In 1969, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper took us on a Harley-Davidson ride over it in “Easy Rider.” Thelma and Louise enjoyed girl power on it in 1991.
And baby boomers remember Todd and Buzz racing their cool Corvette on it during the 1960s television show “Route 66.”
Even those who have never traveled Route 66, affectionately known as the Mother Road, have memories about this storied highway.
Route 66 began in 1926 as connecting dirt roads that led travelers from Chicago to Los Angeles and was once considered America’s Main Street. Destinations along the way, big and small, took advantage of this newfound traffic that passed by their doors.
With kitschy architecture, museums, diners and mom-and-pop shops along Route 66 welcomed fun-loving customers. Thanks to preservation and care, they still do.
Oklahoma is the birthplace of Route 66, according to Todd Stallbaumer, consumer and trade marketing director for the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department.
“Cyrus Avery is known as the Father of Route 66, and this Tulsa native made sure it went through his state,” said Stallbaumer. “Today, we have the most drivable miles of this iconic road.”
Three museum-type venues can be on your Oklahoma itinerary. The Route 66 Interpretive Center in Chandler, housed inside a native sandstone armory, uses firsthand videos to chronicle the history. The National Route 66 Transportation Museum in Elk City takes visitors on a journey through each of the eight states through which Route 66 passes.
And the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton pays homage to the history of transportation and the Mother Road in Oklahoma. Described as “pure Americana,” the museum greets visitors with a neon Route 66 sign and a classic car in the window.
Photo opportunities abound with quirky sights, among them the world’s largest totem pole in Foyil and the Blue Whale in Catoosa.
“One of the most recognizable icons on Route 66, the whale was built by a loving husband for his wife,” said Stallbaumer.
Pops in Arcadia, a modern gas station that stands by a 66-foot-tall soda bottle sculpture, fills the evening sky with color thanks to thousands of LED lights.
“Pops houses a collection of 12,000 soda pop bottles and offers over 500 choices of the beverage,” Stallbaumer said.
Although today, the Milk Bottle Grocery in Oklahoma City houses a sandwich shop, the giant milk bottle perched on top of that tiny building is why it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Groups rave about their visits to the Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield. And because that museum sits on Route 66, Karen Rosendahl, director of tourism for the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, invites bank groups to include it on their Mother Road tours.
“We call this area ‘the Living Museum’ of Route 66, as you can visit mom-and-pop diners from the old days to this fairly new testament to Abraham Lincoln,” she said.
A classic stop in the Springfield area is Shea’s Gas Station Museum, a favorite for photo buffs who can’t resist that eclectic collection of half a century of gas station memorabilia. Owner Bill Shea may be on hand to share his stories and tell the tales behind his collection of photos and homemade signs.
“The Cozy Dog Drive-In is the home of the famous corn-meal-battered hot dog on a stick, where it was invented in 1946 by Ed Waldmire,” said Rosendahl. The Waldmire family still greets diners to this classic venue that also offers Route 66 memorabilia and souvenirs.
More iconic sights in the area include the Railsplitter, the world’s largest covered wagon and Die Cast Auto Sales, a converted 1930s service station filled with die-cast cars, Coca-Cola collectibles and Route 66 souvenirs.