The beauty of Route 66 definitely lies in the beholder. To the uncultured souls that only believe in modernization, Route 66 is nothing more than an old defunct road that has a bunch of outdated businesses and there is nothing to do except watch people shop for antique junk. For a fashionista living in the heart of a big city, Route 66 may be nothing more than a haven for backwoods tobacco chewing entrepreneurs that do not keep up with the latest trends. Route 66 might also be viewed by a snooty playboy sports car owner as being a place to stay away from, because the unsophisticated Detroit iron hot rodders get all the dates. To a vegan, Route 66 is nothing more than a haven for burger chomping meat heads. To an elitist, Route 66 is a threat because this road economically empowers local people and it promotes social diversity. For the meek, Route 66 is a dangerous place where veterans speak their mind and big bad bikers with tattoos are welcome everywhere. As can be seen, not all people are Route 66 material, because this long road represents freedom from the modern standards that have gone awry.
People that simply do not fit in with the historic Mother Road scene, usually choose to bypass Route 66 altogether by taking a boring drive on the interstate freeway in order to establish a false sense of security. Staying at a modern cookie cutter motel and eating artificial fast food basically are choices made as a result of mass media brainwashing, which conveys that safety can only be found near the freeway off-ramp. In a way, Route 66 enthusiasts are happy with that, because the faster that the party poopers get out of town, the better the good times will be on the Mother Road!
For neophytes touring Route 66, it is better to just give in and become part of the scene, instead of trying to exude civility like a visiting dignitary. Relax and learn how to look cool. Learn where it is cool to hangout. Learn how to eat BBQ without a knife, fork and spoon. Learn how to cruise down the strip in style while sipping on a belly buster milkshake. Most of all, learn not to complain about the little things, like when the wi-fi does not work in a recently restored historic 1940s motel. Route 66 is a classic American lifestyle time capsule from the past, so the sooner one gets used to this concept, the sooner one will successfully become part of the classic Route 66 scene!
Route 66 is an ever changing arena, so there is no use pretending that there actually is such a thing as a comprehensive complete Route 66 reference book that lists every single site to see. Businesses are abandoned and age old buildings rot into oblivion along this long historic road everyday. Entrepreneurs also start new businesses and restore historic buildings along Route 66 everyday too. Perpetual change occurs on Route 66, while the preservation of the past is the overall theme. When planning a Route 66 trip, one can do plenty of research on places to go or one can simply just cruise the Mother Road with no plan and live the experiences impromptu. Either way, a visitor will become part of the history kept in this iconic time capsule that is better known as Route 66.
Today’s article focuses on what looks like a short 36 mile stretch of Route 66 between Afton and Chelsea on a map of Oklahoma. In this case, looks are deceptive, because meandering a few extra miles off of the main road to experience nearby scenic destinations has always been part of the Route 66 vacation experience. For example, when touring Route 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona, travelers would not think twice about taking a 75 mile side trip to see the Grand Canyon. Such is the case when traveling from Afton to Chelsea on the Mother Road. There are plenty of side trip attractions in this region that have always appealed to travelers touring old Route 66.
Visitors can get on the Mother Road anyplace they choose and call it a day anywhere they like. With this in mind, setting sail in the town of Afton, Oklahoma is as good a place as any to start a Route 66 adventure. Afton is one of many small historic towns that is still reeling from the economic downfall that occurred when Route 66 was bypassed a few decades ago, but this community has found newfound life by preserving the past.
The Afton Station is an example of how a few dedicated entrepreneurs can restore an abandoned old historic building to its former glory in an effort to help reboot a local economy. Before the Afton Station was restored in 1998, there was nothing much to see in this old main street area except for dilapidated buildings leftover from a long gone golden era. Now the old main street district is showing signs of change, because the Afton Station draws the attention of hundreds of Route 66 nostalgia buffs each week. The Afton Station was restored as an antique gas station memorabilia shop and Packard Museum. Fans of the old Packards that were built for going long distances on Route 66 sure have turned the old Afton Station into an iconic destination!
Tourists pulling a camper trailer with a station wagon were a common sight on Route 66 back in the 1950s and 1960s. Finding the best campsites amounted to gathering information by word of mouth back in those days and choosing a good place to park the travel trailer greatly enhanced the vacation experience. The town of Bernice definitely is a place where travel trailer campers looked forward to taking a side trip off the Mother Road to relax on some beachfront property in Grand Lake State Park. Whether the town of Bernice was actually on one of the original Route 66 alignments is another story that a historian will surely know, but all that matters is that lakeside camping in Bernice still is part of the cool Route 66 scene! This is especially true when considering that the current trend of hauling restored antique travel trailers is going stronger than ever.
Meandering off of Route 66 is part of the fun and there is another spot worth checking out near Bernice that will appeal to classic car enthusiasts of all ages. Darryl Starbird’s Rod & Custom Car Museum is located in this neck of the woods. This museum features the space age custom cars that were built in the 1950s and 1960s amongst many other oddball specialized automobile creations. The love of classic custom cars and Route 66 goes hand in hand, so it is easy to see why this tourist attraction should be placed on the travel itinerary.
After doing a little bit of open country side trip touring around Bernice, getting back on Route 66 starts feeling like being back home. The familiar pace guides the senses in a way that only a nostalgia buff will understand. Traveling west on Route 66 from Afton will remind visitors about just how devastating the effects of the Mother Road bypass were. Old abandoned buildings, crumbling concrete gas station slabs and broken neon lights on motel signs all flash by the car window while drifting off in a blur of somber thoughts. Occasionally a fully restored historic Route 66 building pops up all bright, shiny and new from a fresh coat of paint and the success was brought about by adapting a new business theme. The old gas stations are now museums, the old movie theaters are now community centers and many of the old Route 66 motor lodges are now premium office space. It becomes easy to notice that it is the modern business themes and the dedication of local individuals that has kept Route 66 alive in recent years.
Oddly enough, it seems like some of the longest lasting businesses on Route 66 are the classic American style restaurants. A great diner on Route 66 was a proverbial gold mine back in the old days and the classic diner style restaurant is still the most popular kind of eatery on the Mother Road in modern times. Value has always been the key to customer satisfaction on Route 66 and as every traveler with road savvy knows, a diner is the place to go to get a belly full of good food that is easy to recognize for a reasonable price. Clanton’s Café in Vinton, Oklahoma has been serving up classic American diner food since 1927 on Route 66 and that is reason enough to step through the door!
Onward to Chelsea, travelers will see businesses like the Highway Café, which proudly displays Route 66 murals on the side of the building. Around this area, visitors will start to notice Will Rogers memorials too. This section of Route 66 is rich in history that the local folks take pride in, so it pays to look on the calendar for local events. Passing up a chance to attend a live Will Rogers Rodeo that is going on would simply be taboo when passing through these parts!
Chelsea, Oklahoma is the end of this short section tour of Route 66. Chelsea is most famous for being the location of the pedestrian tunnel under Route 66. I ended up having to skip this attraction for some reason, but it is well worth looking into. The Chelsea Pedestrian Tunnel is decorated with murals depicting the history of Route 66, so it definitely is a site to see.
Old rusty motor lodge signs and plenty of old original buildings still stand in Chelsea, but the crash of the Route 66 economy from the bypass era still has a strong effect. Some of the historic stopovers have been fully restored, while others have been maintained in an effort to slow the deterioration till another entrepreneur that has a love for the Mother Road comes along. For example, the Chelsea Motor Inn has been fully restored, while the shell of the classic Chelsea Motel still waits in a golden slumber. One is a great place to stay and the other is a great place for photo opportunities. Such is the case with most of Route 66 in this region at this time and nobody really knows what tomorrow will bring. The only thing that matters is those who love the Mother Road do spend money along the Mother Road and this is what keep the clock on the Route 66 time capsule ticking into the future.
The Afton to Chelsea section of Route 66 certainly will have a sobering effect on travelers that pass through. In this region, visitors will see the Mother Road being reborn from ashes and new opportunities being created. There are main street areas that are abandoned and others that have never faded away. It becomes easy to genuinely care about Route 66 when passing through these parts. It also becomes easy to see that caring is definitely part of the classic Route 66 experience!
Leave no trace!
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