In the 1950s, Route 66 became the main highway for vacationers heading to Los Angeles, and in doing so passed near many natural attractions – the Painted Desert, Meteor Crater, Meramec Caverns, the Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon. This sharp increase in tourism in turn gave rise to a burgeoning trade in all manner of roadside attractions, including teepee-shaped motels, frozen custard stands, Indian curio shops, and reptile farms.
Meramec Caverns near St. Louis began advertising on barns, billing itself as the “Jesse James hideout”. The Big Texan advertised a free 72-ounce (2 kg) steak dinner to anyone who could consume the entire meal in one hour. It also marked the birth of the fast-food industry: Red’s Giant Hamburgs in Springfield, Missouri, site of the first drive-through restaurant, and the first McDonald’s in San Bernardino, California. Changes like these to the landscape further cemented 66’s reputation as a near-perfect microcosm of the culture of America, now linked by the automobile. These days, many of these vintage attractions have been saved and restored by Route 66 preservation groups.
A lot of what Route 66 has to offer you’ll simply encounter as you travel. Something to bear in mind of course is that a lot of the roadside attractions are just that – by the side of the road! Therefore the chances of missing The Gemini Giant, Tow Tater, The Blue Whale or The Big Texan are slim so long as you’re not driving with your eyes closed! Of course it helps to have an up-to-date map and guide book with you to make sure you are actually sticking to Route 66 and have advance warning of an upcoming attraction.
There is a wealth of sights and attractions gracing the old road from the historic and informative (Odell Station, Coleman Theatre, Acoma Pueblo…) to the weird and wonderful (Cadillac Ranch, the Blue Whale, Tow Tater…). There’s never a dull moment driving Route 66!