How did Route 66 Tourism Develop?

Updated April 6, 2023

Origins of Route 66

Ah, Route 66! The mere mention of its name conjures up images of a bygone era - of rugged individualism, of wide-open spaces, of gleaming chrome and neon lights. But how did this legendary highway come to be?

Well, in the 1930s, during the grim, dust-choked years of the Great Depression, Route 66 was the lifeline of a nation on the brink. It was the artery through which thousands of migrants poured westward, in search of a new start, a better life, a sliver of hope. And the towns along its winding path - places like Amarillo, Gallup, Barstow - depended on the steady stream of travelers for their livelihoods. Route 66 was more than a mere road; it was a symbol of resilience, of determination, of the American spirit.

Fast-forward to the 1950s, and a new chapter in Route 66's storied history begins. America is on the move, buoyed by postwar prosperity and a newfound sense of freedom. And what better way to celebrate this newfound mobility than by hitting the open road? Route 66 becomes the embodiment of this exuberant spirit of adventure, the road to a brighter tomorrow. Families pack up their station wagons and head west, seeking sun, sand, and surf. Roadside motels and diners spring up along the way, offering weary travelers a respite from the road. And the highway itself - long, straight, and hypnotic - stretches out before them, beckoning them ever onward. It is a time of optimism, of possibility, of endless horizons.

Route 66 was a natural pathway for road-tripping families as it passed near such beautiful natural attractions as the Painted Desert, Meteor Crater, Meramec Caverns, Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon. The increased tourism brought new prosperity and innovation to the many towns that lined it's path, and all manner of roadside attractions started popping up to compete for the trade of the renewed interest in the road - motels in the shape of tee-pees, reptile farms, "giant" roadside objects, and Indian curio shops!

But like all good things, Route 66's heyday eventually came to an end. The Interstate Highway System, with its high-speed thoroughfares and streamlined efficiency, rendered Route 66 obsolete. The once-thriving towns along its route fell into decline, their main source of income now a distant memory. Yet the spririt of Route 66 refused to fade away. It lived on in the memories of those who traveled it, in the songs that were sung about it, in the movies that were filmed on it. It is a reminder of a simpler time, a time when a road could be more than just a means of getting from point A to point B. It could be a destination in its own right, a journey of a lifetime.


Ah, the roadside wonders of Route 66! You could drive for miles and miles and still not see all the neon signs, giant statues, and novelty attractions that dotted its fabled length. Meramec Caverns, for instance - known in some circles as the "Jesse James hideout" - had taken to advertising itself on the sides of massive barns, as if to say, "If you can't find us, you're not looking hard enough!" And then there was The Big Texan Steak Ranch, purveyor of a colossal 72-ounce steak dinner that was free if you could stomach it all in under an hour. "Fast food" had truly come of age.

But the most iconic of all Route 66 landmarks had to be the drive-through restaurant. In 1947, a visionary entrepreneur by the name of Sheldon "Red" Chaney opened Red's Giant Hamburgers in Springfield, Missouri, and introduced a revolutionary concept: you could order your meal from the comfort of your car and have it delivered right to your window. The drive-through was born, and it was a hit. Meanwhile, all the way out in San Bernardino, California, another entrepreneur by the name of Ray Kroc was tinkering with a similar idea. His little restaurant - you may have heard of it - was called McDonald's, and it would go on to become a global phenomenon.

Route 66 wasn't just a road; it was a snapshot of American culture at a particular moment in time. It represented a nation on the move, full of energy and optimism and eager to explore the wide-open spaces of the West. And even today it remains a potent symbol of that era - a symbol of the American dream, of endless possibility, of the open road. It's no wonder that preservation groups have sprung up to save the vintage attractions that still line its path. After all, to travel Route 66 is to take a journey through time - a journey through a land of giant hamburgers, giant statues, and giant dreams.

"Drive-by Tourism"

It's a place that just exudes a sense of adventure and discovery, a place where every bend in the road seems to promise something new and exciting. And the best part? You don't even have to try too hard to find it. The beauty of Route 66 is that it's all right there in front of you - the quirky roadside attractions, the kitschy diners and motels, the breathtaking vistas. You'd have to be blind not to spot the towering Gemini Giant, the lovable Tow Tater, the majestic Blue Whale, or the mouthwatering Big Texan. They're all right there, beckoning you to stop and take a closer look.

Of course, it never hurts to have a trusty map and guidebook at your side. I'd highly recommend the EZ66 Guidebook - it's an indispensable resource for any serious Route 66 traveler. With its detailed route descriptions, historic background, and helpful tips, it'll ensure that you don't miss a thing.

And what a wealth of sights and attractions await you along the way! From the awe-inspiring Acoma Pueblo and the rich history of the Coleman Theatre to the downright wacky Cadillac Ranch and the Muffler Men, Route 66 has something for everyone. It's no wonder that this iconic road has become a symbol of vintage Americana, drawing thousands of visitors annually from every corner of the globe.

So buckle up, my friends, and get ready for the ride of a lifetime. With Route 66 as your guide, there's never a dull moment on the open road.

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