The following four road trips span Arizona and New Mexico from west to east by way of historic Route 66. Properly called U.S. Highway 66, it was famously nicknamed the “Mother Road” by John Steinbeck in his classic novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” a reference to its role in carrying hundreds of thousands of people who fled the Dust Bowl in the 1930s for opportunities farther west.
By any name, Route 66 was a major innovation in 1926 when it was developed as a way of linking major cities with smaller communities at a time when trucks and automobiles were just beginning to replace trains as America’s main way of getting around. Eventually the route would stretch more than 2,400 miles between Chicago and Los Angeles and become a symbol of freedom and optimism, particularly during the post-World War II economic boom.
By the mid-1980s the legendary road had been replaced by the interstate highway system, and what remained of Route 66 began to crumble as the once-bustling motels, filling stations and diners along the highway closed. Thanks to the efforts of historic preservationists, many sites along the “Main Street of America” have been restored for new generations of travelers to enjoy.
Check out these road trips for a taste of classic 20th-century Americana.
• Route 66 – Western Arizona Road Trip
– Starting in California, Route 66 rolls into the Black Mountains and the kitschy Old West town of Oatman. Then it’s on to Kingman, Seligman and Williams, which all revel in the remnants of their Route 66 glory days. The road trip ends among the ponderosa pines surrounding Flagstaff and its historic downtown.
• Route 66 – Eastern Arizona Road Trip
– Fun places to go along this section of Route 66, which transitions into desert as you go east, include massive Meteor Crater near Winslow and Petrified Forest National Park. The retro Route 66 vibe continues in Winslow and Holbrook—including one of the last remaining Wigwam Motels—before entering New Mexico.
• Route 66 – Western New Mexico Road Trip
– Between Gallup and this road trip’s end in Albuquerque, there are plenty of roadside landmarks from Route 66’s heyday, but you’ll also find shops, galleries and museums filled with Native American art and artifacts.
• Route 66 – Eastern New Mexico Road Trip
– Beyond Albuquerque, Route 66 enters the rolling foothills of the Sandia Mountains before flattening out as it approaches west Texas. The towns of Santa Rosa and Tucumcari celebrate their Route 66 heritage with vintage signs and gift shops packed with memorabilia. The road trip ends in Adrian, Texas, which announces its place at the exact midpoint of Route 66 between Chicago and Los Angeles.