Rediscovering the Mother Road
Nat King Cole told us to get our kicks on Route 66, untold numbers of dust bowl refugees traveled “the mother road” in search of opportunity, and in the Beatnik era countless freedom-seekers – inspired by the novels of Jack Kerouac and by the long-running 1960s Route 66 TV series – took off down the tarmac in the romantic belief that footloose adventure could be had for the price of a tank of gas.
Commissioned in 1926 and paved in 1937, Route 66 once ran for 2,448 miles through eight states, from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, providing an east-west Yellow Brick Road for America before it was chucked aside in favor of the new interstates built in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. But how do you kill a route that was always as much idea as blacktop? It’s not easy, and today 85 percent of the rural, mostly two-lane highway still exists, though modern-day pilgrims have to go looking for it.
It’s in Albuquerque that one of the longest stretches of America’s quintessential Main Street can still be traced. Alternate stretches elsewhere in the state take you back past ghost-town remnants of other decades – filling stations, diners, trading posts, barbecue pits, truck stops, and motels galore.
The classic Route 66 motel, a new-at-the-time concept that found its niche and flourished along the legendary byway, can still be experienced at a few stuck-in-time examples that do a brisk nostalgia business. Some of the most famous, all built during the highway’s nascent days, are Albuquerque’s El Vado, Tucumcari’s Blue Swallow Motel (across the road from Tepee Curios), and the El Rancho in Gallup, a location-ideal Western film capital from 1929 through 1964 – you could very well be checking into Kirk Douglas’s room.