Touring sections of Route 66 is the only option for most people because of time constraints. Relatively few people actually plan to tour the entire 2,400 journey on Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica, because it would take at least one week just to drive the mileage with minimal stops. However, there are Route 66 enthusiasts that are more than willing to take on this task in order to satisfy a yearning to step back in time to a simpler age.
Car club excursions and motorbike rallies often do the complete Route 66 tour in one long ride, but there are thousands of individuals that make this dream happen each year too. Surprisingly, the bulk of the hard core long distance Route 66 tourists tend to be Europeans that rent Harleys and BMW bikes. Images of Marlin Brando and Lee Marvin in “The Wild One” are the inspiration for doing the entire trip on two wheels, while driving a classic antique car is the choice mode for the door slammer enthusiasts. Basically, doing the entire Route 66 tour means having to adapt a long lost nostalgic 1950s style theme, which adds to the motivation.
As can be imagined, doing the entire Route 66 tour in one shot is more than just a major undertaking and it requires quite a commitment to make the dream happen. For the rest of us, just driving sections of Route 66 that interest us the most is as close to that dream as it comes. By choosing a few interesting sections of Route 66, some nostalgic fulfillment can be attained, without having to rack up the high mileage.
One of the most popular Route 66 touring sections happens to be the long stretch of highway that runs through the panhandle region of Texas. When starting in western Oklahoma heading west through the panhandle, a tourist can see just about all that there is to see along this section of the Mother Road in one day’s time. Crossing the Oklahoma-Texas border on Route 66 shortly after sunrise and ending the drive across the western state line in Tucumcari, New Mexico will take about 8 to 12 hours, depending on how many stops are made. For those who like to explore every nook and cranny, allotting two days of travel time may be best.
When I did the Route 66 Texas tour during the spring season, I probably could not have picked a more challenging day to do the drive. There were steady gale force winds over 60 miles per hour all day long and fast moving wildfires were burning up the countryside. Gigantic dust devils and a few tornadoes rolled through on that blustery day and by the end of the trip my lungs felt like a vacuum cleaner full of dust. By the time I got to Tucumcari, New Mexico, I was one tired puppy, so I spent an extra day in that town just to recuperate.
After touring and photographing Shamrock, McLean, Groom, The VW Slug Bug Ranch and the Stoner Peace Garden Of All Faiths, I finally arrived in Amarillo by mid afternoon. In Amarillo, I toured the old historic Route 66 strip where dozens of original motels and business from the golden age of automobile travel still stand. Every one of the antique neon signs had an adventurous western theme that was designed to captivate tourists back in the old days.
In modern times, the Amarillo Route 66 Strip is still marvelous to see, but the current state of affairs is a bit on the seedy side, which is okay because seediness has always been part of the underlying charm of the Mother Road. In reality, the Route 66 Strip in Amarillo has endured the same economic hard times that all other towns suffered when the Mother Road was bypassed. Fortunately, the adventurous neon motels on the strip are now designated as historic sites that are waiting for investors to fund restoration.
After touring the old historic Amarillo Route 66 strip, my goal was to tour a few Mother Road attractions in town, before going to the Cadillac Ranch. The timing was not good, because the afternoon rush hour traffic was getting thick and finding a parking space at some of the places that I wanted to visit was nearly impossible. One such place that I intended to visit happened to be the legendary Jack Sisemore Travel Land, which is where one of the world’s largest collections of antique travel trailers is on display. Nostalgic antique travel trailers from the golden age of automobile touring are high demand items these days and these old land yachts are the ultimate stylish statement as far as classic Route 66 mobile accommodations go.
After braving the high winds at the Cadillac Ranch, my stomach reminded me of how long the day had already been, so I gave into the notion of doing an early dinner and piling down a big plate of food Texas cowboy style. For Route 66 tourists that are suffering from deep hunger pangs after touring all day, there is no better place to get the belly full than at the Big Texan Steak Ranch!
The Big Texan Steak Ranch is world famous for their 72 Ounce Steak Dinner Eating Challenge. The challenge rules state that if you finish every bite of the 72 ounce steak with all the fixings within the time limit, the entire meal is free. Both times that I have dined at the Big Texan in the past I was hungry enough to do the challenge, but I was wise enough not to do so, because I would have ended up pulling off on the side of the road a little later to go into a meat consumption induced coma.
Amarillo is one of the few Route 66 Texas panhandle towns that never died. In fact, Amarillo is now a bustling modern city that celebrates its Route 66 heritage. Amarillo is a great place to do some western wear shopping and get a good meal while touring the long Mother Road. This is the way Amarillo has always been and will probably always be. Amarillo is the last prosperous highlight when going west through the Texas panhandle, because the remaining Route 66 towns near the border were affected by the bypass the most. For this reason, be sure to soak it all up while touring Route 66 in Amarillo, because the classic western hospitality runs thicker in this town than anywhere else along the historic Mother Road!
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