Route 66: Introduction

Why Route 66?

Route 66 is not the longest cross-country road. It isn’t the oldest road in the U.S., nor does it link the biggest or most significant cities of the U.S. The road itself is fairly unremarkable, undergoing regular improvement and realignment that changed and shortened its original 1926 length of just over 2,400 miles until its decommissioning in 1985. This ongoing change meant that the road and the man-made environment around it would always be temporary.

Yet, somewhere across those 50 years, Route 66 crept into the imagination of travelers and became one of the best known and most identified roads in the world. The road has become the subject or setting of many novels and films, songs and stories.

Today, Route 66 occupies a nether world that is neither that of a fully functioning highway, nor that of a road that is gone, left only to history.

Today, we acknowledge the significance of Route 66 as a historic place and an endangered cultural resource and work towards its preservation. Yet, we still struggle to pinpoint what draws people from all over the world to participate in all sorts of Route 66-themed events as well as tracking down and traveling along even the most elusive of alignments.

Some of the allure of the road is clear -- our families, friends and neighbors historically traveled their way on Route 66 to relocate, to vacation, or to find a better life. By engaging Route 66 we touch some of our collective past. Route 66 is also the main street of our towns and cities and has experienced the growth and decline of the pre- and post-bypass era. We drive the road daily to do errands, get to work, or return home. We also use the road when we want to escape from our daily lives and get away from the fast-paced monotony of the interstates. Route 66, then, lies at the intersection of what is day-to-day and what will never be the same again.

Sean Evans
Northern Arizona University Cline Library