Every self-respecting road trip across the Southwest should at least acknowledge Route 66. Even if you don’t organize your road trip around the “the Mother Road”, the vestiges of the 1926 highway appear at crossroads, on road signs, in souvenir shops, at truck stops, or in cities, such as Albuquerque’s Central Avenue. Often, the remnants are simply forlorn, like ghost signs on an abandoned gas station, calling up memories of forgotten modes of seeing the USA.
Travel on this historic highway was famously mythologized by songs like Route 66. You can’t drive the entire Route 66 anymore, but there are plenty of segments and guides like this one if you want to plan a Route 66 road trip. Who doesn’t dream of getting off the sometimes soulless interstates with dreams of seeing a slower, more “authentic” America? Who wouldn’t rather eat a plate of gorditas with green chile hot off the griddle at the local Mexican restaurant over a shrink-wrapped burrito at a gas station on I-40? Who doesn’t long for that sense of discovery in travel that is simply unattainable at 75 mph on the interstate?
One of our Route 66 stops was in Winslow Arizona, east of Flagstaff. Winslow has managed to scrape together some nostalgia tourism by creating a destination around both Route 66 and the Eagles song Take it Easy . Take it Easy doesn’t actually mention Route 66, but it does mention Winslow Arizona, so it’s easy to imagine the girl in the flatbed Ford cruising along Route 66.
This Washington Post story tells a bit of that connection between the song and the place. (You can make your own list of places that songs have made famous— my son and I once veered off the interstate in Alabama on another road trip just to visit the tiny town of Eutaw, only because it’s mentioned in this song by Old Crow Medicine Show).
An even better reason to stop in Winslow is the La Posada Hotel, another homage to old time travel. Because not only did Route 66 pass through Winslow, so also did the Santa Fe Railroad. In a time before Route 66 make car travel possible, people took the railroad westward. And the person who made train travel appealing to the monied classes was Fred Harvey, who created hotels and “Harvey House” restaurants all along the railroad routes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
La Posada, in an earlier incarnation, was one of these hotels.Designed in a Spanish colonial/southwestern style and built in 1929, it was Fred Harvey’s “Last Great Railroad Hotel”. Slated for the wrecking ball by the 1980s, the hotel was bought and restored by a determined couple in the 1990s. The result is glorious, dark polished carved wood, tile floors, wrought iron lamps and gateways, inviting, peaceful gardens, and brimming with paintings, sculpture and indigenous textiles. In short, you really feel that you are somewhere worth stopping. True to its history, the train runs by the hotel every hour (but the hotel thoughtfully earplugs in each room, although yours truly can sleep through anything). The Turquoise Room restaurant also serves terrific food if all you can make is a chow stop.
Our last Route 66 stop before hitting the seemingly unending plains of Texas was Tucumcari New Mexico. Tucumcari has a sad feeling of being at the end of the line— here the historic Route 66 is lined with abandoned and desolate roadside motels, weeds growing through pavement, signage hanging from poles, marquees still advertising rooms for $29.95 with Color TV.
Writing about Tucumcari reminded me of one more great road song, Willin’ (here’s Linda Ronstadt’s version, and I realized, that without trying, I had hit three of the four on this trip:
And I’ve been from Tucson to Tucumcari,
Techachapi to Tonopah
Driven every kind of rig that’s ever been made
Driven the backroads so I wouldn’t get weighed
And if you give me weed, whites and wine
And you show me a sign
I’d be willin’, I’d be moving…