More than any road in America, Route 66 conjures images of freedom, history and nostalgia. “The Mother Road” stretched from Chicago to Los Angeles, and was the conduit for trans-American travel and westward migration starting in the late 1920s. Sadly, the historic highway was removed from the national highway system in 1985 when it was deemed to be no longer relevant. Well, relevance is a relative thing and Route 66 may be our nation’s most historically relevant highway.
My goal in a recent trip was to find and ride some of the stretches of the Mother Road that have been abandoned in the series of re-alignments that the highway has undergone over the decades. So I packed my big BMW GS (anticipating rough roads) and headed to Northern Arizona to ride and explore arguably one of the most famous stretches of Route 66.
On this current and passable stretch of Route 66, you will find the full compliment of commercial nostalgia – mostly of 1950’s vintage. I don’t begrudge the businesses along the route for their attempt to draw customers by pulling on the heart strings of a nation looking back to a “simpler time.” The towns that were bypassed by the Interstate System that replaced venerable roads like the 66 need to do something to survive. However, I was searching for a different kind of history here. I was on a quest for the original path of the 66, or at least a little bit of it.
In preparation for the trip, I did some research on the changes to the “route” of Route 66. A site that was particularly useful was www.historic66.com which gives route information with turn-by-turn directions and what to look out for. It also gives maps of the locations of earlier alignments of the Mother Road. My quest was to ride on a few of these abandoned stretches of bypassed alignments. The portion of the 66 that I rode is represented on the map.
Here are some of the stretches of abandoned Route 66 that I sampled on my quest.
The now abandoned Crookton Bridge was part of the highway staring in the 1930s. You can see how the bridge is being undercut by erosion and the resulting structural cracks are foreboding and ominous. Cars cannot make it onto the bridge but I managed to maneuver the GS onto it.
In this stretch of the pre-1960 alignment of the road, you can see that the asphalt is showing signs of its age. Moisture and repeated freeze and thaw cycles are slowly breaking down the historic tarmac.
I spent a total of about 20 miles on these parallel routes. Some of the old routes are fairly well graded. Other stretches are a challenging mix of broken asphalt, gravel, and dirt.
In the end, I rode about 150 miles of the current Route 66.
However, the goal and the highlight of the trip were the 30 or so miles I spent on abandoned stretches of the Mother Road. This trip left me with a desire to see more of the 66 that time and civilization have left behind.
Courtesy of AllAboutBikes.com