rusty Bolt Gift Shop, along Route 66 in Seligman, Arizona.
The Rusty Bolt, a gift shop in Seligman, Arizona.
A sign on Delgadillos Snow Cap (a Route 66 diner in Seligman) reads: "There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed."
Delgadillos Snow Cap drive-in, Seligman, Arizona.
Vintage gas pumps, signs, and a Corvette convertible adorn the exterior of the Hackberry General Store, along Route 66 in Arizona.
Vintage gas pumps, signs, and a Corvette convertible adorn the exterior of the Hackberry General Store, in Kingman, Arizona.
At a gas station along Route 66, a man peeks through the windshield of a vintage convertible.
Shawn peeks through the windshield of a vintage Corvette convertible parked at the Hackberry General Store.

If you ever plan to motor west, 
Travel my way, take the highway that is best. 
Get your kicks on route sixty-six. 

It winds from Chicago to L.A., 
More than two thousand miles all the way. 
Get your kicks on route sixty-six…

Route 66 Lyrics
vintage Route 66 signs and wheels at a general store in Arizona.

Vintage gas pumps at a Route 66 gas station.

A man and a woman pretend they're pumping gas at a vintage-themed general store along Route 66, in Arizona.

old-fashioned gas pump meter at Route 66 gas station Arizona.jpg
An old-fashioned gas pump’s meter.
A Native-American mannequin (left) and a weathered outhouse (right) at the Hackberry General Store, along Route 66.
A Native-American mannequin (left) and a weathered outhouse (right) at the Hackberry General Store.
A man peers into a vintage car at the Hackberry General Store, along Arizona's stretch of route 66.
The Hackberry General Store.
A vintage red gas pump at the Hackberry General Store along Route 66.
A cherry-red gas pump at the Hackberry General Store.

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

42 thoughts on “Getting Our Kicks on Route 66: Highlights from a Cross-Continent Road Trip

  1. Fab post! This has been on our to-do list for a while and we hope to include the Flagstaff stretch on our next visit to the SouthWest. I will remember this post and return to it when the time comes.

    1. Rachael, I’ll be posting more images from Route 66 in the coming days, to give you more reasons to visit. We were really lucky to have serendipitously stumbled upon some fun spots in New Mexico and Arizona, even meeting some travelers who’d driven 66 all the way from Illinois! It seems that there are passports available in which motorists can collect stamps from various stopping points too – something that I think would be especially fun for kids.

    1. In many respects, it has! :) It’s fun to imagine what it was like in its heyday, though. We met a woman whose parents have long owned a diner along a section of Route 66 in Arizona. She said that as a child, it was quite frightening to be near the road because the traffic was seemingly never-ending. How times have changed!

    1. It is, Madhu! I’d forgotten how wide and open the spaces are in the western United States. Add to that canvas rusted-out classic cars and trucks, ghost towns and motel marquees long ago retired. It’s quite fun indeed so I hope you’ll get the chance to explore it soon.

    1. Your comment made me smile too, Virginia. If you and your husband have not yet made a part of this drive, I highly recommend it! We stopped at a few fun eateries along the way, one of which I hope to profile later. Think: root beer floats, burgers, fries, and mischievous owners who made the experience all the more fun!

    1. Eternal Traveler, I hadn’t yet heard of Billy Connolly (I’ve been living in Germany for 10 years, so a bit out of touch with American pop culture) but we’ll have to see if we can check the Route 66 episode out while we’re in the States!

      Thanks for your kind comment – I hope you’ll be able to make the trip someday! Even though we only did short stretches, it was quite fun!

      1. Tricia, Billy Connelly is a Scottish comedian – very funny and quite irreverent at times. You should google him. The Route 66 show was a series of a few episodes. Carol.

      2. I just did; thanks again for sharing! When my husband and I read up on Route 66, we learned that there was even a sitcom in past decades. Such a legendary drive!

    1. Highly recommended! My husband was initially skeptical about the drive, but quickly became interested once we unravelled more of the route’s history and unique character. Here’s hoping you’ll make it to America’s ‘Main Street’ sometime soon!

  2. What a fantastic adventure through our country. Excellent photography and writing. (You and your husband look like great friends. You are blessed.) I live in Arizona & my family is in Indiana; I’ve long considered taking this trip alone (with my Cocker Spaniel). Your pictures inspire me that I can do it.

    1. Hi Mona – welcome, and thank you for your kind words. Indeed, we’ve been very fortunate to have shared many wonderful adventures during our whirlwind first few years together.

      As a former solo traveler, (Greece and Spain were my first solo trips, before I started exploring places like Tunisia, Morocco and India alone) I highly encourage you to make the trip! Granted, you’ll need to make some tweaks to your driving schedule, since your canine companion won’t be able to share driving duties with you :), but I think it’s a great part of the U.S. to explore. My husband and I started out in IL, actually going as far east as Québec City, then drove out to NV. We only had time to explore a small leg of Route 66, but it was one of the most memorable legs of our trip!

  3. Wonderful post Tricia. We’ve driven parts of Route 66, but never set out to follow it deliberately. I see a road trip in our future. :) I love all the cool memorabilia at the Hackberry General Store. My uncle ran a country store and it really reminds me of it. He was quite the practical joker, so when a man entered the store was told (with a straight face), “Your wife just called and said to bring home a loaf of bread” – which they dutifully did! His bread sales soared. :) ~Terri

    1. Terri, the anecdote about your uncle’s mischief brought a smile to my face on this Wednesday morning in Bulgaria. :) I wonder if your uncle’s customers eventually caught on?

      Re: Route 66, Shawn and I didn’t get a chance to follow much of it, but detoured on it whenever possible as we were taking my car on her farewell journey in the summer of 2012. She’d just sailed over the ocean from Germany and was ready to begin a new life with a new owner in the Southwestern United States.

      We couldn’t resist playing Nat King Cole’s jingle a few times, of course :) and we were happy to hear that residents are trying to revive parts of the ‘Mother Road’. The legendary stories that road could tell!

  4. These photos are absolutely stunning Tricia! What a trip! I’d love to take a road trip in the States one day – we’re kind of planning one from Seattle to San Francisco and San Diego.

    1. Thanks, Mandy! Seattle, San Francisco, and San Diego = sounds fun! Shawn and I did the first two cities back in 2012, during this wild North American road-trip that had us as far east as Québec City, and as far west as Seattle and San Francisco. The road-trip was born out of the necessity to get my car to its new owner, after it sailed across the Atlantic, and I’m glad we made some fun stops along the way.

      When do you think you might be able to do the road-trip?

      1. It’s still very much in the wishlist stage. We were thinking of our plans for next year and as my husband hasn’t been to the States, we thought we’d finally do that.

      2. Here’s hoping it’ll come to fruition in 2015 then! There are many more spots I’d like to explore in the United States as well. At the top of that mental list are some more of our national parks. :)

    1. Terri & James, funny I just discovered that earlier this morning. Flattered to have been included in your Slice of Americana Series, and glad to give the delightful Hackberry General Store in AZ a bit more well-deserved traffic. Thanks to you both!

  5. Found you through Terri and James, and awww… whenever I’ll make it to the U.S., that is the roadtrip I want to make too! Awesome pictures, filled with nostalgia!

    1. Freebutfun, Terri and James are an inspiration, and I’m glad you’re here as a result of their Americana round-up! I’d lived in Europe for 10 years before we did the North American / Route 66 road-trip. It was a fun way to get reacquainted with my own country.

      I’ve been wanting to get up to Finland for several years. Helsinki and the Finnish countryside look beautiful!

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